Federal judge rules health care overhaul unconstitutional
WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled the Affordable Care Act “invalid” on the eve of the sign-up deadline for next year. But with appeals certain, even the Trump White House said the law will remain in place for now.
In a 55-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that last year’s tax cut bill knocked the constitutional foundation from under “Obamacare” by eliminating a penalty for not having coverage. The rest of the law cannot be separated from that provision and is therefore invalid, he wrote.
Supporters of the law immediately said they would appeal. “Today’s misguided ruling will not deter us: our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and wellbeing of all Americans,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading a coalition of states defending the ACA.
The White House applauded O’Connor’s ruling, but said the law remains in place while appeals proceed. President Donald Trump tweeted that Congress should pass a new law.
“As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!” Trump tweeted. “Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions.”
Trump picks budget head Mulvaney to be next chief of staff
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday picked budget director Mick Mulvaney to be his acting chief of staff, ending a chaotic search in which several top contenders took themselves out of the running for the job.
“Mick has done an outstanding job while in the Administration,” Trump tweeted. “I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Trump added that his current chief of staff, John Kelly, will be staying until the end of the year. “He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!” Trump wrote.
Trump’s first pick for the job, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, took himself out of the running last weekend and decided to leave the White House instead. The decision caught the president and many senior staffers by surprise, and Trump soon found that others he considered front-runners were not interested in the job.
It was not immediately clear why the president decided to make Mulvaney’s appointment temporary. One senior White House official said there was no time limit on the appointment and Mulvaney would fill the role of chief of staff indefinitely, regardless of the “acting” title.
Michael Cohen claims Trump knew hush money payments wrong
WASHINGTON (AP) — Shaken and facing a prison term, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer said Friday that Trump directed him to buy the silence of two women during the 2016 campaign because he was concerned their stories of alleged affairs with him “would affect the election.” He says Trump knew the payments were wrong.
Michael Cohen — who for more than a decade was a key power player in the Trump Organization and a fixture in Trump’s political life — said he “gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty.” Cohen spoke in an interview with ABC that aired Friday on “Good Morning America.”
Cohen said that “of course” Trump knew it was wrong to make the hush-money payments, but he did not provide any specific evidence or detail in the interview. Federal law requires that any payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures.
Speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Cohen appeared shaken over the series of events that swiftly took him from Trump’s “fixer” to a man facing three years in prison.
“I am done with the lying,” Cohen said. “I am done being loyal to President Trump.”
7-year-old in good health, border agents said; then she died
WASHINGTON (AP) — Just 7 years old, Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin was picked up by U.S. authorities with her father and other migrants this month in a remote stretch of New Mexico desert. Some seven hours later, she was put on a bus to the nearest Border Patrol station but soon began vomiting. By the end of the two-hour drive, she had stopped breathing.
Jakelin hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for days, her father later told U.S. officials.
The death of the Guatemalan girl is the latest demonstration of the desperation of a growing number of Central American families and children showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border, often hoping to claim asylum, and it raises new questions about how well authorities are prepared.
Customs and Border Protection said Friday that the girl initially appeared healthy and that an interview raised no signs of trouble. Authorities said her father spoke in Spanish to Border agents and signed a form indicating she was in good health, though a Guatemalan official said late Friday that the family’s native language was a Mayan dialect.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said agents “did everything in their power” to save her.
Mueller: FBI is not to blame for Flynn’s false statements
WASHINGTON (AP) — The special counsel’s office pushed back Friday at the suggestion that the FBI acted improperly in its interview of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying he “chose to make false statements” and did not need a warning that it was against the law to do so.
The filing from special counsel Robert Mueller comes four days before Flynn gets sentenced on a charge of lying to the FBI about his conversations with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States. It responds to a sentencing memorandum filed earlier this week by Flynn’s lawyers that suggested there were irregularities in how he was interviewed.
The back-and-forth between prosecutors and defense lawyers has created an unusual rupture in an otherwise harmonious relationship as prosecutors had praised Flynn as a model cooperator and recommended that he receive no prison time at his sentencing.
The disagreement is unlikely to affect Flynn’s chances for probation, but it’s attracted the attention of President Donald Trump, who said this week that Flynn did not lie despite having fired him nearly two years ago for just that reason. The matter may also become a point of debate at next Tuesday’s hearing, especially since the judge, Emmet Sullivan, has asked prosecutors to produce documents related to Flynn’s interview.
They did so Friday as they said “nothing about the way the interview the way was arranged or conducted caused the defendant to make false statements to the FBI.”
Senators ask FBI to investigate Blackmun for lying to panel
Two lawmakers are asking the Justice Department and FBI to look into whether former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun lied to a Senate panel in testimony about the handling of sex-abuse allegations against Larry Nassar.
At issue is Blackmun’s debunked claim that he discussed the case with USOC staff after receiving word of Nassar’s potential crimes from the USA Gymnastics president at the time, Steve Penny. Blackmun first offered that information in written testimony to a Senate subcommittee in June.
A report from the Ropes and Gray law firm released earlier this week concluded that nobody on the USOC staff could corroborate Blackmun’s account of a meeting. Blackmun also told the investigators there had been a meeting, but later changed his story upon hearing there was no corroboration.
Ropes and Gray concluded Blackmun didn’t inform anyone at the USOC about Nassar upon hearing from Penny, and that there was a 14-month gap between Blackmun’s initial contact with Penny and the time Nassar’s crimes became public.
Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, who are on the subcommittee holding hearings into the sex-abuse scandal, said they were turning over the information regarding Blackmun’s testimony to acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker and FBI director Christopher Wray.
Bug may have exposed photos from 7M Facebook users
NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook’s privacy controls have broken down yet again, this time through a software flaw affecting nearly 7 million users who had photos exposed to a much wider audience than intended.
The bug disclosed Friday gave hundreds of apps unauthorized access to photos that could in theory include images that would embarrass some of the affected users. They also included photos people may have uploaded but hadn’t yet posted, perhaps because they had changed their mind.
It’s not yet known whether anyone actually saw the photos, but the revelation of the now-fixed problem served as another reminder of just how much data Facebook has on its 2.27 billion users, as well has how frequently these slipups are recurring.
The bug is the latest in a series of privacy lapses that continue to crop up, despite Facebook’s repeated pledges to batten down its hatches and do a better job preventing unauthorized access to the pictures, thoughts and other personal information its users intend so share only with friends and family.
In general, when people grant permission for a third-party app to access their photos, they are sharing all the photos on their Facebook page, regardless of privacy settings meant to limit a photo to small circles such as family. The bug potentially gave developers access to even more photos, such as those shared on separate Marketplace and Facebook Stories features, as well as photos that weren’t actually posted.
Detentions raise fears, cast doubt on China’s policies
WASHINGTON (AP) — By detaining two Canadians in an apparent act of retaliation, China is looking like the country its harshest critics say it is: one unbound by the laws, rules and procedures that govern other major industrial nations.
Canada’s arrest of a top Chinese technology executive at the request of the United States has set off a diplomatic furor with Beijing.
And the way the countries have acted in the controversy draws a clear distinction between their political and legal systems — at a time when the United States, Canada and other advanced economies are rethinking the way they do business with China.
Canada gave Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou — daughter of the telecom giant’s founder — three days of public hearings before releasing her on bail to the cheers of members of Vancouver’s large Chinese community who came to court to show their support.
By contrast, the Chinese secretly detained two Canadians on vague suspicions of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China. Beijing didn’t allow Canadian officials to see Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat in China, for four days. And it has yet to allow them access to detained entrepreneur Michael Spavor.
As sentencing looms, Flynn is upbeat, has adoring fans
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Days away from being sentenced in the Russia probe, former national security adviser Michael Flynn is not exactly hiding his face in shame.
People close to him tell The Associated Press that as the possibility of prison looms, Flynn is relaxed and hopeful, eager to get through Tuesday’s sentencing and move forward. He’ll be the first official in President Donald Trump’s administration to be sentenced in the case.
Flynn has been having fun with his old high school gang, going out on the town to see an Elton John concert and watch the New England Patriots and Boston Celtics play, friends tell the AP. Random people approach him in public with hugs, handshakes and requests for photos. His supporters plan to rally outside the courthouse the day of his sentencing, and a lucrative consulting gig could await him.
The retired three-star general pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States during Trump’s White House transition. In a filing this week , his lawyers highlighted Flynn’s long and distinguished military service and extensive cooperation with prosecutors in asking that he be sentenced to probation and community service , rather than prison.
The special counsel investigating whether Trump’s 2016 Republican presidential campaign coordinated with Russia has said Flynn was so helpful that he was entitled to avoid time behind bars , even though sentencing guidelines recommend up to six months in prison .
Australia recognizes west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
SYDNEY (AP) — Australia has decided to formally recognize west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but won’t move its embassy until there’s a peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Saturday.
He said in a speech that Australia will recognize east Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital only after a settlement has been reached on a two-state solution. The Australian Embassy won’t be moved from Tel Aviv until such a time, he said.
While the embassy move is delayed, Morrison said his government will establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and will also start looking for an appropriate site for the embassy.
“The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognizes west Jerusalem, as the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,” Morrison said. He said the decision respects both a commitment to a two-state solution and longstanding respect for relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Morrison had earlier floated the idea that Australia may follow the contentious U.S. move of relocating its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but it was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election in October for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population.
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