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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

Trump says ‘hard to imagine’ Kavanaugh guilty of allegation

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday bluntly questioned the allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a fellow high school student over 30 years ago, and Republicans warned the accuser the window was closing to tell her story before a confirmation vote.

Trump’s skepticism, the most explicit challenge top Republicans have so far mounted to Christine Blasey Ford’s credibility, came as GOP Senate leaders tried to firm up support for Kavanaugh. A potentially climactic Judiciary Committee showdown is scheduled for next Monday with both Ford and Kavanaugh invited, but her attendance is uncertain, casting doubt on whether the hearing will be held at all.

Ford has said she wants the FBI to investigate her allegation before she will testify. Democrats support that, but Trump and Senate Republicans have been emphatic that it won’t happen.

Leaving the White House to survey flood damage in North Carolina from Hurricane Florence, Trump conceded that “we’ll have to make a decision” if Ford’s account proves convincing. Despite that glimmer of hesitancy, which few other Republicans have shown publicly, the president stood firmly behind the 53-year-old Kavanaugh, who would fill the second high court vacancy of Trump’s term.

“I can only say this: He is such an outstanding man. Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened,” Trump said.

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Frustration builds as Carolina residents wait to go home

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Exhaustion and frustration are building in the Carolinas as thousands of people wait to go home days after Hurricane Florence unleashed epic floods blamed for at least 37 deaths, including those of two women who drowned when a sheriff’s van taking them to a mental health facility was swept off a road.

With the remnants of Florence finally out to sea and skies bright over rivers still swelling with muddy water, President Donald Trump visited the disaster zone, riding through soggy neighborhoods and helping pass out warm meals at a church in the hard-hit coastal town of New Bern.

“How’s the house?” Trump told one person. “You take care of yourself.”

There wasn’t any presidential fanfare 120 miles away in Fayetteville. There, Roberta and Joseph Keithley had been sleeping on cots set up in a school classroom since Friday. They still didn’t know if their home was ruined.

“It’s getting a little frustrating, but you have to deal with it and roll with the punches,” said Roberta Keithley, 73. “It’s just another hurdle to get over in life.”

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Kim, Moon head to North Korea’s sacred volcano on final day

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — The two Korean leaders took to the road for the final day of their summit Thursday, heading to a beautiful volcano considered sacred in the North and used in its propaganda to legitimize the Kims’ three generations of rule. Their trip followed a day of wide-ranging agreements they trumpeted as a major step toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.

However, their premier accord on the issue most fascinating and worrisome — the North’s pursuit of nuclear-tipped missiles that can accurately strike the U.S. mainland — contained a big condition: Kim Jong Un stated he would permanently dismantle North Korea’s main nuclear complex only if the United States takes unspecified corresponding measures. 

Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in flew separately to an airport near Mount Paektu on Thursday morning where they met up and drove to the mountain on the North Korean-Chinese border. Members of the Kim family are referred to as sharing the “Paektu Bloodline.” The volcano topped with a deep crater lake is also emblazoned on the national emblem and lends its name to everything from rockets to power stations.

Moon plans to return to South Korea later Thursday, but the leaders are still basking in the glow of the joint statement they settled Wednesday. Compared to the vague language of their two earlier summits, Kim and Moon seem to have agreed on an ambitious program meant to tackle soaring tensions last year that had many fearing war as the North tested a string of increasingly powerful weapons.

Kim promised to accept international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and to visit Seoul soon, and both leaders vowed to work together to try to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.

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Woman who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart released from prison

DRAPER, Utah (AP) — A woman who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart and stood by as the Utah girl was sexually assaulted was released from prison Wednesday amid concerns that she remains a threat 15 years after the chilling crime.

Wanda Barzee, 72, quietly left the state prison in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper, avoiding a throng of reporters gathered outside.

Court documents say she will stay in unspecified emergency housing chosen by her probation officer until another home is approved.

Barzee’s release followed a surprise announcement last week that Utah authorities had miscalculated her sentence and she would be freed about six years earlier than expected.

Under the terms of her release, Barzee must undergo mental health treatment and not contact Smart and her family.

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Man opens fire at his Wisconsin office, 3 seriously hurt

MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — A heavily armed man opened fire on his co-workers at a Wisconsin software company Wednesday, seriously wounding three people before being fatally shot by police as employees ran from the building or hid inside, according to investigators.

Middleton Police Chief Chuck Foulke said officers shot the man within eight minutes of receiving calls about an active shooter at WTS Paradigm. Foulke said the man was armed with a semi-automatic pistol and extra ammunition, and fired at officers before he was shot.

Foulke said three people were seriously injured during the attack, while a fourth person was grazed by a bullet.

“I think a lot less people were injured or killed because police officers went in and neutralized the shooter,” Foulke said.

The police chief said the motivation behind the attack was unclear and investigators didn’t yet know whether the gunman targeted his victims. He didn’t release the suspect’s name but said he was an employee of WTS Paradigm and lived in nearby Madison.

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How 65 women came to Kavanaugh’s defense in matter of hours

NEW YORK (AP) — It started as a series of phone calls among old high-school friends and ended up embroiling 65 women in the firestorm over a sexual assault allegation that could shape the Supreme Court.

In a matter of hours, they all signed onto a letter rallying behind high court nominee and their high school friend Brett Kavanaugh as someone who “has always treated women with decency and respect.” And they signed up, whether they anticipated it or not, for becoming a focus of scrutiny themselves.

The powerful strength-in-numbers statement, offered to bolster Kavanaugh’s denial of a claim that he attacked a girl at a party during their high school years, has drawn questions from journalists, social media skeptics, even Hollywood figures.

How well did the women know him? How could a statement and 65 signatures come together so fast after outlines of the allegation first surfaced publicly? And after subsequently hearing the details and learning that his accuser was a woman some of them knew, do they stand by their declaration?

Yes, say more than a dozen signers who have since spoken to The Associated Press or other media outlets.

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Federal agency says it lost track of 1,488 migrant children

Twice in less than a year, the federal government has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after placing them in the homes of sponsors across the country, federal officials have acknowledged.

The Health and Human Services Department recently told Senate staffers that case managers could not find 1,488 children after they made follow-up calls to check on their safety from April through June. That number represents about 13 percent of all unaccompanied children the administration moved out of shelters and foster homes during that time.

The agency first disclosed that it had lost track of 1,475 children late last year, as it came under fire at a Senate hearing in April. Lawmakers had asked HHS officials how they had strengthened child protection policies since it came to light that the agency previously had rolled back safeguards meant to keep Central American children from ending up in the hands of human traffickers.

“The fact that HHS, which placed these unaccompanied minors with sponsors, doesn’t know the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 of them is very troubling,” Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel’s chair, said Wednesday. “Many of these kids are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, and to not take responsibility for their safety is unacceptable.”

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley disputed the notion that the children were “lost.”

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Lawmaker: US Senate, staff targeted by state-backed hackers

Foreign government hackers continue to target the personal email accounts of U.S. senators and their aides — and the Senate’s security office has refused to defend them, a lawmaker says.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a Wednesday letter to Senate leaders that his office discovered that “at least one major technology company” has warned an unspecified number of senators and aides that their personal email accounts were “targeted by foreign government hackers.” Similar methods were employed by Russian military agents who leaked the contents of private email inboxes to influence the 2016 elections.

Wyden did not specify the timing of the notifications, but a Senate staffer said they occurred “in the last few weeks or months.” The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

But the senator said the Office of the Sergeant at Arms , which oversees Senate security, informed legislators and staffers that it has no authority to help secure personal, rather than official, accounts.

“This must change,” Wyden wrote in the letter. “The November election grows ever closer, Russia continues its attacks on our democracy, and the Senate simply does not have the luxury of further delays.” A spokeswoman for the security office said it would have no comment.

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Florence shows how storm coverage is politicized

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump Jr.’s attack tweet this week showing CNN’s Anderson Cooper waist-deep in flood waters has driven home the point that politics — not just weather — was an important subtext of the media’s coverage of Hurricane Florence.

“Stop lying to make @realDonaldTrump look bad,” the president’s son admonished Cooper, triggering a harsh response from the CNN journalist, who was part of his network’s team covering Florence’s landfall in North Carolina.

“I didn’t see him down in North Carolina in the last few days helping out, lending a hand, but I’m sure he was busy doing something important besides just tweeting lies,” Cooper said on his show Monday.

Ever since President George W. Bush’s administration was crippled by its response to Hurricane Katrina, politicians and news organizations have been acutely aware of the stakes raised by big storms. Some Republicans never forgave former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for being photographed with President Barack Obama after Sandy struck just before the 2012 election.

“A storm and responding to it the right way can make or break a political career,” said Gary Lackmann, a professor of atmospheric science at North Carolina State University.

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Judge: US can’t deny passport over refusing to pick gender

DENVER (AP) — U.S. officials cannot deny a passport application from an intersex Colorado resident based solely on a refusal to select male or female for gender, a federal judge said Wednesday.

The U.S. State Department’s varied explanations for rejecting the application weren’t reasonable, U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson said in his ruling, forcing him to set aside the decision as “arbitrary and capricious.”

The ruling is limited, but advocates said they hope it leads to expanded gender choices on federal identification.

Dana Zzyym, who was born with ambiguous physical sexual characteristics and identifies as nonbinary in gender, not as male or female, sued in 2015. Zzyym had requested “X” as a gender marker on a passport application, and it was denied.

The judge in 2016 ordered the State Department to reconsider. Zzyym applied again and refused to select either option provided on the passport application, feeling that it would be untruthful.

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