AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

Trump protesters rally at gay bar blocks from arena speech

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Opponents of President Donald Trump’s reelection announcement Tuesday in Florida rebuked his administration’s policies at a rally outside a gay bar with performances by a mariachi band and a drag queen, speeches by a transgender woman and women who had abortions and the appearance of a 20-foot-high (6-meter-high) blimp of a scowling Trump in a diaper.

“The goal is to get under his skin,” said Mark Offerman, the handler of the blimp known as “Baby Trump.”

“Baby Trump” wasn’t the only helium-dependent iteration of the president at the rally. Lane Blackwell, who owns a clothing and swimwear store in Orlando, had manufactured 200 small balloons with Trump in a diaper and passed them out.

“People can’t get enough of these,” he said.

Organizers of the “Win With Love Rally” said Trump’s announcement in Orlando on Tuesday night was an affront to a city with a visible gay community and a large Puerto Rican population. Orlando is at the center of the Interstate 4 corridor, stretching from Tampa to Daytona Beach, which is considered the swingiest part of the nation’s largest battleground state.

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Trump rehashes gripes, rips ‘radical’ Dems in 2020 launch

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Jabbing at the press and poking the eye of the political establishment he ran against in 2016, President Donald Trump officially kicked off his reelection campaign Tuesday with a grievance-filled Florida rally that focused more on settling scores than laying out his agenda for a second term.

Addressing a crowd of thousands at Orlando’s Amway Center, Trump complained he had been “under assault from the very first day” of his presidency by a “fake news media” and “illegal witch hunt” that had tried to keep him and his supporters down.

And he painted a disturbing picture of what life would look like if he loses in 2020, accusing his critics of “un-American conduct” and telling the crowd that Democrats “want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”

“A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream,” he said, ripping “radical” and “unhinged” Democrats even as he made only passing mention of any of the men and women running to replace him.

The apocalyptic language and finger-pointing made clear that Trump’s 2020 campaign will probably look a whole lot like his improbably successful run three years ago. While Trump’s campaign has tried to professionalize, with shiny office space and a large and growing staff, and despite two-and-a-half years occupying the Oval Office as America’s commander-in-chief, Trump nonetheless remained focused on energizing his base and offering himself as a political outsider running against Washington.

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Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down Tuesday before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate, citing a “painful” family situation that would hurt his children and reopen “wounds we have worked years to heal.”

President Donald Trump announced Shanahan’s departure in a tweet, and said Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.

“I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal,” Shanahan said in a statement. “Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”

His withdrawal from one of the most critical positions in the government comes at a time of escalating tensions in the Middle East, a day after the U.S. authorized sending additional troops to the region, and after months of unexplained delays in the confirmation process.

The acting defense secretary did not provide specifics, but court records show a volatile family history around the time of his 2011 divorce. The couple had been married since 1986.

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33K pounds of cocaine seized in one of biggest US drug busts

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — U.S. authorities seized 33,000 pounds, or 15,000 kilograms, of cocaine from a ship at Philadelphia’s port in what they described as one of the largest drug busts in American history.

They said the haul could have been worth more than $1 billion on the street.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia announced the massive bust on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, saying that law enforcement agents found the cocaine on a ship at the Packer Marine Terminal. Two members of the crew were arrested and face federal charges.

Agents with dogs swarmed the colossal ship Tuesday afternoon, including one officer who could be seen climbing into the back of a large red container on wheels. Court documents said the bust began Monday.

An affidavit alleged that crew members helped load the cocaine onto the MSC Gayane while it was at sea off the west coast of South America. Citing an interview with one of the crew members, authorities said a total of 14 boats approached the vessel on two separate occasions during its voyage. Several crew members allegedly helped transfer bales of cocaine.

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AP FACT CHECK: In 2020 debut, Trump exaggerates growth

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump officially opened his 2020 campaign Tuesday with a speech exaggerating what he’s done for the economy and against illegal immigration.

Some claims from his rally in Orlando, Florida:

ECONOMY

TRUMP: “It’s soaring to incredible new heights. Perhaps the greatest economy we’ve had in the history of our country.”

THE FACTS: The economy is not one of the best in the country’s history.

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Xi supports North Korea’s direction on issues ahead of visit

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping said North Korea is taking the “right direction” by politically resolving issues on the Korean Peninsula in a rare op-ed published by a North Korean state newspaper Wednesday, a day before Xi visits Pyongyang to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Xi didn’t mention the stalled nuclear weapons talks between Washington and Pyongyang in the Rodong Sinmun article. But experts say Xi during his summit with Kim will likely endorse North Korean calls for an incremental disarmament process in which every action Pyongyang takes it met with U.S. concessions on sanctions and security issues.

Xi said his visit on Thursday and Friday would “strengthen strategic communication and exchange” between the traditional allies.

Nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea have been on a standstill since February when a summit between Kim and President Donald Trump collapsed over what the Americans described as excessive North Korean demands for sanctions relief in exchange for only a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim has said he would seek a “new way” if the United States persists with sanctions and pressure against North Korea. The Trump administration has said sanctions will remain in place until the North commits to fully and verifiably relinquishing its nuclear and missile program upfront.

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With Hope Hicks interview, Dems breach Trump’s inner circle

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Judiciary Committee will interview former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks behind closed doors Wednesday, the first time lawmakers will hear from a person linked to the president’s inner circle since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Obtaining the testimony from Hicks, a close and trusted former aide to President Donald Trump, is a significant victory for Democrats as Trump has broadly stonewalled their investigations. The committee originally subpoenaed Hicks to give public testimony, but agreed to the closed-door interview after negotiations. A transcript of the session will be released in the days afterward.

Still, it is unclear how much new information Hicks will provide. She already cooperated extensively with Mueller’s probe, and a White House lawyer who will be in the room for the interview is expected to try and block her from answering certain questions.

In a letter sent Tuesday to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote that Trump had directed Hicks not to answer questions “relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the president.”

Cipollone said Hicks, as one of Trump’s former senior advisers, is “absolutely immune” from compelled testimony with respect to her service to the president because of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The White House has similarly cited executive privilege with respect to many of the Democrats’ demands, using the president’s power to withhold information to protect the confidentiality of the Oval Office decision-making process.

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US, Iran voice resolve in brinkmanship, say war not sought

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and Iran said Tuesday they were not seeking war with each other as tensions simmered between the two in the Persian Gulf and President Donald Trump vowed the U.S. would respond to any attack.

“We have a lot of things going with Iran,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a campaign event in Florida. “We’ll see what happens. Let me just say this: We are very prepared.”

Trump’s comments came just hours after he announced the sudden departure of acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan, jolting the Defense Department only a day after he signed off on sending an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East to counter Iran.

On a visit Tuesday to U.S. Central Command in Florida, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was confident the U.S. is taking the necessary steps to confront any challenge from Iran. He said the military is ready to respond to any attack by Iran on U.S. interests or Iranian disruption of international shipping lanes through which much of the world’s oil supplies flow.

Pompeo said Trump only wants to reestablish a deterrent to Iranian threats.

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Facebook’s currency Libra faces financial, privacy pushback

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook is getting a taste of the regulatory pushback it will face as it creates a new digital currency with corporate partners.

Just hours after the social media giant unveiled early plans for the Libra cryptocurrency, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire insisted that only governments can issue sovereign currencies. He said Facebook must ensure that Libra won’t hurt consumers or be used for illegal activities.

“We will demand guarantees that such transactions cannot be diverted, for example for financing terrorism,” he said on Europe-1 radio.

Facebook unveiled its much-rumored currency Tuesday and said it will launch publicly early next year with such partners as Uber, Visa, Mastercard and PayPal.

Libra could open online purchasing to millions of people who do not have access to bank accounts and could reduce the cost of sending money across borders. It’s easy to see how attractive an alternative like Libra could be to people in countries beset with hyperinflation such as Venezuela.

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Prosecutor: Navy SEAL bragged about killing captive in Iraq

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A decorated Navy SEAL stabbed to death a wounded and captive teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq and then bragged about it, a military prosecutor told jurors Tuesday during opening statements in a politically charged court-martial.

Lt. Brian John projected photos of the dead prisoner in the military courtroom, along with a text message Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher sent to friends with the image.

“Good story behind this,” Gallagher wrote. “Got him with my hunting knife.”

The defense told the jury that Gallagher treated the militant’s wounds and didn’t kill him.

Attorney Tim Parlatore, who has claimed the text was an attempt at dark humor, said there’s no body, autopsy or forensic evidence to show a killing happened. He says the case was built on lies by junior SEALs who hated Gallagher because he was tough.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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