Trump says Defense Secretary Mattis will retire in February
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has announced that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will retire at the end of February.
Trump says on Twitter that a new secretary of defense will be named soon.
Trump’s announcement comes a day after he surprised U.S. allies and members of Congress by announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
TRUMP-BORDER WALL-THE LATEST
The Latest: House approves wall funding as shutdown nears
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led House has approved funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall in legislation that pushes the government closer to a partial government shutdown.
The House voted 217-185, largely along party lines. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it has almost no chance of passing.
Senators already passed their bill to avert a shutdown by extending funds to Feb. 8. It did not include the wall funding.
Without resolution, government funding for various departments expires at midnight Friday.
Trump had given mixed signals on how hard he would push for $5 billion in border wall funds. But he dug in Thursday, telling House Republican leaders he wouldn’t sign the Senate bill that didn’t have the money.
Officials: Pentagon planning troop pullout from Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials say the Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration’s policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war.
One official says the troops could be out by summer, but no final decision has been made.
President Donald Trump has long pressed to pull troops out of Afghanistan, but was persuaded by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and others to keep them there to pressure the Taliban and battle a stubborn Islamic State insurgency.
Officials say the latest White House push for withdrawal was another key factor in Mattis’ decision to resign Thursday.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Justice Department levies charges against 2 Chinese hackers
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is charging two Chinese citizens with carrying out an extensive hacking campaign to steal data from U.S. companies.
An indictment was unsealed Thursday against Zhu Hua and Zhang Shillong. Prosecutors say they were acting on behalf of China’s main intelligence agency.
Court papers filed in Manhattan federal court allege the hackers were able to breach the computers of more than 45 entities in 12 states. The victims were in a variety of industries from aviation and space to pharmaceutical technology.
Prosecutors charge that the hackers were able to steal “hundreds of gigabytes” of data.
Court papers say they hacked computer service providers to gain access to the networks of businesses and governments in order to steal intellectual property and business data.
Kushners buying 4th New Jersey property in tax-break zone
NEW YORK (AP) — Jared Kushner’s family company plans to buy another property in a New Jersey beach town where developers can get big tax breaks thanks to a new federal program pushed by Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump.
Long Branch Business Administrator George Jackson says Kushner Cos. is negotiating to buy in the Lower Broadway section of Long Branch, New Jersey. The property is in one of thousands of Opportunity Zones that the federal government approved earlier this year offering tax breaks to entice investment in high poverty areas.
It would be the fourth Kushner purchase in an Opportunity Zone in Long Branch since the program was included in last year’s tax overhaul law. Ethics expert say Kushner’s push for the program in Washington raises conflicts of interest issues.
ELECTION 2020-DEMOCRATIC DEBATES
Democrats to start presidential primary debates in June 2019
The Democratic Party will hold at least a dozen presidential primary debates from June 2019 through April 2020.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez says there will be six debates in 2019 and six in 2020.
Exact dates, locations, media partners and qualifying thresholds will be announced later. But Perez said Thursday that early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina won’t host debates until 2020.
June and July debates will feature two rounds to accommodate a large field of candidates.
Candidates will be assigned at random to avoid having the party choosing who is a top-tier candidate, and the early debate qualifying threshold will consider factors other than polling.
Perez says his priority is for all candidates to have a legitimate shot to be heard.
Follow Bill Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .
Longtime Clippers fan Crystal will be analyst for 1 game
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler was approached two months ago with a special request. A longtime season-ticket holder asked team president Gillian Zucker if he could call a game on television with Lawler and honor his 40 seasons with the club.
Lawler apprehensively said yes, until he found out it wasn’t just any season-ticket holder. It happens to be one that has hosted the Academy Awards nine times.
Billy Crystal, who has been the team’s most well-known fan through the good times and bad, will be the analyst for the Jan. 31 game against the Lakers.
“They told me he really wants to do it,” Lawler said before the Clippers faced Dallas on Thursday night. “He has been a fan forever and he wants to take his time to pay his respects for my longtime service to the club.”
Crystal has been a season-ticket holder since 1985, when the team played at the old LA Sports Arena. Lawler said the two have spent a lot of time over the years talking basketball and that it will be a fun experience doing it on television.
“It will be a big game and the building will be electric. He’s done the Academy Awards for nine years so he can handle our broadcast,” Lawler said.
Crystal isn’t the only guest analyst who will work with Lawler this season. Mike Fratello, Hubie Brown and Bill Walton — who are all former partners of Lawler — will return for some games.
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AP source: Whitaker doesn’t need to recuse from Russia probe
WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker chose not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation even though a top Justice Department ethics official advised him to step aside out of an “abundance of caution.”
That’s according to a Justice Department official who briefed reporters on condition he not be identified.
Whitaker’s past criticism of the Russia investigation has raised questions about whether he can oversee it fairly.
The ethics official said a recusal was “a close call,” but suggested that Whitaker remove himself, even though he was not required to do so. Whitaker decided not to take the advice.
Lawmakers have raised concerns about Whitaker’s past criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and ties to the Trump campaign. Democrats have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation.
MORMON WOMEN DRESS SLACKS
Female Mormon missionaries have option to wear dress slacks
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say female missionaries in all 407 missions worldwide now have the option to wear dress slacks.
Members of the Missionary Executive Council announced Wednesday that the dress standards adjustment takes effect immediately and is primarily motivated by safety concerns.
Female Mormon missionaries in roughly half of the church’s missions have previously been wearing dress slacks during the wet seasons to help protect them from mosquito-borne viral diseases.
They now can wear slacks year-round if they choose.
Mormon officials say wearing dress slacks also will also make it easier for female missionaries to ride bicycles.
Female missionaries will continue to wear skirts and dresses when attending the temple and during Sunday worship services, mission leadership and zone conferences, and baptismal services.
The Latest: Putin rejects criticism of his foreign policy
MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin has rejected Western criticism of his foreign policy, describing it as part of a smear campaign serving internal political goals.
Putin scoffed at Western claims that he wants to dominate the world, saying it’s the United States that aspires to do that. He pointed at U.S. annual defense spending exceeding $700 billion, comparing it with Russia’s military budget of $46 billion.
He said Western talk about Russia’s aggressive intentions uses cliches to cement NATO’s solidarity and exploits historic fears in domestic political interests.
Putin said that all Russia wants is an equal role in global affairs to help its domestic development.
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