A striking row, even for Trump: New war of words with Corker

AP Photo
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a startling verbal assault on the president of his own party, Republican Sen. Bob Corker charged Tuesday that Donald Trump “debases our nation” with constant untruths, name calling and bullying, and will leave behind a sad legacy of damaging division.

A furious Trump lashed back over Twitter, calling Corker “incompetent,” saying he “doesn’t have a clue” and claiming the two-term lawmaker “couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.”

The extreme exchange unfolded just hours before Trump was to lunch with GOP senators at the Capitol to try to unite the party around a rewrite of the nation’s tax code. The tax overhaul is an urgent task for Republicans who’ve failed to notch a single significant legislative achievement this year despite controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress. Yet the dramatic escalation of the feud between Corker and Trump seemed certain to divert lawmakers’ attention.

“When his term is over, the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth-telling, just the name-calling, I think the debasement of our nation will be what he’ll be remembered most for and that’s regretful,” Corker told reporters at the Capitol. “His governing model is to divide and to attempt to bully and to use untruths.”

Corker, who is retiring from the Senate and therefore can fear no political repercussions, said that he and others had attempted to intervene with Trump over the months but “he’s obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.”

“Unfortunately I think world leaders are very aware that much of what he says is untrue,” Corker said. He stopped short of calling Trump a liar and didn’t respond when asked if Trump should be removed from office.

Tuesday’s war of words intensified a simmering feud between the two men. Corker has been starkly critical of Trump in recent weeks, alleging at one point that the president’s careless rhetoric toward foreign powers could lead America toward World War III. That prompted Trump to label his antagonist “Liddle’ Bob Corker” and claim, falsely, that Corker had decided to retire after begging for an endorsement Trump wouldn’t give.

The latest exchange began when Corker said Tuesday morning on NBC’s “Today” that Trump should leave it to Congress to set the course on taxes instead of intervening to shoot down one idea or another, as the president did Monday when he assured voters over Twitter that the tax package would leave their 401(k) plans intact.

That led to an angry Twitter response from Trump, who said, “Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran Deal & couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee, is now fighting Tax Cuts. …”

Corker, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, responded on his own Twitter account: “Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff.”

The back-and-forth then escalated even further as Corker launched a series of withering criticisms against Trump in hallway interviews, first with CNN and then in scrums with other journalists including The Associated Press, prompting more Twitter fire from Trump and still more angry retorts from Corker.

In one tweet, Trump wrote, “People like liddle’ Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back. Now we move forward!”

With Trump due at the Capitol to join GOP senators at a lunch it was not clear how the conflict would end, if at all. Privately, Senate GOP aides were expressing dismay at a dispute that could only frustrate their already stymied efforts to produce results to take to voters in next year’s midterm elections.

Trump spoke approvingly about the GOP tax efforts before leaving the White House to come to Capitol Hill, but ignored shouted questions about Corker.

House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to downplay the conflict, telling reporters, “I don’t think it’s changed our efforts on tax reform. I know Bob, who supported the budget, and wants to get tax reform. I know the president wants to get tax reform. … I’m glad the president’s coming to lunch, because I have long believed that it’s best just to settle these things in person, and I hope that they can get a chance to do that.”

Tuesday’s lunch already had potential for more than a few awkward moments given Trump’s recent disputes with other GOP senators including John McCain of Arizona and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Trump has blamed them all for the failure of his agenda, saying it’s not his fault. On the other hand, after meeting last week with McConnell, Trump promised to intercede with his former top adviser Steve Bannon, who is now on the outside promising an all-out war on the GOP establishment by urging primary challenges against a number of sitting GOP senators.

Nonetheless, Republicans and the Trump administration are determined to get tax legislation into law this year, and before the latest outburst between Corker and Trump, all sides seemed to think they can unite around that goal.

“If you have people who are running for re-election next year, whether it’s a House member or one of the senators who’s up this year, I think the best thing you can go back and talk about is that you got results,” said GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. “And I think that to the degree the president delivers that message it will be very well received by Republican senators.”

The tax plan crafted by Trump and Republican leaders calls for steep tax cuts for corporations and potentially for individuals. It would double the standard deduction used by most Americans, shrink the number of tax brackets from seven to three or four, and repeal inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates. But crucial details of the plan have yet to be worked out, notably what income levels would fit with each tax bracket.

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A striking row, even for Trump: New war of words with Corker
A striking row, even for Trump: New war of words with Corker
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Tillerson seeks Arab help in US effort to isolate Iran

AP Photo
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the Trump administration’s case for isolating and containing Iran in the Middle East and beyond to two Gulf Arab nations on Sunday, pushing for Saudi Arabia and Iraq to unite to counter growing Iranian assertiveness. He also called for a quick resolution to the ongoing crisis between Qatar and its Arab neighbors, which he said was unintentionally bolstering Iran.

In Saudi Arabia and later Qatar, Tillerson denounced Iran’s “malign behavior” and urged nations of the region and elsewhere, notably Europe, to join the administration to halt any business they do with Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps. He also demanded that Iranian and Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq either return to their homes, integrate into the Iraqi army or leave the country.

“Those fighters need to go home,” Tillerson said. “Any foreign fighters need to go home.”

In Riyadh for the inaugural meeting of the Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council – a vehicle that U.S. officials believe can wean Iraq from Iran – Tillerson told Saudi King Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the nascent partnership between their countries held great promise for Iraq’s reconstruction after devastating battles to wrest territory from the Islamic State group and its independence from foreign influence.

“We believe this will in some ways counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran inside of Iraq,” he said at a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir after the council meeting.

Tillerson said countries outside of the region could also play a role, primarily by shunning the Revolutionary Guards, which play a major role in Iran’s economy and were added to a U.S. terrorism blacklist earlier this month. Companies and countries that do business with the guards “really do so at great risk,” he said.

“We are hoping that European companies, countries and others around the world will join the U.S. as we put in place a sanctions structure to prohibit certain activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that foment instability in the region and create destruction in the region,” Tillerson said.

At the council meeting, Tillerson praised the Saudi king and Abadi for the August reopening of a major border crossing and the resumption of direct flights between Riyadh and Baghdad last week.

“Both represent the beginning of what we hope will be a series of even more tangible actions to improve relations and strengthen cooperation on a host of issues,” he said. “Your growing relationship between the kingdom and Iraq is vital to bolstering our collective security and prosperity and we take great interest in it.”

His participation in the meeting comes as U.S. officials step up encouragement of a new axis that unites Saudi Arabia and Iraq as a bulwark against Iran’s growing influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Amid the push for that alliance, the Iraqi government is struggling to rebuild recently liberated Islamic State strongholds and confronts a newly assertive Kurdish independence movement.

History, religion and lots of politics stand in Tillerson’s way, but both the Saudi king and the Iraqi prime minister appeared optimistic about the prospects.

“We are facing in our region serious challenges in the form of extremism, terrorism as well as attempts to destabilize our countries,” Salman said. “These attempts require our full attention. … We reaffirm our support for the unity and stability of our brother country of Iraq.”

Abadi expressed pleasure with “the thriving relations between our two brotherly countries.”

“We are open and we want to move away from the past,” he said. “The region cannot tolerate any further divisions. Interference in the internal affairs of other state should stop.”

Shiite-majority Iraq and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, estranged for decades after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, have tried in recent years to bridge their differences. Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad in 2015 after a quarter century. The first visit by a Saudi foreign minister to Baghdad came in February this year, followed by the border crossing reopening in August and resumption of direct flights between the capitals suspended during the Gulf War.

Over the weekend, the Saudi oil minister, Khalid al-Falih, made a high-profile appearance at Baghdad’s International Fair, and held talks with his Iraqi counterpart, Jabar al-Luabi.

Nevertheless, the relationship is plagued by suspicion. Iran’s reported intervention in Iraq’s semiautonomous northern Kurdish region, after last month’s much criticized vote for independence in a referendum, has deepened the unease.;After his talks in Riyadh, Tillerson flew to the Qatari capital of Doha, a direct route that has been closed to commercial airlines since June when the now-five-month old crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates erupted, ostensibly over terrorism financing. Qatar and Bahrain are home to the largest U.S. military bases in the Middle East.

Tillerson has attempted to facilitate a dialogue through talks with the feuding parties as well as supporting a Kuwaiti mediation effort but has thus far been unsuccessful. He renewed those calls but allowed that progress seemed unlikely. “We cannot force talks between parties who are not ready to talk,” he said.

“The United States remains concerned that the dispute has had negative consequences economically and militarily; the U.S. has felt these effects as well,” he said. “None of us can afford to let this dispute linger. We ask that everyone ease the rhetoric and deescalate the tensions.”

Tillerson noted that the only country benefiting from the crisis is Iran, which is now Qatar’s lifeline as its neighbors have sealed their land, sea and air borders. He said Qatar’s new reliance on Iranian airspace is “the most immediate and obvious gain that Iran has.”

“Anytime there is conflict and destabilization among countries that are typically allies, someone will always come in to exploit those differences,” he added.

Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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Tillerson seeks Arab help in US effort to isolate Iran
Tillerson seeks Arab help in US effort to isolate Iran
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

The Latest: House forced to revote on GOP tax bill Wednesday

AP Photo
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the push in Congress to pass a sweeping tax cut bill (all times local):

4:50 p.m.

Democrats say three provisions in the Republican $1.5 trillion tax bill violate Senate rules and will likely be removed before that chamber votes on the measure.

The House approved the legislation Tuesday. But this means the House will have to vote again on the legislation once it’s been amended and approved by the Senate.

Senate passage was expected Tuesday night or early Wednesday. GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office says the House would reconsider the bill Wednesday morning and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Democrats said the Senate parliamentarian had found three items that violated Senate rules.

These included one provision that would let families use tax-advantaged 529 accounts for home-schooling expenses.

The problem was revealed by Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden.

3:50 p.m.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (skuh-LEES’) says the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee should retain his position even though he voted against the GOP tax overhaul, the most important vote of the year to Republican leaders.

Scalise says New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (FREE’-ling-hy-zehn) long ago informed GOP leaders that he opposed the bill because of its impact on high-tax states such as New Jersey. Frelinghuysen voted against the bill Tuesday, leading some House conservatives to say he should be replaced as Appropriations chair.

Scalise called that an overreaction, saying Frelinghuysen is “doing a really good job in a tough position” on Appropriations.

Scalise praised an emergency spending bill largely crafted by Frelinghuysen that will offer $81 billion in emergency aid to states hard-hit by hurricanes and wildfires.

3:45 p.m.

A sweeping tax package speeding its way through Congress has cleared a key procedural vote in the Senate.

The Senate voted 51-48 to begin debating the bill. The House passed the bill Tuesday afternoon and the Senate is expected to pass it Tuesday evening, sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The $1.5 trillion package would provide steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy and more modest cuts for middle- and low-income families. The business tax cuts would take effect in January. Workers would start to see changes in the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks in February.

The bill would nearly double the standard deduction used by most taxpayers, while those who itemize would lose some deductions

3:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump is celebrating the House’s passage of sweeping Republican tax legislation on Twitter.

Trump in a tweet is congratulating House Speaker Paul Ryan along with Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and what he said were “all great House Republicans who voted in favor of cutting your taxes!”

The $1.5 trillion package would provide steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy and more modest cuts for middle- and low-income families.

The bill is now headed to the Senate for an expected vote Tuesday evening.

It’s Trump’s first major legislative win to date.

—-

2:05 p.m.

The House has passed the most sweeping rewrite of the nation’s tax laws in more than three decades. The bill now goes to the Senate for an expected vote Tuesday evening.

The House approved the bill by a mostly party line vote of 227-203. The bill represents the first major legislative victory for President Donald Trump.

The $1.5 trillion package would provide steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy and more modest cuts for middle- and low-income families. The business tax cuts would take effect in January. Workers would start to see changes in the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks in February.

The bill would nearly double the standard deduction used by most taxpayers, while those who itemize would lose some deductions.

2 p.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is hailing the Republican tax package, saying “today, we give the people of this country their money back.”

Ryan was wrapping up debate on the House floor on Tuesday ahead of the vote on the $1.5 trillion tax package. It was the realization of Ryan’s yearslong work on tax policy.

Protesters disagreed.

On woman yelled from the visitors’ gallery: “You’re lying. You’re lying. Only rich will benefit.” She was escorted out of the chamber by Capitol Police.

Another woman told the Wisconsin Republican he needs to learn math.

1:50 p.m.

Several protesters have briefly disrupted House debate on the tax bill, yelling, “kill the bill. Don’t kill us.”

Police removed the demonstrators from the visitors’ gallery and debate proceeded, with Republicans and Democrats alternating in speaking about the $1.5 trillion package.

Several Democratic lawmakers applauded. The last protester escorted out of the gallery nodded toward the Democrats and said, “thank you.” Republicans did not applaud, but several could be seen smiling.

The House was expected to pass the bill shortly.

12:05 p.m.

A sweeping tax package speeding its way through Congress has cleared a key procedural vote in the House.

The House approved the rule to begin debating the bill by a mostly party line vote of 233-193. The House is on track to pass the bill Tuesday afternoon, sending it to the Senate for an expected vote Tuesday evening.

The $1.5 trillion package would provide steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy and more modest cuts for middle- and low-income families. The business tax cuts would take effect in January. Workers would start to see changes in the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks in February.

The bill would nearly double the standard deduction used by most taxpayers, which those who itemize would lose some deductions.

10:25 a.m.

Gleeful House Republicans are taking a victory lap ahead of expected passage of their tax package.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, members of the GOP hailed the bill that would slash taxes for businesses and the wealthy while offering modest cuts for other Americans.

Republicans argue that corporations, flush with cash, will create more jobs and boost the economy.

Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters: “This is the greatest example of a promise being made and a promise being kept.”

Ryan rejected polling that shows the bill is widely unpopular. He insisted that “results are going to make this popular.”

Ryan was joined by other members of the House GOP leadership who called the day historic and praised the legislation.

The House was expected to vote around 2 p.m. The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday evening.

—-

8:45 a.m.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the tax overhaul legislation facing votes today in Congress is a “huge deal for America.”

Speaking on “Fox and Friends” Tuesday, Sanders said, “Today is a huge day, not just for the White House, not just for Congress but most importantly for America.”

Sanders said middle class Americans will “see the biggest benefit out of this tax package.”

The sweeping $1.5 trillion tax bill slashes the tax rate for corporations from 35 percent to 21 percent and reduces taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while making more modest tax reductions for most others.

It’s not expected to win any Democratic votes. Speaking in front of the White House, she said Democratic lawmakers should have been “banging down the door of the building behind me to be part of this process.”

—-

6:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump is hailing the performance of the stock market as the House and Senate brace for votes that majority Republicans are confident will produce the most far-reaching overhaul of the U.S. tax code in decades.

In an early morning tweet Tuesday, Trump savors what would be his biggest legislative accomplishment as president, and says “DOW RISES 5000 POINTS ON THE YEAR FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER – MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

He also says, “Stocks and the economy have a long way to go after the Tax Cut Bill is totally understood and appreciated in scope and size.”

The president adds, “Immediate expensing will have a big impact. Biggest Tax Cuts and Reform EVER passed. Enjoy. And create many beautiful JOBS!”

3:55 a.m.

Their long-sought political goal within grasp, Republicans in Congress are set to catapult sweeping $1.5 trillion tax legislation through the House, rolling over a dozen GOP defectors from high-tax states.

The Republicans’ final drive to deliver the tax package to an eager President Donald Trump begins Tuesday with a vote in the House. Quickly following, a vote later in the day or on Wednesday in the Senate is expected to seal the deal. Both tallies likely will cling along party lines.

The Senate result was in doubt in recent weeks. Only on Friday did Republican leaders cement the needed support for the legislation, securing endorsements from wavering GOP senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Corker of Tennessee. More holdout GOP senators- moderate Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Lee of Utah – came into the fold on Monday.

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The Latest: House forced to revote on GOP tax bill Wednesday
The Latest: House forced to revote on GOP tax bill Wednesday
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

The Latest: GOP House chairman criticizes Democratic memo

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the Democratic memo that aims to counter GOP allegations that the FBI abused government surveillance powers in its investigation into Russian election interference (all times local):

7:15 p.m.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is dismissing a memo about the Russia election probe that has been declassified by Democrats.

In a statement, Republican congressman Devin Nunes of California reiterates his allegation that the FBI abused a secret surveillance process to spy on a campaign adviser to President Donald Trump, Carter Page.

The Democratic memo, written by Nunes’ colleagues on the committee, seeks to rebut those claims in part by detailing allegations of Russian attempts to cultivate Page as a spy.

In response, Page calls the memo “misinformation” and “the latest smear campaign” by Democratic Party loyalists.

6:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump is dismissing the Democratic memo about Russia election meddling as “a total and legal BUST.”

Democrats on the House intelligence committee on Saturday released the memo in an effort to rebut GOP claims that the FBI abused U.S. government surveillance powers in its investigation into Russian election interference.

In a series of tweets Saturday, Trump criticized the memo and asserted, “Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!”

5:40 p.m.

The White House says a Democratic memo rebutting GOP claims of surveillance abuses in the FBI’s Russia investigation fails to answer serious questions.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says questions raised by a memo released earlier by Republicans on the House intelligence committee cover the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate as the basis for asking a federal court to approve surveillance of a former associate of a rival candidate.

Sanders says the Democratic memo is “politically driven.”

She says nothing in the memo counters the fact, as the president has been insisting, that neither he nor his campaign ever colluded with a foreign power during the 2016 election.

The White House objected to its release Feb. 9, citing national security concerns. Democrats have since negotiated with the FBI on what material should be blacked out.

5:15 p.m.

A memo released by House Democrats details alleged efforts by Russian operatives to recruit a former Trump campaign aide as a spy.

Carter Page was targeted for recruitment in 2013 by a pair of Russians indicted by the U.S. government. The FBI asked Page about his contacts in a March 2016 interview, according to the memo.

The memo released Saturday cites evidence that was included in applications to conduct surveillance on Page.

The memo also details Russian attempts to cultivate Page as a spy. It cites a federal indictment of two Russian spies who allegedly targeted Page for recruitment and notes that the FBI interviewed him based on those suspicions in March 2016.

In response to the Democratic memo, Page calls it “misinformation” and “the latest smear campaign” by Democratic Party loyalists.

4:55 p.m.

Democrats have released a memo rebutting GOP claims that the FBI abused U.S. government surveillance powers in its investigation into Russian election interference.

The declassified Democratic memo seeks to dispute a main contention from a declassified GOP memo released earlier this month.

The GOP document accused the FBI and Justice Department of using information compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele to obtain a secret warrant to monitor a Trump associate without revealing that Steele’s materials were funded by Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Republicans had said that federal authorities had not disclosed enough to the court about the political nature of the work.

But the Democratic memo contends that the Justice Department disclosed “the assessed political motivation of those who hired him.”

4:30 p.m.

Congress has released a redacted, declassified memo that aims to counter GOP allegations that the FBI abused government surveillance powers in its investigation into Russian election interference.

The release comes after weeks of back and forth over how much of the Democratic document would be redacted. The White House objected to its release Feb. 9, citing national security concerns. Democrats have since negotiated with the FBI on what should be blacked out.

President Donald Trump had less concern about an earlier classified memo written by Republicans, which he declassified Feb. 2 over strong objections from the FBI. Trump claims the GOP memo “vindicates” him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, though other Republicans have disagreed.

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The Latest: GOP House chairman criticizes Democratic memo
The Latest: GOP House chairman criticizes Democratic memo
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Moore tells supporters 'battle is not over' in Senate race

AP Photo
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Republican Roy Moore on Friday told supporters that the “battle is not over” in Alabama’s Senate race even though President Donald Trump and others have called on him to concede.

Moore sent a fundraising email to supporters asking for contributions to his “election integrity fund’ so he could investigate reports of voter fraud.

“I also wanted to let you know that this battle is NOT OVER!” he wrote.

Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday defeated Moore by about 20,000 votes, or 1.5 percent, according to unofficial returns. But Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, has not yet conceded the heated Alabama race to fill the seat that previously belonged to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Moore told supporters that the race was “close” and some military and provisional ballots had yet to be counted. Those are expected to be counted next week.

Moore said his campaign is collecting “numerous reported cases of voter fraud” to send to the secretary of state’s office.

Secretary of State John Merrill has said it is unlikely that the last-minute ballots will change the outcome of the election or even trigger a recount.

Merrill said his office has investigated reports of voting irregularities, but “we have not discovered any that have been proven factual in nature.”

Trump, who had endorsed Moore, called Jones to congratulate him on his win. Trump on Friday said that he believed Moore should concede the race.

The results of Alabama’s Senate race will be certified between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3 after counties report their official totals.

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Moore tells supporters 'battle is not over' in Senate race
Moore tells supporters 'battle is not over' in Senate race
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Pompeo defends Trump on Russia, won't talk about Mueller

AP Photo
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Pompeo, the CIA director nominated to be secretary of state, defended the Trump administration’s efforts to push back on aggression from Russia at his confirmation hearing Thursday while suggesting more sanctions on Moscow are still needed. Yet he dodged repeatedly when Democrats tried to pin him down on President Donald Trump’s handling of the special investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Pompeo confirmed for the first time publicly that he’s been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign and possible obstruction of justice issues. But he wouldn’t answer questions about the contents of the interview, arguing it would be improper since, as CIA director in charge of overseas intelligence gathering, he has been a “participant” in Mueller’s probe.

“I cooperated,” Pompeo said.

Under questioning, he said he would be unlikely to resign as secretary of state if Trump were to fire Mueller. Lawmakers are concerned the president may seek Mueller’s ouster to try to shut down the investigation, and the White House has said it believes Trump does have the authority to fire him if desired.

“My instincts tell me no,” Pompeo said. “My instincts tell me my obligation to continue to serve as America’s senior diplomat will be more important in times of domestic political turmoil.”

As for the prospect of leading the State Department, Pompeo pledged to make the department as central to national security decisions as the intelligence agency he now heads.

Throughout the hearing, he drew a sharp contrast with his ousted predecessor, Rex Tillerson. He lamented the “demoralizing” vacancies at the top echelons of the department during Tillerson’s tenure and said he planned to fill those vacancies, asking the Senate’s help to get nominees confirmed.

He cast his close connection to Trump as an advantage that would help him restore the significance of the department.

“My relationship with President Trump is due to one thing: We’ve demonstrated value to him at the CIA. So, in turn, he has come to rely on us,” Pompeo said. “I intend to ensure that the Department of State will be just as central to the president’s policies and the national security of the United States.”

He sought to pre-empt concerns about Trump’s apparent unwillingness to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin directly. He said a long list of punitive actions taken under Trump show the U.S. takes the threat from Russia seriously, adding that “we need to push back in each place we confront them,” including the economic and cyber arenas.

“Each of those tools that Vladimir Putin is using, we need to do our best to make sure he doesn’t succeed,” Pompeo said.

His remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were the first chance for lawmakers and the public to hear directly from the former Kansas congressman about his approach to diplomacy and the role of the State Department, should he be confirmed. Pompeo’s views on global issues are well known – he was questioned extensively by senators for his confirmation to run the CIA – but Democratic senators have raised questions about his fitness to be top diplomat, given his hawkish views and past comments about minorities.

An avowed opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, Pompeo said he’d work immediately if confirmed to “fix” the agreement that Trump has threatened to abandon if it’s not strengthened. Pompeo wouldn’t say explicitly if he’d advocate a withdrawal if there’s no fix by Trump’s May 12 deadline, suggesting there could be an extension if significant progress was being made by then. Still, he affirmed that he won’t support staying in over the long term unless more restrictions are placed on Tehran.

“If there’s no chance that we can fix it, I will recommend to the president that we work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and to achieve a better deal,” Pompeo said.

Still, he acknowledged that Iran, technically speaking, is not violating the terms of the 2015 accord between the U.S., Iran and other world powers, adding: “I have seen no evidence that they are not in compliance.”

Since being nominated last month, Pompeo has spent much of his time at the State Department immersing himself in briefing books and undergoing mock hearings and prep meetings on key issues like Iran, Syria and North Korea, as well as the inner workings of the department, a person close to Pompeo said. He’s also spoken to all eight living former secretaries – including Hillary Clinton, whom he famously criticized over the 2012 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

Pompeo’s chief goal Thursday was to convince senators that he intends to strengthen the State Department and re-establish its relevance as a major player in national security policy.

That message reflects Pompeo’s clear desire to show he’s turning the page on the era of Tillerson, who left scores of top positions unfilled and the diplomatic corps dispirited before being unceremoniously fired by Trump on Twitter in March.

Pompeo, who was confirmed for the CIA job by a 66-32 vote, developed a reputation for being more outwardly political than many past directors of the traditionally apolitical agency. He developed a visibly close relationship with the president, traveling to the White House on most days to deliver the classified President’s Daily Brief in person rather than leaving the task to other intelligence officials. Often Trump would have the CIA director stay in the West Wing after the briefing to accompany him to other meetings.

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.

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Pompeo defends Trump on Russia, won't talk about Mueller
Pompeo defends Trump on Russia, won't talk about Mueller
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in $52.4B deal

AP Photo
AP Photo/Richard Drew

NEW YORK (AP) — Disney is buying a large part of the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox for about $52.4 billion in stock, including film and television studios and cable and international TV businesses, as it tries to meet competition from technology companies in the entertainment business.

The deal gives Disney film businesses including Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox 2000, which together are the homes of Avatar, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool. On the television side, Disney will get Twentieth Century Fox Television, FX Productions and Fox21, with shows including “The Simpsons” and “Modern Family.”

21st Century Fox shareholders will receive 0.2745 Disney shares for each share they own. The transaction also includes approximately $13.7 billion in debt.

Robert Iger will continue as chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co. through the end of 2021. Disney said Thursday that it anticipates the acquisition providing at least $2 billion in cost savings. Both companies’ boards have approved the deal. It still needs approval from Disney and 21st Century Fox shareholders.

Before the buyout, 21st Century Fox will separate the Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1, FS2 and Big Ten Network into a newly listed company that will be spun off to its shareholders. It will also include the company’s studio lot in Los Angeles and equity investment in Roku.

That Rupert Murdoch and his sons were willing to sell off much of the business that has been built up over decades came as a shock to the entertainment industry.

The entertainment business is going through big changes. TV doesn’t have a monopoly on home entertainment anymore. There’s Netflix, which is spending up to $8 billion on programming next year. Amazon is building its own library, having splashed out on global TV rights to “Lord of the Rings.” Facebook, Google and Apple are also investing in video.

As consumers spend more time online, TV’s share of U.S. ad spending is shrinking. Advertisers are following consumer attention to the internet, where Google and Facebook win the vast majority of advertisers’ dollars.

“We’ve been talking about cord cutting for the better part of a decade. But now it’s real,” USC Annenberg communications professor Chris Smith said. The media companies have to compete with the internet giants for consumers’ attention – and the younger generations pay more attention to YouTube, Facebook and other “platforms” than traditional TV, Smith said.

To combat this trend, Disney is launching new ESPN- and Disney-branded streaming services over the next couple of years. It could beef them up with some of the assets it’s acquiring from Fox, making them exclusive to its services and sharpening its ability to compete with Netflix for consumer dollars. During a conference call with investors, Disney CEO Bob Iger said many Fox properties will fit with the new service, including possibly National Geographic and additional Marvel productions.

“The core underlying driver for this deal in our opinion is the impending battle royale for content and streaming services vs. the Netflix machine,” GBH analyst Daniel Ives wrote.

Not everyone thinks this is a good bet by Disney, though. Rich Greenfield, a longtime Disney critic, thinks the deal is a bad idea that ties Disney to older TV-distribution systems – cable and satellite TV – rather than helping it look toward the future.

He also notes that regulators may not like the idea of combining two major movie studios. The Justice Department surprised many in the industry and on Wall Street when it sued to block another media megamerger, AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, in November.

MURDOCH FAMILY TAKES A BOW

Rupert Murdoch built 21st Century Fox and News Corp. out of an inheritance from his father in Australia. He bought a string of papers there, in the U.K. and the U.S., building an influential platform for his views. He expanded into TV and movies, launching the Fox network and Fox News and changing the face of American news and entertainment.

“Rupert has spent many, many years assembling the components of his empire,” said NYU business professor Samuel Craig, who specializes in the entertainment industry.

Rupert Murdoch has ostensibly already handed the reins over to a new generation at Fox. His son James is CEO, while his other son, Lachlan, like Rupert, has the title of executive chairman.

The Murdoch empire has already been divided. After a phone-hacking newspaper scandal in the U.K., News Corp. was split off into a separate company for the publishing and newspaper businesses, which include the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Sun and The Times in the U.K., and book publisher HarperCollins. Now Fox is also being split up as the company sets itself up to deal with the growing power of the tech industry.

“The Murdochs realize they don’t have the same kind of leverage Disney has, the same kind of brand power,” Smith said.

It would be harder to launch a Fox-branded streaming service that attracts lots of the new generation of consumers, for example. Smith said that makes it a great time to sell off the entertainment business.

Fox is also selling to Disney its substantial overseas operations. It is offloading its 39 percent stake in European satellite-TV and broadcaster Sky after running into regulatory roadblocks in the U.K. trying to take over the rest of the company, in part because of how Fox handled the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News. Disney is also acquiring Star India, a major media company with dozens of sports and entertainment channels.

Fox will be left with the live events, news and sports, that are key parts of the traditional TV bundle. There is speculation that the Murdochs would want to recombine what’s the slimmed-down Fox with News Corp.

MIGHTIER MOUSE

The Disney-branded service, expected in 2019, will have classic and upcoming movies from the studio, shows from Disney Channel, and the “Star Wars” and Marvel movies.

Disney will also win majority control of Hulu, both its live-TV service and the older service with a big library of TV shows.

Disney could continue to add movies and TV shows from Fox’s library to its services, making them more attractive compared with Netflix’s offerings. The combined libraries of the Disney and Fox movie and TV studios could have more titles than Netflix, Barclays analyst Kannan Venkateshwar said. Buying Fox’s FX networks will add edgy TV shows that complement Disney’s long list of kid-friendly series and films, he said.

Greenfield, however, notes that a lot of programming wouldn’t be immediately available to Disney. Fox movies are exclusive to HBO through 2022, for example.

Disney also plans an ESPN Plus service for next year. It isn’t a duplicate of the ESPN TV network, but it will stream tennis matches along with major-league baseball, hockey and soccer games, as well as college sports. It might be able to add more sports through Fox’s 22 local sports networks – cable channels that show popular sports in the viewer’s region.

Disney also owns Marvel, but not all the Marvel characters. It’s made movies starring Thor, Doctor Strange and Captain America and the Avengers crew. But the X-Men are at Fox. Bringing them home under one roof could mean movies with more of the characters together.

AP Business Writer Michelle Chapman in West Orange, New Jersey, and AP Technology Writer Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.

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Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in .4B deal
Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in .4B deal
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Source: AP HEADLINES

AP review: Push for gun laws faces resistance in most states

AP Photo
AP Photo/Manuel Valdes

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The campaign for tighter gun laws that inspired unprecedented student walkouts across the country still faces an uphill climb in a majority of states, an Associated Press review of gun legislation found.

The AP survey of bill activity in state legislatures before and after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting provides a reality check on the ambitions of the “Enough is Enough” movement. It suggests that votes like the one in Florida, where Republican lawmakers defied the National Rifle Association to pass new gun regulations, are unlikely to be repeated in many other states, at least not this year.

The student-led activism might yet lead to future reforms, but for now, the gun debate among most lawmakers still falls along predictable and largely partisan lines, with few exceptions, according to the analysis.

Because Congress shows no sign of acting, state legislatures dominate the national debate over guns. And major changes won’t be easy to achieve in statehouses that are mostly controlled by the gun-friendly GOP.

Republicans have sponsored more than 80 percent of bills that would expand gun rights, while Democrats have introduced more than 90 percent of bills to limit them. The total number of gun-rights and gun-control bills identified by AP statehouse reporters is roughly equal – about 300 in each category.

Many of the Democratic gun-control bills have been introduced in legislatures dominated by Republicans, meaning they have little or no chance of passing.

“I think (the) public attitude has changed, but I don’t see a big change here in the Legislature,” said Iowa Rep. Art Staed, a Democrat who sought unsuccessfully after the Parkland attack to force the Iowa House to consider allowing courts to temporarily seize guns from dangerous individuals. “It’s been very frustrating.”

Iowa’s GOP-controlled Legislature, which last year approved a historic expansion of gun rights, has not held hearings on Democratic proposals to ban assault-style weapons, prohibit high-capacity magazines or expand background checks. Instead, lawmakers have considered more pro-gun initiatives, including a bill to allow residents to carry handguns without obtaining permits and a resolution to enshrine the right to bear arms in the Iowa Constitution.

Iowa Gun Owners, a “no-compromise gun lobby,” has mobilized its members to pressure Republican lawmakers to hold firm.

“We’re not going to back off any advocacy of expanding gun rights,” Executive Director Aaron Dorr said.

After the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, public support for gun control reached the highest point since 1993, with two-thirds of Americans supporting stricter laws, according to a Gallup Poll released Wednesday.

Several corporations have also cut ties with the NRA, and some retailers have announced they will no longer sell rifles to anyone under 21. But the response in states has been more predictable.

Some Democratic-controlled states with restrictive gun and ammunition laws are moving to tighten them further. Aside from Florida, Republican-led states have mostly rejected new gun-control measures and instead are weighing whether to arm teachers and allow more guns in public places.

Several states are considering raising the age to buy rifles to 21 or debating “red flag” laws that would allow courts to order the temporary seizure of guns from people showing signs of mental distress or violence. But even those are running into resistance from pro-gun lawmakers.

In Idaho, lawmakers rejected a plan that would have would prohibited convicted domestic abusers from owning guns, a measure that many states have adopted to enforce a similar federal ban.

In Utah, lawmakers defeated GOP House Speaker Greg Hughes’ version of a red flag law, which would have allowed a family member or roommate to ask a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who is acting dangerously.

“This, to me, is more of a gun-confiscation effort than it is a public-safety measure,” Utah Republican Rep. Brian Greene said.

Democratic lawmakers who control the Illinois Legislature acted swiftly after the Parkland assault to approve a long-debated bill requiring state licensing for firearms dealers, a measure intended to increase oversight and eliminate straw sales. But Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure Tuesday, saying it would hurt small businesses and do little to stop violence.

NRA leader Wayne LaPierre said this week that his group would oppose all “failed gun control” plans, including proposals to raise the gun-buying age, require background checks on private gun sales and transfers or ban semi-automatic rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Gun-control advocates see major progress in Florida’s new law, which raises the rifle-buying age, creates a three-day waiting period to buy long guns and allows law enforcement to seek a court order to prevent access to guns for people who show signs of violence or mental illness. It also allows some teachers to be armed and bans bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic ones.

Both sides are also watching traditionally gun-friendly Vermont, where the Republican governor recently abandoned his stance against new gun control laws after the arrest of an 18-year-old accused of plotting a school shooting. Hunters packed the Capitol this week to protest some curbs being considered by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The divide over how to respond has left young people like Alexia Medero wondering if change will ever come. The senior at Parkland High School outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, was one of hundreds who walked out of class Wednesday and attended a campus rally dubbed #parklandforparkland. After the event, she said she worries that the activism won’t produce any real change.

“I’m afraid that with this shooting, like the others, people are going to mourn the victims and then a few months later forget about it,” she said. “And nothing will happen.”

Associated Press writers Michelle Price in Salt Lake City and Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.

Follow Ryan Foley at https://twitter.com/rjfoley .

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AP review: Push for gun laws faces resistance in most states
AP review: Push for gun laws faces resistance in most states
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Source: AP HEADLINES

The Latest: Austin authorities: Another explosion reported

AP Photo
AP Photo/Eric Gay

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Latest on serial bombings in Texas (all times local):

7:30 p.m.

Austin authorities say emergency personnel are responding to another reported explosion, this one at a Goodwill store in the southern part of the city.

Austin-Travis County EMS tweeted Thursday evening that at least one person was injured but that details about the severity of those injuries and the explosion itself were unknown.

It would mark the sixth explosion in the Austin area since March 2. So far, two people have been killed and four others seriously wounded.

6:58 p.m.

The FBI says a suspicious package reported at a FedEx distribution center near the Austin airport “contained an explosive device.”

In a statement Tuesday evening, the FBI said no one was injured when law enforcement responded to a report of a suspicious package at the facility around 6:20 a.m.

Hours earlier, a separate package exploded at a FedEx shipping center in Schertz, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of Austin.

The FBI said both packages were related to the other four bombings that have rocked Austin since March 2, killing two people and badly wounding four others.

5:30 p.m.

The chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security committee says federal authorities informed him investigators have obtained surveillance videos in Austin that “could possibly” show a suspect in the package bombing at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio.

Congressman Michael McCaul told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he’s been briefed by the FBI, ATF and Austin police about the situation. But he adds that investigators are still poring through the surveillance recordings.

Austin police earlier said another suspicious package was discovered at a second FedEx center near Austin’s main airport. McCaul says evidence obtained from that package if kept intact could be key in finding the bomber.

McCaul, whose district includes Austin, says he hopes the bomber’s “biggest mistake was going through FedEx.”

3:45 p.m.

FedEx says it has turned over “extensive evidence” to authorities after a package exploded at its processing center in the town of Schertz, south of Austin.

In a statement, the company says “the individual responsible” for sending the package that blew up also shipped a second package that has been secured and turned over to law enforcement.

FedEx says it gave authorities evidence “related to these packages and the individual that shipped them collected from our advanced technology security systems.”

A company spokeswoman subsequently refused to say if that second package might have been linked to a suspicious package that authorities seized at another FedEx shipping facility on Tuesday, this one in south Austin, near the city’s airport.

No arrests have been made in the five bombings that have rocked the Austin area since March 2

3:25 p.m.

The chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security committee says he thinks the latest package explosion in Texas will lead to more evidence, “hopefully fingerprints and surveillance photos.”

Congressman Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, made the comments Tuesday at a White House roundtable discussion on so-called sanctuary cities. It’s not clear whether McCaul was speaking with knowledge of specific information in the case.

McCaul also thanked President Donald Trump for sending 500 federal agents to Austin “to find this perpetrator and bring him to justice.”

A package exploded early Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the package was sent from Austin and was addressed to a home in Austin.

Four other package bombs have exploded in Austin since March 2.

3:10 p.m.

An employee at a FedEx center in Austin says managers ordered workers outside before sunrise after a suspicious package showed up.

Bryan Jaimes told reporters Tuesday he estimates there were about 60 people working at the facility near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport when the building was cleared out.

The 19-year-old package handler says workers left calmly and that he’s glad he made it out safe. He returned to the center hours later hoping to be allowed back in to get his car and phone. The facility remains closed.

Jaimes says he never received new guidance from managers about handling packages as Austin authorities look for what they’ve called a “serial bomber.” He said his job is to load the trucks.

1:20 p.m.

The San Antonio Police Department says its police chief was mistaken when he said that investigators found a second package bomb that hadn’t detonated at a FedEx distribution center.

The department says in a news release police Chief William McManus misspoke at a news conference earlier Tuesday and that there was only one package bomb at the Schertz facility – the one that exploded.

It forwarded any inquiries to the FBI and Austin Police Department.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton earlier told The Associated Press that there was a “suspicion” of another package, but he stopped short of confirming there were two.

Officials say the package bomb that exploded early Tuesday apparently went out from a FedEx store in the Austin enclave of Sunset Valley and was addressed to an Austin home. It blew up on a conveyer belt at the FedEx ground center in Schertz, which is outside of San Antonio and about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin.

12:45 p.m.

Austin police say they’ve called the bomb squad to investigate a suspicious package at a FedEx shipping center outside of the city’s airport.

Austin police spokeswoman Destiny Winston said Tuesday that the package was reported shortly before sunrise. She says federal investigators were called to the scene as a precaution due to “past events.”

Four package bombs have detonated in Austin this month, killing two people and injuring four others. A fifth that officials say was sent from the Austin area to an address in Austin exploded early Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio, where investigators found another parcel bomb that hadn’t exploded.

12:30 p.m.

Austin police say they’ve responded to more than 1,200 calls in the last two weeks from people worried that suspicious packages could be bombs.

Police said Tuesday that they’ve responded to 1,257 calls since March 12, when packages exploded at two homes in Austin, killing a 17-year-old and injuring two others. On March 2, a 39-year-old man was killed when a package bomb exploded.

On Sunday, a bomb triggered by a tripwire injured two men in a quiet neighborhood in southwest Austin.

Police say that between 8 a.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Tuesday, they responded to 420 calls about suspicious packages.

Officials say a bomb that exploded early Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio went out from an Austin-area FedEx store and was addressed to an Austin home.

12:15 p.m.

Investigators have closed off an Austin-area FedEx store from where officials say two package bombs were sent to a distribution center near San Antonio, including one that detonated.

Authorities have roped off a large area around the shopping center in the Austin enclave of Sunset Valley where the store is located. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the parcel bomb that exploded early Tuesday in the distribution center in Schertz was mailed from Austin and addressed to an Austin home.

The police department in Sunset Valley, which is surrounded on all sides by Austin, says it appears that both package bombs that made it to the Schertz facility went out from the Sunset Valley store.

Authorities suspect the parcel bombs are linked to the four bombs that have killed two people and injured four others in Austin this month.

11:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump is blaming a “very sick individual or individuals” for a series of bombings in Austin, Texas.

Trump said during an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the situation is “terrible.”

He says, “This is obviously a very sick individual or individuals” and that authorities are “working to get to the bottom of it.”

Trump’s comments came hours after an early-morning explosion at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio. Authorities say it was a bomb addressed to an Austin home that had been sent from Texas’ capital city. Investigators found a second bomb at the facility that hadn’t exploded.

Authorities believe the latest parcel bombs are linked to the four bombings this month in Austin that have killed two people and injured four others.

11:20 a.m.

Texas’ attorney general says the package that exploded at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio was sent from Austin and was addressed to a home in Austin.

Attorney General Ken Paxton also told television station KXAN that a second parcel bomb that didn’t explode was found at the FedEx facility in Schertz. San Antonio police Chief William McManus told a news conference there that the second package was no longer at the facility.

Authorities say one of the parcel bombs detonated at around 1 a.m. Tuesday while it was on a conveyer belt in the facility, which is about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin. One worker suffered minor injuries.

Paxton didn’t provide details on where the packages were addressed to.

Investigators believe the explosives are linked to the four bombings that have killed two people and injured four others in Austin this month.

10:30 a.m.

Authorities say the package that exploded at a FedEx ground facility near San Antonio was on a conveyer belt when it detonated.

Schertz police Chief Michael Hansen said at a news conference that one worker reported feeling ringing in her ears after the early Tuesday blast, but she was treated and released.

Hansen said that the intended target of the parcel bomb wasn’t the facility or anyone who lives in Schertz, which is about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin. But neither Hansen nor federal agents who spoke at the news conference would say where the package was sent to or from or give any other details about the investigation, saying it was still unfolding.

An FBI spokeswoman, agent Michelle Lee, said earlier Tuesday “it would be silly for us not to admit that we suspect it’s related” to the four Austin bombings that have killed two people and injured four others since March 2.

8:45 a.m.

Austin police have deployed a hazardous materials squad to a FedEx shipping facility near the city’s airport to investigate reports of a suspicious package.

It isn’t known yet if the suspicious package is linked to a bomb that detonated earlier Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio or the four bombs that have gone off in Austin this month.

But the Austin Police Department says an investigation is underway.

The package that exploded earlier Tuesday at the FedEx facility in Schertz, about 60 miles southwest of Austin, slightly injured one worker. Authorities believe it is linked to what they say is a serial bomber responsible for the four Austin bombings since March 2.

8:35 a.m.

The White House says the federal government is doing “whatever is necessary” to apprehend whomever is responsible for a series of explosions in Austin, Texas.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells Fox News Channel that President Donald Trump is aware of the situation.

Sanders says federal authorities are working closely with local authorities and have offered their full support and cooperation “to make sure we’re doing whatever is necessary and whatever is possible” to stop the explosions and find whomever is responsible.

A package bomb that authorities believe is linked to the recent string of Austin bombings exploded early Tuesday inside of a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio. A worker suffered minor injuries.

Four other Austin bombings have killed two people and injured four others since March 2.

8:30 a.m.

A heavy law enforcement presence is surrounding the FedEx distribution center near San Antonio where a parcel bomb exploded, slightly injuring one worker.

The area around the facility in Schertz is heavily industrial and features warehouses and parking lots empty except for parked trailers.

A woman who identified herself as an FedEx employee emerged from the shipping facility wrapped in a blanket as the sun rose on Tuesday and said she’d been evacuated. She declined to give her name.

The FBI says a package exploded at the facility at around 1 a.m. on Tuesday.

Authorities believe it is linked to the four bombs that have detonated in the Texas capital of Austin this month. Those bombs killed two people and injured four others.

7:45 a.m.

The Austin Police Department says it is aware that a parcel bomb exploded overnight at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio and that it is working closely on the investigation with federal law enforcement agencies.

An FBI spokeswoman, agent Michelle Lee, says it is still early in the investigation into the early Tuesday bombing at the FedEx facility in Schertz, which left one worker with minor injuries. But she says “it would be silly for us not to admit that we suspect it’s related” to the four Austin bombings that have killed two people and injured four others since March 2.

The latest bombing in Austin injured two men on Sunday. Authorities say it was triggered by a tripwire and was a more sophisticated bomb than those used in the first three attacks, which were package bombs left on people’s doorsteps.

The Austin police are again warning people to call 911 if they come across suspicious packages, bags or other items that look out of place.

7 a.m.

Federal investigators say a package that exploded at a FedEx facility near San Antonio is believed to be linked to the string of bombings that has terrified the Texas capital this month.

Special Agent Michelle Lee of the FBI in San Antonio says she has no confirmed reports of any injuries in the blast. But the police department in Schertz, where the FedEx facility is located, issued a statement saying one person was treated at the scene and released.

Lee says it is still early in the investigation, but “it would be silly for us not to admit that we suspect it’s related” to the four Austin bombings that have killed two people and injured four others since March 2. The latest bombing in Austin injured two men on Sunday.

Lee didn’t have details about the size, weight or description of the package.

5:30 a.m.

Federal agents tell The Washington Post that a package bomb exploded around 1 a.m. Tuesday inside a FedEx distribution center in Schertz, Texas.

Spokeswomen for the FBI and the ATF say both agencies are at the scene.

The explosion happened at the facility just northeast of San Antonio sometime around 1 a.m., said FBI Special Agent Michelle Lee. ATF spokeswoman Nicole Strong said that early indications are that no one was injured.

5 a.m.

A website that monitors fire and police activity in San Antonio, Texas, says a package bomb has exploded at a FedEx distribution center in Schertz, Texas, hurting 1 person, a FedEx employee who apparently suffered a non-life-threatening “percussion-type” injury from the blast.

The FBI and ATF are at the scene. Federal agents say this package is likely linked to attacks by what they believe is a serial bomber. The package exploded shortly after midnight on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported erroneously earlier Tuesday that the San Antonio Fire Department said one person had suffered a non-life-threatening “percussion-type” injury from the blast. That information came from SanantonioFIRE, a local media website that reports on local police, fire and emergency service news, and could not immediately be independently confirmed.

1 a.m.

Police and federal agents said Sunday night’s blast triggered along a street by a nearly invisible tripwire suggests a “higher level of sophistication” than they have seen before in three early package bombs left on doorsteps, and means the carnage is now random, rather than targeted at someone in particular.

William Grote says the attack, by a suspected serial bomber that has terrorized Austin for weeks, left what appeared to be nails embedded in his grandson’s knees.

Two people are dead and four injured, and authorities don’t appear closer to making any arrests in the four bombings that have rocked the capital city.

Authorities haven’t identified the latest victims, but Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of the two men wounded in southwest Austin’s quiet Travis Country neighborhood. They suffered what police said were significant injuries and remained hospitalized in stable condition.

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The Latest: Austin authorities: Another explosion reported
The Latest: Austin authorities: Another explosion reported
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Portraits of Egypt's leader fill iconic Cairo Square

AP Photo
AP Photo/Amr Nabil

CAIRO (AP) — Seven years ago, Cairo’s Tahrir Square was filled with tens of thousands of Egyptians demanding change. Now it is plastered with portraits of the president, vowing continuity.

Almost all traces of the popular revolt that overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 are now gone. Instead there are banners and posters – dozens of them – showing a beaming Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the general-turned-president who’s running for re-election this week in a vote widely dismissed as a farce.

“What happened in Tahrir was the biggest threat to the network of corruption and theft throughout Egypt’s modern history,” said Wael Eskandar, a blogger and activist who took part in the protests that brought down Mubarak. “Tahrir symbolizes that threat and is a reminder that people can awaken and ask for their rights. That’s why el-Sissi and his regime insist on appropriating it to erase a nation’s memory.”

The election, which begins Monday with voting staggered over three days, nearly ended up as a one-man referendum, after all serious challengers were arrested or pressured into withdrawing. The only other candidate to make the ballot, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, is a little-known politician who supports el-Sissi and has made almost no effort to campaign against him.

Banners extolling el-Sissi, often bearing the names of local businessmen or organizations advertising their support, have proliferated across Egypt, prompting mockery from some critics. But it is in Tahrir Square, where mass protests raised hopes of democratic change in the Arab world’s most populous country, that the effect is most jarring.

In February 2011, protesters who had clashed with police and camped out in the square for 18 days erupted into cheers as the end of Mubarak’s 29-year-rule was announced on a giant screen. Now, a massive LCD monitor plays pro-Sissi videos on a perpetual loop.

“Everyone loves him,” said Hossam, as he left a store plastered with pro-el-Sissi posters. “Times are tight but we’re betting on him. He saved the country,” he said. He asked that his full name not be used, fearing reprisals for talking to foreign journalists, who are regularly vilified by Egypt’s pro-government media.

The 2011 uprising ushered in a period of instability, as Egypt’s military, the Muslim Brotherhood group and other Islamists, and a loose coalition of liberal parties vied for power. Egypt’s first freely elected president, the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, proved divisive, and in the summer of 2013 tens of thousands of people returned to Tahrir Square, demanding his resignation.

The military, under the leadership of el-Sissi, removed Morsi from power and launched a massive crackdown on the Brotherhood, which won a series of elections held after the 2011 uprising but is now outlawed as a terrorist group. Authorities have jailed thousands of Islamists as well as several well-known secular activists, including many who played a leading role in the 2011 uprising. The media is dominated by pro-government commentators, and hundreds of websites have been blocked.

El-Sissi has said such measures are necessary to restore stability and revive the economy in a country of 100 million, one that is grappling with widespread poverty and confronting an Islamic State-led insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

He has also enacted a series of long-overdue economic measures, such as cutting subsidies and floating the local currency, and has championed mega-projects aimed at improving infrastructure and providing jobs. The economy is showing signs of improvement, but the austerity measures have made it even harder for Egyptians to make ends meet in a country where more than a fourth of the population lives below the poverty line.

With heavy restrictions on public opinion polling and an absence of critical voices in the media, it’s impossible to know whether el-Sissi is as popular as the posters suggest. The best indication may come from turnout, which the government hopes will bolster the election’s legitimacy.

Mohammed, a deliveryman who asked that his full name not be published for fear of reprisal, didn’t know the name of the candidate running against el-Sissi and doesn’t plan on voting.

“Normal people don’t want (el-Sissi) to win. They would vote for any alternative, but there is no one,” he said. “People with money, of course, want him to stay. He defends their interests. That’s why they’re putting up all these posters.”

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Portraits of Egypt's leader fill iconic Cairo Square
Portraits of Egypt's leader fill iconic Cairo Square
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES