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

Trump says Manafort pardon ‘not off the table’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday a pardon for Paul Manafort is “not off the table” — a comment that drew swift rebuke from critics who fear the president will use his executive power to protect friends and supporters caught up in the Russia probe.

The president’s discussion of a possible pardon in an interview with the New York Post came days after special counsel Robert Mueller said Manafort had breached his plea deal by repeatedly lying to investigators. The former Trump campaign chairman denies that he lied.

Trump’s remarks are the latest sign of his disdain for the Russia investigation, which has dogged him for two years and ensnared members of his inner circle. In recent weeks, the president, armed with inside information provided to his lawyers by Manafort’s legal team, has sharpened his attacks, seizing on what he claims are dirty tactics employed by the special counsel and accusing investigators of pressuring witnesses to lie.

In the interview with the Post, Trump likened the Russia probe to Sen. Joe McCarthy’s pursuit of alleged communists in the 1950s.

“We are in the McCarthy era. This is no better than McCarthy,” Trump told the newspaper.

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Senate defies Trump, showing anger with Saudis for Khashoggi

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defying President Donald Trump, senators sent a strong signal Wednesday that they want to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. By a bipartisan 63-37 vote, the Senate opted to move forward with legislation calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The vote was a rebuke not only to Saudi Arabia but also to Trump’s administration, which has made clear it does not want to torpedo the long-standing U.S. relationship with Riyadh over the killing.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis both came to Capitol Hill to urgently lobby against the resolution, which would call for an end to U.S. military assistance for the conflict that human rights advocates say is wreaking havoc on Yemen and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.

The vote showed a significant number of Republicans were willing to break with Trump to express their deep dissatisfaction with Saudi Arabia and with the U.S. response to Khashoggi’s brutal killing in Turkey last month. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has equivocated over who was to blame.

Khashoggi, who lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, was publicly critical of the Saudi crown prince. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which he had visited for marriage paperwork.

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Pelosi, nominated for speaker, must now get the votes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nancy Pelosi isn’t speaker of the House just yet, but her path back to the gavel is now firmly in sight.

Pelosi was overwhelmingly nominated to become House speaker in an internal Democratic caucus vote Wednesday. The final tally, 203-32, puts her within range of the 218 threshold needed in January to be elected speaker when the new Congress convenes.

She’s not quite there. Her actual support is at 200, adjusting for delegates who can’t vote in the full House and one supporter who missed the caucus session.

But without a challenger and with several weeks to dole out — or withhold — favors, Pelosi is not too far from returning to the speaker’s office.

“Are there dissenters? Yes,” the California Democrat told reporters as the ballots were being counted. “But I expect to have a powerful vote going forward.”

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Authorities ID body as kidnapped North Carolina teen girl

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) — A body found in North Carolina has been preliminarily identified as a 13-year-old girl kidnapped outside her home, investigators said Wednesday, ending a three-week search involving hundreds of investigators.

Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill told reporters at a news conference that state crime lab tests indicate the body found late Tuesday is Hania Aguilar. While a final determination will be made with dental records, investigators believe the body is hers.

“This is the outcome that we all feared,” he said. “We did not want to hear this. We wanted to bring Hania back home and bring her back home alive to our community. It hurts.”

He pledged to bring whoever is responsible to justice. Investigators said they don’t currently have a suspect or person of interest.

The chief said Hania’s body was found in a body of water in Robeson County about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of the mobile home park where she was kidnapped on Nov. 5 after going outside to start a relative’s SUV before school.

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Sprucing up NYC: Rockefeller Center lights Christmas tree

NEW YORK (AP) — A massive Norway spruce has been lit up in a tradition that ushers in Christmastime in New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio flipped the switch Wednesday night to light the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree following a televised extravaganza that featured performances by Diana Ross and Tony Bennett.

The 72-foot-tall tree is decorated with 5 miles (8 kilometers) of multicolored LED lights and a 900-pound Swarovski crystal star. Rockefeller Center has hosted the ceremony since 1931.

Police officers were plentiful, and spectators were funneled through security.

The 75-year-old tree was donated by a couple in Wallkill, 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of the city.

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Clash with migrants spotlights force at the border

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — U.S. Border Patrol agents near Tijuana, Mexico, faced a choice as they looked out over the chaos at a crowd of migrants that included rock-throwing men as well as barefoot children: Do they respond with force — and, if so, what kind?

The circumstances at the San Ysidro border crossing Sunday were exceptional, but the question facing the agents was not. It’s a split-second choice more often made in the remote desert, far from cameras, where agents are likely working alone and encountering groups of people crossing illegally.

The agents’ response — firing tear gas into the crowd — triggered widespread outrage and rekindled complaints that the Border Patrol, bolstered by President Donald Trump’s tough talk, is too quick to use force, particularly when responding to people throwing rocks.

But use of force by Customs and Border Protection officers and agents is declining from a high during the 2013 budget year, government statistics show. There are high-profile exceptions, like the shooting death by agents of a 19-year-old Guatemalan woman who crossed the border near Laredo in May.

Still, experts say policies have improved following a major audit five years ago.

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Trump’s private plane clipped in parking mishap at LaGuardia

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s private jet, an instantly recognizable Boeing 757 used during his campaign, was caught up in a quintessential New York City traffic mishap at LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday: a fender bender while someone else was trying to park.

A corporate jet maneuvering into a parking spot clipped the wing of Trump’s parked plane around 8:30 a.m., Trump’s company, The Trump Organization, confirmed. The plane was parked and not in use, it said.

The corporate jet, a twin-engine Bombardier Global Express, had three crew members aboard. It had just completed an 18-minute flight from Islip, on Long Island, and was being guided by ground personnel along a ramp near the general aviation terminal.

No one was on Trump’s plane.

Trump used the jet throughout his 2016 run for the White House but hasn’t done so since taking office, opting for Air Force One instead.

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Woman accused of being Russian spy could be near a plea deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — A woman accused of being a secret agent for the Russian government appears to be coming closer to a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors or other resolution of her criminal case, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

Lawyers for Maria Butina and federal prosecutors wrote in the joint court filing that they “remain optimistic about a pretrial resolution” of her case.

Prosecutors allege that the 30-year-old gathered intelligence on American officials and political organizations and worked to develop relationships with American politicians through her contacts with the National Rifle Association. They have charged that her work was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Butina is charged with conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia. She’s pleaded not guilty, and her lawyer has said Butina is a student interested in American politics and better U.S.-Russian relations.

Butina has mounted an aggressive defense since she was jailed in July, and her legal team tried to have the case thrown out earlier this month.

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Rita Moreno joins Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ film

NEW YORK (AP) — Rita Moreno’s portrayal of Anita in the classic 1961 film “West Side Story” won her an Oscar. Now, she has a different part in a remake directed by Steven Spielberg.

The publicist for the 86-year-old Moreno confirmed Wednesday that she’ll play Valentina, a reworked version of the character of Doc, the owner of a corner store where Tony works. Ansel Elgort has been cast as Tony.

The story follows two star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, who are each associated with rival New York street gangs. The Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner is adapting the script. Moreno will also serve as an executive producer.

Filming is set to begin next summer.

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Some California evacuation orders could be lifted next week

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some evacuation orders could be lifted early next week for areas devastated by a Northern California wildfire, and residents should be prepared to find bones or bone fragments as they sift through their properties, an official said Wednesday.

The death toll from the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century was steady at 88 people, and 196 are on a list of those unaccounted for, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said at an evening press conference.

The coroner’s office has positively identified 35 people who died in the fire and tentatively identified another 47.

Honea clarified a previous statement he made claiming that some fire victims might have been “completely consumed” by flames. Experts subsequently informed him that in most cases at least some bone fragments were likely left behind after the firestorm, Honea said.

“There should be remains,” he said, adding that people who find bone fragments should not disturb the area and call authorities for potential identification.

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