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Breaking News: Jarrod Ramos, suspect in Capital Gazette shooting rampage, held without bail on 5 counts of murder

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(PhatzNewsRoom / USA Today / AP)     —    The suspect in the shooting deaths of five people at a newspaper in Maryland has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder and ordered held without bail, court records filed Friday show.

Jarrod W. Ramos is accused of opening fire at the Capital Gazette office in Annapolis on Thursday. In addition to the deaths, two people were wounded.

At a court hearing Friday, District Court Judge Thomas Pryal ordered Ramos held without bail.

Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare said Friday that police are still accumulating evidence from the suspect’s car found near the scene of the shooting and his Laurel apartment. Altomare said police found planning materials for the attack along with a pump-action shotgun but not a manifesto explaining his reasons.

More than 300 officers from city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies responded to the incident, he said.

“We’re still putting puzzle pieces together,” Altomare told a news conference Friday. “We can’t fathom why that person chose to do this.”

 

Ramos was identified using facial recognition technology because of a lag in fingerprint identification, but reports of the suspect altering his fingertips are incorrect, Altomare said.

“We have not been getting cooperation from the suspect,” he said.

The gunman hid rather than get into a shoot-out with police, Altomare said. Police arrived on the scene in about one minute and had the gunman cornered within another two minutes, he said.

“When the officers went in, they were going in to neutralize a threat,” he said. “He didn’t run away, but he hid.”

The prosecutor, Wes Adams, Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney, said Ramos barricaded a back door to the office, preventing staffers from escaping.

“There was one victim who attempted to escape through the back door and was shot,” Adams said.

Court documents show Ramos, 38, filed a defamation suit against the newspaper in 2012, but a judge threw out the lawsuit, saying Ramos “fails to come close to alleging a case of defamation.” A Maryland appeals court upheld the ruling.

Authorities surrounded an apartment complex connected to Ramos on Thursday evening in a small neighborhood in Laurel, Maryland. Police taped off the area near Ramos’ small side street Thursday evening as helicopters flew overhead.

William Krampf, acting police chief of Anne Arundel County, acknowledged that threats had been made as recently as Thursday to the newspaper via social media that “indicated violence,” but it was not clear whether they came from the suspect.

The five victims, all employees of the newspaper, were assistant editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, special publications editor Wendi Winters, writer John McNamara, editorial page editor Gerald Fischman and sales assistant Rebecca Smith.

Crime reporter Phil Davis, who took cover under a desk at the height of the melee, described the scene to The Baltimore Sun, which owns the newspaper, as “like a war zone.”

Anthony Messenger, an intern at Capital Gazette, told NBC News’ TODAY Show Friday that he was in the newspaper’s office Thursday when a gunman opened fire, and nothing could have prepared him for it.

“Initially I thought it was fireworks,” Messenger said. “I heard a pop and I turned and looked over my shoulder toward the front of the room entrance and I saw some faces that looked concerned but I couldn’t see any shooter or anything.”

One of his colleagues ran to a door, which Messenger said was never locked, but that was somehow jammed.

“I quickly realized this is a malicious situation, he’s (the gunman) here to do harm to us,” Messenger said. “I called the police … and I was not able to talk to them. I didn’t feel that I could do that in a manner that wouldn’t tip off our position to the shooter … once he (the shooter) moved away from us … I decided to text my friend, I said ‘Please call the police, I’m in trouble.’… In that moment I thought I was going to die.”

Later, Messenger said walking out of the building was chaotic.

“Unfortunately we had to pass two bodies of our colleagues which was something that nobody should ever have to stomach,” he said. “I think just the sheer chaos of it all, people were too caught up in trying to get to safety to realize ‘okay this is a man that we have a prior history with.’”

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Contributing: Doug Stanglin, John Bacon, William Cummings, Sean Rossman and Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.

Suspect in Maryland newspaper to appear on 5 murder charges

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A man firing a shotgun and armed with smoke grenades killed four journalists and a staffer at Maryland’s capital newspaper will get a bond hearing Friday on five murder charges after police rushed in and swiftly arrested him.

Thursday’s attack on The Capital Gazette in Annapolis came amid months of verbal and online attacks on the “fake news media” from politicians and others from President Donald Trump on down. It prompted New York City police to immediately tighten security at news organizations in the nation’s media capital.

Police said the suspect in custody is a white man in his late 30s.

Acting Police Chief William Krampf of Anne Arundel County called it a targeted attack in which the gunman “looked for his victims.”

“This person was prepared today to come in, this person was prepared to shoot people,” Krampf said.

Journalists crawled under desks and sought other hiding places in what they described as minutes of terror as they heard the gunman’s footsteps and the repeated blasts of the shotgun as he moved about the newsroom.

Police say the suspect of a shooting at a building housing a Maryland newspaper is in custody and being interviewed. Police announced that five people have been killed and as many as three have been injured. (June 28)

Those killed included Rob Hiaasen, 59, the paper’s assistant managing editor and brother of novelist Carl Hiaasen. Carl Hiaasen said he was “devastated and heartsick” at losing his brother, “one of the most gentle and funny people I’ve ever known.” Also slain were Gerald Fischman, editorial page editor; features reporter Wendi Winters; reporter John McNamara, and sales assistant Rebecca Smith. The newspaper said two other employees had non-life threatening injuries and were later released from a hospital.

Krampf said the gunman was a Maryland resident, but didn’t name him.

Separately, a law enforcement official said the suspect was identified as Jarrod W. Ramos. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Online court records show Ramos was charged Friday with five counts of first-degree murder. The records, which don’t list a defense attorney, show a bond hearing was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. in Annapolis.

Phil Davis, a courts and crime reporter for the paper, tweeted that the gunman shot out the glass door to the office and fired into the newsroom, sending people scrambling under desks.

“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” he wrote in a tweet. In a later interview appearing on the paper’s online site, Davis likened the newspaper office to a “war zone.”

“I’m a police reporter. I write about this stuff — not necessarily to this extent, but shootings and death — all the time,” he said. “But as much as I’m going to try to articulate how traumatizing it is to be hiding under your desk, you don’t know until you’re there and you feel helpless.”

Reporter Selene San Felice told CNN she was at her desk but ran after hearing shots, only to find a back door locked. She then watched as a colleague was shot, adding she didn’t glimpse the gunman.

“I heard footsteps a couple of times,” she said. “I was breathing really loud and was trying not to, but I couldn’t be quiet.”

The reporter recalled a June 2016 mass shooting attack on Orlando’s gay nightclub Pulse and how terrified people crouching inside had texted loved ones as dozens were killed. Said San Felice, “And there I was sitting under a desk, texting my parents and telling them I loved them.”

Survivors said the shooting — though it seemed agonizingly long — lasted mere minutes. And police said their response was swift.

Police spokesman Lt. Ryan Frashure said officers arrived within about 60 seconds and took the gunman into custody without an exchange of gunfire. About 170 people were then evacuated from the building, which houses other offices, many leaving with their hands up as police and other emergency vehicles arrived.

At the White House, spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: “There is no room for violence, and we stick by that. Violence is never tolerated in any form, no matter whom it is against.”

Hours later, investigators remained on the cordoned-off site early Friday as they sought clues to the gunman’s motives.

“The shooter has not been very forthcoming, so we don’t have any information yet on motive,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said.

In 2012, Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper, alleging he was harmed by an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case a year earlier. The suit was dismissed by a judge who wrote Ramos hadn’t shown “anything that was published about you is, in fact, false.” An appeals court later upheld the dismissal.

Following police activity late Thursday around a Laurel apartment complex where the suspect is believed to have resided, officers by 2 a.m. could be seen clearing the scene.

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said the community was grieving the attack on its paper.

“These are the guys that come to city council meetings, have to listen to boring politicians and sit there,” Buckley said. “They don’t make a lot of money. It’s just immoral that their lives should be in danger.”

The newspaper is part of Capital Gazette Communications, which also publishes the Maryland Gazette and CapitalGazette.com. It is owned by The Baltimore Sun.

The Associated Press Media Editors promised to help Capital Gazette journalists as they recover. An APME statement called on newspapers nationwide to help the paper continue its community coverage and fight for freedom of the press.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

Some questions in Trump-Russia dossier now finding answers

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)    —   An Associated Press review finds that investigations and criminal cases are revealing some truth in a set of controversial memos accusing the Trump campaign of working with the Russian government. But libel complaints argue otherwise, and whether there was collusion remains an open question. The dossier drafted by former British spy Christopher Steele appears to be a murky mixture of authentic revelations and repurposed history, likely interspersed with snippets of fiction or disinformation.

No one has painted a more vivid or lurid portrait of a purported alliance between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia than a quiet, nondescript former British spy named Christopher Steele.

Steele’s once-confidential campaign memos were published just before Trump’s inauguration, unleashing tales of cavorting prostitutes and conniving campaign aides on secret sorties with agents of the Kremlin.

Ever since, the credibility of these Democratic-funded memos — the so-called Steele dossier — has remained the subject of both official investigation and political sniping.

In the 18 months since the dossier’s release, government investigations and reports, criminal cases and authoritative news articles have begun to resolve at least some of the questions surrounding the memos.

As a whole, the Steele dossier now appears to be a murky mixture of authentic revelations and repurposed history, likely interspersed with snippets of fiction or disinformation, an Associated Press review finds.

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MIXING FACT AND FICTION?

At the vortex of all the arguments is Steele, often described as a buttoned-down, earnest defender of Western interests, who spied on Russia for the British government and later founded a business intelligence firm built on his network of confidential informants.

Steele’s 17 memos laid out an extraordinarily detailed narrative of how the Russian government supposedly collaborated with the Trump campaign in an elaborate operation to tilt the 2016 presidential race in his favor.

Some of the dossier’s broad threads have now been independently corroborated. U.S. intelligence agencies and the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference did eventually find that Kremlin-linked operatives ran an elaborate operation to promote Trump and hurt Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, as the dossier says in its main narrative.

The dossier first told of a clandestine partnership between the Trump campaign and Russian officials in a memo dated June 2016, the month before the FBI began investigating that very possibility.

Steele laid out details of a secret Moscow meeting between the Russians and Trump adviser Carter Page months before FBI suspicions about Page and news reports about just such a meeting forced him to leave the campaign.

The dossier’s portrait of a cooperative campaign also has been bolstered by developments it did not specifically foretell: Legal cases and authoritative reporting have exposed Trump’s son Donald Jr. and another aide as receptive to Russian overtures to supply dirt on Clinton.

However, the dossier makes other sensational, unverified claims. It reports that Trump provided intelligence to the Kremlin on wealthy Russians in the U.S. The Russian government, in return, was said to supply Trump with secrets about his political rivals while collecting compromising information on him, including recording him with prostitutes who supposedly urinated on a bed in a Moscow hotel.

It remains unclear if the Trump campaign, in the end, secretly acquired Russian information, and if so, whether Trump himself was aware and involved.

For his part, Trump has dismissed the memos as “fake news” and turned “no collusion” into the Twitter tagline of his presidency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied his government meddled in the election.

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DEFAMATION CLAIMS

Four wealthy Russians take more specific exception to the dossier: They say they were libeled.

In four separate lawsuits filed as recently as April, the Russians sued Steele and BuzzFeed, the online news outlet that published the memos in January 2017. Three of the Russians — all owners of a Moscow-based financial-industrial conglomerate called Alfa Group — also have sued Fusion GPS, the research company that enlisted Steele under a contract with a law firm connected to the Democrats.

Russian tech entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev and the Alfa Group’s owners — Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan — all say they had nothing to do with the events described in the dossier. In cases playing out in state, federal and British courts, they say they took unfair hits to their reputations.

The four men are named in two separate Steele memos, both of which are seemingly out of alignment with the rest of the dossier, as their legal teams have stressed in court filings.

Their questionable relevance raises the possibility that they were motivated by someone with a different agenda who perhaps fed false information to the former spy. Indeed, Gubarev’s lawyer has repeatedly suggested his client might have been framed by a competitor or someone looking for a scapegoat in the computer business.

In the Alfa Group memo, the billionaire owners were said to perform unspecified political favors for Putin. Fridman and Aven allegedly sent “large amounts of illicit cash” to Putin in the 1990s when he was still a city official in St. Petersburg.

The Gubarev memo said his business “had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data” in an operation against Democratic Party leaders. He was purported to have been recruited under duress by Russian security agents.

Any actions ascribed to the four Russians have never been independently confirmed by official investigations or authoritative news reports.

The Alfa Group owners do have ties to the Kremlin. Aven is a former Russian foreign trade minister, and Fridman has been said to be close to Putin. Like Fridman, Khan is Ukrainian-born and one of the original founders of the Alfa Group. However, their financial and industrial empire has also waged bare-fisted battles with other powerful Russian interests, leaving adversaries who might want to take them down.

Gubarev, who lives in Cyprus, also is a possible target for scapegoating as the owner of a Luxembourg-based digital services business with thousands of customers, subsidiaries around the world, and business relationships in Russia, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Unlike the other memos, Steele’s Alfa Group write-up concentrates on internal Russian affairs, with no direct connection to the U.S. election. The only tie is an unsupported inference in the memo’s heading that it somehow involves the topic of “Russia/US Presidential Election.”

“Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven and Mr. Khan have absolutely nothing to do, in any way, with the issue that is the theme of the dossier — alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign,” the trio’s lawyer, Alan Lewis, said in an interview.

Oddly, the memo about Gubarev is dated five weeks after the election.

“Why the heck did he even bother to continue writing this stuff?” Gubarev’s lawyer, Valentin Gurvits, asked in an interview.

Steele has said the Gubarev memo came from unsolicited details that continued to trickle in after Trump’s election, and his lawyers have acknowledged that the memo “needed to be analyzed and further investigated/verified.”

BuzzFeed has issued an apology for publishing Gubarev’s name and redacted it in response to his complaints.

Representatives for both Steele and Fusion GPS chief executive Glenn Simpson declined to comment for this story.

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POSSIBLE MISTAKES

In a filing in the Alfa Group owners’ lawsuit, Steele’s lawyers say that memo “came from a network of vetted sources known to Mr. Steele … and resources developed over a lifetime of Russian intelligence work in public and private service.”

However, testifying to Congress, Simpson quoted Steele as saying that any intelligence, especially from Russia, is bound to carry intentional disinformation, but that Steele believes his dossier is “largely not disinformation.”

Both men deny giving the documents to BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed’s legal arguments don’t rely primarily on the truth of the memos. Instead, they cast the dossier as something that was under review by multiple layers of government and thus subject to news coverage as an official document, whether true or not. Judges have decided to allow that argument.

BuzzFeed News spokesman Matt Mittenthal said “the fact that these allegations were being taken seriously at the highest levels of government was in itself a real story here.”

BuzzFeed’s lawyers have acknowledged that Gubarev’s involvement could have been tangential, simply “turning a blind eye” to wrongdoing by websites he hosted.

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GUBAREV’S WORLD

Even before the Steele dossier, a 2014 lawsuit filed against Gubarev’s company in Florida opened a window on how readily associates can become adversaries in the post-Soviet business world.

The suit, dismissed last year, was filed by Depicto Commercial Ltd., a little-known company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The company contended that it lent $627,000 to Gubarev’s business and that he failed to repay as agreed; Gubarev’s side contended it repaid what was owed.

The lawsuit identifies Depicto Commercial’s principal figure as Victor Lukashenko, a Belarusian digital services businessman.

Lukashenko spent time in prison in 2010-2012 in that former Soviet republic, according to his lawyer, Rolandas Tilindis. He said Lukashenko, who is now in hiding, was accused of improperly exchanging cryptocurrency for real money as a service to customers, not realizing the currency was the product of fraud.

Gurvitz, Gubarev’s lawyer, said his client “had absolutely no relationship” with Lukashenko beyond the loan.

The Depicto Commercial lawsuit gives little detail about that company. However, a company with that name has been identified in previously leaked corporate documents from the Bahamas, with a director named Emilios Hadjivangeli. Hadjivangeli runs a corporate services business in Cyprus, Gubarev’s home and a haven for well-to-do Russians and their money.

Hadjivangeli has been listed as an official for hundreds of companies. Many appear to be so-called shell companies, where wealthy Russians and others often list intermediary strawmen as executives to hide the actual ownership.

Hadjivangeli did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Gurvitz said that his client has never heard of Hadjivangeli and that there is no reason to believe that he or Lukashenko was involved in any way with the Steele dossier.

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Dossier timeline: https://interactives.ap.org/steele-dossier-timeline/

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Contributing to this report were researchers Rhonda Shafner and Randy Herschaft in New York and reporter Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow.

 

Family separations push new activists into migrant protests

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Immigrants who have spent years fighting to change the country’s immigration system are getting newfound support from liberal activists, moms and first-time protesters motivated by a visceral narrative: President Donald Trump’s administration separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Groups that pulled off massive women’s marches the past two years and other left-leaning rallies are throwing their weight behind migrant families Saturday. More than 600 marches could draw hundreds of thousands of people nationwide, from immigrant-friendly cities like Los Angeles and New York City to conservative Appalachia and Wyoming.

Though many are seasoned anti-Trump demonstrators, others are new to immigration activism, including parents who say they feel compelled to show up after heart-wrenching accounts of children forcibly taken from their families as they crossed the border illegally. In Portland, Oregon, for example, several stay-at-home moms are organizing their first rally while caring for young kids.

“I’m not a radical, and I’m not an activist,” said Kate Sharaf, a co-organizer in Portland’s event. “I just reached a point where I felt I had to do more.”

She and her co-organizers are undaunted after nearly 600 women wearing white and railing against the now-abandoned separation policy were arrested Thursday in Washington, D.C. With demonstrations emerging nationwide, immigrant advocacy groups say they’re thrilled — and surprised — to see the issue gaining traction among those not tied to immigration.

“Honestly, I am blown away. I have literally never seen Americans show up for immigrants like this,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, political director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which represents nannies, housekeepers and caregivers, many of whom are immigrants. “We just kept hearing over and over again, if it was my child, I would want someone to do something.”

Saturday’s rallies are getting funding and support from the American Civil Liberties Union, MoveOn.org, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and The Leadership Conference. But local organizers are shouldering on-the-ground planning, many of them women relying on informal networks established during worldwide women’s marches on Trump’s inauguration and its anniversary.

Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, welcomed interest in the immigration system and said only Congress has the power to change the law.

“We appreciate that these individuals have expressed an interest in and concern with the critical issue of securing our nation’s borders and enforcing our immigration laws,” Houlton said. “As we have indicated before, the department is disappointed and frustrated by our nation’s disastrous immigration laws and supports action.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley did not respond to a request for comment.

In Portland, Sharaf and other mothers are working to organize a march expected to attract 5,000 people — all while they change diapers, nurse babies and prepare snacks. They have marched for women’s rights but have never spearheaded a political rally.

Sharaf and three other women recently fired up their laptops and cellphones at her dining room table — one mother breastfeeding her son as she worked. A toddler wolfed down pasta in a high chair and two 5-year-olds and a 4-year-old careened around the house.

“I’m a mom, and I think everyone I know that I’ve talked to about this issue has had a very visceral reaction,” Sharaf said. “Because as moms, we know how important it is to be with your child and how critical attachment is to a child. It’s just heartbreaking for me to see.”

Sharaf and co-organizer Erin Conroy are coordinating their efforts with immigrant advocacy groups.

“This is not my wheelhouse,” Conroy said. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a national emergency that we all need to be focused on right now.”

That passion is heartening for the broader anti-Trump coalition, which hopes the weekend marches will attract people who have otherwise been on the sidelines, said David S. Meyer, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has authored books on U.S. political protest.

“There are people who have all kinds of other grievances or gripes with the Trump administration and they’re quite happy to use this one as the most productive and salient for the moment,” he said.

The groups planning the so-called Families Belong Together rallies have carefully framed them as peaceful and family-friendly — another draw for those looking to jump into their first protest, Meyer said.

That’s in contrast to the sit-in in the nation’s capital Thursday, where participants knew they might be arrested.

In El Paso, Texas, immigrant advocacy groups are partnering with religious leaders and women’s march organizers Saturday to try to shut down the bridge connecting El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Immigration attorney Linda Rivas said groups have met with U.S. authorities, congressional representatives and other leaders to discuss an escalating immigration crackdown that they say began decades ago. But the family separation policy has been a watershed for attracting a broader spectrum of demonstrators, she said.

“To finally have people on board wanting to take action, marching, taking to the streets, it’s been motivating for us as advocates because we have to keep going,” Rivas said.

In Los Angeles, Angelica Salas said she has been marching to fix the immigration system for nearly two decades. The executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights said she would often tell people about how immigration enforcement was splitting up families and non-immigrants couldn’t believe it.

Now, she said, they do.

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Taxin reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporter Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report. Follow Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus . Follow Taxin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ataxin

Court confirmation process likely to follow Gorsuch playbook

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican game plan for selecting the next member of the Supreme Court was ready to go even before longtime Justice Anthony Kennedy made his retirement announcement this week.

Kennedy’s news that he’ll leave the court next month immediately activated a network of White House aides, congressional allies and outside advocates, all set for their second Supreme Court confirmation fight in two years. With the successful push for Justice Neil Gorsuch still fresh in their minds, their effort this time is expected to follow a similar playbook.

Trump has hit the ground running, meeting Thursday with key Republican and Democratic senators at the White House in the evening to discuss the vacancy. Trump welcomed Republicans Chuck Grassley, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Democrats Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp as part of the effort. The White House said Trump’s team also spoke with more than a dozen additional senators.

Speaking earlier in the day in Wisconsin, Trump said: “We’re going to pick ourselves one great United States Supreme Court justice to take the place of a great man.”

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump had already begun the selection process, adding that it is “something that the president takes very seriously.” Trump’s wish list, she said, includes “tremendous intellect, judicial temperament and impeccable qualifications.”

A day after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, Democratic senators joined demonstrators outside the Supreme Court, promising a spirited fight as President Trump prepares to make his second Supreme Court nomination. (June 28)

Leonard Leo, who is taking a leave of absence as executive vice president of the Federalist Society to serve as an outside adviser in the selection process, said Trump “wants to move swiftly and I think that probably means in the next two or three weeks.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has committed to confirming a nominee in the fall, which the Republican-controlled Senate should be able to do if McConnell can hold his razor-thin majority together.

Leo said Trump was “committed to a full-throttle process” that includes meeting with several top contenders. He said the president was pleased with the game plan that put Gorsuch on the bench, which involved a network of White House aides, congressional allies and outside advocates.

Once again, Trump will draw this time from a list of 25 prospective candidates that was first established during the campaign and updated last fall, with advice from Leo and other conservatives. Advisers within the administration include White House Counsel Don McGahn. Last time the pool of contenders narrowed from eight to six and then to a final three, Leo said.

Some possible nominees being eyed include Thomas Hardiman, who serves alongside Trump’s sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Raymond Kethledge, a federal appeals court judge who clerked for Kennedy. Also of interest are Amul Thapar, who serves on the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, lives in Kentucky and is close to McConnell; Brett Kavanaugh, a former clerk for Kennedy who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.; and Amy Coney Barrett, who serves on the federal appeals court in Chicago.

In the run-up to selecting Gorsuch, Trump met with three contenders and White House officials vetted several more. Leo said he expected that work to start before Trump leaves on July 10 for a trip to Europe, adding that it was “not outside the realm of possibility” that the search process could conclude by then.

While the White House begins its internal vetting process, outreach also has already begun to senators, said White House Legislative Director Marc Short. And outside supporters have already begun a public advocacy campaign, focusing their pressure on Democratic senators in states that supported Trump.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative political campaign organization, launched a seven-figure ad buy Wednesday, aimed at vulnerable Democrats, said chief counsel and policy director Carrie Severino. She said the group spent $10 million supporting the Gorsuch confirmation.

“We’d be very happy if he’d pick any name on that list,” said Severino. “Judges, and particularly the Supreme Court, have been a resounding success of this administration. What we’re seeing here is Gorsuch 2.0.”

Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, a campaign group aligned with McConnell, said the group began running ads Thursday in 10 states that Trump won in 2016 where Democratic senators are now up for re-election.

A sign that the White House is also focusing on these Democrats: Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, was at the White House Thursday night for a meeting with Trump.

During the Gorsuch nomination, the White House took great pains to keep the public guessing on Trump’s final choice, whisking Gorsuch to Washington on a military jet and having him stay quietly with friends, away from hotels. Trump relished the suspense of the final reveal, asking “So was that a surprise? Was it?” as he announced his pick on prime-time television.

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Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

House Republicans grill FBI, Justice leaders on Russia probe

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans accused top federal law enforcement officials Thursday of withholding documents from them and demanded details about surveillance tactics during the Russia investigation in a contentious congressional hearing that capped days of mounting partisan complaints.

Underscoring their frustration, Republicans briefly put the hearing on hold so they could approve a resolution on the House floor demanding that the Justice Department turn over thousands of documents by next week.

The House Judiciary Committee hearing marked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s first appearance before Congress since an internal DOJ report criticizing the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation revealed new disparaging text messages among FBI officials about Donald Trump during the 2016 election. FBI Director Christopher Wray also appeared at Thursday’s hearing.

Republicans on the panel seized on the watchdog report to allege bias by the FBI and to discredit an investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign that is now led by special counsel Robert Mueller. They suggested the Justice Department had conspired against Trump by refusing to produce documents they believe would show improper FBI conduct.

“This country is being hurt by it. We are being divided,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said of Mueller’s investigation. Gowdy led a separate two-year investigation into the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and Clinton’s role in those attacks as secretary of state.

“Whatever you got,” Gowdy added, “finish it the hell up because this country is being torn apart.”

Rosenstein, at times raising his voice and pointing his finger, strongly defended himself and the department, saying he was doing his best to balance congressional oversight with the need to preserve the integrity of ongoing investigations. He said despite Republican allegations, he was “not trying to hide anything.”

“We are not in contempt of this Congress, and we are not going to be in contempt of this Congress,” he said.

The hearing came amid Republican attacks on the Justice Department and allegations of FBI bias against Trump. On Wednesday, lawmakers spent 11 hours behind closed doors grilling Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who worked on both the Clinton and Russia investigations and traded anti-Trump text messages with an FBI lawyer. The inspector general criticized the officials for creating an appearance of impropriety but did not find evidence that bias had tainted prosecutors’ decisions in the Clinton investigation.

His lawyer called Thursday night for the committee to release the entire transcript of the interview instead of “leaking selective excerpts designed to further a partisan agenda.”

The resolution that passed along party lines Thursday demanded that the department turn over by July 6 documents on FBI investigations into Clinton’s private email use and Trump campaign ties to Russia. Both investigations unfolded during the presidential election, causing the FBI — which prides itself on independence — to become entangled in presidential politics in ways that are continuing to shake out.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., one of the resolution’s sponsors, did not deny Democratic assertions that the document requests were related to efforts to undercut Mueller’s probe.

“Yes, when we get these documents, we believe that it will do away with this whole fiasco of what they call the Russian Trump collusion because there wasn’t any,” he said on the House floor.

The House judiciary and intelligence panels, which have subpoenaed the documents, want to use the records for congressional investigations into the FBI’s decision to clear Clinton in the email probe and its opening of an investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Justice Department has already turned over more than 800,000 documents to congressional committees, but the subpoenas seek additional materials, including records about any surveillance of Trump campaign associates. Lawmakers have threatened to hold top DOJ officials in contempt or vote to impeach them if the documents aren’t turned over.

On the floor, lawmakers hurled insults as Republicans said Congress is entitled to whatever it wants.

“We have a petulant Department of Justice defended by a petulant Democratic Party,” said Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Va.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., shot back: “We’re caught up in this nonsense because they can’t get over Hillary Clinton’s emails. Get over it!”

Wray and Rosenstein said law enforcement officials have been working diligently to provide the records, though Republicans made clear their dissatisfaction at the pace.

“We have caught you hiding information from Congress,” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said at the hearing, an accusation Rosenstein strongly denied.

“I am the deputy attorney general of the United States, OK?” he said. “I’m not the person doing the redacting. I am responsible for responding to your concerns, as I have.

“Whenever you have brought issues to my attention, I have taken appropriate steps to remedy them,” he added.

He also dismissed media reports that he had threatened to subpoena staff members of the House Intelligence Committee, saying to laughter, “There’s no way to subpoena phone calls.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., signaled the hearing’s tone in his opening remarks when he complained about the Justice Department’s failure to produce all the requested documents.

“The Department of Justice and the FBI are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The president and Congress are,” Goodlatte said.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., demanded to know why Rosenstein had not recused himself from overseeing Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump had obstructed justice given Rosenstein’s role in laying the groundwork for the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein’s memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation was initially cited by the White House as justification for his firing.

“I can assure you that if it were appropriate for me to recuse,” Rosenstein said with a smile, “I’d be more than happy to do so and let somebody else handle this.”

Business: Global shares mostly higher despite trade uncertainty

TOKYO (AP) — Global shares were mostly higher Friday as investors weighed how trade tensions between the U.S. and other nations might escalate.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 gained 1.4 percent to 5,348.59 in early trading. Germany’s DAX was up 1.5 percent at 12,348.90. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 1.1 percent to 7,696.88. U.S. shares were set to drift higher with Dow futures gaining 0.7 percent to 24,382. S&P 500 futures were also up, adding 0.6 percent to 2,735.10

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 edged nearly 0.2 percent higher to finish at 22,304.51, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3 percent to 6,194.60. South Korea’s Kospi advanced 0.5 percent to 2,326.13. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 1.6 percent to 28,942.56, while the Shanghai Composite index rose 2.2 percent to 2,847.42.

WALL STREET: The S&P 500 index added 0.6 percent to 2,716.31. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.4 percent to 24,216.05 and the Nasdaq composite gained 0.8 percent to 7,503.68. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 0.3 percent to 1,645.02.

TRADE WORRIES: U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat of tariff hikes on up to $450 billion of Chinese products reflects fears Beijing’s plans are a threat to American technological leadership and prosperity. That has triggered global worries about how the curtailing of free trade might hurt economies and industrial sectors, but markets are still unsure of what the impact might be.

THE QUOTE: “Risk sentiment has firmed noticeably on the dearth of new headlines surrounding trade tensions,” said Chang Wei Liang at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 18 cents to $73.27. It gained 0.9 percent to $73.45 a barrel in New York overnight. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 20 cents to $77.81 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 110.63 yen from 110.50 yen late Thursday. The euro climbed to $1.1627 from $1.1567.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Friday, June 29:

1. Global stocks get trade respite, trade higher

World stocks enjoyed a strong bounce on Friday as a recovery in Asian markets spread to European shares after a turbulent week of selling as investors’ fears of higher barriers to trade came closer to becoming reality.

Trade wars have already mauled assets from the Chinese yuan to European automaker stocks, and wiped $1.75 trillion off world stocks’ market capitalization since June 12.

European shares strongly rose on Friday, with major indices up more than 1%. However, European indices will however probably close on a loss for the week and the month as the escalation of the United States’ trade dispute with China and the European Union took its toll.

Asian markets rallied from nine-month lows as China eased foreign investment limits and provided investors a temporary respite to trade war fears. However, even as China’s Shanghai Composed jumped more than 2%, the Chinese yuan suffered its worst month on record, losing 3% against the dollar in June as investors pulled money from a market likely to suffer from higher barriers to trade.

U.S. stocks look set for a recovery on Friday even though the Dow was on track for a weekly decline of close to 1.5%. At 5:48AM ET (9:48GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures gained 146 points, or 0.60%, S&P 500 futures rose 12 points, or 0.44%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures traded up 39 points, or 0.55%.

2. Stress test results send most bank stocks higher

Several U.S. banks were registering strong gains in pre-market trade on Friday as they passed tougher Federal Reserve stress tests who results were published after the prior session close.

Although the Fed forced some of Wall Street’s top banks to rein in ambitious plans for pouring out cash to shareholders, it still implied a record payout to investors.

The nation’s four largest lenders – JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and Citigroup (NYSE:C) – all said they will distribute more than $110 billion through dividends and stock buybacks.

Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) were blocked from boosting total payouts.

Of the 18 domestic and foreign banks that faced the qualitative section of the exam, Deutsche Bank (DE:DBKGn) was the only one to receive an objection.

3. Data dump to round out the week

A regional U.S. manufacturing report, consumer sentiment data and crucial update on the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation will round off this week’s release of top-tier economic data on Friday.

The Core Price Consumer Expenditure (PCE) Index due 8:30AM ET (12:30GMT) – the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation – is expected to show 0.2% growth for May and 1.9% growth year-on-year, up slightly from 1.8% the prior month.

The PCE deflator data, a measure of inflation based on changes in personal consumption, will also be in focus after rising 2% in April.

The Chicago Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) due 9:45AM ET (13:45GMT) is expected to show a reading of 60.1, down from a prior reading of 62.7. A reading above 50 indicates expansion of the manufacturing sector; a reading below indicates contraction.

Michigan’s consumer sentiment index due 10:00AM ET (14:00GMT) is forecast to show a reading of 99.1 roughly unchanged from the previous month, while consumer expectations data will also be in focus.

Economic data so far this week has played second fiddle to trade-related headlines but a slowdown in U.S. economic growth reported Thursday weighed on sentiment somewhat.

4. Nike soars 10% after quarterly earnings

Shares of Nike (NYSE:NKE) soared nearly 10% in pre-market trade on Friday after the iconic athletic wear company reported quarterly sales of $9.79 billion, beating analysts’ estimates of $9.41 billion, thanks to new product launches.

Nike also announced after Thursday’s close a four-year $15 billion buyback plan.

In other positive earnings news, KB Home (NYSE:KBH) gained 4.2% in after-hours trading as the homebuilder reported quarterly results that beat on the top and bottom lines.

5. Oil prices trade higher with focus on U.S. production

Oil prices moved higher on Friday as investors looked ahead to data gauging U.S. output.

The weekly instalment of drilling activity from Baker Hughes, out later on Friday, showed the prior week that the number of U.S. oil rigs fell for the first time in weeks, pointing to signs of tightening in U.S. output, although the number remains just below the March 2015 high registered in the prior week.

U.S. oil output, however, remains at record levels of about 10.9 million barrels per day, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday.

Market participants will also monitor any potential updates on U.S. sanctions on the back of concerns that the United States may allow some countries to continue importing Iranian crude imports.

Oil surged this week by the most in two months as Saudi Arabia’s assurance of increased output failed to assuage concerns that disruptions from Canada to Libya and Iran will strain global markets.

Unions: Its back against the wall, organized labor gets feisty

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)   —   Their membership has been declining for decades. They’ve been bedeviled by crippling new laws, and by a devastating U.S. Supreme Court decision just this week. From all appearances, it would seem that labor unions are an endangered species.

But here’s the surprise: Organized labor is showing new signs of life.

Last year, labor netted 262,000 new recruits. The movement notched several high-profile wins this spring, organizing 5,000 teaching assistants and graduate students at Harvard and winning an election in a small unit at Boeing in South Carolina, the state with the lowest union density in the nation.

It’s not just that unions are gaining members — they’re also getting more aggressive. The union representing Las Vegas workers voted to strike at Strip casinos and won concessions at some this month, while 250,000 Teamsters authorized a strike at UPS earlier this month before reaching a tentative deal late last week. And, most prominently, tens of thousands of teachers walked out in conservative states from West Virginia to Arizona, winning concessions on education funding that had been cut deeply during the recession.

Protesters gathered in New York City on Wednesday to speak out against a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that government workers can no longer be forced to pay union dues. (June 27)

Mike Hinton, a 39-year-old UPS delivery driver and Teamsters member in Campbellsville, Kentucky, said the teachers were an inspiration to his fellow workers who voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike when their contract expires July 31, and to several friends who have bemoaned that their own workplaces have not been organized by a union.

“There’s kind of a spark going on now with unions,” Hinton said. “It’s not huge — it’s just a spark.”

Even a spark is significant given the decades-long drop in organized labor, which in 1980 represented 20 percent of the U.S. workforce and now only includes 10.7 percent. The Republican takeover of state governments over the past decade has added several new hurdles for a movement that typically backs Democrats — Wisconsin and Ohio limited the ability of public sector unions to negotiate for their members and 28 states now allow people represented by unions to decline to pay dues, limiting labor’s financial clout.

One of the biggest blows came on Wednesday, when the Supreme Court ruled that government workers who declined to join labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining cannot be forced to contribute to those unions.

Yet despite — or perhaps because of — the setbacks, union members seem more willing to take risks. The initial teacher’s walkout in West Virginia, for example, continued even after union leaders cut a deal to bring teachers back into the classrooms — the energized grassroots refused to return to school until they got a better agreement.

“I don’t know if locals have been unusually organized rather than things have just gotten very, very bad,” said Moshe Marvit, a Pittsburgh-based labor attorney and fellow at the Century Foundation.

He noted the teachers’ actions were most aggressive in states where teachers were paid the lowest and have shouldered the biggest cuts. Despite the lowest unemployment rate in decades, the government reported this month that wages last year increased below the rate of inflation — meaning the typical worker effectively suffered a pay cut. At the same time the reduced unemployment rate also lessens the still real risks of organizing or job actions like strikes, because businesses are having a harder time finding workers.

The increase in “right to work” laws that allow people represented by unions to opt out of paying dues means the people continuing to be involved in unions will be the most committed. And, some labor advocates and experts noted, the rising number of government moves against unions — climaxing in Wednesday’s Janus decision — may be encouraging radical actions like the teacher walkouts, which skirted laws against strikes by educators in several states.

“Since organized labor is basically illegal today, labor might as well engage in various forms of illegality, in uprisings and demonstrations that send a shot across the bow of capital,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Unions have also turned to new, sometimes unexpected frontiers to gain members. The United Auto Workers lost two attempts to organize southern auto plants in 2016 and last year, but they have successfully organized graduate students, who can become union members thanks to a 2016 ruling during the Obama’s administration. They were the union that organized Harvard teaching assistants and researchers, part of a shift to white-collar employees that has raised concerns among some that union membership might just become another perk of having a higher education degree.

Justin Bloesch, an economics graduate student at Harvard, isn’t worried about that. “Even people with college degrees feel a lot of economic pressure,” said Bloesch, 26, who decided he can’t afford to have children during his graduate studies because his compensation is too low.

He spoke on his way back from the UAW’s annual meeting where he rubbed shoulders with the union’s more blue-collar members. “To have those sort of connections makes it more powerful,” Bloesch said.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for most unions, said the uptick in union energy stems from the same impulse that brought people together for the Black Lives Matter movement against police violence and the Womens March against the Trump administration. “It’s collective action that’s tying everyone together,” Trumka said in an interview. “People are saying ‘we can’t do it alone, we have to come together.’”

Still, increased labor activism doesn’t always overlap with increased liberal organizing. In deep red states like Kentucky and Oklahoma, teachers who walked off their jobs were careful not to cross over into national debates, confining their protest to local issues. “You have 50,000 teachers in West Virginia that strike — how do you get them to change their political affiliation?” Marvit asked. “I’m not sure anybody has cracked that.”

Right now the rank-and-file generally doesn’t see its struggle with employers in the context of the Trump administration, said Fred Zuckerman, president of Teamsters Local 89 in Kentucky: “They’re totally separate worlds.”

Kentucky includes one of the hubs for UPS, employing 10,000 union members. Nationally, 93 percent Teamsters members in UPS voted to authorize a strike, pushing for a variety of changes in their next contract on mandatory overtime for drivers, wages and the company’s ability to hire new workers at lower pay and benefit scales. Last week, UPS reached a tentative agreement with the union that lays the groundwork for new Sunday shifts but includes pay raises for part-timers from $10.35 an hour to $15.50 and for drivers from $19 an hour to $34.74 over the next four years. Membership will vote on whether to accept the deal in the coming weeks.

Hinton, the driver, noted that no one wants to suffer the financial consequences and disruption of a strike, so it’s a testament to workers’ frustrations that they voted for one. He is exhausted after routinely having to work 10-hour days and longer. “There has to be a time when we can be just human and be with our families,” he said.

Amy Grubbs, 42, has worked at UPS for 12 years, starting her shift at 1:15 am to unload packages in the company’s Louisville plant. Because of her seniority she makes $19 an hour but she is technically a part-timer, and she thinks the proposed contract wouldn’t increase her pay. She’s ready to vote against it.

“You’re a multibillion dollar company and you want to nickel-and-dime us to death,” she said. “We’re having to stand up and fight back.”

Battle lines already being drawn on Kennedy’s successor

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement is setting off a momentous confirmation battle for President Donald Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee that is certain to consume the Senate, inflame partisan tensions and shape the outcome of the midterm elections.

All sides quickly mobilized Wednesday after Kennedy — a singular voice on the court whose votes have decided issues on abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights — sent shockwaves through Washington by announcing his retirement plans.

Trump said he would start the effort to replace Kennedy “immediately” and would pick from a list of 25 names that he updated last year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that the Senate “will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall.”

With Kennedy’s departure, Republicans have a longed-for opportunity to tip the balance of the court. It already has four justices picked by Democratic presidents and four picked by Republicans, so Trump’s pick could shift the ideological balance toward conservatives for years to come.

Republicans also have a chance to make judicial nominees a top campaign issue, which could help motivate conservatives and evangelicals to vote in November. The playbook worked in 2016, when Republicans rallied around McConnell’s successful block of then-President Barack Obama’s nominee to the court, Merrick Garland.

If Republicans unite behind Trump’s selection, there’s little that Democrats can do to stop it. Republicans changed the Senate rules last year so that Supreme Court nominees cannot be filibustered, meaning only 51 votes will be required to confirm.

Last year, Trump’s first nominee to the court, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed 54-45, with three Democrats voting in favor. Those Democrats — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota— are facing difficult re-election races and could find it difficult to oppose the president’s second pick.

But while Republicans are aiming for speedy action, Democrats quickly argued that any decision should be put on hold until after midterm elections, citing McConnell’s 2016 moves. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it would be the “height of hypocrisy” to vote sooner.

He said the voices of millions of Americans heading to the polls this fall “deserve to be heard.”

McConnell refused to consider Garland because it was a presidential election year. He said the seat should be left open for the next president to fill.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters that the 2016 delay on Supreme Court confirmations only applied to presidential election years. He noted that Justice Elena Kagan was confirmed in 2010, a midterm election year.

Another flashpoint in the court debate will be abortion rights, which puts a spotlight on key female Republican senators, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Both have supported abortion access. The abortion issue could also prove difficult for Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, the most endangered Senate Republican running for re-election this fall, whose views have shifted against abortion rights.

Schumer said the Senate should reject “on a bipartisan basis any justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade or undermine key health care protections.”

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump deflected a question on whether he should wait until after the midterm elections to announce a successor to Kennedy, saying he hasn’t “really thought about that. I think you want to go as quickly as possible.”

The president stressed his confidence in the picks on his list, saying, “You see the kind of quality we’re looking at when you look at that list.”

Some possible nominees being eyed include Thomas Hardiman, who serves alongside Trump’s sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Raymond Kethledge, a federal appeals court judge who clerked for Kennedy. Also of interest are Amul Thapar, a federal appeals court judge from Kentucky who is close to McConnell; Brett Kavanaugh, a former clerk for Kennedy who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.; and Amy Coney Barrett, who serves on the federal appeals court in Chicago.

Among Trump’s counselors is Leonard Leo, who is taking a leave of absence as executive vice president of the Federalist Society to serve as an outside adviser to the process. Leo said Wednesday that it was important to first focus on Kennedy’s legacy and demonstrate appreciation. From there, he said, the “White House will begin to winnow the president’s list to a manageable short list.”

“The president has been very clear over and over what his standards are,” Leo said.

Senators were bracing for the tough days ahead.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Judiciary Committee, bluntly talked of the “blood sport” likely to be triggered by the nomination fight.

“Americans ought to aim higher,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

Manafort had $10 million loan from Russian oligarch: court filing

(PhatzNewsRoom / Reuters)    —   A search warrant application unsealed on Wednesday revealed closer links than previously known between President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin.

In an affidavit attached to the July 2017 application, an FBI agent said he had reviewed tax returns for a company controlled by Manafort and his wife that showed a $10 million loan from a Russian lender identified as Oleg Deripaska.

The application to search Manafort’s Virginia apartment was granted, providing key evidence for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments of Manafort as part of his investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mueller has been investigating the financial links between Manafort and Deripaska, a metals magnate who is known to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Deripaska was among the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the United States in April.

Mueller also has indicted Konstantin Kilimnik, a political operative who sometimes served as an intermediary between Manafort and Deripaska. In court filings Mueller’s prosecutors have said Kilimnik has ties to Russian spy agencies, which Kilimnik denies.

The affidavit unsealed on Wednesday also disclosed that Deripaska had financially backed Manafort’s consulting work in Ukraine when it started in 2005-2006, citing information from a source whose name was redacted, a sign that a former Manafort associate may have cooperated with the investigation.

a man wearing a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO - Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington © REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo FILE PHOTO –

On Tuesday a federal judge in Virginia dealt a blow to Manafort by rejecting a motion to dismiss the case on the argument Mueller did not have the mandate to prosecute him.

Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager during part of his 2016 presidential campaign, has been indicted in Washington and Virginia on charges ranging from conspiring to launder money, bank and tax fraud and failing to register as a foreign agent for the pro-Russia Ukraine government.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty. His Virginia trial starts in July and his Washington trial is scheduled for September.

The search warrant application also confirmed that Mueller has been investigating Manafort’s role in a June 9, 2016, meeting that he attended at the Trump Tower in New York between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer and self-professed Kremlin informant who purportedly was carrying damaging information on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president.

The FBI sought “communications, records, documents and other files involving any of the attendees of the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump tower, as well as Aras and Amin Agalarov,” said the application, which misspelled the first name of Emin Agalarov.

Aras Agalarov is a Russian oligarch close to Putin who joined the elder Trump in staging the 2013 Miss Universe contest in Moscow. His son, Emin, is a popular singer.

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(Reporting by Nathan Layne in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott)

Trump choice for IRS chief coming under Senate scrutiny

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WASHINGTON — The Senate is assessing President Donald Trump’s choice to head the IRS: Charles Rettig, a Beverly Hills tax lawyer who would face the colossal challenge of overseeing the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code in three decades.

Rettig has represented thousands of individuals and companies in civil and criminal tax matters before the agency and against it in court. He also defended Trump’s decision to break with tradition by refusing to release his personal tax filings during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Rettig on Thursday comes before the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee for his confirmation for the post of Internal Revenue Service commissioner. Democrats on the panel are expected to ask him, given his defense of Trump’s tax position, if he will uphold the political independence of the IRS and whether he will work for the benefit of the average taxpayer in implementing the new tax law — a complex, $1.5 trillion package muscled through Congress by the Republicans last year.

The new law, Trump’s signature legislative achievement, provides generous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and more modest reductions for middle- and low-income individuals and families. Starting early this year, millions of working Americans saw increases in their paychecks with less tax withheld.

Rettig, 61, has worked at his Beverly Hills, California, law firm, Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez, for more than 35 years.

His clients have included affluent taxpayers seeking to strike deals with the IRS to turn over information on offshore bank accounts in exchange for reduced penalties. He has sued the IRS on behalf of clients seeking to reduce their tax penalties, and chaired the IRS advisory council, which acts as a public forum for discussing tax issues with agency officials.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would take over an agency that has been pummeled for years by Republican lawmakers and seen its funding slashed by 20 percent since 2010. The vetting of Rettig comes as the independent IRS watchdog warned that funding cuts have eroded the agency’s ability to provide high-quality service to taxpayers and to upgrade its aging technology.

“Because of these reductions, the IRS doesn’t have enough employees to provide basic taxpayer service,” Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, said in her midyear report to Congress released Wednesday. “The compliance and enforcement side of the house has been cut by even more.”

At the same time, Olson says she has “no doubt” that the IRS will successfully administer and enforce the new tax law.

The tax-filing season earlier this year for 2017, the last one under the “old” tax regime, went well, officials said.

But on April 17, the filing deadline, the bottom fell out. Key elements of the IRS computer system crashed, bringing an unwelcome surprise for taxpayers who had waited until the final day to file online. The website for making payments and gaining access to other key services was down due to what officials later described as a “high-volume technical issue.” It came back online late that day, and affected taxpayers got an extra day to file.

Although a relatively new piece of hardware caused the crash, “the incident illustrates the fragility of the IRS’ aging technology infrastructure,” Olson’s report says. It urges Congress to act to provide the needed funding and oversight.

The Finance Committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has said attention will be focused on ensuring the IRS is well staffed and has the necessary technology to serve taxpayers and reduce fraud.

Tax watchdog Olson’s message to Rettig: He should make improving customer service a top priority.

5 of 7 nations hit by US travel ban are majority Muslim

The seven nations under the Trump administration’s travel ban — upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — include five majority Muslim countries, prompting dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor to assert that the entry restrictions were motivated by “animus toward the Muslim faith.” The administration cites security concerns.

The list includes countries with a hostile relationship with Washington, such as North Korea, Iran and Syria. Others, such as Somalia and Yemen, are considered hotbeds of Islamic militant activity.

Most of the nations have yet to react to the court’s decision Tuesday on the ban, which has been fully in place since December, when the justices put the brakes on lower court decisions that had blocked part of it from being enforced.

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SYRIA

The Syrian government considers itself at war with the U.S. and labels the presence of about 2,000 U.S. troops in the country as an occupying force. Diplomatic ties were cut in 2012, at the onset of the civil war. Syria has been listed as a state sponsoring terrorism, with economic sanctions imposed on Syrians and Syrian entities.

Some criticize Washington for restricting entry to Syrians fleeing a conflict in which the U.S. has had a role. The U.S. has led an international coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Two Muslims living in Michigan expressed disappointment at the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries. (June 26)

More than 6 million Syrians have fled their homeland, with most settling in nearby countries. In principle, the latest version of the U.S. travel ban does not affect the potential resettlement of refugees to the U.S., including from the countries targeted by the travel ban. However, previous Trump administration restrictions on entry did affect Syrian refugees, leading to a backlog of cases at a time when the U.S. lowered the cap on refugee admissions.

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IRAN

President Hassan Rouhani indirectly condemned the travel ban Wednesday, saying the actions of a president who “oppresses the entire Muslim world” will not remain without a response. Many in Iran blame President Donald Trump’s decision to pull America from the nuclear deal for their worsening economy.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran, Iranians have been forced to travel to another country to apply for U.S. visas. Many come through nearby Dubai, where the U.S. Consulate has a special listening post for Iran. Others travel to U.S. diplomatic posts in Armenia and Turkey. The travel ban has forced some Iranian students in the U.S. to stay there for fear of being unable to return. For those in Iran, they’ve been blocked from traveling to visit relatives in the U.S.

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YEMEN

The Arab world’s poorest nation has long been considered a haven for militants linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government has waged an all-out campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, trying to dislodge them from the northern region. Two million people have been displaced, more than 10,000 have been killed and Yemen has been pushed to the brink of famine.

About 44,000 Yemeni-Americans live in the U.S., according to the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights. When the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Sanaa closed after the outbreak of war, Yemenis had to go to other countries to apply for U.S. visas.

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LIBYA

Libya fell into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed strongman Moammar Gadhafi, who had ruled for more than four decades.

Since then, the North African country has emerged as a major transit point to Europe for those fleeing poverty and civil war in Africa. Libyan authorities have recently increased efforts to stem the flow of migrants, with European assistance.

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SOMALIA

Another al-Qaida-linked group, al-Shabab, has been staging attacks in Somalia for years. A suicide bombing in the capital of Mogadishu in October killed more than 500 people.

Between 140,000 and 170,000 Somalis — U.S. citizens and refugees — live in the United States, according to Somali officials. Many in the Horn of Africa nation would like to join their relatives in the U.S. to escape the violence and chaos.

Maryan Abdullahi said she felt devastated after the Supreme Court ruling, her hopes dashed that she could join her husband in Virginia. She said she and her sons, ages 6 and 8, had planned to go to neighboring Ethiopia where their U.S. travel plans were to have been processed. Now, Abdullahi said, “all our future plans are doomed to failure.”

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NORTH KOREA

North Korea is still basking in the glow of leader Kim Jong Un’s historic meeting with Trump earlier this month.

The Singapore summit was front-page news in the North’s government-controlled newspapers. The North has toned down its anti-U.S. rhetoric recently as it worked to ease tensions with Washington and neighboring South Korea.

The U.S. travel ban had little impact on North Koreans. More painful was a U.S. executive order last year that barred all Americans from nonessential travel in the other direction. That cut off a small but lucrative flow of American tourists to the North.

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VENEZUELA

President Nicolas Maduro has been feuding with Washington for years, and last month expelled the top U.S. diplomat for allegedly conspiring with his opponents to oust him. Dozens of Venezuelan officials already had been barred from entering the U.S. under several rounds of targeted sanctions.

It’s unclear how disruptive the new restrictions might be. In theory, they apply only to a narrow category of government officials and their relatives who are deemed responsible for failing to cooperate in vetting citizens considered a national security threat.

However, the travel ban also calls for more scrutiny of all Venezuelans applying for U.S. visas, prompting concerns about a stigmatization of the country at a time when hundreds of thousands are fleeing widespread shortages and hyperinflation.

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Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan; Sarah El Deeb in Beirut; Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Amir Vehdat in Tehran; Maggie Michael in Cairo; Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia; Adam Schreck in Bangkok; and Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed.

E.U. Leader Warns of ‘Worst-Case Scenarios,’ Citing Trump

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —    BRUSSELS — Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said on Wednesday that the policies of President Trump had put trans-Atlantic relations “under tremendous pressure” and that Europeans should prepare for darker times.

As a trade war looms between the United States and the European Union, with retaliation for American tariffs on steel and aluminum and threats of further tariffs on imported cars , Mr. Tusk said in a letter to the heads of government of the European Union that “unfortunately the divisions go beyond trade.”

Mr. Tusk, in his letter, took note of a rancorous meeting this month of the Group of 7 industrialized countries, when Mr. Trump mocked European leaders and criticized their trade policies and military spending.

“It is my belief that, while hoping for the best, we must be ready to prepare our Union for worst-case scenarios,” Mr. Tusk said.

Without calling out the American president by name, Mr. Tusk also criticized Mr. Trump and his immigration policies, using Twitter to denounce those who support “anti-European & anti-liberal” views.

More people starting to believe only strong-handed, anti-European & anti-liberal authority can stop illegal migration.

If people believe that, they will also believe everything else they say.

Stakes are high. Time is short.

My #euco letter: https://t.co/1gMOUqj9Fl

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) June 27, 2018

European leaders have been openly critical of Mr. Trump at times, and Mr. Tusk’s letter echoed a sentiment he expressed last month, when he scolded the president on Twitter in sarcastic terms.

“Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies,” he wrote. “But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”

He was not more specific in his letter on Wednesday, which focused on the agenda for the next summit meeting of European leaders, scheduled for Thursday and Friday. Much of their attention will be taken up by a new political crisis over migration and efforts to shore up the backstop for the euro currency.

But European leaders whose countries are members of the NATO alliance are also deeply concerned about how Mr. Trump may act during their two-day summit meeting on July 11-12, fearing the consequences of a divisive meeting just days before the president is expected to hold talks with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin .

This month, citing “national security,” Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on imports of European steel and aluminum. The bloc responded with “rebalancing measures” that hit about $3.25 billion worth of American products, a rough equivalent to the value of the penalties on European steel and aluminum.

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, with President Donald Trump in Taormina, Italy, on May 26, 2017. © Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images 

The European Union is currently preparing similar retaliation should Mr. Trump follow through on his threat to impose significant new tariffs on imported automobiles.

In a briefing before the summit meeting, the French economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said in Paris that “we do not want a trade war.”

“But we defend ourselves,” he added. “No one can stop a person or a state that is attacked from defending himself. We are attacked; we are not the aggressors.”

For now, migration is the highest priority for the leaders, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany pressed by rivals in her own coalition government to find a way to deal with migrants who register in another country before they try to settle in Germany. That is part of a phenomenon known as secondary or onward migration, made possible by what is essentially border-free travel through much of Europe within what is known as the Schengen area.

Although migrant numbers are down, the politics around the issue have propelled populist parties to success across Europe, including in Italy and in Germany, where the Alternative for Germany is the official opposition party.

Alternative for Germany is also pressing Ms. Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union, in state elections in October. They are, in turn, pressing Ms. Merkel for a political answer.

Mr. Tusk said in his letter that he wanted the leaders to endorse the establishment of “regional disembarkation platforms outside Europe” for migrants and refugees, a controversial effort to keep people from coming to the Continent before they are screened to see whether they qualify for asylum.

He also wants the bloc’s leaders to approve more funding to combat illegal migration in the bloc’s next seven-year budget from 2021, including a major increase in European Union border guards and coast guard.

Similarly, he said, the bloc must do more to work with other countries, like Libya, to prevent migrants from making the difficult sea journey to Europe. Part of that effort would involve continuing to pay Turkey to prevent trips by migrants to Greece, and part would be a program of foreign aid to make living conditions better in the home countries of many potential migrants, especially in Africa.

Business: Global stocks mixed as US, China move to sooth tensions

SINGAPORE (AP) — Global stocks were mixed on Thursday as investors let the latest assurances from the U.S. and China on trade simmer, after a roller coaster of exchanges between the two powers brought widespread uncertainty.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares were lower in early trading. Germany’s DAX dropped 0.6 percent to 12,274.60 and France’s CAC 40 shed 0.3 percent to 5,309.06. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.2 percent to 7,608.10. Wall Street was poised to open higher. Dow futures added 0.1 percent to 24,160.00. The broader S&P 500 futures were up 0.2 percent to 2,710.20. The S&P 500 index had dropped 0.9 percent to 2,699.63 on Wednesday, its lowest closing level in nearly a month.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index remained almost flat at 22,270.39 and South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.2 percent to 2,314.24. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.5 percent to 28,497.32 while the Shanghai Composite in mainland China extended its losses by 0.9 percent to 2,786.90. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.3 percent to 6,215.40. Taiwan’s benchmark fell and Southeast Asian indexes were mixed.

CHINA DEFENDS TRADE: China’s government defended its trade record on Thursday to defuse U.S. and European pressure over market access and technology policy. A Cabinet report said that China has fulfilled its responsibility as a “major country” and contributed to “global peace and development.” The report repeated promises to cut some tariffs and ease controls on foreign investment. But it didn’t address complaints that Beijing is hampering access to promising industries and that plans for the state-led development of electric cars and other products violates China’s free trade commitments.

MIXED U.S. MESSAGES: U.S. stocks inched higher on Wednesday after President Donald Trump dropped plans to impose strict limits on Chinese investment in U.S. technology companies. He urged Congress to strengthen existing laws that apply to all foreign countries instead. But the gains evaporated after Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said in an interview with Fox Business that it should not necessarily be viewed as a softer stance. The U.S. is set to impose a 25 percent tariff on billions of dollars of Chinese products starting July 6. In response, China will raise import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Trump’s slightly softer tone seems to have been undermined by a reiteration of the previous harsh tone on trade and investment by his adviser. Dollar strength, a generalized concern about global growth, higher oil prices, none of this is helping,” said Robert Carnell, head of research and chief economist at ING Bank.

ENERGY: Oil futures eased after rallying on a report that showed U.S oil inventories dropping more sharply last week. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 14 cents to $72.62 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $2.23 to settle at $72.76 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 4 cents to $77.42 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 110.31 yen from 110.20 Japanese yen in late trading Wednesday. The euro ticked up to $1.1559 from $1.1557.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Thursday, June 28:

1. Eyes on Washington

Trade tensions will continue to be the focus for markets on Thursday after the rocky ride seen a day earlier as investors continue to watch Washington for signals on how U.S. President Donald Trump will move forward with tariffs.

The interpretations that Trump was choosing a less confrontational approach on Chinese investments in technology initially buoyed stocks on Wednesday until the director of the U.S. National Economic Council Larry Kudlow stepped in to reject the idea that the White House had softened its stance on China.

Also in focus, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday that Trump and Russian President Vladmir Putin will hold their first bilateral summit. Bolton indicated that the time and place of the meeting will be released simultaneously by U.S. and Russian officials on Thursday.

2. U.S. stocks set to recover

U.S. stocks look set for a recovery on Thursday after Kudlow’s comments took the wind out of buyers’ sails a day earlier. At 5:57AM ET (9:57GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures gained 30 points, or 0.12%, S&P 500 futures rose 4 points, or 0.15%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures traded up 14 points, or 0.20%.

Elsewhere, European shares showed a gloomier outlook on Thursday as trade tensions and political concerns took their toll on stocks. European leaders gathered for a summit in which discussions over the UK’s exit from the European Union will be high on the agenda.

Earlier, Asian stock markets slumped to nine-month lows on Thursday as investors worried that the Trump administration’s approach to trade is harming global economic growth. Although Japan’s Nikkei 225 ended little changed, China’s Shanghai Composite closed down 0.9%.

3. Final Q1 GDP reading in focus

The U.S. is to release final figures on first-quarter economic growth at 8:30AM ET (12:30GMT) Thursday.

It is expected to confirm that the economy expanded at a relatively-healthy 2.2% annual rate in the first three months of 2018, unchanged from a preliminary estimate. It grew by 2.9% in the fourth quarter of last year.

The reading comes even after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin said Wednesday that he expects a big number for second quarter GDP. The Atlanta Fed’s latest forecast for economic growth in the April-June quarter was for 4.5%.

Also on Thursday’s economic docket, investors will get the latest reading on weekly jobless claims, while St. Louis Fed president James Bullard and Atlanta Fed chief Raphael Bostic could give hints on the future path of monetary policy later in the session.

4. Apple-Samsung feud comes to close

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung (KS:005930) have announced the end of their longstanding feud over patents that began in 2011 and went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The two tech giants notified the judge at a district court in San Jose, California late on Wednesday that “they have agreed to drop and settle their remaining claims and counterclaims in this matter”.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

5. Cable hits 7-month low

The pound fell to seven-month lows against the dollar Thursday as Bank of England Deputy Governor Jon Cunliffe’s warning about household debt levels and concerns over Brexit weighed.

Sterling came under pressure after Cunliffe said in a radio interview that he was worried that British households with high debt levels could be vulnerable in a recession.

Meanwhile, concerns over Brexit also weighed after Irish PM Irish leader Leo Varadkar said overnight that the lack of progress in talks was “disappointing”.

Judge: Separated families must be reunited within 30 days

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MCALLEN, Texas (AP) — A judge in California on Tuesday ordered U.S. border authorities to reunite separated families within 30 days, setting a hard deadline in a process that has so far yielded uncertainty about when children might again see their parents.

If children are younger than 5, they must be reunified within 14 days of the order issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego. Sabraw, an appointee of President George W. Bush, also issued a nationwide injunction on future family separations, unless the parent is deemed unfit or doesn’t want to be with the child. He also requires the government provide phone contact between parents and their children within 10 days.

More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in recent weeks and placed in government-contracted shelters — hundreds of miles away, in some cases — under a now-abandoned policy toward families caught illegally entering the U.S.

Amid an international outcry, Trump last week issued an executive order to stop the separation of families and said parents and children will instead be detained together. A Department of Homeland Security statement over the weekend on reuniting families only seemed to sow more confusion.

In a speech before the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Los Angeles, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday defended the need to enforce the country’s immigration laws and said voters elected the president to do just that. (June 26)

“The facts set forth before the Court portray reactive governance_responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the Government’s own making,” Sabraw wrote. “They belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution.”

The ruling was a win for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in March involving a 7-year-old girl who was separated from her Congolese mother and a 14-year-old boy who was separated from his Brazilian mother.

“Tears will be flowing in detention centers across the country when the families learn they will be reunited,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.

The Justice and Homeland Security Departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Tuesday.

It’s not clear how border authorities will meet the deadline. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress on Tuesday that his department still has custody of 2,047 immigrant children separated from their parents at the border. That is only six fewer children than the number in HHS custody as of last Wednesday. Democratic senators said that wasn’t nearly enough progress.

Under questioning, Azar refused to be pinned down on how long it will take to reunite families. He said his department does extensive vetting of parents to make sure they are not traffickers masquerading as parents.

Also challenging will be the requirement the judge set on phone contact.

At a Texas detention facility, immigrant advocates complained that parents have gotten busy signals or no answers from a 1-800 number provided by federal authorities to get information about their children.

Attorneys have spoken to about 200 immigrants at the Port Isabel detention facility near Los Fresnos, Texas, since last week, and only a few knew where their children were being held, said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia.

“The U.S. government never had any plan to reunite these families that were separated,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said, and now it is “scrambling to undo this terrible thing that they have done.”

A message left for HHS, which runs the hotline, was not immediately returned.

Many children in shelters in southern Texas have not had contact with their parents, though some have reported being allowed to speak with them in recent days, said Meghan Johnson Perez, director of the Children’s Project for the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, which provides free legal services to minors.

“Things might be changing now. The agencies are trying to coordinate better,” she said. “But the kids we have been seeing have not been in contact with the parents. They don’t know where the parent is. They’re just distraught. Their urgent need is just trying to figure out, ‘Where is my parent?’”

The decision comes as 17 states, including New York and California, sued the Trump administration Tuesday to force it to reunite children and parents. The states, all led by Democratic attorneys general, joined Washington, D.C., in filing the lawsuit in federal court in Seattle, arguing that they are being forced to shoulder increased child welfare, education and social services costs. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the multistate lawsuit.

“The administration’s practice of separating families is cruel, plain and simple,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. “Every day, it seems like the administration is issuing new, contradictory policies and relying on new, contradictory justifications. But we can’t forget: The lives of real people hang in the balance.”

In a speech before the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Los Angeles, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the administration for taking a hardline stand on illegal immigration and said the voters elected President Donald Trump to do just that.

“This is the Trump era,” he said. “We are enforcing our laws again. We know whose side we are on — so does this group — and we’re on the side of police, and we’re on the side of the public safety of the American people.”

After expressing reluctance in May to get too deeply involved in immigration enforcement decisions, the judge who issued Tuesday’s ruling was clearly influenced by Trump’s reversal last week and the Homeland Security Department’s statement on its family reunification plan Saturday night, which, he said, left many questions unanswered.

“This situation has reached a crisis level. The news media is saturated with stories of immigrant families being separated at the border. People are protesting. Elected officials are weighing in. Congress is threatening action,” he wrote.

Outraged by the family separations, immigrant supporters have led protests in recent days in states such as Florida and Texas. In Los Angeles, police arrested 25 demonstrators at rally Tuesday ahead of Sessions’ address.

Outside the U.S. attorney’s office, protesters carried signs reading, “Free the children!” and “Stop caging families.” Clergy members blocked the street by forming a human chain. Police handcuffed them and led them away.

Later, protesters gathered outside the hotel where Sessions gave his speech. As the attorney general’s motorcade arrived, the crowd chanted, “Nazi, go home.”

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Weissert reported from Harlingen, Texas. Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Gene Johnson in Seattle; Robin McDowell in Austin, Texas; Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California; and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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See AP’s complete coverage of the debate over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border: https://apnews.com/tag/Immigration

Mueller Poised to Zero In on Trump-Russia Collusion Allegations

(PhatzNewsRoom / Bloomberg)   —   Special Counsel Robert Mueller is preparing to accelerate his probe into possible collusion between Donald Trump ’s presidential campaign and Russians who sought to interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators have an eye toward producing conclusions — and possible indictments — related to collusion by fall, said the person, who asked not to be identified. He’ll be able to turn his full attention to the issue as he resolves other questions, including deciding soon whether to find that Trump sought to obstruct justice.

Mueller’s office declined to comment on his plans.

Suspicious contacts between at least 13 people associated with Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians have fueled the debate over collusion.

Some of those encounters have been known for months: the Russian ambassador whose conversations forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation and led Michael Flynn to plead guilty to lying to the FBI. The Russians who wangled a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in July 2016 after dangling the promise of political dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Other encounters continue to emerge, including a Russian’s chat with veteran Trump adviser Roger Stone at a cafe in Florida.

‘Warning Lights’

Signs of suspicious Russian contacts first surfaced in late 2015, especially among U.S. allies who were conducting surveillance against Russians, according to a former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

By the spring of 2016 the frequent contacts set off alarm bells among U.S. intelligence officials, according to James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence at the time. The FBI’s Russia investigation officially began that July.

“The dashboard warning lights were on for all of us because of the meetings,” Clapper said in an interview this month. “We may not have known much about the content of these meetings, but it was certainly very curious why so many meetings with Russians.”

On three occasions, Russians offered people associated with Trump’s campaign dirt on Democrat Clinton — all before it was publicly known that Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Mueller has interviewed or sought information about many of the people known to have met with Russians during the campaign. But it’s not known publicly whether the barrage of Russian contacts was instigated or coordinated by the Kremlin. Trump, for his part, has repeatedly denied any such plotting, tweeting on June 15, “WITCH HUNT! There was no Russian Collusion.”

Here are the players and their known interactions, with links to previous news stories:

Michael Cohen

Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer started working on a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow in September 2015 with Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer who’s a felon and previously had helped collect intelligence for the U.S. government. Cohen said the Trump Organization signed a nonbinding letter of intent in October 2015 with Moscow-based I.C. Expert Investment Company.

The project ultimately fizzled. Cohen said he stopped working on it in January 2016, around the time he reached out to a Kremlin spokesman asking for help with the project. Phatzradio News reported that in May Sater and Cohen were still talking about the tower, including a possible trip to Russia to have a meeting with government officials. Just before and after Trump’s inauguration, Cohen met with Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and Andrew Intrater, who invests money for Vekselberg. Shortly after, Intrater’s private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Cohen a $1 million consulting contract.

Russian Oligarch Tied to Trump Lawyer in Stormy Bombshell

Michael Flynn

The retired Army lieutenant general attended a December 2015 dinner in Russia where he sat at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Several months later, Flynn started working as an informal adviser to the Trump campaign and in August attended Trump’s first intelligence briefing with the FBI. After the election he was named Trump’s national security adviser. During the presidential transition he had multiple contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which they discussed U.S. sanctions. Flynn resigned as national security adviser after it become known he had lied about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak. He was later indicted by Mueller for making false statements to investigators and agreed to become a cooperating witness.

Flynn’s Side Deals, Link to Trump Aides Offer Clues for Mueller

George Papadopoulos

Shortly after being named a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign in March 2016, Papadopoulos met with a London professor he believed had connections to the Russian government. That month, Papadopoulos suggested he could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, an offer that was rejected by Sessions, who led the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team. In April, the professor told Papadopoulos that Russian officials had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Papadopoulos also was in contact with a Russian who said he represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Papadopoulos was arrested in July 2017 and in October pleaded guilty to misleading investigators.

Jared Kushner

The president’s son-in-law met briefly with Kislyak at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in April 2016 in what he has described as an exchange of pleasantries. In December, after the election, Kushner met again with Kislyak and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, who’s close to Putin.

Michael Caputo

The Republican political strategist — who lived for a time in Moscow and worked for the campaign of the late President Boris Yeltsin — worked briefly as an adviser to the Trump campaign. He was contacted by a Russian business partner who asked him to help facilitate a meeting between the Trump campaign and a Russian national who identified himself as Henry Greenberg. Caputo directed him to veteran Republican operative Stone, with whom Caputo has worked for decades.

Roger Stone

The longtime Trump political adviser confirmed for the first time this month that he met at a Florida cafe in May 2016 with Greenberg, who claimed to have information that would be “beneficial” to the Trump campaign but demanded $2 million in exchange. Stone — who says he’d forgotten about the 20-minute meeting when he failed to disclose it in interviews with a congressional committee — said he rejected the deal. Stone says he thinks the meeting was part of an FBI plot to entrap him in light of indications that Greenberg had worked in the past as an informant for the bureau.

Stone also told people during the campaign that he was in contact with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which published Democratic National Committee emails believed to have been stolen by Russian operatives. Stone has since denied that he communicated directly with Assange. Stone also exchanged private messages on Twitter with an online persona called Guccifer 2.0, believed to be linked to the Russian government.

Paul Manafort

While serving as Trump’s campaign chairman, Manafort was in contact with Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI has described as having ties to Russian intelligence. In July 2016, Manafort offered to give a campaign briefing to another business associate, Oleg Deripaska, who’s closely aligned with the Kremlin. Manafort was charged in October with a series of financial crimes and for failing to register as an agent of Ukraine. His bail was revoked and he was jailed after prosecutors claimed he tried to tamper with witnesses.

Donald Trump Jr.

The president’s son helped arrange the meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist. Kushner and Manafort also were there. While the Russians billed it as a chance to share damaging information on Clinton, participants have said nothing of value was offered.

Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting at the request of a pop star in Russia whose family has ties to Putin and has known the Trump family for several years. The meeting also has led to controversy over President Trump’s role in drafting a statement that falsely described the topic of the meeting as adoptions of Russian children.

In addition, Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank, has said he had shared a dinner table with Trump Jr. at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in May. Torshin, a former senator in Putin’s United Russia party directed dirty-money flows for mobsters in Moscow, according to investigators in Spain.

Carter Page

After being named a foreign policy adviser to the campaign in March 2016, Page traveled to Moscow that July for a speech and meetings. Page said he met briefly with Arkady Dvorkovich, then the deputy prime minister of Russia. Page said he also met Dvorkovich again at a dinner in December, after he was no longer affiliated with the Trump campaign. Page also met in July with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations for the Russian energy company Rosneft. And Page met with Kislyak briefly at the Republican convention in July. U.S. intelligence agencies indicated Page was a target of Russian intelligence as early as 2013.

Jeff Sessions

The attorney general, who took an early role in Trump’s campaign while serving in the Senate, had conversations with Ambassador Kislyak at the Republican convention and in September in his Senate office. The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence intercepted Kislyak telling Russian officials that they discussed campaign-related issues. Session recused himself from the Russia investigation — a move for which Trump has repeatedly vilified him because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then appointed Mueller as special counsel.

J.D. Gordon

As a campaign foreign policy adviser, Gordon met briefly with Kislyak at the Republican convention. Page contacted Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesman, and others on the campaign in July to praise them for a change in the Republican Party platform that softened the party’s support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Gordon also has said Page went around him to secure permission to make a trip to Russia.

Rick Gates

In September and October, Gates communicated directly with Kilimnik, according to court filings. Gates was a right-hand man to Manafort and worked as a campaign aide until he was fired by Trump in August. Even after being fired, Gates remained involved with the campaign through the Republican National Committee, and he worked on the presidential transition. Gates pleaded guilty in February to conspiring with Manafort to defraud the U.S. in charges not directly related to the Russia probe.

Erik Prince

The founder of Blackwater, a provider of private security forces in trouble spots such as Iraq, served as an informal adviser to Trump’s transition team. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is now education secretary. After Trump’s election but before the inauguration, Prince met Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian-government controlled wealth fund who’s close to Putin, during a visit to the Seychelles islands.

Prince told congressional investigators he was meeting with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to discuss topics including Middle East tensions and bauxite mining when the prince’s brother casually suggested that he go downstairs to chat with “this Russian guy.” The New York Times has reported that the meeting was arranged in part to explore the possibility of a back channel for discussions between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the meeting it didn’t identify.

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Erik Prince’s Seychelles Meeting With Russian Draws New Scrutiny

— With assistance by Billy House, and Steven T. Dennis

Primary Elections Results: McMaster wins in SC for Trump; Dem veteran Crowley out in NY

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NEW YORK (AP) — As Donald Trump’s party came together, a 28-year-old liberal activist ousted top House Democrat Joe Crowley in the president’s hometown Tuesday night, a stunning defeat that suddenly forced Democrats to confront their own internal divisions.

Crowley, the No. 4 House Democrat and until Tuesday considered a possible candidate to replace Nancy Pelosi as leader, becomes the first Democratic incumbent to fall this primary season. He was beaten by underfunded challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former Bernie Sanders organizer who caught fire with the party’s left wing.

Crowley’s loss echoed across the political world, sending the unmistakable message that divisions between the Democratic Party’s pragmatic and more liberal wings may be widening heading into the high-stakes November midterm elections. It also exposed a generational divide among Democrats still struggling with their identity in the Trump era.

“The community is ready for a movement of economic and social justice. That is what we tried to deliver,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview with The Associated Press. Born in the Bronx to a mother from Puerto Rico and a father who died in 2008, she said she knew she could connect with the district, which includes Queens and part of the Bronx.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old who’s never held elected office, ousted New York City Congressman Joe Crowley. Crowley had been considered a candidate to become House speaker if Democrats win the majority in November. (June 27)

“I live in this community. I organized in this community. I felt the absence of the incumbent. I knew he didn’t have a strong presence.”

Trump, on social media at least, seemed equally excited about Crowley’s defeat.

“Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!” Trump tweeted, oddly taking credit for a victory by a candidate more liberal than Crowley. He added: “The Democrats are in Turmoil!”

All in all, Trump had reason to celebrate Tuesday night as all three of his endorsed candidates survived primary challenges that could have embarrassed him and the party.

Those included New York Rep. Dan Donovan, who defeated convicted felon Michael Grimm in New York City’s only Republican stronghold, and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who once branded Trump “a fraud” but has warmed to the president in the past two years.

Yet none of the day’s contests mattered more to Trump than the one in South Carolina.

Gov. Henry McMaster, one of the president’s earliest and strongest supporters, survived an unusually tough challenge from a political newcomer, self-made Republican millionaire John Warren.

The White House went all-in for the governor in recent days, dispatching the president and the vice president to the state in an effort to prevent a political debacle.

Trump’s party did just that on Tuesday, though the president has a mixed track record when weighing in on party primaries: His preferred candidates have suffered stinging losses in Alabama and western Pennsylvania in recent months.

With the November general election a little more than four months away, more than half the states had selected their candidates after the day’s final votes were counted across South Carolina, New York, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Maryland, Colorado and Utah.

History suggests that Trump’s Republican Party, like the parties of virtually every first-term president dating back to Ronald Reagan in 1982, will suffer losses this fall.

Yet Crowley’s loss suggests that Democrats must overcome intraparty divisions if they hope to take control of Congress and key governors’ offices nationwide.

In New York, Ocasio-Cortez cast Crowley as an elitist out of touch with the community.

“This race is about people versus money. We’ve got people, they’ve got money,” Ocasio-Cortez said in biographical web ad that followed her through mundane New York life, dressing for work, walking, changing into high heels on the subway platform. “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.”

Trump got more good news elsewhere in New York City as Grimm failed in his political comeback attempt at the hands of the Trump-backed incumbent Donovan.

Grimm had held the Staten Island seat until 2015, when he pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring immigrants who were in the country illegally to work at his Manhattan restaurant and cooking the books to hide income and evade taxes.

More than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) away in deep-red Utah, former Massachusetts Gov. Romney defeated little-known state Rep. Mike Kennedy, who questioned Romney’s conservative credentials and ability to work well with the president. Romney, too, was endorsed by Trump despite his aggressive criticism of the president before his election.

In a weekend op-ed published in The Salt Lake Tribune, Romney wrote that the Trump administration’s policies have exceeded his expectations, but he pledged to “continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”

Trump cheered Romney’s win on social media: “I look forward to working together – there is so much good to do. A great and loving family will be coming to D.C.”

Not to be forgotten: races to determine gubernatorial candidates in Maryland, Colorado and Oklahoma.

In Maryland, former NAACP President Ben Jealous seized the Democratic governor’s nomination. He would become the state’s first African-American governor if he beats Republican incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan this fall.

In Colorado, five-term Democratic congressman Jared Polis won the Democratic nomination in the race to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. And in Oklahoma, former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson beat former state Sen. Connie Johnson to win the Democratic nomination in the race to be the state’s next governor.

Oklahoma voters also backed the medicinal use of marijuana despite opposition from law enforcement and business, faith and political leaders.

But Crowley’s defeat overshadowed much of the day’s developments.

He becomes the first congressional leader to fall in a party primary since former Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was stunned by unknown conservative Dave Brat in 2014′s midterm election.

That loss, and perhaps this one, cemented the GOP’s sharp shift away from the political center and foreshadowed the anti-establishment fervor that fueled Trump’s election in 2016.

And while Trump cheered Crowley’s downfall, so did liberal leaders who backed Ocasio-Cortez.

“These results are also a shot across the bow of the Democratic establishment in Washington: a young, diverse, and boldly progressive Resistance Movement isn’t waiting to be anointed by the powers that be,” said Matt Blizek, of MoveOn.

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Kinnard reported from South Carolina. AP writers Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, and Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed.

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Find all of our primary coverage here: https://apnews.com/tag/Primaryelections

Republican immigration bill faces likely defeat in House

WASHINGTON (AP) — A far-reaching Republican immigration bill is careening toward likely House rejection, a defeat that would be a telling rebuff of the leaders of a divided GOP. The party’s lawmakers are considering Plan B: Passing legislation by week’s end curbing the Trump administration’s contentious separating of migrant families.

After months of trying to bridge the chasm between moderates and conservatives and two postponed votes, top Republicans braced for a showdown roll call Wednesday. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., labeled the legislation “a great consensus bill” and tried putting the best face on the likely outcome.

“What we have here is the seeds of consensus that will be gotten to, hopefully now but if not, later,” he told reporters Tuesday.

The vote caps months of futile GOP efforts to pass wide-ranging legislation on an issue that could color scores of congressional races in this fall’s contest for House and perhaps Senate control. The Senate rejected three proposals in February, including one reflecting President Donald Trump’s hard-line policies and two bipartisan plans.

Democrats and centrist Republicans from swing districts say the GOP could suffer because the party, steered by Trump’s anti-immigrant harangues, could be alienating pivotal moderate voters. But conservatives relish such tough stances. And rather than achieving middle ground, leaders’ efforts have largely underscored how irreconcilably divided the GOP is on the topic.

The Republican compromise would provide a shot at citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children. It would provide $25 billion for Trump to build his coveted wall with Mexico, restrict family-based immigration and bar the Homeland Security Department from taking migrant children from parents seized crossing into the country without authorization.

Leaders were adding eleventh-hour provisions aimed at winning votes. One would make it easier for migrant farmworkers to stay longer in the country, the other would gradually require companies to use an electronic database to verify their employees’ U.S. citizenship.

But those amendments didn’t remove the key stumbling block — the reluctance by conservatives to back legislation helping people who arrived illegally become citizens. Many Republicans deride that plan as amnesty for lawbreakers, a potential attack line their next primary challenger could wield against them.

Also unhelpful has been Trump, who last week swerved from voicing support for the GOP immigration drive to denouncing it as a waste of time, since Democrats have the numbers in the closely divided Senate to kill any legislation they oppose.

“He was helpful Tuesday, but Friday he wasn’t,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., lamented about Trump.

Even the evolving, separate measure focused sharply on preventing family separation was hurting the compromise bill’s prospects. It offers Republicans a chance to vote to address the high-profile problem without backing pieces of the broader measure that might anger conservatives

Democrats solidly oppose the GOP bill as punitive.

Curbelo and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., from districts with large numbers of Hispanic voters, helped force Ryan to stage immigration votes. This spring they launched a petition that could have led to House passage of liberal-leaning measures creating a pathway to citizenship, bills backed by Democrats but opposed by most Republicans. Leaders headed off the petition by urging GOP lawmakers to not sign it, partly by crafting the compromise package the House was voting on Wednesday.

The House rejected a more conservative bill last week clamping down on legal immigration and lacking a way for the young immigrants to become citizens.

With television and social media awash with images and wails of young children torn from migrant families, Republicans want to pass a narrower measure addressing those separations should the broader bill fail.

Trump has issued an executive order reversing his own family separation policy, but around 2,000 children remain removed from relatives. GOP senators have rallied behind legislation ending the 20-day court-imposed limit on detaining families — along with steps aimed at speeding their prosecutions — and House Republicans are considering something similar.

Many want to pass it by week’s end, when Congress starts a weeklong July 4 recess.

“It’s a concern from a humanitarian standpoint, and we want to make sure that Republicans prove we can do both, we can uphold the law, we can also take care of families,” said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., an influential House conservative.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., expressed hope that senators could negotiate a bipartisan accord that could pass easily. No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said he hoped that would happen this week.

But one of the four senators negotiating the legislation said more time will be needed. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a brief interview that a ban against separating migrant families — the key feature of a bill she’s proposed backed by every Democratic senator — must be part of any deal “or there won’t be a bill.”

Experts: Travel ruling could boost other immigration suits

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding President Donald Trump’s travel ban may have a silver lining for people fighting other administration immigration policies after the 5-4 majority ruled that the president’s prior comments about Muslims were not off limits when evaluating the ban, legal experts said.

Trump — a prolific Twitter user— has had his words turned against him in lawsuits over his administration’s decisions to separate families at the border, end legal protections for young immigrants and revoke temporary status for people from particular countries.

Some judges have criticized their colleagues for citing Trump’s campaign statements calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. in rulings on the travel ban, arguing they should only evaluate the text of his order. But Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday the Supreme Court “may look behind the face of the Proclamation” barring travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations, though he adopted a relatively easy standard for the administration to justify its travel policy.

Allowing the president’s statements is good news for plaintiffs in other immigration lawsuits against the administration, said Niels Frenzen, an immigration expert at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

“They could have said it’s improper to consider any statements made on the campaign trail,” he said. “That would have started to close the door in considering this outside evidence.”

Still, Frenzen and other experts cautioned that the standard the Supreme Court adopted for evaluating Trump’s travel ban was highly deferential to the president.

“You’re swimming upstream” if you’re a plaintiff, said David Levine, a professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

The travel ban survives as long as it can “reasonably be understood to result from a justification independent of unconstitutional grounds,” Roberts wrote, noting that the court hardly ever strikes down a policy under that test.

The travel ban’s stated goals of preventing entry to the U.S. of people who cannot be adequately vetted and inducing other countries to improve their security practices provided legitimate justifications, Roberts said.

Trump on Tuesday declared the ruling “a moment of profound vindication” following “months of hysterical commentary from the media and Democratic politicians who refuse to do what it takes to secure our border and our country.”

But some civil liberties groups and immigration advocates likened it to a 1944 Supreme Court decision that upheld an executive order requiring Americans of Japanese ancestry to be sent to detention camps.

In a scathing dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said a “reasonable observer” would conclude the travel ban was motivated by “anti-Muslim animus.” She accused her colleagues of “ignoring the facts, misconstruing our legal precedent, and turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering the Proclamation inflicts upon countless families and individuals, many of whom are United States citizens.”

The travel ban has been fully in place since December, when the justices stopped lower court decisions that had blocked part of it from being enforced. The policy applies to travelers from five countries with mostly Muslim populations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

It also affects two non-Muslim countries, blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will likely prompt the administration to argue that courts should be just as deferential to the president’s other immigration policies, so it’s not a complete victory for plaintiffs in other suits, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell Law School.

A lawsuit filed in March says the administration’s decision to end temporary protected status was motivated by racism, citing Trump’s vulgar language during a meeting in January to describe African countries. The U.S. judge overseeing the lawsuit, Edward Chen in San Francisco, issued an order on Tuesday asking attorneys for both sides whether in light of the Supreme Court’s travel ban ruling he should reconsider his decision allowing the racial animus claim to move forward.

Lawsuits over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have cited Trump’s statement referring to some Mexican immigrants as rapists as evidence the decision to end the program was motivated by prejudice against Mexicans. Federal judges have blocked the administration’s DACA decision, with Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis in Brooklyn citing Trump’s “racially charged language” in a ruling that allowed lawsuits over DACA that were before him to proceed.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday by New York, California and 15 other states also cites Trump’s statement referring to Mexicans crossing the border as rapists as evidence that the administration’s border separation policy is consistent with what it says is Trump’s demonstrated bias against Latin Americans.

“Plaintiffs will continue to try to bring the president’s statements into their cases to show the discriminatory impetus,” Yale-Loehr said. “But courts will continue to be deferential to the president.”

Business: Global markets lower as trade concerns linger

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Global markets were lower on Wednesday, with Chinese stocks leading the declines as jitters over trade conflicts between the world’s largest economies lingered. Oil prices extended their gains as the U.S. pushed other countries to cut oil imports from Iran.

KEEPING SCORE: Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.3 percent in early trading to 7,516.46 while Germany’s DAX slipped 0.8 percent to 12,138.17. France’s CAC 40 was down 0.6 percent at 5,250.34. Futures augured losses on Wall Street. S&P futures dropped 0.7 percent and Dow futures declined 0.8 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: Chinese stocks were the biggest losers, with the Shanghai Composite Index sinking 1.1 percent to 2,813.18. The index is the worst performer among major markets this year, losing 14 percent since the start of this year. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng tumbled 1.8 percent to 28,356.26. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.3 percent to 22,271.77 and South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.4 percent to 2,342.03. Australia’s S&P-ASX 200 edged down less than 0.1 percent to 6,195.90. Stocks in Taiwan, Singapore and other Southeast Asian markets were mostly lower.

CHINESE BEARS: China’s market benchmark has tumbled into bear territory as trade tensions with Washington spook investors. The Shanghai Composite Index’s closing Tuesday was just over 20 percent below its Jan. 24 peak. The South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong noted that has wiped out $1.6 trillion in stock value — bigger than Canada’s annual economic output. The biggest decliners have included telecoms and tech companies that might be hurt by U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed restrictions on access to U.S. markets and technology. Analysts said a combination of factors such as jitters over trade conflicts, Beijing’s move to tighten liquidity and signs of growth momentum losing steam also contributed to the sell-off.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “To a large extent, the Chinese market is one driven by speculation,” said Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG in Singapore. “With sentiment rolling over itself of late, particularly over the escalating trade tensions that seem to have no end, it should be of little surprise to find the market crumbling.” He added that “the growth momentum presents the image of stalling in China that altogether amalgamates to an attack on investors’ confidence.”

CHINA-US TRADE: China announced a tariff cut for imported soybeans and some other grains from Asian countries in a possible measure to replace U.S. supplies in the event Beijing’s trade dispute with Washington escalates. Beijing has announced plans to hike tariffs on U.S. soybeans, for which China is the biggest export market, in response to Trump’s threat of import duty increases on Chinese goods. The tariff on soybeans will be cut by half to 1.5 percent effective July 1 and those on some other crops such as rapeseed will fall from as much as 9 percent to as low as zero.

THE QUOTE: Wendy Liu, Nomura’s head of China equity research, said some agreement on U.S.-China trade before the U.S. mid-term election was anticipated and the Chinese stock market was forecast to calm down during the summer earnings season. But for the moment, “with lack of visibility on the U.S.-China trade conflict and some renewed concerns over growth outlook, few are willing to step in and step up right away.”

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude gained 21 cents to $70.74 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 3.6 percent to finish at $70.53 a barrel in New York on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 7 cents to $76.21 per barrel in London. It rose 2.1 percent to settle at $76.14 per barrel in the previous session. Trump, who withdrew the U.S. from an Iran nuclear deal in May, is pushing foreign nations to cut their oil imports from the country to zero by November, when sanctions on Iran’s energy sector will kick in again.

Currencies: The dollar fell to 109.80 yen from 110.03 yen. The euro weakened to $1.1624 from $1.1646.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Wednesday, June 27:

1. China’s Xi Is Readying For “Full-Scale Trade War”

Escalating trade rhetoric continued to nag at investors after Chinese President Xi Jinping warned his cabinet to get ready for a “full-scale trade war”, according to a research note from macro-research firm SGH Macro Advisors.

Xi made the comments during a meeting of China’s highest decision-making body, which gathered to discuss China-U.S. relations.

Chinese officials have concluded it appears inevitable the U.S. will impose tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods on July 6, and will respond accordingly with tariffs of their own.

The report added that the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) is ready to refrain from buying U.S. Treasurys, or even cut its purchases.

China is a massive holder of U.S. Treasurys, and investors have been concerned about the impact of the PBOC shedding those bonds.

The mounting trade frictions between the world’s two largest economies prompted a sell-off in global stock markets, including China which entered bear territory.

Chinese blue chips sank 2% to be a whisker above 13-month lows as a resolution of Sino-U.S. tensions remained a distant prospect.

In addition, China’s central bank guided the yuan to a six-month low against the U.S. dollar, sending the Chinese currency tumbling and stirring speculation Beijing was allowing its currency to weaken to bolster exports.

2. U.S. Stocks Set To Take A Beating

U.S. stock futures pointed to sharp losses at the open, as worries over a brewing trade war between the U.S. and China kept buyers on the sidelines.

At 5:55AM ET, the blue-chip Dow futures were down 140 points, or around 0.6%, the S&P 500 futures slumped 12 points, or 0.5%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures indicated a loss of 58 points, or roughly 0.8%.

Stocks closed slightly higher on Tuesday, but mixed messages from the Trump administration regarding trade kept a lid on gains.

In earnings news, results from General Mills (NYSE:GIS) and Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX) will be the highlights.

Elsewhere, European markets were under pressure as financials and industrials stocks suffered. Bank shares fell to their lowest since December 2016 while the autos sector, a prominent target of higher U.S. tariffs, neared a 10-month low.

Earlier, Asian shares ended lower, as further falls in Chinese stocks and the yuan sent ripples across the region.

3. Dollar Holds Steady, 10-Year Yield Slips To 2.85%

Away from equities, the U.S. dollar held steady against a basket of currencies, as concerns over heightened trade tensions continued to weigh on market sentiment.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was 0.1% higher at 94.44.

The euro dipped 0.1% against the dollar to 1.1635.

Sterling was effectively flat at 1.3210.

Against the safe-haven yen, however, the greenback extended last session’s losses to trade at 109.85. The yen is often sought in times of market turmoil and political tensions.

In the bond market, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield edged down to 2.85%.

4. U.S. Durable Goods Data, Fed Speakers On Tap

Market players will focus on a fresh batch of U.S. economic data to gauge the health of the world’s largest economy.

The Commerce Department will publish a report on durable goods orders for May at 8:30AM ET, amid expectations for a decline of 0.9%. Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft – which serves as a proxy for business spending plans – is expected to show a 0.3% rise.

Data on the goods trade balance, wholesale inventories, and pending home sales for May will also be released in the morning, though nothing should be market-moving.

Among central bank speakers, Federal Reserve Governor Randal Quarles is due to speak about financial regulation at the Utah Bankers Association Annual Convention, in Idaho.

5. Oil Continues Higher Ahead Of Fresh Weekly U.S. Inventory Data

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) will release its official weekly oil supplies report for the week ended June 22 at 10:30AM ET, amid forecasts for an oil-stock drop of 2.5 million barrels.

The data will also offer fresh indications on how fast domestic output levels continue to rise. U.S. crude production – driven by shale extraction – is currently at an all-time high of 10.9 million barrels per day (bpd).

After markets closed Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute said that U.S. oil inventories fell by a whopping 9.2 million barrels last week.

Oil prices were on the front foot ahead of the data, with U.S. WTI crude futures rising 58 cents, or around 0.8% to around a one-month high of $71.09 per barrel, while Brent futures were at $76.53 per barrel, up 39 cents, or about 0.5%.

Oil surged on Tuesday after the U.S. demanded all countries stop imports of Iranian oil from November, a State Department official said.

Opinion: We Have a Crisis of Democracy, Not Manners

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT Opinion)    —   Last year, the white nationalist Richard Spencer was kicked out of his Virginia gym after another member confronted him and called him a Nazi. This incident did not generate a national round of hand-wringing about the death of tolerance, perhaps because most people tacitly agree that it’s O.K. to shun professional racists.

It’s a little more complicated when the professional racist is the president of the United States. The norms of our political life require a degree of bipartisan forbearance. But treating members of Donald Trump’s administration as ordinary public officials rather than pariahs does more to normalize bigotry than exercising alongside a white separatist.

Over the last week, several Trump administration officials and supporters have been publicly shamed. On Friday night, the Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a farm-to-table restaurant in Lexington, Va. That morning, protesters blasted a recording of sobbing migrant kids outside the home of Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s secretary of homeland security.

A few days before that, Nielsen left an upscale Mexican restaurant near the White House after protesters confronted her, chanting, “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace!” The Trump adviser Stephen Miller was also yelled at in a Mexican restaurant — someone called him a fascist, though he may not regard that as an insult. The same night that Sanders was denied service, Pam Bondi, Florida’s Trump-supporting attorney general, was heckled outside a movie theater where she’d gone to see a documentary about Mister Rogers. Adding to the furor, Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, urged people to keep jeering at members of Trump’s cabinet when they’re out and about, saying, “You tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

Naturally, all this has led to lots of pained disapproval from self-appointed guardians of civility. A Washington Post editorial urged the protesters to think about the precedent they are setting. “How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?” it asked.

Of course, this is not hard to imagine at all, since abortion opponents have assassinated abortion providers in their homes and churches, firebombed their clinics and protested at their children’s schools. The Roman Catholic Church has shamed politicians who support abortion rights by denying them communion. The failure to acknowledge this history is a sign of the reflexive false balance that makes it hard for the mainstream media to grapple with the asymmetric extremism of the Republican Party.

I’m somewhat agnostic on the question of whether publicly rebuking Trump collaborators is tactically smart. It stokes their own sense of victimization, which they feed on. It may alienate some persuadable voters, though this is just a guess. (As we saw in the indignant media reaction to Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner routine, some pundits project their own concern with Beltway decorum onto swing voters, who generally pay less attention to the news than partisans.)

On the other hand, there’s a moral and psychic cost to participating in the fiction that people who work for Trump are in any sense public servants. I don’t blame staff members at the Virginia restaurant, the Red Hen, for not wanting to help Sanders unwind after a hard week of lying to the public about mass child abuse. Particularly when Sanders’s own administration is fighting to let private businesses discriminate against gay people, who, unlike mendacious press secretaries, are a protected class under many civil rights laws.

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy. Though it’s tiresome to repeat it, Donald Trump eked out his minority victory with help from a hostile foreign power. He has ruled exclusively for his vengeful supporters, who love the way he terrifies, outrages and humiliates their fellow citizens. Trump installed the right-wing Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court seat that Republicans stole from Barack Obama. Gorsuch, in turn, has been the fifth vote in decisions on voter roll purges and, on Monday, racial gerrymandering that will further entrench minority rule.

All over the country, Republican members of Congress have consistently refused to so much as meet with many of the scared, furious citizens they ostensibly represent. A great many of these citizens are working tirelessly to take at least one house of Congress in the midterms — which will require substantially more than 50 percent of total votes, given structural Republican advantages — so that the country’s anti-Trump majority will have some voice in the federal government.

But unless and until that happens, millions and millions of Americans watch helplessly as the president cages children, dehumanizes immigrants, spurns other democracies, guts health care protections, uses his office to enrich himself and turns public life into a deranged phantasmagoria with his incontinent flood of lies. The civility police might point out that many conservatives hated Obama just as much, but that only demonstrates the limits of content-neutral analysis. The right’s revulsion against a black president targeted by birther conspiracy theories is not the same as the left’s revulsion against a racist president who spread birther conspiracy theories.

Faced with the unceasing cruelty and degradation of the Trump presidency, liberals have not taken to marching around in public with assault weapons and threatening civil war. I know of no left-wing publication that has followed the example of the right-wing Federalist and run quasi-pornographic fantasies about murdering political enemies. (“Close your eyes and imagine holding someone’s scalp in your hands,” began a recent Federalist article.) Unlike Trump, no Democratic politician I’m aware of has urged his or her followers to beat up opposing demonstrators.

Instead, some progressive celebrities have said some bad words, and some people have treated administration officials with the sort of public opprobrium due members of any other white nationalist organization. Liberals are using their cultural power against the right because it’s the only power they have left, and people have a desperate need to say, and to hear others say, that what is happening in this country is intolerable.

Sometimes, their strategies may be poorly conceived. But there’s an abusive sort of victim-blaming in demanding that progressives single-handedly uphold civility, lest the right become even more uncivil in response. As long as our rulers wage war on cosmopolitan culture, they shouldn’t feel entitled to its fruits. If they don’t want to hear from the angry citizens they’re supposed to serve, let them eat at Trump Grill.

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I invite you to follow me on Twitter (@michelleinbklyn) and join me on Facebook.

 

Mueller Probe: Manafort appeals jailing, civil case against Mueller

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is appealing a judge’s decision to jail him while he awaits trial on several felony charges.

Attorneys for Paul Manafort filed court papers Monday saying they want a federal appeals court to review the order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Separately, they also are appealing Jackson’s order dismissing a civil suit Manafort brought earlier this year challenging special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority to prosecute him.

Jackson revoked Manafort’s house arrest earlier this month citing a newly unsealed indictment accusing him and a longtime associate of tampering with witnesses in the case. The 19-page ruling sent Manafort, 69, to a Virginia jail while he faces two trials over the next few months on charges including tax evasion, bank fraud and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

The latest indictment added charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice stemming from the contacts with two witnesses. Prosecutors say Manafort and his associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, attempted to persuade the two witnesses to lie about the nature of political consulting and lobbying work they carried out for Ukrainian interests. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Kilimnik, who prosecutors says lives in Russia, has not appeared in a U.S. court to face the charges.

In addition to fighting his jailing, Manafort is also resurrecting a civil case he brought earlier this year that Jackson threw out.

Manafort initially brought the case seeking to have Jackson dismiss all charges against him, arguing that Mueller had exceeded his authority by bringing criminal charges unrelated to Russian election interference.

Manafort’s attorneys later dropped the bulk of their challenge. Instead, they asked Jackson to nullify a paragraph in Mueller’s appointment order and issue an order protecting Manafort from future prosecutions by Mueller.

In a 24-page order, Jackson dismissed the lawsuit, saying “a civil case is not the appropriate vehicle for taking issue with what a prosecutor has done in the past or where he might be headed in the future.”

Manafort filed a similar motion in both his criminal cases.

Jackson dismissed one of them earlier this year, ruling that Mueller was within his authority to bring the case. A federal judge in Virginia has yet to rule on Manafort’s motion in the other case.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller is reviewing Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s communications, according to an ABC News report published Monday.

A spokesperson for Mr. Prince told ABC News that he provided Mr. Mueller with “total access to his phone and computer.”

On June 19, Mr. Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, told The Daily Beast that he was cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

The Mueller investigation is looking into several meetings involving Russians that Mr. Prince had a hand in organizing. Mr. Prince is accused of attempting to set up backchannel communications between the Trump administration and Russia during meetings with Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian businessman.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Monday questioned whether it was “highly illegal” for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat to joke about revealing information from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Politico reported that Sen. Mark Warner joked at a recent dinner at his Martha’s Vineyard home that if he was given another glass of wine, “I’ll tell you stuff only Bob Mueller and I know.” Warner also predicted a “wild couple of months ahead.”

Trump tweeted: “Why is Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), perhaps in a near drunken state, claiming he has information that only he and Bob Mueller, the leader of the 13 Angry Democrats on a Witch Hunt, knows? Isn’t this highly illegal. Is it being investigated?”

Warner said earlier Monday that it was a “bad joke.”

Also on Monday, the president said a congressional hearing for an FBI agent removed from Mueller’s team over anti-Trump tweets should be shown to the public.

Peter Strzok was scheduled to talk to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday behind closed doors. The panel subpoenaed him after an internal report from the Justice Department revealed new anti-Trump texts between Strzok and his colleague Lisa Page. Both Strzok and Page worked on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Trump tweeted, “The hearing of Peter Strzok and the other hating frauds at the FBI & DOJ should be shown to the public on live television, not a closed door hearing that nobody will see. We should expose these people for what they are – there should be total transparency!”

Strzok and Page also worked on Mueller’s team for a period last year. Strzok, a seasoned counterintelligence investigator, was reassigned from the special counsel team after the derogatory text messages were discovered during an inspector general review of the Clinton email investigation and brought to Mueller’s attention. Page had already left the team.

Strzok was recently escorted from the FBI building as his disciplinary process winds through the system, his lawyer has said.

Immigration Crisis: Immigrant parents await word about children’s fate

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)   —   Foster care advocates say the government won’t likely be able to reunite thousands of children separated from parents who crossed the border illegally, and some will end up in an American foster care system that is stacked against Latinos and other minorities.

With few Spanish-speaking caseworkers, it’s a challenge tracking down family members of the children who live south of the U.S.-Mexico border, and other relatives living in the states might be afraid to step forward to claim them because of fears of being detained or deported themselves.

Many complications have arisen for these separated families since the Trump administration adopted its “zero-tolerance” policy on entering the country illegally. As many as 2,300 children have been taken from their migrant parents at the border and long-term treatment of them is a concern.

“Because they are Latino and because their relatives are living, not in Europe, not in Asia, but down south of the border, they are going to be discriminated against,” said Richard Villasana, founder of Forever Homes for Foster Kids, who concentrates on locating relatives of foster children. “That’s exactly what’s going to happen to these migrant kids. The probability they are going to get better treatment than our U.S.-born Latino children? It’s not going to happen.”

Those children who do get placed with families face the likelihood of losing their language and culture, which advocates say could have a detrimental effect on how they develop.

Peter Schey, the attorney in a lawsuit resulting in the 1997 Flores settlement that generally bars children from being kept in immigration detention for more than 20 days and is now being challenged by the Trump administration, said he was concerned that several thousand children have already been separated from their parents “without the Trump administration having any effective procedures in place to reunite children with their parents, many of whom have already been deported.”

Officials have said they are working to reunite families as soon as possible but have provided no clear answers on how that will happen. The children are now in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, and can be “held in a temporary shelter or hosted by an appropriate family.”

The Homeland Security Department said in fiscal year 2017, before the zero tolerance policy began, it was able to place 90 percent of its children with either a parent or close relative. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement is working on “dedicating a facility as its primary family reunification and removal center,” a briefing sheet said.

However, many child welfare professionals worry these children will “end up in a child welfare system where we already have thousands of children across this country where many of them are trying to reunify” with parents and relatives, said Maria L. Quintanilla, founder and executive director of the Latino Family Institute.

In 2016, more than 91,000 Hispanic or Latino children were in the foster care system in the United States, according to government data. Hispanic children made up a little more than 1 in 5 — 21 percent — of all children in foster care in September 2016, according to the most recent data available. That was an increase from 10 years earlier, when Hispanic children made up 19 percent of the foster care population.

More than 54,000 Hispanic children entered foster care in 2016, with more than 25,000 waiting to be adopted at the end of the fiscal year. More than 53,000 exited the foster care system that year because they were reunified with their parents, adopted or entered guardianship with another family.

By comparison, there were more than 191,000 non-Hispanic white children in foster care in fiscal 2016, with around 127,000 entering the system, 112,000 exiting the system and 51,000 waiting to be adopted at the end of the fiscal year.

In a July 2017 paper, San Diego State University economics department chair Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes and Oxford University professor Esther Arenas-Arroyo wrote that the increase in immigration enforcement between 2001 and 2015 contributed to raising the share of Hispanic children in foster care between 15 and 21 percent.

Villasana said it’s rare that foster care agencies will go the extra mile to find families who live in Mexico or Latin America for children already in the foster care system.

“These migrant kids are going to be put into the same discriminatory system that discriminates against a Latino child because their relatives happen to be located south of the border,” Villasana said. “You’ve got individuals who will not pay to bring in someone who speaks Spanish, understands Spanish, can read Spanish and knows the country and knows how to proceed in this matter, and will pick up the phone and go do this work.”

There are some people who will, but “we’re talking about the exceptions rather than the rule,” he added. “The rule primarily for the United States is that those children are not going to go anywhere.”

If they end up in the foster care system, social workers will be concerned with trying to place them with families, given that they know the children just came into the United States with relatives or to stay with relatives who might not want to risk being deported to claim them, Quintanilla said.

“I would be very, very cautious about wanting to work with a child we know for a fact has a family,” she said. “Why would we want to place that child with another family, a nonrelated family, with the only crime being the government’s zero-tolerance policy (keeping relatives from claiming the children)?”

Cultural concerns also come into play as children can find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings after being separated from their parents — possibly in households where their native language isn’t spoken, Quintanilla said.

“It’s difficult for any child to be separated from their parents, regardless of what the circumstances are, but if you’re placed in a home that doesn’t look like you, that doesn’t have the familiar smells that doesn’t have the familiar rituals, it just adds on to the loss for this child,” she said

___

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — They came from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, with children in tow. Some were fleeing violence. Others were looking for a better life.

They didn’t know they would be separated from their children after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border due to a zero-tolerance policy that called for prosecuting every adult who entered the country illegally.

Five parents out of a group of more than 30 who were recently released from federal custody pending the outcome of their immigration and asylum cases shared their stories Monday during a news conference in El Paso. They have found temporary shelter with a Texas charity organization, with their locations tracked by ankle monitors.

Some have no idea where their children are. Others do but can’t say with any certainty when they might see them again. Their children range in age from 4 to 17.

One father said he felt broken without his teenage son, while another cried over his daughter. A mother wiped away tears, fearing that her 4-year-old son believes she abandoned him.

They are just a few of the many families who have been thrust into the center of a long simmering debate over how to handle the flood of migrants on the southern border. The five immigrants spoke on the condition that their last names not be used for fear of deportation by U.S. authorities.

Reporters were allowed to tour a facility in Texas that holds more than 300 children separated from their migrant parents. A facility administrator said the main complaint he hears from the children is that the tents get too cold sometimes. (June 26)

___

IRIS

Detained on June 15, she and her 6-year-old son clung to each other after learning they would be separated and that she was being sent to jail.

The 40-year-old single mother from Honduras asked that they be deported together immediately. She was told it was too late. She let go and persuaded her son to do the same after officials said they would be separated — one way or another.

Iris learned her son is somewhere in Arizona after a social worker contacted a relative. Most of the 32 recently released parents are likely to leave El Paso as they obtain more information and seek out their children.

“I go to sleep at night, and the first thing I do is dream of my son,” she said.

Iris, from Honduras, recounts her separation from her child at the border. (AP Photo/Matt York)

___

MIRIAM

Her 4-year-old son was asleep as immigration agents insisted on separating the two of them in the early morning before dawn.

“If I had known, I never would have come” to the United States, she said.

The Guatemalan mother said she was led to believe when arrested that her son would be returned to her, wherever she was held. She described the boy as tiny and shy.

She located him at a holding facility in New York. When she asked a social worker to speak with him, she was told the boy was angry and would not talk.

“He thinks you abandoned him,” she was told.

It’s unclear when they might be reunited as she pursues asylum in the U.S.

Miriam, from Guatemala, recounts her separation from her child at the border. (AP Photo/Matt York)

___

CHRISTIAN

After traveling 17 days from Honduras to reach the U.S. border, he was arrested for crossing illegally.

“They said I had violated the laws of the United States,” said the 23-year-old farmhand. “I said, yes, I accept that, but could they take me away with my daughter.”

He broke down while recounting that his 5-year-old daughter was more afraid for him, knowing that he was going to jail.

Christian spoke to his daughter a week ago, when an official with the local sheriff’s office intervened to find her at a holding facility in Chicago.

Christian, from Honduras, recounts his separation from his child at the border. (AP Photo/Matt York)

___

MELVIN

The Honduran immigrant and his 17-year-old son were turned away from a port of entry at El Paso while seeking asylum.

The two opted out of desperation to cross illegally, wandering through a drying concrete culvert along the border as night approached. They feared rumors of migrants being taken and held for ransom by gangs in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

They were arrested by U.S. authorities and separated soon after, exchanging a simple goodbye. Melvin said he doesn’t know where his son is being held.

Melvin, foreground, and Iris, both from Honduras, listen as they hear other immigrants tell of their separation from their children. (AP Photo/Matt York)

___

MARIO

The 32-year-old Honduran father spoke of the pain of being separated from his 10-year-old daughter and only child as her birthday came and went Monday, without knowing where she was being held.

He was detained May 25 at a fence that marks the U.S.-Mexico border.

He said authorities provided a phone number to seek information about the whereabouts of his daughter but there has been no answer.

“Since they took my daughter, I haven’t heard anything,” he said, noting that an attorney was assisting him.

Mario, from Honduras, recounts his separation from his child. (AP Photo/Matt York)

US seen backing away from Syria de-escalation enforcement

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration appears to be walking away from a pledge to enforce an arrangement to stabilize southwestern Syria as the Syrian military presses ahead with an offensive in the rebel-held area despite repeated U.S. warnings.

The offensive violates an agreement among the U.S., Russia and neighboring Jordan, whose monarch met with President Donald Trump on Monday. The nearly year-old agreement is intended to preserve the status quo in Syria’s southwest, but recent public and private statements suggest the U.S. commitment is slipping.

Although the administration has been consistent in criticizing Russia for backing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces’ advance into the “de-escalation zone” in the province of Daraa, over the past two weeks U.S. officials in Washington and in the Middle East have steadily walked back on warnings of American retaliation for violations.

And as the situation became more critical Monday, threatening an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting into Jordan, Amman announced it would not take in the newly displaced.

Trump has made no secret of his desire to extricate the United States from Syria.

President Donald Trump is advocating for an end to due process for people caught trying to cross the border illegally. (June 25)

When Trump met Monday with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Washington, the White House said, the president “expressed concerns” about the pro-Assad operations in southwest Syria but gave no indication they would trigger a U.S. response.

In brief comments to reporters, Trump said only that a “lot of progress” had been made in the Middle East, but he did not identify specific areas of improvement.

Earlier Monday, however, the State Department said the situation in southwest Syria remained a matter of serious concern, although it pointedly did not repeat earlier threats of a U.S. response that had been standard in such comments since May.

The quiet backtrack has occurred over the course of the last month, as what started as allusions to a potential U.S. military response evolved into mere expressions of concern.

In late May, the State Department first sounded the alarm in public about an “impending” operation by Assad’s forces in the area covered by the ceasefire. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert warned both Syria and Russia on May 25 that “the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations.”

Nauert repeated the threat verbatim two weeks later on June 14 as indications grew that a Syrian operation could be imminent. Upping the rhetoric against Russia, she insisted the ceasefire “must continue to be enforced and respected.” ″We affirm again that the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Syrian government violations in this area,” she said

But by June 21, amid reports that Syrian forces were actually operating in the ceasefire area, the U.S. had backed away from that tough line, warning only of “the serious repercussions of these violations.” Nauert, in a statement urging all sides not to let the conflict broaden, did not elaborate on what those repercussions might be.

In a meeting two days later between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and King Abdullah, Syria did not even come up, at least according to the official U.S. description of the meeting. Instead, the two discussed economics, defeating the Islamic State group and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the State Department said in a statement.

Over the weekend, reports emerged that the U.S. liaison team to rebels in Daraa had told rebel commanders that they were essentially on their own.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Daraa-based opposition activist Osama Hourani said the U.S. had informed rebel groups in southern Syria that Washington would not intervene to defend them.

A U.S. official familiar with the matter confirmed on Monday that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Amman had sent text messages to the commanders advising them that they should make decisions about continuing to fight based on the interests of their factions and families and not “on the assumption or expectation of military intervention by us.” The official was not authorized to discuss the message publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Monday’s State Department statement, meanwhile, made no mention of any repercussions from the U.S. or anyone else. Instead, the U.S. said it was “closely following the situation and emphasizing to Russia the “critical nature of the mutual adherence to the ceasefire arrangement.”

“We will not comment further on ongoing diplomatic conversations,” it said.

___

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Trump’s clout within GOP on the line in Tuesday elections

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — President Donald Trump is not on the ballot, but he has invested time, energy and political capital in a slate of primary contests across America that will again test his clout within his own party.

Voters weigh in on candidates in seven states Tuesday, but the contest that matters most to Trump is South Carolina, where he appeared at a rally to help Gov. Henry McMaster hours before polls opened. The Republican governor, one of Trump’s first high-profile supporters, is fighting for his political life against self-made millionaire John Warren in a runoff election that threatens to embarrass the White House if McMaster falls short.

“Henry was for me from the beginning. There was nobody else,” Trump said Monday night before giving his audience an order: “Get your asses out tomorrow and vote.”

The South Carolina gubernatorial race headlined the latest in a series of primary contests that stretched across New York, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Maryland and Mississippi on Tuesday. With the November general election nearly four months away, more than half of all states will have selected their general-election candidates after the day’s votes are counted.

History suggests that Trump’s Republican Party, like the political party of virtually every first-term president dating back to Ronald Reagan in 1982, will face heavy losses this fall. Yet it remains unclear whether Democrats’ enthusiasm advantage demonstrated in the early months of Trump’s presidency will be enough to seize control of Congress and key governor’s offices nationwide.

It is clear, however, that Trump will be an active participant in the GOP’s fight to maintain power.

As he has in other states with mixed success over the last year, the president also injected himself into marquee races Tuesday in New York, where a convicted felon is fighting for his old job, and in Utah, where the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, is seeking a political comeback as a 71-year-old freshman senator.

Trump last month stepped into a messy congressional primary in New York City’s only Republican stronghold, Staten Island, calling for the re-election of GOP Rep. Dan Donovan. Standing in his way: Michael Grimm, who held the seat until 2015, when he pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring immigrants in the country without legal authorization to work at his Manhattan restaurant and cooking the books to hide income and evade taxes.

Grimm, who served seven months in prison for the offenses, was also known for his tough-guy talk while in Congress, where he once threatened, on camera, to break a reporter in half “like a boy” and throw him from a balcony.

Elsewhere in New York, a handful of incumbent congressmen from both parties could lose their jobs. They include Rep. Joe Crowley, considered a candidate to become the next House speaker should Democrats win the majority. He is locked in his first serious Democratic primary in more than a decade.

Political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former aide to the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, hopes to take down the Democratic leader. While Crowley is backed by many unions, Ocasio-Cortez has been endorsed by a handful of influential liberal groups, including MoveOn.

More than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) away in deep-red Utah, Trump also endorsed Romney, who once served as the face of the “Never Trump” movement but has since warmed to the Trump presidency.

The former Massachusetts governor is facing little-known state Rep. Mike Kennedy, who questions Romney’s conservative credentials and ability to work well with the president. Kennedy won over far-right conservatives at the state GOP convention earlier in the year, but he’s expected to struggle among more moderate Republican voters — including many Trump critics — around the state.

In a weekend op-ed published in The Salt Lake Tribune, Romney wrote that the Trump administration’s policies have exceeded his expectations in its first year, but he pledged to “continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”

Not to be forgotten Tuesday: races to determine gubernatorial candidates in Maryland, Colorado and Oklahoma. Oklahoma is also deciding whether to legalize the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But the most significant test of Trump’s influence comes in South Carolina, where McMaster — elevated to the state’s top office last year when Nikki Haley became U.N. ambassador — is in jeopardy. Two weeks ago, the sitting governor failed to win the GOP primary outright, requiring a runoff election this week with Warren.

Warren, a millionaire businessman and a Marine, has argued that his outsider candidacy makes him, not longtime GOP establishment figure McMaster, more akin to Trump. McMaster shocked even his closest advisers when, as lieutenant governor in early 2016, he became the first statewide-elected official in the country to back Trump’s White House bid.

The White House has been throwing everything at its disposal into the race to save McMaster. Trump visited the state for a fundraiser last year. Vice President Mike Pence appeared at a campaign rally with McMaster over the weekend.

Trump dedicated only a few minutes of his hourlong rambling speech to the Republican governor he was there to support. But McMaster got the image he wanted as he embraced Trump while they briefly shared the stage.

“He’s a fighter,” Trump said of McMaster. “He’s tough and he’s strong.”

McMaster, given his turn to speak, called Trump “a real force of nature.”

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