US: Trump lawyer met Russian who offered ‘political synergy’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in touch as far back as 2015 with a Russian who offered “political synergy” with the Trump election campaign and proposed a meeting between the candidate and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the federal special counsel said Friday.
Court filings from prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office laid out previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries and suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Trump and his campaign by playing to both his political aspirations and his personal business interests.
The filings, in cases involving Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, capped a dramatic week of revelations in Mueller’s probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. They bring the legal peril from multiple investigations closer than ever to Trump, tying him to an illegal hush money payment scheme and contradicting his claims that he had nothing to do with Russia.
They make clear how witnesses previously close to Trump — Cohen once declared he’d “take a bullet” for the president — have since provided damaging information about him in efforts to come clean to the government and in some cases get lighter prison sentences.
One defendant, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, provided so much information to prosecutors that Mueller this week said he shouldn’t serve any prison time.
Prosecutors: Illegal hush-money paid at Trump’s ‘direction’
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department said Friday that President Donald Trump directed illegal payments to buy the silence of two women whose claims of extramarital affairs threatened his presidential campaign, the first time prosecutors have connected Trump to a federal crime.
In a court filing, prosecutors said former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen arranged the secret payments at the height of the 2016 campaign “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump. Cohen has previously said Trump was involved in the hush-money scheme, but court documents filed ahead of Cohen’s sentencing made clear prosecutors believe Cohen’s claim.
The filing stopped short of accusing the president of committing a crime. Whether a president can be prosecuted while in office remains a matter of legal dispute.
But there’s no ambiguity in Friday’s filing that prosecutors believe Cohen’s act was criminal and Trump was directly involved, a remarkable disclosure with potential political and legal ramifications for a president dogged by investigations. The payments are likely to become a target for House Democrats gearing up to investigate the president next year. It’s unclear whether Trump faces legal jeopardy over his role.
Federal law requires that any payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing Friday makes clear that the payments were made to benefit Trump politically.
Man who drove into crowd convicted of first-degree murder
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A man who drove his car into counterprotesters at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Virginia was convicted Friday of first-degree murder, a verdict that local civil rights activists hope will help heal a community still scarred by the violence and the racial tensions it inflamed nationwide.
A state jury rejected defense arguments that James Alex Fields Jr. acted in self-defense during a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. Jurors also convicted Fields of eight other charges, including aggravated malicious wounding and hit and run.
Fields, 21, drove to Virginia from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to support the white nationalists. As a large group of counterprotesters marched through Charlottesville singing and laughing, he stopped his car, backed up, then sped into the crowd, according to testimony from witnesses and video surveillance shown to jurors.
Prosecutors told the jury that Fields was angry after witnessing violent clashes between the two sides earlier in the day. The violence prompted police to shut down the rally before it even officially began.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed, and nearly three dozen others were injured. The trial featured emotional testimony from survivors who described devastating injuries and long, complicated recoveries.
Trump prods McConnell on sentencing bill: ‘Go for it Mitch!’
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reluctance to hold a vote on a popular criminal justice bill has angered top Republican senators and created an unusual rift with a longtime GOP ally, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. And on Friday, it also brought on a tweet from President Donald Trump.
“Hopefully Mitch McConnell will ask for a VOTE on Criminal Justice Reform,” Trump tweeted. “It is extremely popular and has strong bipartisan support. It will also help a lot of people, save taxpayer dollars, and keep our communities safe. Go for it Mitch!”
Minutes later Grassley tweeted that he and the president had spoken about “the growing support” for the legislation.
“Pres Trump told me he wants it done THIS CONGRESS,” Grassley tweeted.
Grassley has spent years working to build a coalition around the bill and is pushing for a year-end vote. Grassley says more than two-thirds of the Senate supports it. But McConnell is refusing to bring the legislation forward in a standoff that’s dividing the Republican majority and putting President Donald Trump on the spot.
Absentee vote changes may have invited ‘ballot harvesting’
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Changes made to absentee voting procedures five years ago in North Carolina may have emboldened workers to run the type of illegal “ballot-harvesting” operation alleged to have been used in a disputed congressional race, election experts and lawmakers said.
Some observers are concerned that the changes made it possible for more people to apply for absentee ballots. Then so-called harvesters could collect unsealed ballots and manipulate them or throw out ones from minority voters who might have otherwise gone to the polls.
The heavily Republican Legislature crafted the 2013 law that scaled back some voting options amid a national GOP push for voter ID laws and other restrictions they said were aimed at preventing in-person voting fraud, which experts say is rare. Many provisions were struck down in court, but unchallenged absentee changes may have opened wider a door to possible widespread fraud.
“It could have exacerbated the problem,” Republican state Sen. Tommy Tucker said this week. He and other state legislators believe more absentee ballot restrictions may be necessary.
Investigators are scrutinizing mail-in ballot requests and ballot envelopes in the 9th Congressional District — a process that could lead to criminal charges or even a new election. Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of nearly 283,000 cast. The focus appears to be on Bladen and Robeson counties.
Ex-inmates: Torture rife in prisons run by Yemen rebels
MARIB, Yemen (AP) — Farouk Baakar was on duty as a medic at al-Rashid hospital the day a bleeding man was brought into the emergency room with gunshot wounds and signs of torture. He’d been whipped across the back and hung by his wrists for days.
The patient, Baakar learned, had been left for dead by the side of a highway after being held captive in a prison run by the Houthi rebels who control northern Yemen.
Baakar spent hours removing bullets and repairing ruptured intestine. He tended to the patient’s recovery for 80 days and, at the end, agreed to pose for a selfie with him.
Weeks later, Houthi security officials grabbed the man again. They searched his phone and found the photo.
Then they came for Baakar.
Caregivers for 3600 migrant teens lack complete abuse checks
Nearly every adult working with children in the U.S. — from nannies to teachers to coaches — has undergone state screenings to ensure they have no proven history of abusing or neglecting kids. One exception: thousands of workers at two federal detention facilities holding 3,600 migrant teens in the government’s care, The Associated Press has learned.
The staff isn’t being screened for child abuse and neglect at a Miami-based emergency detention center because Florida law bans any outside employer from reviewing information in its child welfare system. Until recently at another facility holding migrant teens in Tornillo, Texas, staff hadn’t even undergone FBI fingerprint checks, let alone child welfare screenings, a government report found.
The missing screening at both sites involves searching child protective services systems to see whether potential employees had a verified allegation of abuse, neglect or abandonment, which could range from having a foster child run away from a group home to failing to take a sick child to the hospital. These allegations often are not criminally prosecuted and therefore wouldn’t show up in other screenings.
Tornillo has 2,100 staff for about 2,300 teens; Homestead has 2,000 staff for about 1,300 teens.
The two facilities can operate unlicensed and without required checks because they are located on federal property and thus don’t have to comply with state child welfare laws. Tornillo is on Customs and Border Protection land along the U.S.-Mexico border, and Homestead is on a former Labor Department Jobs Corps site.
Chinese executive facing US extradition appears in court
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — A Canadian prosecutor urged a Vancouver court to deny bail to a Chinese executive at the heart of a case that is shaking up U.S.-China relations and worrying global financial markets.
Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecommunications giant Huawei and daughter of its founder, was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport last Saturday — the same day that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China agreed over dinner to a 90-day ceasefire in a trade dispute that threatens to disrupt global commerce.
The U.S. alleges that Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It also says that Meng and Huawei misled American banks about its business dealings in Iran.
The surprise arrest, already denounced by Beijing, raises doubts about whether the trade truce will hold and whether the world’s two biggest economies can resolve the complicated issues that divide them.
“I think it will have a distinctively negative effect on the U.S.-China talks,” said Philip Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an economic adviser in President George W. Bush’s White House. “There’s the humiliating way this happened right before the dinner, with Xi unaware. Very hard to save face on this one. And we may see (Chinese retaliation), which will embitter relations.”
With Kevin Hart’s downfall, hosting the Oscars got harder
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The “most thankless job in town” just got even more difficult.
The Oscars have a longstanding host problem, but Kevin Hart’s swift downfall over old anti-gay tweets has led to bigger questions about the gig and the liability of social media histories.
It’s just the latest controversy for the organization that puts on the Academy Awards, which is trying to combat declining ratings for its marquee event while weathering the pressure of being a focal point for the shortcomings of the entertainment industry as a whole.
“I think it’s embarrassing,” Matthew Belloni, the editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, said about the academy’s decision to pick Hart. “It shows that they either didn’t vet this host properly, or they did vet him and didn’t think this would be an issue. And both are a little troubling.”
Hart seemed to fit the bill for what the academy was looking for.
Pearl Harbor survivor and Navy veteran recalls 1941 attack
HONOLULU (AP) — Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Don Long was alone on an anchored military seaplane in the middle of a bay across the island from Pearl Harbor when Japanese warplanes started striking Hawaii on December 7, 1941, watching from afar as the attack that killed and wounded thousands unfolded.
The Japanese planes reached his base on Kaneohe Bay soon after Pearl Harbor was hit, and the young sailor saw buildings and planes explode all around him.
When the gunfire finally reached him, setting the aircraft ablaze, he jumped into the water and swam through the flames to safety.
Now 97, Long marked the 77th anniversary from his home in Napa, California on Friday.
He shared some of his memories with The Associated Press:
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