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The Journal Gazette

Friday, May 19, 2017 11:04 pm

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

The Associated Press

Report: FBI probe moves into White House

WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump told Russian diplomats last week his firing of "nut job" James Comey had eased the pressure on him, even as the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation had moved into the White House, according to reports Friday that pursued the president as he began his maiden foreign trip.

White House hopes that Trump could leave scandalous allegations at home were crushed in a one-two punch of revelations that landed shortly after his departure. A Washington Post report, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter, said a senior Trump adviser is now considered a "person of interest" in the law enforcement investigation into whether Trump's campaign associates coordinated with Russia in an effort to sway the 2016 election.

And The New York Times reported that the president had told Russian officials he felt the dismissal of his FBI director had relieved "great pressure" on him. The White House has said the firing was unrelated to the FBI's Russia investigation.

Late Friday, the Senate intelligence committee announced that Comey had agreed to testify at an open hearing at an undetermined date after Memorial Day.

Comey will certainly be asked about encounters that precipitated his firing, including a January dinner in which, Comey has told associates, Trump asked for his loyalty. In the Oval Office weeks later, Comey told associates, the president asked him to shut down an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

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Trump to Muslims on first foreign trip: Drive out terrorists

WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump will use his first visit to the Middle East to call for unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a "battle between good and evil" and urging Arab leaders to "drive out the terrorists from your places of worship," according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press.

Abandoning some of the harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric of his presidential campaign, the draft of the speech, slated to be delivered in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, envisions new partnerships with America's traditional allies in the Middle East. It notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights topics Arab leaders often view as U.S. moralizing in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.

"We are not here to lecture to tell other peoples how to live, what to do or who to be. We are here instead to offer partnership in building a better future for us all," the document said.

Trump left Washington Friday afternoon for Riyadh, the first stop on his maiden trip overseas trip as president. The marathon trip will also take him to Israel, the Vatican, Belgium and Italy. The trip is a key test of the president's diplomatic skills and a chance to add substance to a foreign policy he has described broadly as "America First."

Two different sources provided the AP with copies of the draft of his remarks, billed as a marquee speech of the trip. One version, obtained late Thursday, included edits with comments from an administration official, indicating it was still a work in progress.

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Weiner pleads guilty in sexting case, could go to prison

NEW YORK (AP) Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose penchant for sexting strangers ended his political career and sparked a probe that upended the presidential race, pleaded guilty Friday to a sex charge, tearfully apologizing for communications with a 15-year-old girl that he said destroyed his "life's dream in public service."

Weiner, who could go to prison, pleaded guilty to a single count of transmitting obscene material to a minor. He admitted exchanging online messages with the girl beginning in January 2015 and "sharing explicit images and encouraging her to engage in sexually explicit conduct."

"I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse," he said.

In court, the 52-year-old former Democratic congressman paused repeatedly as he fought back tears and tried to compose himself. He said he knew the texting was "as morally wrong as it was unlawful."

Pleading to the charge, which requires him to register as a sex offender, could bring a sentence of up to 10 years. But Weiner is likely to serve much less time if he is sentenced to prison.

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In New Orleans, Confederate monuments are gone _ Lee last

NEW ORLEANS (AP) They were among the city's oldest landmarks, as cemented to the landscape of New Orleans as the Superdome and St. Louis Cathedral: a stone obelisk heralding white supremacy and three statues of Confederate stalwarts.

But after decades standing sentinel over this Southern city, the Confederate monuments are gone, amid a controversy that at times hearkened back to the divisiveness of the Civil War they commemorated.

The last of the monuments a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee facing defiantly north with his arms crossed was lifted by a crane from its pedestal late Friday. As air was seen between Lee's statue and the pedestal below it, a cheer went out from the crowd who recorded the history with their phones and shook hands with each other in congratulations. Many in the crowd had waited since morning.

"I never thought I would see this day!" shouted Melanie Morel-Ensminger with joy. "But look! It's happening."

Lee's was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote on a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. It caps a nearly two-year-long process that has been railed against by those who feel the monuments are a part of Southern heritage and honor the dead. But removal of the monuments has drawn praise from those who saw them as brutal reminders of slavery and symbols of the historic oppression of black people.

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Prosecutors: Times Square driver wanted to 'kill them all'

NEW YORK (AP) A man who was behind the wheel of a car that barreled through crowds of pedestrians in Times Square told police after his arrest that he had been smoking marijuana laced with the hallucinogenic drug PCP, according to a criminal complaint.

Richard Rojas, 26, made his first court appearance Friday, a day after he was arrested in what police are now calling an intentional attack that killed an 18-year-old Michigan woman and injured 22 other people.

"He murdered in cold blood," Assistant District Attorney Harrison Schweiloch said during the brief proceeding.

Rojas, wearing the same red T-shirt and jeans he was photographed in a day earlier, appeared subdued as prosecutors detailed murder and attempted murder charges.

He didn't enter a plea and was held without bail.

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Rape inquiry dropped, WikiLeaks' Assange remains in embassy

LONDON (AP) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange no longer is the subject of an active rape investigation in Sweden, but he remains holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London facing an unclear future because of uncertainty over whether American authorities will try to get him handed over next.

Sweden's top prosecutor dropped a long-running inquiry into a rape claim against Assange on Friday, saying there was no way to detain or charge him "in the foreseeable future" because of his protected status inside the embassy.

Prosecutor Marianne Ny said she could not judge whether the 45-year-old Australian native was guilty or innocent because the investigation had been thwarted. Ny said the case could be reopened if Assange comes to Sweden before the statute of limitations expires in 2020.

British police said they would arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy on the relatively minor charge of jumping bail, but the more severe threat is a possible sealed U.S. indictment against him.

The sun-starved WikiLeaks provocateur, looking healthy if pale, emerged Friday afternoon to address the media in the open air of the embassy's balcony. He said the day marked an "important victory," but noted that he still could be prosecuted by the United States.

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Teen charged in death says 19-year-old shot Mississippi boy

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) A Mississippi teenager charged with murder in the death of a 6-year-old told investigators that the boy was actually shot by another of the three teen suspects, according to an investigator's sworn statement.

The Associated Press obtained the sworn statement Friday from a source with knowledge of the case involving the death of Kingston Frazier. The boy was found shot to death at the side of a dead-end road inside his mother's abandoned car, hours after someone stole the Toyota Camry from a supermarket parking lot.

Mississippi Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Rusty Clark said in the sworn statement filed in connection with the case that 17-year-old Dwan Wakefield of Ridgeland told Clark and another investigator 19-year-old Byron McBride of Pickens was at fault.

"During this interview, Wakefield implicated Byron McBride as the person who actually stole the vehicle and shot and killed Frazier," Clark's statement said.

When asked for further comment, MBI spokesman Warren Strain declined, saying "the court document speaks for itself."

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How did a drug bust in Bali become an Australian obsession?

SYDNEY (AP) She has riveted Australia for more than a decade, the everyday Aussie beach girl who somehow sparked diplomatic rows, furious protests and a media bonanza on par with America's O.J. Simpson trial. She is so notorious Down Under that she needs no last name: She's just Schapelle.

Next week, after an exhaustively chronicled stint in a Balinese prison for smuggling marijuana to the Indonesian island, Schapelle Corby is expected to return to Australia. Her homecoming marks the climax of a tale that divided and in many ways defined Australia, where the obsession with the woman the nation once protectively dubbed "Our Schapelle" has not faded, even if belief in her innocence has.

Not since the notorious case of Lindy Chamberlain whose baby daughter was killed by a dingo during an Outback camping trip has a legal saga so mesmerized the country. But exactly why Corby's plight achieved such prominence can be, at first glance, a bit puzzling. She wasn't famous before her arrest and she was hardly the first Aussie to be busted for drugs while traveling abroad. As The Australian newspaper once put it: "Corby is an ordinary suburban Australian woman who worked in a takeaway shop, saved up for a holiday in Bali, and somehow galvanized an entire nation."

Fueling the fixation was everything from the unprecedented media coverage of her trial, to the made-for-TV courtroom theatrics, to the empathy ordinary Australians felt for a woman they viewed as one of their own. Her case also coincided with an era of cultural upheaval, tapping into a surge of nationalism and fear heightened by bombings in Bali that killed 88 Australians just two years before Corby's arrest.

Anthony Lambert, who spent years studying Australia's response to the case, once described Corby as "the daughter who is Australia." And in some ways, she still is.

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Brazil's top prosecutor accuses Temer of obstructing justice

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil's top prosecutor is accusing President Michel Temer of corruption and obstruction of justice, according to an investigation released Friday by the supreme court, dramatically escalating pressure to force the embattled leader from office.

At the same time, other released documents said the owner of a major meatpacker has told prosecutors that he transferred $150 million to offshore accounts for the campaigns of Temer's two predecessors in the presidency.

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot's charges against Temer threaten to drive him from the presidency and represent an extraordinary development in a corruption probe that is upending politics and just about everything else in Latin America's largest nation.

For Temer, a 76-year-old career politician who was not elected, the fallout could cost him his job. Temer, then vice president, took power a year ago after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and later removed from office for illegally managing the federal budget.

By Friday afternoon, O Globo, the flagship paper of Brazil's largest media company, was calling for Temer's resignation, delivering a significant blow to Temer's prospects for survival. The media group had supported Temer's proposed economic overhaul, and more generally wields enormous influence because of its popular soap operas and media dominance.

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Iranians turn out in large numbers for closely watched vote

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Millions of Iranians voted late into the night Friday to decide whether incumbent President Hassan Rouhani deserves another four years in office after securing a landmark nuclear deal, or if the sluggish economy demands a new hard-line leader who could return the country to a more confrontational path with the West.

The Islamic Republic's first presidential election since the 2015 nuclear accord drew surprisingly large numbers of voters to polling stations, with some reporting waiting in line for hours to cast their votes. Election officials extended voting hours at least three times at the more than 63,000 polling places to accommodate the crowds.

Four candidates remain in the race. But for most voters only two mattered, both of them clerics with very different views for the country's future: Rouhani and hard-line law professor and former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani is a political moderate by Iranian standards, but the 68-year-old has come to embody more liberal and reform-minded Iranians' hopes for greater political freedom at home and better relations with the outside world.

His supporters are also hoping he can make better progress on improving the economy, a key issue on the minds of the country's 56 million eligible voters. Many say they are yet to see the benefits of the nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear program over the objection of hard-liners in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.