Trump pulling all US troops from Syria, declaring IS defeat
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, officials announced Wednesday as the president suddenly declared victory over the Islamic State, contradicting his own experts’ assessments and sparking surprise and outrage from his party’s lawmakers who called his action rash and dangerous.
The U.S. began airstrikes in Syria in 2014, and ground troops moved in the following year to battle the Islamic State, or ISIS, and train Syrian rebels in a country torn apart by civil war. Trump abruptly declared their mission accomplished in a tweet.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he said as Vice President Mike Pence met with top leaders at the Pentagon. U.S. officials said many details of the troop withdrawal had not yet been finalized, but they expect American forces to be out by mid-January.
Later Wednesday, Trump posted a video on Twitter in which he said is “heartbreaking” to have to write letters and make calls to the loved ones of those killed in battle. “Now it’s time for our troops to come back home,” he said.
A senior administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Trump made the decision based on his belief that U.S. troops have no role in Syria beyond combatting Islamic State, whose fighters are now believed to hold about 1 percent of the territory they did at the peak of their power.
Senate approves bill to keep government running into 2019
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate approved legislation Wednesday to temporarily fund the government, a key step toward averting a federal shutdown after President Donald Trump backed off his demand for money for a border wall with Mexico.
Senators passed the measure, which would keep government running to Feb. 8, by voice vote without a roll call. The House is also expected to move before Friday’s deadline, when funding for a portion of the government expires. Without resolution, more than 800,000 federal workers would face furloughs or be forced to work without pay, disrupting government operations days before Christmas.
While the White House indicated Trump was open to reviewing whatever Congress could pass, the president did not immediately weigh in on the short-term plan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will remain in session Thursday. “We have to see what the House does,” he said.
Many of Trump’s supporters were frustrated that he appeared to retreat on his shutdown threats after promising a fight over the wall, which had been central to his presidential campaign. Just last week Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government over his demand for $5 billion for the wall. Some allies described the move as caving on his pledge, expressing concern that it could hurt Trump’s 2020 prospects.
Black leaders forged alliance with Trump on sentencing deal
WASHINGTON (AP) — A rare bipartisan deal in Congress to overhaul federal sentencing laws passed after a few black ministers, leaders and lawmakers forged an alliance with President Donald Trump, who some have condemned as racist for the last two years.
The reforms could offer a path to freedom for hundreds of black and Latino inmates who were sent to prison by a justice system that critics say has long been stacked against minorities.
“It’s like threading a needle politically,” said Marc Morial, the National Urban League’s president and CEO. “It’s been very delicate to get us to the point where we are right now.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, still gets questions from fellow African-Americans asking him why he and other conservative black ministers went to the White House over the summer to talk about the issue with Trump.
“People are still mad at us about that,” Jackson said.
Yemeni mom cleared to come to US is on way to see dying son
Shaima Swileh simply wants to give her son one more kiss before he dies.
The Yemeni woman is about to get her wish after winning a fight for a waiver from the Trump administration’s travel ban, allowing her to fly to California where her 2-year-old son, Abdullah, is on life support.
The State Department granted Swileh the waiver Tuesday after lawyers with the Council on American-Islamic Relations sued this week, ending her family’s yearlong battle. Swileh is planning to fly to San Francisco on Wednesday to see Abdullah at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland.
“This will allow us to mourn with dignity,” the boy’s father, Ali Hassan, said in a statement provided by the council’s Sacramento chapter.
Hassan, who is a U.S. citizen and lives in Stockton, brought Abdullah to California in the fall to get treatment for a genetic brain disorder.
Illinois AG finds 500 more Catholic clergy accused of abuse
CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Wednesday issued a blistering report about clergy sexual abuse, saying that Catholic dioceses in Illinois has not released the names of at least 500 clergy accused of sexually abusing children.
The preliminary report found that the church’s six archdioceses have done a woefully inadequate job of investigating allegations and in some cases did not investigate them at all or notify the state’s child welfare agency. Madigan’s office said that while the dioceses have disclosed 45 more names of those credibly accused, the total number of names disclosed is only 185 and raises questions about the church’s response to the crisis.
“By choosing not to thoroughly investigate allegations, the Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors, parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois,” Madigan said in a statement. “The failure to investigate also means that the Catholic Church has never made an effort to determine whether the conduct of the accused priests was ignored or covered up by superiors.”
The report does not include some key details such as when the allegations were made. It also does not accuse the dioceses of withholding the names of ‘credibly” accused clergy, only that the list of names of accused clergy is far longer than has been made public.
A Madigan spokeswoman said that the allegations date back decades and include some priests who are now deceased.
‘A moral disaster’: AP reveals scope of migrant kids program
Decades after the U.S. stopped institutionalizing kids because large and crowded orphanages were causing lasting trauma, it is happening again. The federal government has placed most of the 14,300 migrant toddlers, children and teens in its care in detention centers and residential facilities packed with hundreds, or thousands, of children.
As the year draws to a close, some 5,400 detained migrant children in the U.S. are sleeping in shelters with more than 1,000 other children. Some 9,800 are in facilities with 100-plus total kids, according to confidential government data obtained and cross-checked by The Associated Press.
That’s a huge shift from just three months after President Donald Trump took office, when the same federal program had 2,720 migrant youth in its care; most were in shelters with a few dozen kids or in foster programs. Some of the children may be released sooner than anticipated, because this week the administration ended a portion of its strict screening policies that had slowed the placement of migrant kids with relatives in the U.S.
Until now, public information has been limited about the number of youths held at each facility overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, even for attorneys representing the kids. But the AP obtained data showing the number of children in individual detention centers, shelters and foster care programs for nearly every week over the past 20 months, revealing in detail the expanse of a program at the center of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.
The data shows the degree to which the government’s approach to migrant youth has hardened, marking a new phase in a federal program originally intended to offer safe haven to vulnerable children fleeing danger across the globe. It’s been taking at least twice as long, on average two months rather than one, for youth held inside the system to get out, in part because the Trump administration added more restrictive screening measures for parents and relatives who would take them in.
North Carolina officials sought to charge political operator
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina officials sought criminal charges after the 2016 election against the man now at the center of absentee ballot fraud allegations, but prosecutors didn’t indict him before the now disputed 2018 congressional race, according to documents released Wednesday.
The documents detail a two year investigation by the North Carolina State Board of Elections into Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. Authorities informed the 62-year-old convicted felon from rural Bladen County earlier this month that he is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation into irregularities in the Nov. 6 vote in the state’s 9th Congressional District.
In a January 2018 memo referring Dowless and others for criminal charges, state elections investigators detailed interviews in which people who had worked for Dowless in the 2016 election cycle described collecting absentee ballots from voters. Because of the potential for mischief, it is against North Carolina law for anyone other than a voter or immediate relative to handle someone’s absentee ballot before it is sealed and mailed.
Investigators also alleged Dowless attempted to interfere with their investigation by calling witnesses and warning them before they could be interviewed.
The referral to state and federal prosecutors came well before a May GOP primary and November general election in which Republican Mark Harris eked out narrow victories.
AP FACT CHECK: Facebook defines ‘permission’ loosely
Facebook gave companies such as Apple, Amazon and Yahoo extensive access to users’ personal data, effectively exempting them from the company’s usual privacy rules, according to a New York Times report .
Facebook enabled partners to offer services that tap into Facebook accounts and features. For example, Spotify was able to offer a feature that lets a user share song lists with his or her Facebook friends. But to do that, Facebook had to give Spotify the user’s list of Facebook friends.
Facebook says it didn’t violate its users’ privacy in doing any of this. But Facebook has a history of playing fast and loose with the word “permission.” That appears to be the case here, too.
A look at the claims:
FACEBOOK: “To be clear: none of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission.” — from a blog post late Tuesday by Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, the company’s director of developer platforms.
Will Harvey Weinstein charges stick? Judge to rule
NEW YORK (AP) — If Harvey Weinstein were in charge of the script, he’d be walking out of a court hearing Thursday free of the criminal charges threatening to put him behind bars.
The Hollywood producer-turned-#MeToo pariah is putting on his fiercest campaign yet to convince a New York judge to throw out his sexual assault case, seizing on allegations of unscrupulous police work and putting forth a witness who says his rape accuser pressured her to corroborate her story.
Weinstein’s lawyers say the case has devolved into chaos and was “irreparably tainted” by police Det. Nicholas DiGaudio’s alleged interference with a witness and an accuser. Prosecutors say there’s “ample evidence” to put Weinstein, 66, on trial and that the DiGaudio allegations haven’t sullied the rest of the case.
Now it’s up to Judge James Burke to decide.
Weinstein is charged with raping a woman he knew in a hotel room in March 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman in 2006 at his Manhattan apartment. He denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex.
Ohio State gets first big W for new coach on signing day
Zach Harrison is one of the most highly touted recruits in the country, and he goes to high school 15 miles from Ohio State.
Yet not until Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period, did the 6-foot-6, 245-pound defensive end commit to the Buckeyes, giving incoming coach Ryan Day his first victory as Urban Meyer’s replacement.
“Huge,” Day said. “This was one of those ones we had to win.”
Harrison’s choice, streamed out over Olentangy Orange High School’s website, was maybe the most intriguing development of what can now be considered the new signing day. This is year two of the early signing period in college football and just like last year, most of the scholarships have been scooped up. The traditional signing period in early February will mostly be for finishing touches.
“It’s not an early signing date, it’s the signing date,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
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