Interior Secretary Zinke resigning, cites ‘vicious’ attacks WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, will be leaving the administration at year’s end,…
WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, will be leaving the administration at year’s end, President Donald Trump said Saturday. In his resignation letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Zinke said “vicious and politically motivated attacks” against him had “created an unfortunate distraction” in fulfilling the agency’s mission.
Trump, in tweeting Zinke’s departure, said the former Montana congressman “accomplished much during his tenure” and that a replacement would be announced next week. The Cabinet post requires Senate confirmation.
Zinke is leaving weeks before Democrats take control of the House, a shift in power that promises to sharpen the probes into his conduct. His departure comes amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in office facing increased legal exposure due to intensifying investigations into his campaign, business, foundation and administration.
Zinke’s resignation letter, obtained from a Zinke aide on Saturday, cites what he calls “meritless and false claims” and says that “to some, truth no longer matters.”
The letter, dated Saturday, said Zinke’s last day would be Jan. 2. It was not clear whether Zinke had already submitted the letter when Trump tweeted.
Loyalty, rapport: Why Trump chose Mulvaney as chief of staff
WASHINGTON (AP) — Demonstrated loyalty. Political savvy. Personal rapport.
And, as a bonus, a decent golf game.
President Donald Trump had long made clear the qualities he was looking for in his next chief of staff. And when his first pick turned him down, sparking a frantic search, the president turned to the man he’d already tapped for two previous jobs in his administration: Mick Mulvaney, a blunt, fast-talking former South Carolina congressman turned budget chief who had told Trump months ago he wanted the job.
It was an obvious choice to many outside the administration that reflects the challenges ahead: Trump will soon be fighting for re-election as he contends with a House controlled by Democrats eager to use their new subpoena power to investigate his administration and business dealings. And the Russia investigation continues, with the drip-drip of new allegations mounting daily.
But for Trump, a notoriously mercurial president who has already cycled through two chiefs of staffs in as many years, the decision was as much about current appearances as future negotiations: Spurned by several front-runners and angry over the growing narrative that he couldn’t find someone to take the job, Trump made the offer Friday afternoon at a meeting that had originally been scheduled to discuss the ongoing budget showdown that threatens a holiday shutdown. Mulvaney accepted — and even kept his current position as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Nations at UN climate talks back universal emissions rules
KATOWICE, Poland (AP) — After two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries agreed Saturday on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming.
The deal agreed upon at U.N. climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord.
But to the frustration of environmental activists and some countries who were urging more ambitious climate goals, negotiators delayed decisions on two key issues until next year in an effort to get a deal on them.
“Through this package, you have made a thousand little steps forward together,” said Michal Kurtyka, a senior Polish official chairing the talks.
He said while each individual country would likely find some parts of the agreement it didn’t like, efforts had been made to balance the interests of all parties.
Family of migrant girl disputes official story on her death
The family of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody is disputing an account from U.S. officials who said she had not been given food or water for days.
In a statement released by lawyers, the parents of Jakelin Caal said the girl had been given food and water and appeared to be in good health as she traveled through Mexico with her father, 29-year-old Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz. The family added that Jakelin had not been traveling through the desert for days before she was taken into custody.
Tekandi Paniagua, the Guatemalan consul in Del Rio, Texas, told The Associated Press that he spoke with the Jakelin’s father. The consul said Nery Caal told him the group they were traveling with was dropped off in Mexico about a 90-minute walk from the border.
Border Patrol officials did not immediately respond to the family’s comments.
The family’s statement was released Saturday during a news conference in El Paso, Texas, at an immigrant shelter where Jakelin’s father is staying. Her family did not attend and has asked for privacy.
Girl who died fled intensely poor Guatemalan village
SAN ANTONIO SECORTEZ, Guatemala (AP) — Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin received her first pair of shoes several weeks ago, when her father said they would set out together for the United States, thousands of miles from this small indigenous community in Guatemala where she spent her days plodding through mud and surrounded by coconut trees.
The 7-year-old was excited about the possibility of a new life in another country, relatives said Saturday. Maybe she would get her first toy, or learn to read and write.
Instead she died in a Texas hospital two days after being taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents in a remote stretch of New Mexico desert.
The death has drawn attention to the increasingly perilous routes that Central American migrants traverse to reach the U.S., where some plan to apply for asylum, and to the way migrants are treated once in custody. Jakelin’s family says her father paid a human smuggler to sneak them across the border; asylum wasn’t the plan.
Sadness hangs in the air outside the tiny wooden house with a straw roof, dirt floors, a few bedsheets and a fire pit for cooking where Jakelin used to sleep with her parents and three siblings. The brothers are barefoot, their feet caked with mud and their clothes in tatters. A heart constructed out of wood and wrapped in plastic announces Jakelin’s death.
Almost every part of Trump’s life is under investigation
WASHINGTON (AP) — Investigations now entangle Donald Trump’s White House, campaign, transition, inauguration, charity and business. For Trump, the political, the personal and the deeply personal are all under examination.
Less than two years into Trump’s presidency, his business associates, political advisers and family members are being probed, along with the practices of his late father. On Saturday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke became the fourth Cabinet member to leave under an ethical cloud, having sparked 17 investigations into his actions on the job, by one watchdog’s count.
All of this with the first special counsel investigation against a president in 20 years hanging over Trump’s head, spinning out charges and strong-arming guilty pleas from underlings while keeping in suspense whether the president — “Individual 1” in prosecutor Robert Mueller’s coded legalese — will end up accused of criminal behavior himself.
The scope of the scrutiny has shaped Trump’s presidency, proving a steady distraction from his governing agenda. So far, much of it has been launched by federal prosecutors and government watchdogs that eschew partisanship. The intensity is certain to increase next year when Democrats assume control of the House and the subpoena power that comes with it.
Although Trump dismisses the investigations as politically motivated “witch hunts,” his high-octane Twitter account frequently betrays just how consumed he is by the scrutiny. He’s also said to watch hours of television coverage on milestone days in the investigations.
Security worries hobble ambitions of China tech giant Huawei
BEIJING (AP) — While a Huawei executive faces possible U.S. charges over trade with Iran, the Chinese tech giant’s ambition to be a leader in next-generation telecoms is colliding with security worries abroad.
Australia and New Zealand have barred Huawei Technologies Ltd. as a supplier for fifth-generation networks. They joined the United States and Taiwan, which limit use of technology from the biggest global supplier of network switching gear. This week, Japan’s cybersecurity agency said Huawei and other vendors deemed risky will be off-limits for government purchases.
None has released evidence of wrongdoing by Huawei, which denies it is a risk and has operated a laboratory with Britain’s government since 2010 to conduct security examinations of its products. But the accusations, amid rising tension over Chinese technology ambitions and spying, threaten its ability to compete in a sensitive field as carriers prepare to invest billions of dollars.
“This is something that’s definitely concerning Huawei at this stage, because there is a political angle to it and a business angle,” said Nikhil Bhatra, a senior researcher for IDC.
Huawei is no ordinary electronics supplier. The company founded in 1987 by a former military engineer is China’s first global tech brand and a national champion at the head of an industry Beijing is promoting as part of efforts to transform this country into a technology creator. It has China’s biggest corporate research-and-development budget at 89.7 billion yuan ($13 billion) in 2017 — 10 percent more than Apple Inc.’s — and foreign customers can draw on a multibillion-dollar line of credit from the official China Development Bank.
Ruling to strike down health law puts GOP in a quandary
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge’s ruling that the Obama health law is unconstitutional has landed like a stink bomb among Republicans, who’ve seen the politics of health care flip as Americans increasingly value the overhaul’s core parts, including protections for pre-existing medical conditions and Medicaid for more low-income people.
While the decision by the Republican-appointed judge in Texas was sweeping, it has little immediate practical impact because the Affordable Care Act remains in place while the legal battle continues, possibly to the Supreme Court.
HealthCare.gov , the government’s site for signing up, was taking applications Saturday, the deadline in most states for enrolling for coverage next year, and those benefits will take effect as scheduled Jan. 1. Medicaid expansion will proceed in Virginia, one of the latest states to accept that option. Employers will still be required to cover the young adult children of workers, and Medicare recipients will still get discounted prescription drugs.
But Republicans, still stinging from their loss of the House in the midterm elections, are facing a fresh political quandary after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said the entire 2010 health law was invalid.
Warnings about the Texas lawsuit were part of the political narrative behind Democrats’ electoral gains. Health care was the top issue for about one-fourth of voters in the November election, ahead of immigration and jobs and the economy, according to VoteCast, a nationwide survey for The Associated Press. Those most concerned with health care supported Democrats overwhelmingly.
Worries about ballot security overshadow disputed House race
BLADENBORO, N.C. (AP) — Six months ago, election officials in rural North Carolina’s Bladen County resolved to tighten security at their headquarters and protect the ballots stored there by installing an alarm and video cameras and securing an unlocked door that leads to another government office.
The fixes never got done before Election Day. The then-chairman of the county commissioners, who control the purse strings, did not see the need.
Now Bladen County is at the center of a disputed congressional election rife with suspicions of fraud, including the possibility that absentee ballots were altered or discarded.
While no evidence has surfaced to suggest ballots were stolen or tampered with inside the building, warnings about the potential for political chicanery in Bladen County were raised years before the burgeoning scandal dragged this patch of eastern North Carolina’s pine barrens into the spotlight.
Marshall Tutor, who was lead investigator for the state Board of Elections for 15 years, said he frequently traveled to Bladen County over the years to probe accusations of wrongdoing. He said residents were often hesitant to talk to outsiders about possible voting fraud, much less testify.
Watson leads Texans to 29-22 comeback win over Darnold, Jets
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Houston Texans were trailing late and facing a second straight loss after a nine-game winning streak.
Deshaun Watson wasn’t having it.
The cool-headed, playmaking quarterback threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins with 2:15 left, lifting the Texans to a 29-22 victory over Sam Darnold and the New York Jets on Saturday night.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s able to stay controlled in those situations,” Hopkins said about Watson. “He’s done that before in big games in his career. On the sideline, everyone was composed. Nobody panicked.”