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Monthly Archives: May 2018

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“This Is RICO 101”: Why Robert Mueller Isn’t Taking Rudy’s Bait

(PhatzNewsRoom / Vanity Fair)    —-   The Trump camp’s witch-hunt talking points are now dominating the news—but the media battle may be the wrong way to beat Mueller. “It’s exactly what Mueller has been doing his whole goddamn life,” a former F.B.I. senior official says. “It’s just that this time the boss of the family happens to be the leader of the free world.”
Photo Illustration by Jordan Amchin. Left, by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images; Right, by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.

Rudy Giuliani has played a multitude of parts in public life: Tenacious federal prosecutor of the mob. Two-term mayor leading the revival of New York City—and consoler-in-chief when the city was attacked by terrorists. Giuliani has also been an enthusiastic drag queen and a failed Republican presidential candidate. Now he has taken on his least-likely role: spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller. Unofficially, that is, but energetically and craftily. One week ago, Giuliani declared to CNN that Mueller had told him the special counsel “acknowledged” that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Three days ago Giuliani announced to The New York Times that Mueller’s timeline has the special counsel wrapping up the investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice by September 1. All of which may be true—or not. Hours after Giuliani’s most recent declaration, Reuters ran a story saying the September 1 deadline was “entirely made-up” by Trump’s new lawyer, attributing the pushback cryptically to a “U.S. official.” Mueller’s actual spokesman, Peter Carr, did what he has done for more than a year, however: quickly and politely decline to comment.

It may soon become much harder for Mueller’s office to maintain its silence as Trump’s team works to shape the political context for the results of the Russia investigations, and to destroy the special counsel’s credibility. Giuliani, for all his different guises, is at heart a politician, and one trained in the hand-to-hand combat of New York’s tabloid-media culture. So he has been quick to exploit a weakness in his current adversary. “There are serious Department of Justice rules and guidelines about what Mueller can talk about publicly, in regards to an open investigation,” says Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor. “If there were a trial in progress and Giuliani tried to make these statements to poison the well or to influence jurors, a judge could issue sanctions. Giuliani’s getting away with it because there’s no pending court case right now. But it’s equally as problematic, if not more, because the jury pool here is the American public. And whatever else you can say, this whole strategy of calling it a witch hunt and attacking the prosecution is extremely effective with some part of the public.”

Mueller is not completely prohibited from responding to Giuliani—he could issue press releases to correct the factual record. And other special prosecutors have been much more talkative. When pursuing Bill Clinton, Ken Starr was a chatterbox to the media, for reasons both tactical and personal. Not yet 50, Starr was a man on the rise. “He cared about his image, his ambition, his media strategy,” said Lanny Davis, one of Clinton’s lawyers.

There are good strategic reasons for Mueller not to engage, however. “If Mueller responds to one thing, and then doesn’t respond to the next thing, does that mean the second thing Giuliani said was true?” Rocah says. Matthew Miller, a top Justice Department spokesman during the Obama administration, maintains an optimistic view of Mueller’s lack of visibility. “He has to worry about getting the facts right. And if he gets the facts right, when he releases them publicly, it will have enough of an impact that it won’t matter what Giuliani said in advance,” Miller says. “Mueller’s job is not to worry about the politics. The minute you start doing that, you start making mistakes. The best example of that is Jim Comey. Or maybe Ken Starr.”

Perhaps. Giuliani clearly recognizes that the Russia investigation is unfolding in a new media and political landscape where a lot of the norms don’t apply. Mueller’s keep-your-head-down, just-the-facts strategy is rooted in his own ascetic, disciplined personal style, and what is quickly becoming an antiquated tradition. His approach isn’t likely to change. But it isn’t oblivious to modern reality, either. “Oh, Mueller is critically aware of everything that’s being written or said. He reads his papers. He listens to the radio. He’s not missing anything,” a former top F.B.I. colleague says. “But he completely tunes it out. It’s a discipline. This is his way of flying above the fray, because once you get into it, you’re all in. There’s an old expression: ‘It’s like mud-wrestling with a pig. You’re both going to get dirty. The difference is that the pig likes it.’ But the very fact that Mueller refuses to respond to the most outrageous criticisms and claims is the reason the pig is wrestling with itself in its own mud.”

The former F.B.I. senior official recognizes something more substantive going on with his old boss as well. “This investigation is classic Mueller: he is doing a classic, organized crime case. This is RICO 101, working your way up and sideways. You pop a few guys for gambling, and no one is going to do a million years for gambling, but you’re gonna get their scratch pads, then you move on to their associates. You flip one guy who you arrest with no fanfare. It’s exactly what Mueller has been doing his whole goddamn life. It’s just that this time the boss of the family happens to be the leader of the free world. Mueller doesn’t care if he gets Trump. He doesn’t care if he doesn’t get Trump. He has no political agenda. He is digging through the layers and bringing back the truth, and the truth is going to be whatever it is going to be.”

Analysis: After Trump pullout, NKorea changes tune on summit

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TOKYO (AP) — President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from a plan to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month in Singapore caught a lot of people off guard, including, it appears, Kim Jong Un.

Every indication is that Pyongyang still wants to make the meeting happen. And as soon as possible.

Pyongyang made that clear Friday with a surprisingly conciliatory response to Trump’s sudden breakup letter, suggesting North Korean officials may now be thinking they overplayed their hand with defiant rhetoric and by deliberately missing preparatory meetings over the past couple of weeks. That presents an opening for diplomacy to continue if Washington is still game.

But the question remains: Should it be?

Kim has lots of reasons for wanting the summit. Sitting down as an equal with the U.S. president would go a long way toward legitimizing his regime on the world stage and weakening the rationale for continued trade sanctions, particularly by neighboring China. It also lowers the chances of military conflict, at least as long as talks are underway, and if Kim plays his cards right it could give him de facto recognition as the leader of a nuclear power.

Trump also appears to still want the summit to go through at some point. But his position is a bit more complicated.

Well before he decided to pull the plug on the June 12 summit plan, concerns were growing that the gap between the two leaders on the most fundamental issues was so wide that the potential danger of a major breakdown outweighed the whatever benefits might come from simply sitting down together for what would be a historic first.

It’s not even clear if Kim intends to give up his nuclear arsenal any time soon.

The Washington-Pyongyang rift widened dramatically after national security adviser John Bolton suggested the North must unilaterally give up its nuclear arsenal before it can expect any easing of U.S. economic and political pressure. For added impact, he said Libya, whose leader agreed to give up his nuclear program only to be deposed and killed, would be a good model.

One of the loudest voices protesting Bolton’s hard line was Kim Kye Gwan, a senior nuclear negotiator and first vice minister of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

But it was in his name the North issued its response to Trump’s decision Friday.

In a major tone shift, he not only left the door open to more talks, he virtually begged Trump to walk on through.

He said the North “inwardly highly appreciated” Trump’s decision to have the summit, “which any other U.S. presidents dared not.” He added he had hoped what he called the “Trump formula” would pave the way for substantial progress.

He even made the highly unusual move of playing down the significance of a statement of another top Foreign Ministry official who on Thursday called Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” and threatened Pyongyang would be just as willing to have a nuclear showdown with Washington as meet to negotiate.

That statement was apparently too much for Trump, compounding the North’s failure to show up for preparatory meetings in Singapore or, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, answer the phone when U.S. officials called.

Such tactics are frustratingly familiar for anyone who has dealt with North Korean officials.

North Korean verbal barrages are a staple of its external propaganda — note its labeling of Trump as a “dotard” at the height of tensions last year. Just last week, Pyongyang abruptly cut off high-level contact with Seoul over an ongoing round of military exercises with U.S. troops and then refused until the last minute to allow South Korean journalists onto a pre-arranged media trip to observe the closing of its nuclear test site, which took place on Thursday.

North Korea’s switch to a tougher stance may reflect some behind-the-scenes influence by China, as Trump has suggested. Kim has already had two summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But it is also quite likely Pyongyang miscalculated that Trump was so invested in going through with the summit as planned that such tactics would drive a wedge between him and the hard-liners in his Cabinet.

For the moment, at least, they seem to be regretting that misstep.

“The U.S. side’s unilateral announcement of the cancellation of the summit makes us think over if we were truly right to have made efforts for it and to have opted for the new path,” Kim said in the statement. “But we remain unchanged in our goal and will to do everything we could for peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and humankind, and we, broad-minded and open all the time, have the willingness to offer the U.S. side time and opportunity.”

So is Pyongyang now ready to make a deal Trump can brag about?

That’s not so clear.

Change in overall tone notwithstanding, Kim didn’t cave on Pyongyang’s demand that Washington drop its insistence on unilateral denuclearization before it lifts Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure.”

“The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse,” he said. “The U.S. should ponder over it.”

No doubt, Washington will. But with hard-liners like Bolton and Pence by the U.S. president’s side, the answer may not be what Kim Jong Un is hoping for.

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Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge

Dealmaker Trump takes page from own playbook and walks away

WASHINGTON (AP) — For President Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un may be the deal that got away.

Trump and his team weathered insults, tolerated unanswered phone calls and waited hours for negotiating partners who never showed up as they sought to keep the planned Singapore summit with Kim on track.

With prospects dimming and aides increasingly skeptical, Trump at first clung to his plans to meet with the North Korean leader, seeking to pull off what the president saw as a history-making nuclear deal. A self-professed master negotiator, Trump could envision Nobel laurels in the offing of the unprecedented one-on-one meeting.

Eager for a dramatic moment and a bold accomplishment, Trump agreed to Kim’s March overture for a summit in less than an hour, ignoring the warnings of seasoned advisers who said it could backfire.

But on Thursday morning, Trump determined that — for now anyway — the meeting was an unrequited diplomatic dream, his hopes appearing to dissolve in a tale of broken promises.

Late Wednesday, Trump had been briefed on the latest round of increasingly belligerent messages from North Korea, including a threatened “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.” It confirmed the mounting suspicions of the president’s aides that North Korea was not serious about the talks. Before taking action, Trump decided to sleep on it. The next morning, he consulted with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton before deciding to scrap the summit.

He dictated a letter to Kim that at times felt like a wistful plea for what might have been.

“I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me,” Trump wrote. “Some day, I look very much forward to meeting you.”

To Trump, a chance at a nuclear deal was irresistible, offering an opportunity to tackle what his predecessor, Barack Obama, described to him as the most intractable and urgent security threat facing the U.S. North Korea’s advanced nuclear and missile programs have bedeviled American leaders for a generation, and the costs of a potential military strike to force the nation to abandon its atomic weapons has always been sobering.

There had been hopeful signs: Kim welcomed Pompeo to Pyongyang twice, said he did not object to a U.S. military presence in South Korea and indicated he was willing to discuss abandoning the country’s nuclear arsenal. For a time, it seemed that progress was possible and the president’s unpredictable approach could yield historic gains and an only-Trump-could-go-to-Pyongyang moment.

Now, Trump is blaming Kim’s trip to China two weeks ago for bringing about an unwelcome “change in attitude” by the Korean leader. His supposed concessions soon appeared to ring hollow. First, Kim’s government backed out of planned peace talks with South Korea, citing joint U.S.-South Korean military drills. Then, it threatened to call off the Singapore summit over Trump’s insistence that the North give up its weapons.

Still, the Trump administration tried to keep up a positive face, dismissing the shifts as an expected negotiating maneuver by Kim and stressing there had been no official notification from the North of any change to the meeting.

In fact, they weren’t hearing anything.

Senior White House officials who went to Singapore to meet their North Korean counterparts last week were stood up, officials said. And Pompeo, testifying on Capitol Hill, said North Korea had not responded to repeated requests from U.S. officials to discuss logistics for the summit.

“We got a lot of dial tones, senator,” he told Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker.

And when North Korea dismantled its nuclear testing site Thursday, just hours before Trump pulled out of the summit, U.S. officials said Kim had reneged on a pledge to allow international observers to verify its destruction.

At a late afternoon briefing Thursday, a senior administration official described the recent interactions between the U.S. and North Korea as “a trail of broken promises.”

Asked why the US didn’t withdraw from the summit after that, the official said the White House had “been willing to give the North Koreans every opportunity within reason to consummate this meeting.”

In recent months, Trump had traded his bellicose threats of “fire and fury” for bouquets of flattery, calling Kim “very honorable” and exuding confidence that he could seal a deal that had eluded his predecessors for generations.

The lengths to which the administration went to keep the meeting on track reflected Trump’s personal interest in seizing the opportunity, but also an effort to shift blame to his mercurial negotiating rival.

Trump believed that bringing detente to the Korean Peninsula could bolster his approval ratings, help inoculate him against the investigations swirling around him and maybe even trickle down to help Republicans in the midterm elections. Drawn to big moments and bigger headlines, Trump viewed the North Korea summit as a legacy-maker, believing that the combustible combination of his bombast and charm could produce warmer relations between North and South.

Trump aides had warned the president that agreeing to a sit-down with Kim was in itself a concession to the leader of an oppressive government that has longed for international recognition. And likewise, they stressed to Trump that pulling out could undercut American assertions that it seeks a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis.

Still, Trump did not come away with nothing. The two-month flirtation helped secure the release of three Americans held in North Korea. Trump himself welcomed them back to the U.S. in a middle-of-the-night ceremony.

The president who has positioned himself as the ultimate deal-maker followed a hard lesson from his own negotiating playbook: he walked away.

At least for now.

“If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit,” Trump wrote, “please do not hesitate to call me or write.”

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Lemire reported from New York.

Officials: Weinstein to surrender in sexual misconduct probe

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NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein was expected to turn himself in to police Friday morning to face charges involving an aspiring actress who said he forced her to perform oral sex on him, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.

It would be the first criminal case against Weinstein to come out of the barrage of sexual abuse allegations from scores of women that destroyed his career and set off a national reckoning that brought down other powerful men in what has become known as the #MeToo movement.

The two officials said the criminal case involves allegations by Lucia Evans, who told a magazine that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex. She was among the first women to speak out about the 66-year-old film producer. One official said it’s likely the case also will include at least one other victim who has not come forward publicly.

The officials spoke Thursday to the AP on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation.

Evans confirmed to The New Yorker that she was pressing charges.

“At a certain point, you have to think about the greater good of humanity, of womankind,” she told the magazine.

Rose McGowan reveals she still feels traumatized by seeing Harvey Weinstein’s face in the news but hopes his trial will mark a new beginning for her and his other alleged victims. (May 25)

Weinstein was expected to be charged at least with criminal sexual act, a crime that carries up to 25 years in prison, the officials said. Weinstein’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, declined to comment, though Weinstein has said repeatedly through his lawyers that he didn’t have nonconsensual sex with anyone.

Evans told The New Yorker in a story published in October that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex during a daytime meeting at his New York office in 2004, the summer before her senior year at Middlebury College.

“I said, over and over, ’I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t,’” she told the magazine. “I tried to get away, but maybe I didn’t try hard enough. I didn’t want to kick him or fight him.”

Evans, who is now a marketing consultant, didn’t report the encounter to police at the time, telling The New Yorker that she blamed herself for not fighting back.

“It was always my fault for not stopping him,” she said.

Brafman said in court paperwork filed this month in a bankruptcy proceeding that the allegations that Weinstein forced himself on women were “entirely without merit.”

“I am trying my very best to persuade both the federal and state prosecutors that he should not be arrested and or indicted, because he did not knowingly violate the law,” Brafman wrote.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had been under enormous public pressure to bring a criminal case against Weinstein. Some women’s groups, including the Hollywood activist group Time’s Up, accused the Democrat of being too deferential to Weinstein and too dismissive of his accusers.

A grand jury has been hearing evidence in the case for weeks.

In March, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the extraordinary step of ordering the state’s attorney general to investigate whether Vance acted properly in 2015 when he decided not to prosecute Weinstein over a previous allegation of unwanted groping, made by an Italian model. That investigation is in its preliminary stages.

More than 75 women have accused Weinstein of wrongdoing around the globe. Several actresses and models accused him of criminal sexual assaults, but many of the encounters happened too long ago for any prosecution. Film actress Rose McGowan said Weinstein raped her in 1997 in Utah, “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra said he raped her in her New York apartment in 1992 and Norwegian actress Natassia Malthe said he attacked her in a London hotel room in 2008.

McGowan told the AP on Thursday that she is gratified but “still in shock” that Weinstein was expected to surrender.

“The justice system has been something very elusive,” McGowan said. “I hope in this case it works. Because it’s all true. None of this was consensual.”

The statute of limitations for rape and certain other sex crimes in New York was eliminated in 2006, but not for attacks that happened prior to 2001.

New York City police detectives said in early November that they were investigating allegations by another accuser, “Boardwalk Empire” actress Paz de la Huerta, who told police in October that Weinstein raped her twice in 2010. She is not one of the victims in the case on Friday; hers was still pending, officials said.

Authorities in California and London also are investigating assault allegations. Britain has no statute of limits on rape cases; some of the allegations under investigation there date to the 1980s.

Harvey and his brother Bob Weinstein started his now-bankrupt company after leaving Miramax, the company they founded in 1979 and which became a powerhouse in ’90s indie film with hits like “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love.” The Weinstein Co. found success with Oscar winners “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech.”

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Associated Press writer Jocelyn Noveck contributed to this report.

Congressional leaders get briefings on Russia probe

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican and Democratic lawmakers have gotten classified briefings about the origins of the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a highly unusual series of meetings prompted by partisan allegations that the bureau spied on Donald Trump’s campaign.

Democrats emerged from the meetings saying they saw no evidence to support Republican allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately, although they did express grave concern about the presence of a White House lawyer at Thursday’s briefings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News he had learned “nothing particularly surprising,” but declined to go into detail.

Still, the extraordinary briefings drew attention to the unproved claims of FBI misconduct and political bias. The meetings were sought by Trump’s GOP allies and arranged by the White House, as the president has tried to sow suspicions about the legitimacy of the FBI investigation that spawned a special counsel probe. Initially offered only to Republicans, the briefings were the latest piece of stagecraft meant to publicize and bolster the allegations. But they also highlighted the degree to which the president and his allies have used the levers of the federal government — in this case, intelligence agencies — to aide in Trump’s personal and political defense.

President Donald Trump says he wants transparency from everyone involved in the investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. Trump insisted Wednesday, “what I want is total transparency.” (May 23)

Under direct pressure from the president, Justice Department officials agreed to grant Republicans a briefing, and only later opened it up to Democrats. The invite list evolved up until hours before the meeting — a reflection of the partisan distrust and the political wrangling. A White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly showed up for both briefings, although the White House had earlier said it would keep a distance, drawing criticism from Democrats.

“For the record, the president’s chief of staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the president’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing,” Sen. Mark Warner tweeted after the briefing.

The White House said the officials didn’t attend the full briefings, but instead delivered brief remarks communicating the “president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law” and relaying “the president’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government,” according to a statement.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats attended both meetings — the first at the Department of Justice and the second on Capitol Hill.

Trump has zeroed in on, and at times embellished, reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election. The president intensified his attacks this week, calling it “spygate” and tweeting Thursday that it was “Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”

It was unclear how much information was given to lawmakers. According to a U.S. official familiar with the meeting, the briefers did not reveal the name of an informant. They brought documents but did not share them, and made several remarks about the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The person declined to be identified because the briefing was classified.

In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn’t say what he learned, but said he looked forward to the “prompt completion” of the House Intelligence Committee’s work now that they are “getting the cooperation necessary.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, had originally requested the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. The original meeting was scheduled for just Nunes and Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but the Justice Department relented and allowed additional lawmakers to come after Democrats strongly objected.

Nunes and other Republicans already eager to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation used Trump’s complaints to obtain the briefing from the Justice Department, whose leaders have tried for months to balance demands from congressional overseers against their stated obligation to protect Mueller’s ongoing investigation into ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

Nunes attended both briefings Thursday. According to the U.S. official and another person briefed on the Capitol Hill meeting, Nunes did not speak at all during the briefing. The second person also declined to be named because the meeting was classified.

Democratic lawmakers declined to comment on the substance of the briefing, but gave a joint statement afterward saying their view had not changed that “there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”

The statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Warner and Rep. Adam Schiff.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr also attended the briefing but did not comment afterward.

The back and forth between Congress and the Justice Department has simmered for weeks.

The Justice Department had rejected Nunes’ original request, writing in a letter in April that his request for information could put lives in danger.

Negotiations over release of the information stalled but restarted when Trump demanded, via tweet, on Sunday that the Justice Department investigate.

In response to the tweet, the Justice Department immediately asked its inspector general to expand its ongoing investigation to look into whether there was any politically motivated surveillance of the campaign and agreed to hold the classified briefings.

It remained unclear what, if any, spying was done. The White House gave no evidence to support Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama’s administration was trying to spy on his 2016 campaign for political reasons.

It’s long been known that the FBI was looking into Russian meddling during the campaign and that part of that inquiry touched on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian figures. Mueller took over the investigation when he was appointed special counsel in May 2017.

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Jonathan Lemire, Lisa Mascaro, Chad Day and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Voting begins throughout Ireland in major abortion decision

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DUBLIN (AP) — Voters throughout Ireland have begun casting votes in a referendum that may lead to a loosening of the country’s strict ban on most abortions.

The referendum Friday will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed, which would open the way for more liberal legislation.

The amendment, in place since 1983, requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted his support for the bill before a moratorium on campaigning took effect Thursday. He urged people to vote “yes” in favor of repeal.

Results are not expected until Saturday afternoon or evening. Voting has already taken place on islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.

There was good weather Friday morning in the capital, Dublin, and much of the country, a factor that could help the “yes” forces in favor of repeal get the heavy turnout they seek.

“Yes” campaigners were handing out stickers at several major pedestrian crossroads Friday morning. Many people voted on their way to work and sported “I voted” buttons.

They didn’t sway Vera Rooney, who voted in favor of keeping the ban in place.

“It is a hard decision but I just feel I don’t have the right to take life. I think life is sacred and for that reason I had to vote no,” said Rooney, who voted early Friday at the North Grand Church polling station in Dublin.

“Trust Women” was scrawled on the pavement outside the polling station in Dublin as voting opened. An opponent of the abortion clause repeal wrote: “Mama, save me, I love you.”

Letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.

“If we vote ‘yes’, every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights,” wrote Frances Kelleher, from Killarney. “I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill. I will be voting no.”

If citizens vote in favor of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament. The government proposes that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions would be allowed in special cases.

Explosion in Canadian restaurant wounds 15 people

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TORONTO (AP) — An explosion caused by an “improvised explosive device” ripped through an Indian restaurant in a mall in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, wounding 15 people, Canadian police said.

Peel Region Sergeant Matt Bertram said two suspects with their faces covered to conceal their identity entered the Bombay Bhel restaurant late Thursday, dropped the device and fled.

“We have no indication to call it a hate crime or any kind of terrorism act,” Bertram said.

Peel Region paramedic Joe Korstanje said three people suffered critical injuries and were taken to the hospital while the remaining 12 victims suffered what he described as minor and superficial injuries. Police later updated the condition of the three critically injured patients to stable.

The explosion happened just after 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the plaza where the restaurant is located was still sealed off on Friday. Television footage showed an injured woman limping away from the restaurant.

“Nothing was said by these individuals,” Bertram said. “It appears they just went in, dropped off this device, and took off right away.”

Bertram said they couldn’t say what the device was yet.

Fifteen people were injured, three critically, Thursday night when an explosion ripped through a restaurant west of Toronto. Police say two suspects detonated an “improvised explosive device” and fled. (May 25)

“Different callers called in and said it was firecrackers or some said gunshot sort of noises. I don’t think it was an explosion that was rocking anything,” he said. “Until we can get in there and analyze the material after the search warrant we won’t be able to say what it was.”

Rafael Conceicao, a student from Sao Paulo, Brazil, was near the restaurant when the explosion occurred. He said there was a child’s birthday party inside the restaurant at the time.

“Glass was broken in the street … Everything was destroyed. Lots of blood in the floor. Many people were screaming. They were trying to run out from the restaurant,” he said.

Andre Larrivee, who lives in a nearby condo, said he was watching television when he heard a loud explosion.

“It was really loud,” he said, comparing the noise to an electric generator that had exploded at a nearby construction site recently.

Police asked for the public’s help and released a photo of the suspects, both with dark hoodies pulled over their heads and their faces covered.

Peel region police, in a tweet, described the first suspect as in his mid-20s, 5-foot-10 to 6-feet with a stocky build, wearing dark blue jeans and a baseball cap with a light gray peak.

The second suspect is described as a little shorter with a thin build, wearing faded blue jeans, a gray T-shirt and dark colored skate shoes.

The Indian consulate in Toronto tweeted it had opened a helpline for those seeking assistance following the explosion. Vikas Swarup, India’s High Commissioner to Canada, tweeted that India’s Consul General in Toronto visited the injured in the hospital. He also said that the three Indian-Canadians who were reported to be critically injured are stable.

The restaurant describes itself online as an authentic, yet casual, Indian dining experience. Police said the plaza would be sealed off all night.

Business: World stocks mixed as NKorea’s restraint eases concerns

HONG KONG (AP) — World stock markets were mixed Friday after North Korea issued a surprisingly restrained response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to cancel a planned summit.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares rose in early trading. Germany’s DAX rose 0.9 percent to 12,973.47 and France’s CAC 40 added 0.5 percent to 5,577.16. Britain’s FTSE 100 climbed 0.4 percent to 7,745.00. Wall Street was poised to open higher. Dow futures added 0.3 percent to 24,865.00 and broader S&P 500 futures were up 0.2 percent to 2,732.90.

ASIAN SCORECARD: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 0.1 percent to close at 22,450.79 but South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.2 percent to 2,460.80. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.6 percent to 30,588.04 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China slipped 0.4 percent to 3,141.30. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.1 percent to 6,032.80. Taiwan’s benchmark rose and Southeast Asian indexes were mostly lower.

SUMMIT SCRUBBED: Trump cancelled a June meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, blaming it on “tremendous anger and open hostility” that was expressed in a statement by a North Korean official. Trump later said the meeting could still happen. North Korea said it’s still willing to sit down for talks with the U.S. “at any time, at any format,” a remarkably restrained and diplomatic response that contrasts with Pyongyang’s traditional belligerence.

QUOTEWORTHY: “The reality of the situation is starting to dawn on markets that this is political theater engineered for domestic consumption. The reality is it doesn’t change the economic outlook at all,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney. He added that the more likely explanation is that investors are using it as an excuse to pull back after a strong run in the markets.

CHINA-US TRADE: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is due to arrive in Beijing on Saturday for more talks on the dispute between China and the U.S. over trade and technology policy. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the two sides will “continue negotiations on Chinese-U.S. economic and trade issues” until Monday. Last week China promised to buy more U.S. goods but the two sides made scant progress on a final settlement.

WEEK AHEAD: Investors are anticipating the latest batch of economic data for the U.S. and China due out next week, including a private payroll report and GDP numbers for the U.S. on Wednesday and China’s official monthly manufacturing index for Thursday. The numbers will give fresh insight into the state of the world’s two largest economies.

SAMSONITE SLUMP: The luggage maker’s shares tumbled for a second day in Hong Kong trading after short-seller Blue Orca Capital issued a report questioning its accounting and its CEO’s credentials. Samsonite said in a statement that the conclusions were incorrect. Its shares fell 12 percent after sliding 9 percent on Thursday. Short-sellers profit when a company’s shares fall.

ENERGY: Oil futures extended losses. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 54 cents to $70.17 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost 1.6 percent to settle at $70.71 per barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 89 cents to $77.90 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 109.54 yen from 109.25 yen in late trading Thursday. The euro rose to $1.1723 from $1.1720.

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– Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Friday, May 25:

1. Fed chair Powell in the spotlight

An appearance by Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell Friday will likely garner special attention following the release of dovish Fed minutes on Wednesday. The Federal Reserve’s minutes showed policymakers were content with inflation temporarily overshooting the 2% target, pushing odds for a fourth rate hike this year back below the 50% threshold.

Powell will participate in a panel discussion of “Financial Stability and Central Bank Transparency” sponsored by the Sveriges Riskbank scheduled from 9:15AM ET (13:15GMT) to 10:30AM ET (14:30GMT) in Stockholm, Sweden.

While markets have fully priced in a second hike at the June 12-13 meeting, traders have been considering whether the U.S. central bank may become slightly more aggressive in policy tightening, given recent signs of a pickup in inflation.

The June policy decision will be accompanied by updated economic projections and investors will keep a close eye on the “dot plot” which shows policymakers’ forecasts for interest rates.

Separately, Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic, Chicago Fed chief Charles Evans and Dallas Fed president Robert Kaplan will participate in a panel discussion at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas conference entitled “Technology-Enabled Disruption: Implications for Business, Labor Markets and Monetary Policy” in Dallas at 11:45AM ET (15:45GMT).

2. Dollar steady ahead of Powell, durable goods

The dollar showed little movement in early morning trade on Friday, on track for slight weekly gains of around 0.3%, as investors looked forward to any clues on monetary policy from Fed chair Jerome Powell and waited for the day’s economic data.

The Commerce Department will release its preliminary report on April durable goods orders at 8:30AM ET (12:30GMT) with forecasts pointing to a 1.4% decline. The more closely watched core reading is expected to show a 0.5% increase.

The University of Michigan will also provide an updated reading of consumer sentiment in May. Markets are currently expecting no revision to the preliminary reading of 98.8.

At 5:52AM ET (9:52GMT), the U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a trade-weighted basket of six major currencies, edged forward 0.11% at 93.82.

3. Output concerns continue to slam oil ahead of U.S. shale output data

Oil slid on Friday amid growing concerns that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries could increase output as soon as June and while market participants waited the most recent reading on U.S. shale production.

Saudi Arabia and Russia are discussing raising OPEC and non-OPEC oil output by around 1 million barrels per day (bpd), easing 17 months of strict supply curbs amid concerns that a price rally has gone too far, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

OPEC and non-OPEC producers led by Russia have been cutting crude output by 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) to prop up oil prices. The pact began in January 2017 and is set to expire at the end of 2018. The organization is set to meet in Vienna on June 22.

U.S. crude oil futures slid 1.91% to $69.36 at 5:57AM ET (9:57GMT), while Brent oil slumped 2.04% to $77.18.

Meanwhile, market participants looked ahead to the weekly instalment of drilling activity from Baker Hughes on Friday that will provide investors with fresh insight into U.S. oil production and demand.

Data last week showed the number of U.S. oil rigs steadied after rising for five weeks in a row.

4. Foot Locker quarterly results on tap

Foot Locker (NYSE:FL) is slated to release first-quarter earnings before U.S. markets open on Friday amid expectations that a stronger domestic performance from Nike (NYSE:NKE) bolstered the sports retailer’s same-store sales.

Foot Locker is expected to report earnings of $1.25 per share on $1.96 billion revenue.

While waiting for Foot Locker’s results, several firms were expected to see big moves after releasing their own earnings after the market close a day earlier.

Gap (NYSE:GPS) saw shares tumble nearly 8% in extended hours after the retailer reported worse-than-expected earnings per share, Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST) sank 5% after the department store chain disappointed with its second quarter same-store sales forecast and Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK) slid more than 5% as the software company also provided a weak outlook.

On the upside, Deckers Outdoor (NYSE:DECK) jumped more than 4% as the apparel retailer smashed consensus expectations on the top and bottom line.

5. Global shares find solace in North Korean response to Trump

Global stocks were trading mostly higher on Friday as markets appeared to take relief in the conciliatory response provided by North Korea after U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled a June 12 summit.

North Korean vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan said Pyongyang still hoped for a “Trump formula” to resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons program, noting that the country was open to resolving issues with the United States.

European stocks traded mostly higher nearing midday trade on Friday, while Asian shares closed mixed, but off intraday lows thanks to the North Korean announcement.

U.S. futures pointed to a higher open Friday ahead of Powell and the economic data, although trading was expected to be light ahead of the long holiday weekend. Wall Street will remain closed on Monday for Memorial Day. At 5:58AM ET (9:58GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures gained 61 points, or 0.25%, S&P 500 futures rose 6 points, or 0.22%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures traded up 28 points, or 0.40%.

Dem, GOP leaders to get classified briefing on Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — House and Senate lawmakers from both parties are set to meet with top intelligence officials Thursday as President Donald Trump raises new suspicions about the federal investigation into his 2016 campaign.

Trump is calling his newest attempt at discrediting special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation “spygate.” In recent days, he has been zeroing in on — and at times embellishing — reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign during the 2016 presidential election in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the FBI had been caught in a “major SPY scandal.”

Trump’s latest broadsides set the stage for the unusual decision by the White House to arrange a briefing Thursday about classified documents for just two Republican House members, both Trump allies, as Trump and his supporters in Congress pressed for information on the outside informant.

After Democratic complaints and negotiations that went into the late evening Wednesday, the Justice Department said it would host a second classified briefing the same day and invite the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” — a group that includes the top Republicans and Democrats in each chamber and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees.

President Donald Trump says he wants transparency from everyone involved in the investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. Trump insisted Wednesday, “what I want is total transparency.” (May 23)

There were two other late additions to the list — White House chief of staff John Kelly and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had originally said that no one from the White House would attend the briefing, at which the investigation into Trump’s campaign will be discussed.

Rosenstein will replace another Justice Department official who was originally scheduled to attend. Rosenstein was left off the list as Trump on Tuesday declined to say whether he had confidence in him. Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation, and is frequently criticized by Trump.

The two House lawmakers — Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy — were invited to attend both briefings, as were Kelly, Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats.

All were invited to the second briefing, as well, plus Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr was also invited, along with the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, Sen. Mark Warner, and the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, Rep. Adam Schiff.

Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, had originally requested the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. And Trump took up the cause as the White House tried to combat the threat posed by Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and possible obstruction of justice.

Trump escalated his efforts to discredit the investigation Wednesday, tweeting: “Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!”

It remained unclear what, if any, spying was done. The White House gave no evidence to support Trump’s claim that the Obama administration was trying to spy on his 2016 campaign for political reasons. It’s long been known that the FBI was looking into Russian meddling during the campaign and that part of that inquiry touched on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian figures. Mueller later took over the investigation when he was appointed in May 2017.

Trump has told confidants in recent days that the revelation of an informant was potential evidence that the upper echelon of federal law enforcement had conspired against him, according to three people familiar with his recent conversations but not authorized to discuss them publicly. Trump told one ally this week that he wanted “to brand” the informant a “spy,” believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public.

As Republicans worked to show a Justice Department conspiracy against Trump, Democrats and former law enforcement officials defended the agency. Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump last year, tweeted Wednesday that the agency’s use of secret informants was “tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country.”

“Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country,” Comey tweeted. “How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?”

In an interview airing Thursday on “Fox & Friends,” Trump referred to Comey as one of the “rotten apples” in FBI leadership and said he would have no problem explaining his actions to his own grandchildren.

“How is he going to explain to his grandchildren all of the lies, the deceit, all of the problems he’s caused for this country?” Trump asked.

The back and forth between Congress and the Justice Department over the Nunes request — one of many over the course of the Russia investigation — has simmered for weeks.

The department originally rejected Nunes’ appeal, writing in a letter in late April that his request for information “regarding a specific individual” could have severe consequences, including potential loss of human life. Negotiations over the information stalled, but restarted when Trump demanded in a tweet Sunday that the Justice Department investigate “whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

The Justice Department agreed by expanding an open, internal investigation to determine whether there was any politically motivated surveillance. And the White House said Kelly would organize the meeting with House lawmakers to discuss the documents.

The New York Times was the first to report that the FBI had an informant who met several times with Trump campaign officials who had suspicious contacts linked to Russia. No evidence has emerged to show that Obama-era authorities placed an informant inside the Trump campaign.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Security troops on US nuclear missile base took LSD

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WASHINGTON (AP) — One airman said he felt paranoia. Another marveled at the vibrant colors. A third admitted, “I absolutely just loved altering my mind.”

Meet service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles that are among the most powerful in America’s arsenal. Air Force records obtained by The Associated Press show they bought, distributed and used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure military base in Wyoming. After investigators closed in, one airman deserted to Mexico.

“Although this sounds like something from a movie, it isn’t,” said Capt. Charles Grimsley, the lead prosecutor of one of several courts martial.

A slipup on social media by one airman enabled investigators to crack the drug ring at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in March 2016, details of which are reported here for the first time. Fourteen airmen were disciplined. Six of them were convicted in courts martial of LSD use or distribution or both.

None of the airmen was accused of using drugs on duty. Yet it’s another blow to the reputation of the Air Force’s nuclear missile corps, which is capable of unleashing hell in the form of Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. The corps has struggled at times with misbehavior, mismanagement and low morale.

Although seen by some as a backwater of the U.S. military, the missile force has returned to the spotlight as President Donald Trump has called for strengthening U.S. nuclear firepower and exchanged threats last year with North Korea. The administration’s nuclear strategy calls for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending in coming decades.

The service members accused of involvement in the LSD ring were from the 90th Missile Wing, which operates one-third of the 400 Minuteman 3 missiles that stand “on alert” 24/7 in underground silos scattered across the northern Great Plains.

Documents obtained by the AP over the past two years through the Freedom of Information Act tell a sordid tale of off-duty use of LSD, cocaine and other drugs in 2015 and 2016 by airmen who were supposed to be held to strict behavioral standards because of their role in securing the weapons.

“It’s another black eye for the Air Force — for the ICBM force in particular,” says Stephen Schwartz, an independent consultant and nuclear expert.

In response to AP inquiries, an Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Uriah L. Orland, said the drug activity took place during off-duty hours. “There are multiple checks to ensure airmen who report for duty are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and are able to execute the mission safely, securely and effectively,” he said.

Airman 1st Class Tommy N. Ashworth was among those who used LSD supplied by colleagues with connections to civilian drug dealers.

“I felt paranoia, panic” for hours after taking a hit of acid, Ashworth said under oath at his court martial. He confessed to using LSD three times while off duty. The first time, in the summer of 2015, shook him up. “I didn’t know if I was going to die that night or not,” he said as a witness at another airman’s drug trial. Recalling another episode with LSD, he said it felt “almost as if I was going to have like a heart attack or a heat stroke.”

Airman Basic Kyle S. Morrison acknowledged at his court martial that under the influence of LSD he could not have responded if recalled to duty in a nuclear security emergency.

In prosecuting the cases at F.E. Warren, the Air Force asserted that LSD users can experience “profound effects” from even small amounts. It said common psychological effects include “paranoia, fear and panic, unwanted and overwhelming feelings, unwanted life-changing spiritual experiences, and flashbacks.”

It’s unclear how long before being on duty any of the airmen had taken LSD, which stands for lysergic acid diethylamide. The drug became popularized as “acid” in the 1960s, and views since then have been widely split on its mental health risks. Although illegal in the U.S., it had been showing up so infrequently in drug tests across the military that in December 2006 the Pentagon eliminated LSD screening from standard drug-testing procedures. An internal Pentagon memo at the time said that over the previous three years only four positive specimens had been identified in 2.1 million specimens screened for LSD.

Yet Air Force investigators found those implicated in the F.E. Warren drug ring used LSD on base and off, at least twice at outdoor gatherings. Some also snorted cocaine and used ecstasy. Civilians joined them in the LSD use, including some who had recently left Air Force service, according to two officials with knowledge of the investigation. The Air Force declined to discuss this.

Airman 1st Class Nickolos A. Harris, said to be the leader of the drug ring, testified that he had no trouble getting LSD and other drugs from civilian sources. He pleaded guilty to using and distributing LSD and using ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana.

He acknowledged using LSD eight times and distributing LSD multiple times to fellow airmen at parties in Denver and other locations from spring 2015 to early 2016.

“I absolutely just loved altering my mind,” he told the military judge, blaming his decisions to use hallucinogens and other drugs on his addictive personality.

Other airmen testified that it was easy to obtain LSD in a liquid form spread on small tabs of perforated white paper. Airmen ingested at least one tab by placing it on their tongue. In one episode summarized by a military judge at Harris’ court martial, he and other airmen watched YouTube videos and “then went longboarding on the streets of Denver while high on LSD.”

Harris was sentenced to 12 months in jail and other penalties, but under a pretrial agreement he avoided a punitive discharge. The lead prosecutor in that case, Air Force Capt. C. Rhodes Berry, had argued Harris should be locked up for 42 months, including nine months for the “aggravating circumstance” of undercutting public trust by using hallucinogens and other drugs on a nuclear weapons base.

“I cannot think of anything more aggravating than being the ringleader of a drug ring on F.E. Warren Air Force Base,” Berry said at the courts martial.

In all, the AP obtained transcripts of seven courts martial proceedings, plus related documents. They provide vivid descriptions of LSD trips.

“I’m dying!” one airman is quoted as exclaiming, followed by “When is this going to end?” during a “bad trip” on LSD in February 2016 at Curt Gowdy State Park, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Cheyenne, where F.E. Warren is located. A portion of that episode was video-recorded by one member of the group; a transcript of the audio was included in court records.

Others said they enjoyed the drug.

“Minutes felt like hours, colors seemed more vibrant and clear,” Morrison testified. “In general, I felt more alive.” He said he had used LSD in high school, which could have disqualified him from Air Force service; he said that his recruiter told him he should lie about it and that lying about prior drug use was “normal” in the Air Force.

At his court martial, Morrison acknowledged distributing LSD on the missile base in February 2016. A month later, when summoned for questioning by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Morrison confessed and became an informant for the agency, an arrangement the Air Force said yielded legally admissible evidence against 10 other airmen. Under a pretrial agreement, he agreed to testify against other airmen and avoided a punitive discharge. He was sentenced to five months’ confinement, 15 days of hard labor and loss of $5,200 in pay.

Most of the airmen involved were members of two related security units at F.E. Warren — the 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron and the 90th Security Forces Squadron. Together, they are responsible for the security and defense of the nuclear weapons there as well as the missile complex.

By coincidence, the No. 2 Pentagon official at the time, Robert Work, visited F.E. Warren one month before the drug investigation became public. Accompanied by an AP reporter, he watched as airmen of the 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron — whose members at the time included Harris, the accused leader of the drug ring — demonstrated how they would force their way into and regain control of a captured missile silo.

Work, the deputy defense secretary, was there to assess progress in fixing problems in the ICBM force identified by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who ordered an investigation after the AP reported on personnel, resource, training and leadership problems in 2013-14. Those problems included the firing of the general in charge of the entire ICBM force for inappropriate behavior the Air Force said was linked to alcohol abuse. A month later the AP revealed that an unpublished study prepared for the Air Force found “burnout” among nuclear missile launch officers and evidence of broader behavioral problems, including sexual assaults and domestic violence. Air Force officials say the force has since rebounded.

In an interview, Work said he was not aware during his visit that anything was amiss. Nor was he briefed later on the investigation. He said he wouldn’t have expected to be briefed unless the Air Force found that LSD or other illegal drugs were a “systemic problem” for the nuclear force, beyond the security forces group at F.E. Warren.

Work said he had never heard of LSD use anywhere in the nuclear workforce.

For the inexperienced members of the drug ring, Harris, the ringleader, had set out several “rules” for LSD use at a gathering of several airmen in a Cheyenne apartment in late 2015 that was recorded on video. Rule No. 1: “No social media at all.” He added: “No bad trips. Everybody’s happy right now. Let’s keep it that way.”

But social media proved their undoing. In March 2016, one member posted a Snapchat video of himself smoking marijuana, setting Air Force investigators on their trail.

As the investigators closed in, one of the accused, Airman 1st Class Devin R. Hagarty, grabbed a backpack and cash, text-messaged his mother that he loved her, turned off his cellphone and fled to Mexico. “I started panicking,” he told a military judge after giving himself up and being charged with desertion.

The Air Force said Hagarty was the first convicted deserter from an ICBM base since January 2013. In court, he admitted using LSD four times in 2015-16 and distributing it once, and he said he had deserted with the intention of never returning. He also admitted to using cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana multiple times. He was sentenced to 13 months in a military jail.

In all, disciplinary action was taken against 14 airmen. In addition, two accused airmen were acquitted at courts martial, and three other suspects were not charged.

North Korea demolishes nuke test site with series of blasts

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PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea (AP) — North Korea carried out what it said is the demolition of its nuclear test site Thursday, setting off a series of explosions over several hours in the presence of foreign journalists.

The explosions at the nuclear test site deep in the mountains of the North’s sparsely populated northeast were centered on three tunnels at the underground site and a number of buildings in the surrounding area.

The planned closing was previously announced by leader Kim Jong Un ahead of his planned summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, which is scheduled to take place next month.

The demolition came as the North lobbed another verbal salvo at Washington, calling Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” and saying it is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table.

The North’s decision to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Kim to set a positive tone ahead of the summit. Even so, it is not an irreversible move and would need to be followed by many more significant measures to meet Trump’s demands for real denuclearization.

By bringing in a small group of television journalists and other members of the news media, the North is likely hoping to have dramatic images of the closing — including explosions to collapse tunnel entrances — broadcast around the world.

The group of journalists that witnessed the demolition included an Associated Press Television crew.

The North did not invite international nuclear weapons inspectors to the ceremony.

The first blast visiting journalists witnessed happened at around 11 a.m. local time. North Korean officials said it collapsed the north tunnel, which was used for five nuclear tests between 2009 and last year.

Two other explosions at around 2:20 p.m. and 4 p.m. demolished the west and south tunnels, according to officials.

Thursday’s demolition also involved the destruction of observation posts and barracks used by guards and other workers at the facility.

Another tunnel on the eastern side of the facility was shut down after an initial nuclear test in 2006.

The journalists who were allowed to witness the demolition arrived in the morning and stayed at the site for around nine hours.

Getting to the remote site required an 11-hour overnight train journey from Wonsan, a port city east of the capital, Pyongyang.

The outburst at Pence, issued in the name of a top Foreign Ministry official, comes on the heels of another sharp rebuke of Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser, John Bolton, and has raised concerns that a major gap has opened between the two sides just weeks before the June 12 summit in Singapore.

In both cases, Pyongyang was trying to push back against hard-line comments suggesting North Korea may end up like Libya if it doesn’t move forward quickly and irreversibly with concrete measures to get rid of its nuclear weapons.

Choe Son Hui, a vice minister of foreign affairs, was quoted Thursday by the North’s state-run news agency slamming as “ignorant” and “stupid” comments Pence made in an interview with Fox News that compared the nuclear-capable North to Libya. Libya gave up its program at an early stage only to see its longtime dictator overthrown and brutally killed years later.

The summit plan has hit a number of speed bumps recently as both sides have begun trading barbs and taking tougher positions. Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday at the White House for consultations and suggested the summit could be delayed or even called off entirely.

Even so, both sides still seem to want to hold the meeting, which would be unprecedented.

Success in talks would be a huge accomplishment for Trump. Meeting with the U.S. president as an equal on the world stage would be a major coup for Kim.

Investigators: Russian military missile downed Flight MH17

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BUNNIK, Netherlands (AP) — Detailed analysis of video and photos has unequivocally established that the Buk missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine nearly four years ago came from a Russia-based military unit, an international team of investigators said Thursday.

It is the clearest link yet published by the team of the involvement of Russian military in the deadly missile strike.

Prosecutors said they have presented their findings to Moscow and are seeking answers, but so far have not received a response. The international team running the criminal investigation appealed for help from witnesses who can testify about the involvement of the Russian military’s 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade based in the city of Kursk.

Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the new conclusion raised new questions: “Such as the question about how actively involved the brigade itself was in bringing down Flight MH17.”

Russia has always denied involvement in the downing of the jet.

Westerbeke said the Joint Investigation Team, or JIT, is not yet ready to name suspects, but added: “I can say that we are now entering the … last phase of the investigation. When we will be ready, it’ is not possible to say at the moment because there is still a lot of work to do.”

The Boeing 777 passenger jet was headed from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when it was blown out of the sky over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All 298 passengers and crew were killed.

Prosecutors said in 2016 that the plane was shot down by a Buk 9M38 missile fired from territory controlled by Russia-backed rebels, using a mobile launcher trucked in from Russia and hastily returned there. Thursday’s presentation went a step further by identifying the exact unit allegedly involved and more details of the rocket, and showing a compilation of videos and photos from social media tracing the missile convoy’s journey.

Investigators also displayed parts of the engine casing and exhaust system of a Buk 9M38 series missile recovered from eastern Ukraine and showed photos of a unique serial number on the missile. Team members said that careful analysis of video and photos from social media traced the journey of the Russian missile convoy into Ukraine and identified the missile launcher system.

The displayed missile’s serial number gave them a “fingerprint” identifying it and where it was made but investigators said they could not yet say with certainty that it was the exact missile used to down MH17. They appealed for witnesses to come forward with more information about the missile.

“All findings from this forensic investigation confirm the earlier conclusion of the JIT that Flight MH 17 was shot down by 9M38 series missile,” said Jennifer Hurst of the Australian Federal Police.

In a written statement, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said: “That a sophisticated weapon belonging to the Russian Army was dispatched and used to shoot down a civilian aircraft should be of grave international concern. We are discussing these findings with our partners and considering our options.”

Ultimately, any suspects identified and charged will be prosecuted in Dutch courts — if they can be arrested and brought to trial.

Of the 298 people of more than 30 nationalities killed, 196 were Dutch, 42 Malaysian and 27 Australian.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok welcomed the newly released findings.

“This is an important piece of the puzzle,” Blok said. “I am very impressed by the evidence that has been collected.”

His Belgian counterpart, Didier Reynders, called on all countries to cooperate fully with the investigation “so that those responsible can be brought to justice.”

No immigration deal unless ‘real wall,’ good security

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he opposes any immigration legislation that doesn’t include “a real wall” along the Mexican border and “very strong border security.”

Moderates House Republicans are pushing a deal that could lead to citizenship for young “Dreamer” immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally.

But Trump tells “Fox & Friends” that unless any bill “improves a wall, and I mean a wall, a real wall, and unless it improves very strong border security, there’ll be no approvals from me.”

Trump’s also taking issue with the immigration court system, saying other countries have “security people” who “stand there and say you can’t come in” rather than judges who decide immigration claims.

“Whoever heard of a system where you put people through trials? … We’re going to change the system.”

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— President Donald Trump is urging the Senate to get its work done on funding before the August break, “or NOT GO HOME.”

The president tweeted Saturday that “Wall and Border Security should be included.” He also said that he is “waiting for approval of almost 300 nominations, worst in history.”

Trump blamed Democrats for “doing everything possible to obstruct.”

The president’s push for speedy action on spending measures and nominations, followed a recent letter from a group of Senate Republicans pressing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cancel the August recess later this year. That effort was led by Sen. David Perdue of Georgia.

The Senate Republicans said that spending more time on their pending work is particularly critical when Congress is facing what they call “historic obstruction” by Democrats.

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– U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen on Wednesday signed a petition to force the House to vote on a series of immigration bills, breaking with House Speaker Paul Ryan on how to resolve the uncertain status of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The Republican from Minnesota’s Third Congressional District joined a growing list of his fellow House Republicans in signing what’s known as a discharge petition, which would circumvent GOP leadership to compel floor debates on a package of immigration proposals. In all, 21 GOP lawmakers so far have joined Democrats in trying to force a vote on legislation that would protect the immigrants, commonly known as Dreamers, who had been eligible for renewable reprieves from deportation and eligible for work permits under the Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) program.

“President Donald Trump and our leadership have promised action on the DACA issue for a long period of time, and they haven’t produced any results,” Paulsen told the Star Tribune. “And I just feel it’s time to take action and make sure that we can have votes on bipartisan bills.”

The move came days after the conservative House Freedom Caucus joined Democrats to sink the farm bill after trying to negotiate an immigration deal to their liking. The fate of DACA has weighed over Congress since Trump moved to end the program last fall, prompting Republican House members from Florida, Texas and California to gather signatures from their ranks to bypass GOP leadership.

If all 193 House Democrats sign onto the discharge positions, then supporters would need just four more Republicans to sign on in order to force the votes.

“You’ve got groups holding other bills hostage, like the farm bill and other things, which is kind of ridiculous,” said Paulsen, who voted for the farm bill Friday. “So I think that’s the frustration that some of us have — that we’ve got to make sure the place is functional and working.”

He added: “This should not be delayed and pushed out until later in the year or the next year or the year after that.”

Paulsen faces a competitive re-election campaign this year in his suburban Hennepin County district, which went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Immigration is the latest issue on which he’s broken from the traditional party line. He’s also supported several gun control bills in recent months, despite a long history of supporting gun rights, voting in line with the National Rifle Association and accepting political contributions from the group.

The campaign of his DFL opponent, Dean Phillips, pointed to Paulsen’s votes in recent years to make DACA enrollees subject to deportation.

“Trying to score political points after leaving so many young Dreamers in limbo is heartless — but unfortunately it is to be expected of a career politician,” Phillips said in a statement.

“We find Rep. Paulsen’s statement disingenuous at best,” said a statement from Jena Martin, co-chair of Indivisible MN03, a group in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District that describes itself as a “progressive grassroots network … to resist the Trump Agenda.” The organization has endorsed Phillips. “Where was the representative when we invited him to rallies on this DACA issue outside his office in February?”

Paulsen maintained that he’s always supported immigration reform and granting certainty to DACA enrollees. Paulsen sponsored legislation last year to give DACA recipients five years of legal protection when they find a job or enroll in college or the military, in order to give them time to seek citizenship.

Business: Global stocks subdued as US mulls auto import tariffs

BANGKOK (AP) — World stock markets were subdued Thursday as carmakers’ shares fell after the Trump administration said it was investigating imposing new tariffs on imports of autos and auto parts.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX was flat at 12,975 and the CAC 40 in France rose 0.4 percent to 5,589. The FTSE 100 in Britain was down 0.1 percent at 7,782. Futures for the S&P 500 were flat while the Dow futures edged down less than 0.1 percent.

TRUMP ON TRADE: China, Japan and the European Union condemned the Trump administration’s decision to launch an investigation into whether tariffs are needed on imports of vehicles and automotive parts into the United States. Toyota Motor Corp.’s shares fell 3.1 percent while Honda Motor Co’s shares dropped 3.4 percent. Daimler’s shares fell 3 percent, BMW’s 2.9 percent and Volkswagen’s 2.7 percent.

ANALYST’S PERSPECTIVE: “Fasten up as this will surely get bumpier with tariffs, NAFTA and North Korea dominating headlines still,” Stephen Innes of OANDA said in a commentary. “The underperformance of emerging market currencies and heightened global geopolitical risks should continue to wear on investors risk appetite.”

DEUTSCHE BANK LAYOFFS: Germany’s struggling Deutsche Bank said it is cutting its workforce from 97,000 to below 90,000 as it reshapes its stocks trading operation and refocuses its global investment banking business on its European base. It said the reductions were already underway. Shares in the bank were down 2.3 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 1.1 percent to 22,437.01 and the Kospi in South Korea slipped 0.2 percent to 2,466.01. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 edged 0.1 percent higher to 6,037.10 and the Shanghai Composite index lost 0.5 percent to 3,154.65. Shares rose in Indonesia, Taiwan and Singapore but fell in Thailand.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 73 cents to $71.11 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 36 cents to $71.84 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 77 cents to $79.03.

CURRENCIES: The dollar dropped to 109.64 yen from 110.09 yen. The euro rose to $1.1713 from $1.1697.

– Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Thursday, May 24:

1. U.S.-China Trade Dispute Remains In Focus

Trade concerns continued to nag at investors after U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to have opened a new front in the trade war by considering new tariffs, this time on cars.

The Trump administration is weighing a plan that would impose tariffs of as much as 25% on imported vehicles, citing national security grounds.

The move opens yet another front in the Trump administration’s trade battles with both allies and rivals, a confrontational approach that has yielded mixed results.

Meanwhile, China’s Commerce Ministry said earlier that it had not pledged to cut the country’s trade surplus with the U.S. by a certain figure, fueling uncertainty over trade talks between the world’s two largest economic powers.

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

U.S. stock futures pointed to a muted open, as investors looked ahead to a fresh batch of corporate earnings and economic data, while monitoring fresh developments surrounding talks with China and North Korea.

At around 5:45AM ET, the blue-chip Dow futures dipped around 7 points, or less than 0.1%, the S&P 500 futures inched up 1 point, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures indicated a gain of 7 points, or roughly 0.1%.

Stocks ended slightly higher on Wednesday, as an early session sell-off was entirely erased following the release of the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting.

On the earnings front, reports from Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST), and Gap (NYSE:GPS) will be the notable reporters from the retail sector, while Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL), Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK), and McKesson (NYSE:MCK) will also report results on Thursday.

Elsewhere, in Europe, the continent’s major bourses inched higher in mid-morning trade, with Italy leading the advancers as political tension there eased for now.

Earlier, in Asia, markets in the region stumbled as investors reacted to fresh setbacks in trade talks between the U.S. and China.

3. Dollar Loses Steam After Dovish Fed Minutes

The dollar lost momentum against a basket of currencies, pulling back from a five-month high after the minutes of the Fed’s last policy meeting were seen as dovish.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was down 0.25% at 93.67, down from a five-month high of 94.12 set on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield stood at around 3.01% in early action.

While the minutes showed most policymakers thought it likely another interest rate increase would be warranted “soon”, they also revealed the Fed would tolerate inflation rising above its goal for a time, suggesting it would not raise the tempo at which it increases interest rates.

On the economic data side, investors will get the weekly report on initial jobless claims at 8:30AM ET, followed by home prices for March at 9AM ET.

A report on existing home sales in April, and the Kansas City Fed’s latest manufacturing activity reading are then due at 10AM and 11AM respectively.

4. Oil Prices Slip On Rising Stockpiles, OPEC Worries

Crude prices were on the backfoot, pressured by a surprise jump in weekly U.S. crude supplies.

U.S. crude was down 53 cents, or 0.7%, at $71.31, while Brent crude, the global benchmark, declined 78 cents, or 1%, to $79.02 a barrel.

Speculation that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries may decide to boost output to make up for a Venezuelan production shortfall and potential lost supply from Iran also weighed on oil prices

5. DOJ Launches Investigation Into Bitcoin Manipulation

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into whether traders are manipulating the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Investigators are focused on illegal moves that can affect prices, such as spoofing, which refers to flooding a market with fake orders.

Federal prosecutors are working with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the sources said.

Bitcoin prices sank 7%, or around $550, to $7,339 (BTC/USD), after falling sharply Wednesday.

Trump seethes over Russia probe, calls for end to ‘SPYGATE’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump escalated his efforts to discredit the Russia investigation Wednesday, saying the FBI has been caught in a “MAJOR spy scandal” over their use of a secret informant to determine whether some of Trump’s campaign aides were working with Russia ahead of the 2016 election.

“SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!” Trump said in an early morning Twitter tirade.

Trump and his GOP supporters in Congress are now demanding information on the outside informant, claiming it is proof that the Obama administration was trying to spy on his campaign for political reasons. The White House has negotiated rare access to classified documents for Trump’s congressional allies in a briefing expected Thursday.

“Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!”

The president’s comments came a day after he increased pressure on the Justice Department, declining to say whether he has confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Over the weekend, Trump demanded that the Justice Department investigate the FBI and Justice Department’s handling of the Russia probe.

The Justice Department agreed by expanding an open, internal investigation to determine whether there was any politically motivated surveillance. And the White House said that Trump chief of staff John Kelly would organize the meeting with House lawmakers to review the documents, although he and other White House staffers would not be present.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and Justice Department official Edward O’Callaghan will meet with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said no Democrats were invited because they had not requested the information, despite calls from lawmakers for the briefing to be bipartisan.

The top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said the briefing should have been done through the bipartisan “Gang of 8,” which includes Republican and Democratic leaders and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence panels. That group regularly receives classified briefings.

The New York Times was the first to report that the FBI had an informant who met several times with Trump campaign officials who had suspicious contacts linked to Russia.

The Justice Department’s internal probe began in March at the request of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and congressional Republicans. Sessions and the lawmakers urged Inspector General Michael Horowitz to review whether FBI and Justice Department officials abused their surveillance powers by using information compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, and paid for by Democrats to justify monitoring Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to Trump.

Horowitz said his office will look at those claims as well as communications between Steele and Justice and FBI officials.

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Jill Colvin, Eric Tucker, Darlene Superville and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

 

Tens of thousands of Las Vegas casino workers OK strike

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas casinos could watch tens of thousands of employees walk off the job for the first time in more than three decades after union members voted to authorize a strike at any time starting June 1, a move that could cripple the city’s world-famous resorts.

About 25,000 members of the Culinary Union who work at 34 different casino-resorts across the tourist destination cast ballots in two sessions Tuesday, showing the collective power of the largest labor organization in Nevada. The move hands union negotiators a huge bargaining chip as they work to solidify new five-year contracts.

The union last voted for a strike in 2002 but reached a deal before employees walked out. The last strike, in 1984, spanned 67 days and cost the city and workers tens of millions of dollars.

The latest strike would mean losing workers with roles critical to making a casino-hotel run: bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and other kitchen workers. It would affect properties including Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Stratosphere, The D and El Cortez.

It also could cause problems for fans heading to the city to watch the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team play in the Stanley Cup Final in early June, a rare feat for a team in its first year.

“I’m here to show the younger generations that this is the way we fight to maintain our jobs, job security, health benefits and to gain a pay raise,” Lewis Thomas, a utility porter at the Tropicana casino-hotel, said. “This will be a wake-up call to let (the companies) know we are together, we are united, we are not separated.”

The contracts of 50,000 unionized workers are set to expire at midnight May 31, and negotiations with individual casino-operating companies have not led to agreements for new terms.

Union officials have said they want to increase wages, protect job security against the increasing use of technology at hotel-casinos, and strengthen language against sexual harassment.

“We’ve been in negotiations with the companies, and they are not giving the workers what they deserve according to the economy right now,” Geoconda Arguello-Kline, union secretary-treasurer, said after the first voting session. “They are very successful. They have a lot of money.”

MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp. operate more than half the properties that would be affected by a strike. MGM said it will keep meeting with the union.

“A vote such as this is an expected part of the process,” the company said in a statement after results were released. “We are confident that we can resolve the outstanding contract issues and will come to an agreement that works for all sides.”

Caesars released a statement late Tuesday saying it expects to reach an agreement with the union “on or about June 1.”

Shares of both casinos slid around 2 percent before the opening bell Wednesday and other gaming-affiliated companies were under pressure as well.

Union members enthusiastically gathered Tuesday at the Thomas and Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. They high-fived, took selfies and carried signs urging people to vote.

Banners outside said, “Show up or give up, security strike vote” amid pro-union chants in English and Spanish. Some workers chanted, “Hey, Caesars, look around, Vegas is a union town” and “No contract, no peace.”

Some employees stopped by in their casino-resort uniforms on their way to or from work, while others donned shirts emblazoned with “Vegas Strong” and the union logo.

Inside, union organizers verified people were eligible to vote, and workers dropped their paper ballots in numbered boxes.

When casino workers across Las Vegas went on a strike in 1984, union members lost an estimated $75 million in wages and benefits and the city lost a similar amount in tourism revenue. Millions more were lost in gambling income.

Don Leadbeter, a bellman at the MGM Grand, has worked at Las Vegas casino-hotels for more than four decades and participated in previous strike votes. He said workers this time want to protect their job security and ensure that employers provide training as they adopt more workplace technology.

He said bartenders are already using automated systems that could potentially eliminate their jobs, and guests are now able to check in and out of resorts without interacting with front-desk personnel, putting those jobs at risk, too.

“I want the companies to open up their eyes and think what’s going to happen if we go on a strike,” Leadbeter said. “That’s a lot of business that’s going to go down.”

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Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO

ELECTION 2018: Georgia Democrat challenges racial barrier in governor race

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ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Democrats gave Atlanta lawyer Stacey Abrams a chance to become the first black female governor in American history on a primary night that ended well for several women seeking office.

Abrams set new historical marks with a primary victory Tuesday that made her the first black nominee and first female nominee for governor of either majority party in Georgia.

Voters also picked nominees in Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas ahead of the November midterms. A closer look at key story lines:

GEORGIA GOVERNOR’S RACE

Democrats were set to nominate a woman for governor either way, with Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans battling it out in a pitched primary fight.

But the 44-year-old Abrams stood out in her bid to be the nation’s first African-American woman to lead a state. The former state General Assembly leader was insistent that the way to dent Republican domination in Georgia wasn’t by cautiously pursuing the older white voters who had abandoned Democrats over recent decades. Rather, she wanted to widen the electorate by attracting young voters and nonwhites who hadn’t been casting ballots.

Georgia Democrats chose Atlanta lawyer Stacey Abrams to be their nominee for Governor. Republican candidates there are in a runoff. Texas Democrats nominated former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to take on Republican Governor Greg Abbott. (May 23)

She will test her theory as the underdog against either Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle or Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who will meet in Republican runoff in July. Cagle led a five-man Republican field, with Kemp qualifying for the second spot after a campaign that was a sprint to the right on everything from immigration to support for President Donald Trump.

Kemp promised to keep pulling in that direction, with Cagle trying to balance the demands of a conservative primary electorate with his support from the business establishment. The scenario worried some Georgia Republicans who were accustomed to centrist, business-aligned governors who rarely flouted Atlanta-based behemoths like Delta and Coca-Cola.

Some GOP figures worried the GOP gamesmanship on immigration and gay rights, in particular, already had ensured Georgia wouldn’t land Amazon’s second headquarters.

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TEXAS CONGRESSIONAL RUNOFFS

Texas had three House runoffs that will be key to whether Democrats can flip the minimum 24 GOP-held seats they would need for a majority in next year’s Congress. All three were among 25 districts nationally where Trump ran behind Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats nominated women in two of the districts and a black man in the third.

Attorney Lizzie Fletcher far outpaced activist Laura Moser in a metro-Houston congressional contest that became a proxy for Democrats’ fight between liberals and moderates. National Democrats’ campaign committee never endorsed Fletcher, but released opposition research against Moser amid fears that she was too liberal to knock off vulnerable Republican Rep. John Culberson in the fall.

In a San Antonio-Mexican border district, Gina Ortiz Jones, an Air Force veteran and former intelligence officer, got Democrats’ nod to face Republican Rep. Will Hurd in November. Jones would be the first openly lesbian congresswoman from her state. Hurd is black.

Former NFL player Colin Allred won a battle of two attorneys and former Obama administration officials in a metro-Dallas House district. Allred, who is black, topped Lillian Salerno and will face Republican Rep. Pete Sessions in November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lined up behind Allred after the group’s initial favorite failed to make the runoff.

Among Republicans, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz showed off his endorsement muscle, with his former chief of staff, Chip Roy, winning a competitive runoff for a San Antonio-area congressional seat opened by the retirement of Rep. Lamar Smith.

In the governor’s race, Democrats tapped former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to take on Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in November. Valdez is Texas’ first openly gay and first Latina nominee for governor.

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DEMS BATTLE IN KENTUCKY

Voters in a central Kentucky congressional district opted for retired Marine officer and fighter pilot Amy McGrath over Lexington Mayor Jim Gray to advance to a fall campaign against Republican Rep. Andy Barr.

National Democrats once touted Gray as one of their best recruits in their efforts for a House majority. They said in recent weeks they’d be happy with McGrath, but the race still shaped up as a battle between rank-and-file activists and the party establishment.

McGrath was making her first bid for public office, among a handful of female Naval Academy graduates running for Congress this year.

Gray also lost a 2016 Senate race.

In eastern Kentucky’s Rowan County, voters denied the Democratic nomination to a gay candidate who wanted to challenge the local clerk who denied him and others same-sex marriage licenses.

David Ermold had wanted to face Republican Kim Davis, who went to jail three years ago for denying marriage licenses in the aftermath of an historic U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

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ARKANSAS’ HEALTH CARE PREVIEW

While Washington fixates on the daily developments in the Russia election meddling investigation, Democratic congressional candidates insist they’ll win in November arguing about bread-and-butter issues like health care.

Arkansas state Rep. Clarke Tucker captured Democrats’ congressional nomination in a Little Rock-based district by telling his story as a cancer survivor. Though he faced a crowded primary field, his real target all along has been Republican Rep. French Hill, who voted many times to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The Arkansas district may not be at the top of Democrats’ national target list, but it’s the kind of district the party might have to win to be assured of regaining House control in November.

The state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, dispatched primary opposition as he sought another term. Democrats nominated former Teach for America executive Jared Henderson.

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Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP

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This story has been corrected to show that Republican Rep. Will Hurd of Texas is black, not white.

US, South Korea work to keep North Korea summit on track

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and South Korea are laboring to keep the highly anticipated U.S. summit with North Korea on track, even after President Donald Trump abruptly said “there’s a very substantial chance” it won’t happen as scheduled.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in reminded Trump Tuesday of the sky-high stakes, saying, “The fate and the future of the Korean Peninsula hinge” on the meeting.

The June 12 summit, planned for Singapore, offers a historic chance for peace on the peninsula — but also the risk of an epic diplomatic failure that would allow the North to revive and advance its nuclear weapons program.

U.S. officials say preparations are still underway. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is appearing Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “We’re driving on.”

Trump’s newfound hesitation appeared to reflect recent setbacks in efforts to bring about reconciliation between the two Koreas, as well as concern whether the self-proclaimed dealmaker can deliver a nuclear accord with the North’s Kim Jong Un.

Seated in the Oval Office with Moon Jae-in Tuesday, Trump said Kim had not met unspecified “conditions” for the summit. However, the president also said he believed Kim was “serious” about negotiations, and Moon expressed “every confidence” in Trump’s ability to hold the summit and bring about peace.

President Donald Trump says the planned Singapore summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “may not work out,” and the president suggested it could be delayed. (May 22)

“I have no doubt that you will be able to … accomplish a historic feat that no one had been able to achieve in the decades past,” Moon said.

U.S. officials said preparations for the summit were still underway despite recent pessimism — and privately suggested there would be additional public maneuvering as both sides seek to maximize their leverage. Both parties to the talks are invested in holding the meeting, with Kim seeing an opportunity for international legitimacy and Trump the prospect of securing Korean stability — and perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize.

Trump suggested the summit could be delayed rather than canceled: “It may not work out for June 12, but there is a good chance that we’ll have the meeting.”

He did not detail the conditions he had laid out for Kim but said if they aren’t met, “we won’t have the meeting.” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was referring to a commitment to seriously discuss denuclearization.

Skepticism about the North’s intentions have mounted in recent weeks after Kim’s government pulled out of planned peace talks with the South last week, objecting to long-scheduled joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces. The North also threatened to abandon the planned Trump-Kim meeting over U.S. insistence on rapidly denuclearizing the peninsula, issuing a harshly worded statement that the White House dismissed as a negotiating ploy.

Trump expressed suspicion that the North’s recent aggressive barbs were influenced by Kim’s unannounced trip to China two weeks ago — his second in as many months. Trump said he’d noticed “a little change” in Kim’s attitude after the trip.

“I don’t like that,” he said.

The president added that he hoped Chinese President Xi Jinping was actually committed to the goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, calling him a “world-class poker player.” Trump said he was displeased by China’s softening of border enforcement measures against North Korea.

Trump encouraged Kim to focus on the opportunities offered by the meeting and to make a deal to abandon his nuclear program, pledging not only to guarantee Kim’s personal security but also predicting an economic revitalization for the North.

“I will guarantee his safety, yes,” Trump said, noting that promise was conditioned on an agreement to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Trump said if such an agreement is reached, China, Japan and South Korea would invest large sums to “make North Korea great.”

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Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

Hawaii lava evacuees grow weary as uncertainty drags on

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PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — Ed Arends grabbed what he could in the night and fled his 5-acre property, lava oozing from a crack in his neighborhood on Hawaii’s Big Island.

That was more than two weeks ago. He hasn’t been able to stay at his house since.

“It’s disconcerting not being home, being displaced,” Arends said. “I’m sleeping on a sofa in a guy’s living room.”

As uncertainty drags on over what the Kilauea volcano will do next, those who were forced to leave their homes weeks ago are growing weary.

More than 300 people were staying at three different shelters as of Saturday, Hawaii County mayor’s spokeswoman Janet Snyder said. Some 2,000 people who live in the Leilani Estates neighborhood, including Arends, and nearby areas were still evacuated after a lava fissure opened May 3.

Officials ordered more people to evacuate Saturday when lava crossed a highway and flowed into the ocean, creating new health hazards. Lava has consumed more than 40 buildings.

Those who live in the remote, rural Puna district on the slopes of the Kilauea volcano know the lava risks. Leilani Estates sits in a zone that the U.S Geological Survey deems to have the highest risk of a lava flow.

Hawaii residents forced to evacuate their homes because of lava oozing out of cracks in their neighborhoods are growing weary. Many of them have been displaced for two weeks and it’s not clear when they’ll be able to return. (May 20)

Residents are allowed to return during the day to check on their homes. Some 25 miles (40 kilometers) away at the summit, there are intermittent explosions that send ash wafting over communities.

It’s not known whether lava flows will keep advancing or stop, and new flows are likely.

Steve Clapper stood in the rain outside a shelter where he and his mother have been staying since evacuating Leilani Estates. He sleeps in his truck with his dogs while his mother sleeps inside the shelter.

The uncertainty has made Clapper want to get his 88-year-old mother, who has dementia and is on oxygen, off the island.

“We don’t have any control over it, and this could go on for years,” he said.

Don Waguespack, who co-owns Cajun Paradise Farms down a hill from where fissures have opened, evacuated to a small hotel room on the opposite side of the island.

“We evacuated to Kona and felt so helpless over there, I think it was worse mentally for us than being here,” he said.

So Waguespack returned, relieved to find his home on his 10-acre property still standing.

Arends and his brother Mike Arends, who also evacuated from Leilani Estates, were grateful their houses were still safe.

“It’s pretty early to tell what’s going to happen, things change on almost a daily basis,” Ed Arends said.

Yet living out of bags, not knowing where your toothbrush might be at a given moment, is tiring and stressful for the brothers.

“It’s easy to go two or three days with it, but I think after two weeks, it grates on you a little bit,” Mike Arends said. “You start to get weaker, you start to get more tired, you’re not quite sleeping right, you’re not eating right.”

Business: Global shares fall amid worries over US-China trade, Koreas

TOKYO (AP) — Shares were mostly lower in Europe and Asia on Wednesday after President Donald Trump raised doubts that a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un planned for June 12 will take place as planned.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 dipped in early trading, down 1.2 percent to 5,573.71, while Germany’s DAX slipped 1.4 percent to 12,983.87. Britain’s FTSE 100 edged 0.6 percent lower to 7,832.24. U.S. shares were set to drift lower with Dow futures down 0.6 percent at 24,686. S&P 500 futures shed 0.7 percent to 2,706.70.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dipped 1.2 percent to finish at 22,689.74, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.2 percent at 6,032.50. South Korea’s Kospi gained nearly 0.3 percent to 2,471.91. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1.8 percent to 30,665.64, while the Shanghai Composite index shed 1.4 percent to 3,168.96.

NORTH KOREA: After meeting with South Korea’s president, President Donald Trump suggested that the highly anticipated June 12 U.S. summit with North Korea could be delayed. The summit, planned for Singapore, offers a historic chance for peace on the peninsula but also the risk of a diplomatic failure.

U.S.-CHINA TRADE: Trump said the United States and China are working toward an agreement that would ease U.S. sanctions that were imposed on ZTE Corp. and let the Chinese telecommunications giant stay in business. The deal might require ZTE to revamp its board and to pay a fine of $1 billion or more, Trump said. The talks follow an agreement by both sides to hold off on punitive tariffs they had threatened to impose on up to $200 billion of each other’s goods.

THE QUOTE: “Equity markets can be seen continuing to sing to the tune of geopolitics with freshly brewed U.S.-China and U.S.-North Korean concerns,” said Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG in Singapore.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 31 cents to $71.89 per barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dropped 52 cents to $79.05.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 109.92 yen from Tuesday’s 110.92 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1723 from $1.1826.

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– Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Wednesday, May 23:

1. Fed minutes in focus

The Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its most recent policy meeting at 2:00PM ET (18:00GMT) Wednesday, which may provide further insight into the conversation among policymakers ahead of their May 2 decision to keep interest rates unchanged.

The minutes will be monitored closely for the Fed’s views on inflation and how that can affect the current rate-hiking path.

Investors have fully priced in a rate rise at the Fed’s next policy meeting on June 12-13. However, Wall Street is divided over how many more time the central bank will raise interest rates after that.

The U.S. central bank currently forecasts two more rate hikes in 2018, although market expectations of a third move higher before the end of the year has been gaining momentum in recent weeks amid strengthening inflation prospects.

In other economic data scheduled for Wednesday, traders will also keep an eye on Markit’s preliminary reading of business activity for May at 9:45AM ET (13:45GMT) with April new home sales out just 15 minutes later.

2. Global stocks hit by geopolitical uncertainty

Global stocks continued to be pressured on Wednesday as geopolitical uncertainty once again reared its head.

Wall Street ended lower on Tuesday after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was not pleased with recent U.S.-China trade talks that took place last week, dampening the positive sentiment seen since Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced over the weekend that the trade war was “on hold”.

Trump also raised doubts about whether the U.S.-North Korea summit would take place as planned on June 12 amid concerns that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is resistant to giving up his nuclear weapons.

Reports that the President would seek to cut 10% of European steel exports to the United States also added to trade war fears amid expectations an EU-U.S. trade war would be far reaching expanding over multiple industries.

The selloff a day earlier on Wall Street spread to Asian shares on Wednesday, sending Japan’s Nikkei and China’s Shanghai Composite down 1.2% and 1.4%, respectively.

European stocks shared in market jitters on Wednesday, sliding more than 1%, with a string of negative economic data adding to the selloff in midday trade.

U.S. futures pointed to a lower open as trade concerns continued to weigh and markets awaited the Fed minutes and earnings from discount retailer Target. At 5:52AM ET (9:52GMT), the blue-chip

Dow futures fell 188 points, or 0.76%, S&P 500 futures lost 18 points, or 0.67%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures traded down 69 points, or 1.00%.

3. UK inflation data sends cable to 2018 low

The pound hit a fresh five-month low against the dollar on Wednesday as a reading of annual inflation unexpectedly slowed to 2.4%, its lowest level since March 2017.

The low level of inflation may ease pressure on the Bank of England to move forward with policy tightening.

Although BoE governor Mark Carney testified to the UK Treasury Select Committee on Tuesday that the central bank expects interest rates to rise at a limited and gradual rate, traders remain split over whether there will be a rate hike in August.

By 5:53AM ET (9:53GMT), GBP/USD was off 0.59% at 1.3355.

4. Euro hits 5-month low against the dollar on weak private sector growth

The euro was near a five-month low after private sector growth in the euro zone fell to its slowest pace in 18 months in May.

The flash Euro zone composite output index, which measures the combined output of both the manufacturing and service sectors, registered a reading of 54.1 in May, compared to expectations for a reading of 55.0.

The weak report is likely to push back expectations that the European Central Bank will move forward with the removal of accommodative monetary policy.

EUR/USD fell 0.44% to 1.1727 as of 5:55AM ET (9:55GMT), near its lowest level since December.

5. Oil drops amid reports that OPEC considers output increase

Oil prices edged lower on Wednesday as reports that OPEC could increase output as soon as June weighed on sentiment and investors looked ahead to weekly U.S. inventory data.

Worries over Iranian and Venezuelan supply along with the fact that Washington raised concerns the oil rally was going too far may lead to an agreement to raise production, according to OPEC and oil industry sources cited by Reuters.

Meanwhile, market participants looked ahead to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s release of its official weekly oil supplies report at 10:30AM ET (14:30GMT), amid forecasts for an oil-stock drop of 1.5 million barrels.

After markets closed Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute said that U.S. oil inventories declined by 1.3 million barrels last week.

U.S. crude oil futures fell 0.58% to $71.78 at 5:56AM ET (9:56GMT), while Brent oil gave up 0.83% to $78.91.

Corruption White House: The princes, the president and the fortune seekers

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WASHINGTON (AP) — After a year spent carefully cultivating two princes from the Arabian Peninsula, Elliott Broidy, a top fundraiser for President Donald Trump, thought he was finally close to nailing more than $1 billion in business.

He had ingratiated himself with crown princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who were seeking to alter U.S. foreign policy and punish Qatar, an archrival in the Gulf that he dubbed “the snake.”

To do that, the California businessman had helped spearhead a secret campaign to influence the White House and Congress, flooding Washington with political donations.

Broidy and his business partner, Lebanese-American George Nader, pitched themselves to the crown princes as a backchannel to the White House, passing the princes’ praise — and messaging — straight to the president’s ears.

Now, in December 2017, Broidy was ready to be rewarded for all his hard work.

It was time to cash in.

In return for pushing anti-Qatar policies at the highest levels of America’s government, Broidy and Nader expected huge consulting contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to an Associated Press investigation based on interviews with more than two dozen people and hundreds of pages of leaked emails between the two men. The emails reviewed by the AP included work summaries and contracting documents and proposals.

The AP has previously reported that Broidy and Nader sought to get an anti-Qatar bill through Congress while obscuring the source of the money behind their influence campaign. A new cache of emails obtained by the AP reveals an ambitious, secretive lobbying effort to isolate Qatar and undermine the Pentagon’s longstanding relationship with the Gulf country.

A lawyer for Broidy, Chris Clark, contended the AP’s reporting “is based on fraudulent and fabricated documents obtained from entities with a known agenda to harm Mr. Broidy.”

“To be clear, Mr. Nader is a U.S. citizen, and there is no evidence suggesting that he directed Mr. Broidy’s actions, let alone that he did so on behalf of a foreign entity,” Clark said.

The AP conducted an exhaustive review of the emails and documents, checking their content with dozens of sources, and determined that they tracked closely with real events, including efforts to cultivate the princes and lobby Congress and the White House.

The cache also reveals a previously unreported meeting with the president and provides the most detailed account yet of the work of two Washington insiders who have been entangled in the turmoil surrounding the two criminal investigations closest to Trump.

Lobbying in pursuit of personal gain is nothing new in Washington — Trump himself, in fact, turned the incestuous culture into a rallying cry when he promised to “drain the swamp.”

“I will Make Our Government Honest Again — believe me,” Trump tweeted before the election. “But first, I’m going to have to #DrainTheSwamp in DC.”

Broidy’s campaign to alter U.S. policy in the Middle East and reap a fortune for himself shows that one of the president’s top money men found the swamp as navigable as ever with Trump in office.

Nader’s lawyer, Kathryn Ruemmler, declined comment. A senior Saudi official confirmed that the government had discussions with Nader but said it had signed no contracts with either Nader or Broidy.

Neither Broidy nor Nader registered with the U.S. government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law intended to make lobbyists working for foreign governments disclose their ties and certain political activities. The law requires people to register even if they are not paid but merely directed by foreign interests with political tasks in mind.

Violating the federal law carries a maximum $10,000 fine or up to five years in prison.

Broidy has maintained he was not required to register because his anti-Qatar campaign was not directed by a foreign client and came entirely at his own initiative. But documents show the lobbying was intertwined with the pursuit of contracts from the very start, and involved specific political tasks carried out for the crown princes — whose countries are listed as the “clients ” for the lobbying campaign in a spreadsheet from Broidy’s company, Circinus LLC.

“I have represented Mr. Broidy for many years. He has complied with all relevant laws, including FARA,” Clark, Broidy’s attorney, said in a statement to the AP.

Summaries written by Broidy of two meetings he had with Trump — one of which has not been disclosed before — report that he was passing messages to the president from the two princes and that he told Trump he was seeking business with them.

By December of last year, the partners were riding a wave of success in their campaign to create an anti-Qatar drumbeat in Washington.

Saudi Arabia was finding a new ascendancy following Trump’s election. Broidy sought to claim credit for it, emails show, and was keen to collect the first installment of $36 million for an intelligence-gathering contract with the UAE.

It all might have proceeded smoothly save for one factor: the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

‘BELTWAY BANDITS’

In many ways, the partnership between Broidy, 60, and Nader, 59, embodies the insider influence that has given contractors in D.C. the nickname “beltway bandits.”

Both of their careers were marked by high-rolling success and spectacular falls from grace — and criminal convictions. The onset of the Trump administration presented an opportunity: a return to glory.

Broidy, who made a fortune in investments, was finance chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2006 to 2008. But when a New York state pension fund decided to invest $250 million with him, investigators found that he had plied state officials with nearly $1 million in illegal gifts while collecting $18 million in management fees.

In 2009, Broidy pleaded guilty to a felony charge of rewarding official misconduct.

“In seeking investments from the New York State Common Retirement Fund, I made payments for the benefit of high-ranking officials at the Office of the New York State Comptroller, who had influence and decision-making authority over investment decisions,” Broidy said in his plea and cooperation agreement.

Andrew Cuomo, then-New York attorney general, called it “an old-fashioned payoff.”

“This is effectively bribery of state officials, and not just one,” said Cuomo, who is now New York’s governor.

Three years later, Broidy’s conviction was knocked down to a misdemeanor after he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and pay back the $18 million to the state.

Nader’s problem was pedophilia.

As a young Lebanese immigrant to the U.S. in the 1980s, he quickly established himself as a forceful independent operator, founding a policy magazine called Middle East Insight. By the ’90s, he had risen as a behind-the-scenes player, setting up dinners for Israeli and Arab dignitaries with Washington power brokers and U.S. lawmakers.

But in May 2003, Nader was convicted in the Czech Republic of 10 counts of sexually abusing minors and sentenced to a one-year prison term, the AP revealed in March.

He served his time in Prague, according to Czech authorities, then was expelled from the country.

That sordid past was no obstacle as Nader cultivated a formidable list of high-powered contacts.

After the 2003 Iraq war ended, he re-emerged there, as contractors were making a fortune helping the U.S. coalition and the post-Saddam Hussein government rebuild the country and arm its military.

Nader worked with a private military contractor from the U.S., Erik Prince, whose former company, Blackwater, became infamous after a shootout in Baghdad in 2007 left 14 civilians dead.

Nader has been living in the UAE, working as an adviser to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi crown prince known as MBZ.

It was Nader’s connection to MBZ and Erik Prince that eventually caught the attention of U.S. investigators in the Russia probe.

Mueller’s team was interested in two meetings that took place before Donald Trump’s inauguration.

One was in the Seychelles, a tropical archipelago in the Indian Ocean, which drew scrutiny because it included Prince, an informal adviser to Trump, and Russian investor Kirill Dmitriev, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting has prompted questions about whether it was an attempt to establish a backchannel between Russia and the incoming Trump administration.

The other meeting was at Trump Tower in New York.

Nader and MBZ were at both.

‘A TERRIFIC, MAGNIFICENT MEETING’

Just weeks after those meetings, Broidy and Nader met for the first time, during Trump’s inauguration.

The two men were soon working out their budding partnership. Nader sent Broidy his private email address on the encrypted ProtonMail service.

From the start, the men had a two-track mission: to carry out a campaign against Qatar that would curry favor with the princes, and to then turn that success into millions of dollars in defense deals, documents show.

The two men barely knew each other. But Broidy had the ear of the president. Nader claimed he had the crown princes’.

On Feb. 7, 2017, Broidy wrote to a staffer for the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about a bill aimed at sanctioning Qatar for alleged support of terrorist groups— part of what Nader called “hammering Qatar,” emails show.

The next day, Broidy forwarded Nader questions about a potential contract with Saudi Arabia to train Arab troops to fight in the escalating war in Yemen.

The three-year civil war there has left thousands of civilians dead, millions displaced from their homes, and put the entire country on the cusp of famine in what is now the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. The war has drawn in myriad combatants, including a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and backed by the U.S.

Broidy and Nader proposed multiple plans to the princes for more than $1 billion of work. One pitch was to help create an all-Muslim fighting force of 5,000 troops. A second was aimed at helping the UAE gather intelligence. A third would strengthen Saudi maritime and border security. Still another was related to setting up counterterrorism centers in Saudi Arabia.

In a note to Broidy, Nader said the princes were very happy with the proposed contracts, particularly the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

But first, emails show, they had to focus on the lobbying campaign. They proposed a budget upward of $12 million to “expose and penalize” Qatar and get the U.S. to pressure it to “aid in coercive action against Iran,” according to a March 2017 document.

The gist of their plan was to show evidence that Qatar was too close to Iran and supported Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Iran is Saudi’s main regional rival and on the other side of the war in Yemen.

Ideally, Broidy and Nader would work to persuade the U.S. government to sanction Qatar and move a key military base from Qatar to another location in the Gulf. Broidy said he had a direct line to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“Mnuchin is a close friend of mine (my wife and I are attending Sec. Mnuchin’s wedding in Washington D.C. on June 24th),” Broidy wrote to Nader. “I can help in educating Mnuchin on the importance of the Treasury Department putting many Qatari individuals and organizations on the applicable sanctions lists.”

The al-Udeid Air Base outside Doha is an important U.S. military asset in the Middle East. It’s the forward operating base for U.S. Central Command and hosts some 10,000 U.S. troops — a geopolitical arrangement that Qatar’s Gulf rivals would like to change. Amid the fissures in the Gulf, the base is key leverage for Qatar to maintain influence in Washington. Unlike other countries, Qatar imposes few restrictions on base operations and is even building new facilities for U.S. troops.

Getting the U.S. government to move its critical base in the Gulf was unlikely. And polishing up the image of the Saudis and Emiratis was a hard sell.

Saudi Arabia has a history of torture and human rights abuses. Many Americans still associate the country with the Sept. 11 attacks. Of the 19 attackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, and two were from the UAE.

The UAE’s track record is no better. Last year, the AP revealed that the UAE was operating “black sites” in Yemen, where its soldiers have tortured prisoners – including, in some cases, tying them to a spit and roasting them over open fires.

Qatar has a troubled record as well. International human rights groups have dinged the country for its treatment of migrant workers preparing the country for the 2022 World Cup. Amnesty International, in a 2013 report, stated that migrants from southeast Asia worked in a state akin to slavery, “forced labour,” and lived in “squalid” housing.

Despite the challenges of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, the partners’ timing was good. Trump and many other Republicans in Washington viewed Saudi Arabia as a counterweight against Iran.

Broidy reported he was making progress, and Nader kept the “principals” briefed on their adventures, emails show. Broidy boasted that he had got the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, to back an anti-Qatar bill.

“This is extremely positive,” Broidy wrote. He claimed he had “shifted” Royce from being critical of Saudi Arabia to “being critical of Qatar.” The AP reported in March that Broidy gave nearly $600,000 to GOP candidates and causes since the beginning of 2017. Royce got the maximum allowed.

Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Royce, noted the congressman’s record: Royce has long been critical of both countries. He said Royce has not changed his stance.

Broidy also bragged that he had “caused” Royce to praise a senior Saudi general, Ahmed Hassan Mohammad Assiri, in words that were then memorialized in the Congressional Record. Nader was thrilled: A U.S. congressman publicly flattered a Saudi official, who documents show was helping evaluate Broidy and Nader’s contract proposals.

At the end of March, Nader wrote that he’d had “a terrific, magnificent meeting” with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Prospects for the billion-dollar contracts were good.

“He was very positive overall,” Nader wrote. The prince even asked them to discuss their contracts with “General Ahmed.”

The money for the lobbying was another matter.

At Nader’s request, $2.5 million was channeled in two installments from his company in the UAE through a Canadian company called Xiemen Investments Limited, which someone familiar with the transaction said was run by one of Broidy’s friends. The money was then routed to a Broidy account in Los Angeles.

The transaction had the effect of obfuscating that the money for the political work in Washington had come from Nader in the UAE. Some of the recipients of Broidy’s spending in Washington said they had no idea that Nader was involved. Broidy previously told the AP that he did not think to question why the money was routed through a foreign entity.

At that point, Broidy might have realized the dangers of not registering as a foreign agent — it was all over the news.

Three Trump advisers registered retroactively as foreign agents: Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who had done business for Turkey, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime deputy, Rick Gates, who did business for Ukraine.

Broidy was undeterred. Nader cheered on his anti-Qatar exploits and told him to “keep hammering the bastards.”

AN ‘EXTRAORDINARY’ CAMPAIGN’

Armed with fresh cash, Broidy pitched Nader a media blitz that would put the fire to Qatar.

He’d persuaded an American think tank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, to stage an anti-Qatar conference. Broidy wrote Nader that his plan included the commission of 200 articles assigned to the foundation and other think tanks. Mark Dubowitz, the foundation’s CEO, later said that Broidy assured him the funding was not coming from a foreign government and that he had no contracts in the Gulf.

On April 21, 2017, Broidy sent Nader the draft of an Op-Ed to show the impact of his campaign. It was marked “Confidential.”

Three days later, “The Two Faces of Qatar, a Dubious Mideast Ally” was published in The Wall Street Journal. The opinion piece, co-written by retired Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, who had been the deputy head of U.S. European Command, called for moving U.S. military assets from the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. “The United Arab Emirates would be a logical destination,” wrote Wald.

What readers did not know was that Wald was listed in company documents as a member of Broidy’s Circinus team that was pitching contracts in Saudi Arabia.

Asked why he had not made his conflict clear in the Op-Ed piece, Wald denied he had ever worked for Broidy.

“I was not part of the team, period,” Wald wrote. “I can’t speak for his documentation.”

A person familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record, said that Wald consulted with Broidy, but could not join a trip to pitch the contract in Saudi Arabia because of a scheduling conflict. Broidy’s leaked emails refer to Wald’s involvement almost four dozen times.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies conference was set for May 23 at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington. In a Circinus progress report from Broidy to Nader, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are listed as the clients, Maj. Gen. Assiri as a consultant, and Broidy and Nader are “leader/liaison” — raising questions about Broidy’s contention to the AP that he was not working for a foreign government.

The conference also set off a flurry of more anti-Qatar stories in mainstream media, which Broidy catalogued for the crown princes.

The partners were jubilant when Trump made his first foreign trip not to his allies in Europe, but to Saudi Arabia.

Two weeks later, in a major escalation of tensions, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and regional allies launched a travel and trade embargo against Qatar.

It was hard to tell whose side the U.S. government was on.

One day after the UAE and Saudi Arabia began their blockade, Trump sent a series of tweets signaling support for the two countries’ actions and embracing an anti-Qatar stance. He said his recent visit to Saudi Arabia was “already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to horror of terrorism!”

U.S. officials quickly tried to walk back Trump’s comments, saying the U.S. was not taking sides in the dispute among its Gulf allies.

A week later, on June 16, the Trump administration completed a $12 billion sale of F-15 fighter jets to Qatar that had been approved earlier by Congress. The move was at odds with the president’s rhetoric on Qatar, but it paled in comparison with the $110 billion in arms deals with Saudi Arabia that Trump had previously announced.

NADER OR VADER?

In late September, Broidy arranged for the most coveted meeting for any lobbyist in Washington: an audience for himself with the president in the Oval Office.

In advance of the meeting, Nader wrote Broidy a script, an email shows . There were several objectives: to sell the idea for a Muslim fighting force, to keep the president from intervening on Qatar and to arrange a discreet meeting between Trump and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

The princes “are counting on you to relate it blunt and straight,” Nader wrote.

Nader told Broidy the meeting was potentially historic and to “take advantage of this priceless asset.”

And there was one more thing. Nader asked Broidy to tell the president about his connections with the crown princes, using code names for all three.

“Appreciate how you would make sure to bring up my role to Chairman,” Nader emailed. “How I work closely with Two Big Friends.”

After the Oct. 6 meeting, Broidy reported back to Nader that he had passed along the messages and had urged the president to stay out of the dispute with Qatar. He also said he explained Circinus’ plan to build a Muslim fighting force.

“President Trump was extremely enthusiastic,” he wrote. Broidy said Trump asked what the next step would be and that he told the president he should meet with the crown prince from the UAE, adding, “President Trump agreed that a meeting with MBZ was a good idea.”

The White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Despite that successful readout, Nader wanted more: He wanted a photo of himself with the president — a big request for a convicted pedophile.

Broidy was co-hosting a fundraiser for Trump and the Republican National Committee in Dallas on Oct. 25. The Secret Service had said Nader wouldn’t be allowed to meet the president. It was not clear if the objections were related to his convictions for sexually abusing children.

Broidy drafted an email to Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, asking him to intervene on behalf of his friend, whom he oddly called “George Vader” — a misnomer that appears elsewhere in the emails.

“One of my companies does deep vetting for the US government,” he wrote. “We ran all data bases including FBI and Interpol and found no issues with regard to Mr. Vader.”

There was another issue. RNC officials had decreed there would be no photos with the president without payment. Broidy suggested that Nader meet the suggested threshold with a donation between $100,000 and $250,000.

It’s unclear exactly how the two issues were resolved. Records from the Federal Election Commission show no donations from either George Nader or “George Vader,” but on Nov. 30, Broidy gave $189,000 to the RNC — more than he had given to the RNC in over two decades of Republican fundraising.

The result: a picture of Nader and Trump grinning in front of the American flag.

A SPIRAL OF MISFORTUNE

It was time for Broidy to visit the UAE and nail down his first contract. He and Nader had already discussed sharing the profits and begun setting up a UAE subsidiary of Circinus, Broidy’s company.

In late November, Broidy planned a visit to complete the contracts in the UAE, where MBZ was hosting a Formula One auto race.

But maybe that was too public.

“I think my friend not very wise for you to be seeing (sic) at this event,” Nader wrote to Broidy. “Many journalists and people from Russia and other countries will be around.”

Broidy met Trump once again on Dec. 2. He reported back to Nader that he’d told Trump the crown princes were “most favorably impressed by his leadership.” He offered the crown princes’ help in the Middle East peace plan being developed by Jared Kushner. He did not tell Trump that his partner had complete contempt for the plan — and for the president’s son-in-law.

“You have to hear in private my Brother what Principals think of ‘Clown prince’s’ efforts and his plan!” Nader wrote. “Nobody would even waste cup of coffee on him if it wasn’t for who he is married to.”

Days after Broidy’s meeting with Trump, the UAE awarded Broidy the intelligence contract the partners had been seeking for up to $600 million over 5 years, according to a leaked email.

The Muslim fighting force contract would be even larger, potentially bringing their entire Gulf enterprise to more than $1 billion.

In January, Broidy was preparing for a third meeting with Trump, at Mar-a-Lago, during celebrations of the president’s first year in office. Nader was supposed to join them, but the initial payment for the intelligence contract was late. He delayed his trip to the U.S. for a day to make sure it was wired.

On Jan. 17, Broidy reported that he had received the first installment — $36 million.

“Terrific!” Nader wrote before his flight. “First among many to go!”

Hours after that money transfer, Nader and Broidy discovered that, despite all their precautions, they had not escaped notice.

When Nader landed at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., a team of FBI agents working for Mueller was there to meet him. He was relieved of his electronic devices and later agreed to cooperate. It is unclear why Nader was detained, but he is a link between the Trump campaign and the Russian investor who attended the meeting in the Seychelles.

While there is no evidence that Mueller is interested in the lobbying effort, Nader’s detention kicked off a spiral of misfortune for the two partners.

In February, the AP, The New York Times and other news organizations began receiving anonymously leaked batches of Broidy’s emails and documents that had apparently been hacked. News stories linked him to plans to leverage his White House access for clients in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Broidy fought back. He sued Qatar and its lobbyists, alleging in a lawsuit filed in March that the hack was a smear campaign.

“We believe the evidence is clear that a nation state is waging a sophisticated disinformation campaign against me in order to silence me, including hacking emails, forging documents, and engaging in espionage and numerous other illegal activities,” Broidy said in a statement at the time.

Qatar responded that it was Broidy who had engaged in a propaganda campaign.

Then, on April 9, another blow.

The FBI raided the premises of Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, seeking information on hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who said she’d had an affair with the president.

Broidy, it turned out, was also a Cohen client. He’d had an affair with Playboy Playmate Shera Bechard, who got pregnant and later had an abortion. Broidy agreed to pay her $1.6 million to help her out, so long as she never spoke about it.

“I acknowledge I had a consensual relationship with a Playboy Playmate,” Broidy said in a statement the day the news broke. He apologized to his wife and resigned from the RNC. There is no indication Broidy is under investigation by Mueller’s team.

In the end, Nader and Broidy’s anti-Qatar operation lost its momentum. There has been no traction on the effort to get the base in Qatar moved to the UAE. In late April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an end to the bickering among Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar during a trip to the Gulf.

Last week, Saudi Arabia distanced itself from Nader and Broidy. A senior official said Crown Prince bin Salman ordered an end to “engagement with these people.”

But Broidy’s huge contract with the UAE?

It’s good to go.

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Read key documents in Broidy and Nader’s correspondence at:

http://apne.ws/Uux7vo3

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Follow Desmond Butler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/desmondbutler and Tom LoBianco at https://twitter.com/tomlobianco

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Have a tip? Contact the authors securely at https://www.ap.org/tips

Congressional leaders to review information on Russia probe

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Ratcheting up pressure on the Russia investigation, the White House announced that top FBI and Justice Department officials have agreed to meet with congressional leaders and “review” highly classified information the lawmakers have been seeking on the handling of the probe.

The agreement came after President Donald Trump made an extraordinary demand that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI infiltrated his presidential campaign. It’s unclear exactly what the members will be allowed to review or if the Justice Department will be providing any documents to Congress.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump chief of staff John Kelly will broker the meeting between congressional leaders and the FBI, Justice Department and office of the Director of National Intelligence. She said the officials will “review highly classified and other information they have requested,” but did not provide additional detail.

During a meeting Monday with Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray also reiterated an announcement late Sunday that the Justice Department’s inspector general will expand an existing investigation into the Russia probe by examining whether there was any improper politically motivated surveillance.

Rep. Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter and head of the House Intelligence Committee, has been demanding information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. And Trump has taken up the cause as the White House tries to combat the threat posed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump tweeted Sunday, “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”

With the demand, Trump entered into the realm of applying presidential pressure on the Justice Department regarding an investigation into his own campaign — a move few of his predecessors have made.

Trump made the demand amid days of public venting about the special counsel investigation, which he has deemed a “witch hunt” that he says has yielded no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia. In response, the Justice Department moved to defuse the confrontation by asking its watchdog to investigate whether there was inappropriate surveillance.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said in a statement announcing the move.

The Justice Department probe began in March at the request of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and congressional Republicans. Sessions and the lawmakers urged Inspector General Michael Horowitz to review whether FBI and Justice Department officials abused their surveillance powers by using information compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, and paid for by Democrats to justify monitoring Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to Trump.

Horowitz said his office will look at those claims as well as communications between Steele and Justice and FBI officials.

The back and forth between the Justice Department and Congress began with a classified subpoena from Nunes in late April. The panel didn’t publicize the subpoena, but the Justice Department released a letter it sent to Nunes rejecting the request for information “regarding a specific individual.” The department said disclosure could have severe consequences, including potential loss of human life.

The Justice Department said the White House had signed off on its letter, but Nunes wasn’t satisfied, and continued to pressure the department. Negotiations between the House Republicans and the Justice department appeared to stall last week ahead of Trump’s tweet — an apparent reversal of the White House’s initial policy.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has called Trump’s claim of an embedded spy “nonsense.”

“His ‘demand’ DOJ investigate something they know to be untrue is an abuse of power, and an effort to distract from his growing legal problems,” Schiff tweeted. “Never mind that DOJ has warned that lives and alliances are at risk. He doesn’t care.”

Trump’s demand of the Justice Department alarmed many observers, who felt it not only violated presidential protocol but also could have a chilling effect on federal law enforcement or its use of informants.

The New York Times was the first to report that the FBI had an informant who met several times with Trump campaign officials who had suspicious contacts linked to Russia.

The GOP-led House Intelligence Committee closed its Russian meddling probe last month, saying it found no evidence of collusion or coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Schiff and other committee Democrats were furious and argued that Republicans had not subpoenaed many witnessed they considered essential to the committee’s work.

Sunday was not the first time that Trump accused his predecessor of politically motivated activity against him.

Without substantiation, Trump tweeted in March 2017 that former President Barack Obama had conducted surveillance the previous October at Trump Tower, the New York skyscraper where Trump ran his campaign and transition and maintains a residence. Comey later testified to Congress that internal reviews found no information to support the president’s tweets. Trump fired Comey over the bureau’s Russia investigation.

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Jill Colvin, Eric Tucker, Darlene Superville and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

Teen to face murder charge as adult in officer’s slaying

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PERRY HALL, Md. (AP) — A 16-year-old boy has been charged in the slaying of a Baltimore County, Maryland, police officer, and three other suspects are still being sought, authorities said Tuesday.

Scott Shellenberger, the state’s attorney for Baltimore County, told The Associated Press that the teen has been charged with murder as an adult.

“And police are looking for other suspects as we speak,” Shellenberger said by phone.

The Baltimore County Police and Fire Department tweeted Tuesday that the teen was arrested shortly after the female officer was fatally injured Monday. The police tweet did not explain the delay in announcing the teen’s apprehension. The teen’s name was not immediately released. Police said he is awaiting a bail hearing.

The teenage suspect was scheduled to appear before a judge at a Towson courthouse at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Meanwhile, police continued scouring a greater Baltimore suburb for three other suspects.

The enormous manhunt was continuing unabated in the suburban community of Perry Hall, Maryland, where witnesses reported hearing a pop before seeing a Jeep run over the officer Monday afternoon.

The officer, who wasn’t immediately identified, was bleeding badly from significant injuries and was pronounced dead after being rushed to a hospital. Baltimore County Police Cpl. Shawn Vinson said investigators have recovered the suspects’ abandoned Jeep, but police declined to confirm whether it was used to injure the officer.

Relatives of the officer, who would have been on the force four years by July, have been notified.

Tony Kurek told The Associated Press his adult son was outside in the family’s yard Monday afternoon in the northeast Baltimore County community when the son saw the officer with her gun drawn, confronting the occupants of a Jeep.

“The next thing he heard was a pop, and he saw the Jeep take off and run right over her,” said Kurek. The car left skid marks behind, he said, leaving the officer down and bleeding.

Logan Kurek, who is a volunteer firefighter, said he heard his younger brother “frantically screaming” and ran outside to perform CPR.

Vinson said the officer went to investigate a call about a suspicious vehicle when she encountered at least one suspect and was “critically injured.” He added that the confrontation may have stemmed from a burglary in progress, noting one home on the block had damage to a patio door.

“What exactly happened, we are not sure yet until an autopsy is performed,” Vinson said at a news conference Monday. He said he had no information about whether she had fired her own weapon.

He added that a homicide investigation has been opened. Officers were searching for suspects “who we believe are armed and dangerous,” Police Chief Terrence Sheridan said.

Events began unfolding Monday afternoon in the leafy neighborhood of single-family homes. It was then that Kurek’s neighbor, Dahle Amendt, said he had just settled into his recliner for a rest when he heard a woman’s voice outside his house.

“I heard, ‘Get out of the car!’ ‘Get out of the car!’ Get out of the car!′ at least three times, and then a pop,” Amendt said.

Amendt said his wife also ran outside and tried to revive the officer.

“This is a shock. It’s a quiet community. It’s just so sad,” Amendt said.

Investigators urged residents in a sizable swath of Perry Hall to stay hunkered down inside their homes and lock all doors and windows as officers search the community fringed with woodlands. Three elementary schools were kept on alert status for hours, with students and teachers told to stay in their school buildings as police continued a search for the suspects. By Monday evening, parents were allowed to come to the schools to pick up their youngsters.

School officials tweeted overnight that all Baltimore County public schools would open on time Tuesday.

___

Rankin reported from Richmond, Virginia. Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie also contributed from Richmond.

As summit looms, North Korean media return to angry tone

TOKYO (AP) — North Korean media stepped up their rhetorical attacks on South Korea and joint military exercises with the United States, warning Tuesday that a budding detente could be in danger.

State media unleashed three strongly worded commentaries slamming Seoul and Washington for the maneuvers and demanding Seoul take action against defectors it claimed were sending anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets across the border.

The official media had until recently taken a relatively subdued tone amid the North’s diplomatic overtures to its neighbors, including a summit with South Korea’s president last month and plans for leader Kim Jong Un to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

That first changed last week, when it lashed out against the maneuvers, cut high-level contacts with Seoul and threatened to “reconsider” the Trump summit.

One of the reports on Tuesday, which came as North Korea allowed an airplane full of foreign journalists into the country to cover the dismantling of its nuclear test site this week, accused Seoul of teaming up with Washington for military drills intended as a show of force and as a “war drill” against it.

It’s not unusual for North Korea’s official media to turn to hyperbole to make a point and the rhetorical barrage coincides with a visit to Washington by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Strongly worded messages don’t necessarily mean it is backing away from diplomatic negotiations.

But the North’s abrupt sharpening of its words has raised concerns the Trump summit may prove to be a bumpy one — or that it could even be in jeopardy. Trump has suggested he is willing to walk away if Kim isn’t willing to have a fruitful meeting and it appears both sides have agendas that remain far apart from each other.

There has been no indication that North Korea will cancel plans to dismantle the test site, an important gesture of goodwill. The North has also not suggested it will go back on its promise to halt underground testing and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But it did ban South Korean journalists from the trip to the nuclear site. And the language Tuesday offered a veiled threat that talks could be harmed.

“Dialogue and saber-rattling can never go together,” said the commentary published in Minju Joson, one of the country’s four main daily newspapers.

“There are some arguments describing the improvement of the situation on the Korean Peninsula as ‘result of hard-line diplomacy’ of the U.S. and ‘result of sustained pressure,’” said another, by the official KCNA news agency. “It seriously chills the atmosphere of the DPRK-U.S. dialogue and is of no help to the development of the situation.”

DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

Yet another article lashed out at South Korean authorities for allowing defectors to send anti-North Korea leaflets across their border.

It noted that the two leaders agreed at their summit in the Demilitarized Zone last month not to conduct hostile acts against each other and said the authorities have an obligation under that agreement to block such actions, even by private citizens.

“If the North-South relations face a grave difficulty again owing to the provocation of human scum, the blame for it will be entirely on the South Korean authorities,” the report said. “They must know what price they will be made to pay.”

___

Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge

Palestinians ask ICC for ‘immediate’ probe against Israel

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Palestinian foreign minister asked the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to open an “immediate investigation” into alleged Israeli “crimes” committed against the Palestinian people.

The step was sure to worsen the already troubled relations between the internationally backed Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Peace talks have been frozen for over four years, and contacts between the two sides are minimal.

Speaking to reporters at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he submitted the “referral” to the court during a meeting with the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

The referral sought an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since the state of Palestine accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction in 2014, he said.

This includes Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as the recent round of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli fire killed over 100 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border, Malki added.

“There is a culture of impunity in Israel for crimes against Palestinians,” Malki said. “This referral is Palestine’s test to the international mechanism of accountability and respect for international law.”

The ICC has been conducting a preliminary probe since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including Israel’s settlement policy and crimes allegedly committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Tuesday’s referral could speed up a decision on whether to open a full-blown investigation that could ultimately lead to the indictment of high-ranking Israelis.

The move comes with Israeli-Palestinian relations at their lowest point in years in the aftermath of the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem and the recent bloodshed on the Gaza border.

Israel has said it was defending its border and accused Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group using the unrest to carry out attempted attacks and of using civilians as human shields.

In response to Tuesday’s move at the ICC, Israel said it took a “severe view” of the Palestinian request, calling it a “cynical” and “absurd” step. It accused the Palestinians of violent incitement against Israel and exploiting women and children as human shields. It also said the ICC had no jurisdiction in the case because Israel is not a member of the court.

“Israel expects the ICC and its prosecutor not to yield to Palestinian pressure, and stand firm against continued Palestinian efforts to politicize the court and to derail it from its mandate,” the Israeli statement said.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens can be charged by the court if they are suspected of committing crimes on the territory or against a national of a country that is a member. The ICC has recognized “Palestine” as a member state.

While the ICC can indict suspects, it has no police force and has to rely on cooperation from member states to enforce arrest warrants.

The Palestinians appear to have an especially strong case in the matter of settlements. In 2004, the United Nations’ highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, ruled in an advisory opinion that the settlements breached international law.

In late 2016, the U.N. Security Council also declared the settlements to be illegal.

Over 600,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories sought by the Palestinians as parts of their future state. Israel captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Under international law it is illegal to transfer populations out of or into occupied territory.

Israel claims east Jerusalem as an inseparable part of its capital — though its annexation is not international recognized.

Israel claims the West Bank is not occupied because it was captured from Jordan, not the Palestinians, and Jordan does not make a claim to the territory.

Since the Palestinians never ruled the West Bank, Israel says this territory is disputed and its final status should be resolved in negotiations. It also claims that settlements can be torn down and therefore do not prejudice the final status of the territory. It notes that in the case of Gaza, for instance, it uprooted all settlements there when it withdrew in 2005. Israel also captured Gaza in the 1967 war.

While the Gaza withdrawal removed some 8,000 settlers, the much larger population in the West Bank and east Jerusalem would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move.

___

Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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