Shifting US policy to right, Trump taps Sessions, Flynn
NEW YORK (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump signaled a sharp rightward shift in U.S. national security policy Friday with his announcement that he will nominate Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general and Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo to head the CIA, turning to a pair of staunch conservatives as he begins to fill out his Cabinet.
Trump also named retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. A former military intelligence chief, Flynn has accused the Obama administration of being too soft on terrorism and has cast Islam as a “political ideology” and driver of extremism.
Sessions and Flynn were ardent Trump supporters during the campaign, and their promotions were seen in part as a reward for their loyalty.
The selections form the first outlines of Trump’s Cabinet and national security teams. Given his lack of governing experience and vague policy proposals during the campaign, his selection of advisers is being scrutinized both in the U.S. and abroad.
Trump’s initial decisions suggest a more aggressive military involvement in counterterror strategy and a greater emphasis on Islam’s role in stoking extremism. Sessions, who is best known for his hard-line immigration views, has questioned whether terror suspects should benefit from the rights available in U.S. courts. Pompeo has said Muslim leaders are “potentially complicit” in attacks if they do not denounce violence carried out in the name of Islam.
Senate hearing for Sessions likely to revisit racial issue
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate confirmation hearing of Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, is likely to rehash racially charged allegations that derailed his efforts to become a federal judge and made him a symbol of black-voter intimidation under the Reagan administration.
The expected focus on Sessions’ record on race, policing and immigration comes as the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has surged in prominence under the Obama administration. If confirmed, Sessions would have broad latitude to define how federal prosecutors across the country wield their powers and make changes to the Justice Department’s priorities.
Lawmakers and advocates expressed concern Friday that Sessions could sideline or undo the Obama administration’s civil rights efforts, which have included investigations of police departments for unconstitutional practices and lawsuits meant to protect the rights of transgender individuals and black voters.
“Given some of his past statements and his staunch opposition to immigration reform, I am very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and want to hear what he has to say,” incoming Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he strongly supported Sessions, who he said “has worked tirelessly to safeguard the public and to improve the lives of Americans from all walks of life.”
Trump agrees to $25M settlement to resolve Trump U. lawsuits
SAN DIEGO (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump agreed Friday to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits against his now-defunct Trump University for real estate investors, averting a trial in a potentially embarrassing case that he had vowed during the campaign to keep fighting.
The agreement came 10 days before jury selection was scheduled to begin in one of three cases. The complaints accused Trump University, which wasn’t an accredited school, of defrauding students who paid up to $35,000 a year to enroll in programs that promised to share Trump’s real estate secrets.
About 7,000 students would be eligible for refunds if U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel approves the proposed settlement. Under the terms, Trump admitted no wrongdoing in two class-action lawsuits in San Diego and a civil suit brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The settlement lifts what would probably have been a major headache for Trump as he works to fill key executive branch positions and get acquainted with foreign leaders. The San Diego trial, on a case filed in 2010, was expected to last several weeks, guaranteeing daily news coverage of a controversy that dogged him during the campaign.
Trump’s political rivals seized on the lawsuits to try to portray him as dishonest and deceitful. Trump brought more attention to them by repeatedly assailing Curiel, who oversaw the San Diego cases. Trump suggested the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage exposed a bias.
Obama blocks new oil, gas drilling in Arctic Ocean
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is blocking new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean, handing a victory to environmentalists who say industrial activity in the icy waters will harm whales, walruses and other wildlife and exacerbate global warming.
A five-year offshore drilling plan announced on Friday blocks the planned sale of new oil and gas drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska. The plan allows drilling to go forward in Alaska’s Cook Inlet southwest of Anchorage.
The blueprint for drilling from 2017 to 2022 can be rewritten by President-elect Donald Trump, in a process that could take months or years.
Besides Cook Inlet, the plan also allows drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, long the center of U.S. offshore oil production. Ten of the 11 lease sales proposed in the five-year plan are in the Gulf, mostly off the coasts of Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama.
Confirming a decision announced this spring, the five-year plan also bars drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.
UN climate talks end with pleas for Trump to join fight
MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) — The first U.N. climate conference after the landmark Paris Agreement closed Friday with delegates appealing to Donald Trump to join the battle against global warming and inviting him to see its impacts in Pacific islands.
Suddenly faced with the possibility that the U.S. could withdraw from the emissions pact adopted in Paris last year, countries rallied in support of the deal and said they would forge ahead no matter what.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, the host of the two-week talks in Marrakech, said the conference’s “message to the new American president is simply to say, ‘We count on your pragmatism and your spirit of commitment.'”
Trump said during his campaign that he would “cancel” the Paris Agreement and withdraw American tax dollars from U.N. global warming programs.
More than 190 countries, including the United States, pledged in the deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for rising temperatures and sea levels, worsening droughts and heat waves.
Unlikely apprentice: Obama coaches Trump to be world leader
BERLIN (AP) — It’s the last thing President Barack Obama ever expected he’d be doing in his final months in office: Coaching Donald Trump on how to be a world leader.
As the president-elect holes up in his skyscraper, Obama is giving Trump policy advice, style tips and gentle nudges to let the fervor of the campaign give way to the sobriety of the Oval Office. And as Obama completes his last world tour, he’s been thrust into the unexpected role of Trump translator to anxious U.S. allies.
Standing next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Obama said Trump would quickly see that a president’s responsibilities can’t be treated casually and that diverse countries can only be governed by “listening and reaching out.”
“It is my hope that that is what will happen,” Obama said. “And I’m going to do everything I can over the next two months to help assure that that happens.”
Though the outgoing president made clear his profound disdain for Trump throughout the campaign, perhaps no one is better positioned than Obama to get him up to speed in a matter of weeks.
Democrat’s lead widens in North Carolina governor’s race
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Hardly anyone in North Carolina is willing to guess when their excruciatingly close governor’s race will be resolved. A Friday deadline came and went with Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper’s unofficial advantage growing to about 6,600 votes over Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, from nearly 4.7 million cast.
McCrory is fighting for his political life in a battleground state that Donald Trump and Republican Sen. Richard Burr won by relatively comfortable margins.
After endless legal battles over how, when and where people can vote, they’re fighting now over whether to count 60,000 provisional ballots and thousands more absentee ballots that have remained sealed since Election Day.
Still more delays are in store as McCrory’s campaign supports allegations of hard-knuckled fraud lodged by voters in more than half the state’s 100 counties.
If Cooper’s margin remains below 10,000 votes, McCrory can call for a statewide recount, and with the possibility of other legal challenges and conceivably even legislative intervention to decide a contested result, few outside Cooper’s campaign are ready to put a date on the naming of the next governor.
Venezuelan 1st lady’s 2 nephews found guilty in cocaine case
NEW YORK (AP) — Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady who were charged with conspiring to send drugs to the United States were convicted on Friday by a jury that found evidence of the crime even though the government’s star witness came across to at least one juror as “slime.”
The Manhattan federal court jury returned its verdict against Efrain Campo, 30, and his cousin Francisco Flores, 31, after less than a day of deliberations. The nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores were charged with conspiring last year to import more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the United States.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Flores and Campo thought they’d make millions of dollars with the drug scheme.
“What they ended up with is a conviction in an American court and the prospect of years in federal prison,” he said.
Lawyers for Campo and Flores argued no drugs traded hands and the men never intended to deliver any. They blamed a flawed Drug Enforcement Administration-led probe that relied on a longtime informant who was using and dealing cocaine as he helped build the case.
Kansas police seek public help in search for missing newborn
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police assisted by the FBI pressed an urgent appeal for public help Friday in finding a Kansas newborn a day after her mother was shot to death in her home, insisting the week-old girl was imperiled during a disappearance the police chief considered vexing.
Wichita, Kansas, police trying to locate Sofia Victoria Gonzalez Abarca, who went missing Thursday, said tips of special interest to investigators would be any reports about someone suddenly passing off an infant as their own, or buying large quantities of baby formula or clothing.
Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said leads as of late Friday afternoon were proving elusive in what he called “a very sad and tragic case.” Authorities as of Friday evening had not issued an Amber Alert seeking the public’s help in the search because investigators haven’t identified a suspect — a criteria for issuing such an advisory.
“We have no information. That’s why I’m here, just pleading for information,” Ramsay said. “We’re pleading with the community, asking everybody to help us find Baby Sofia. There’s no doubt she is missing and in danger.”
Police said Laura Abarca-Nogueda’s live-in boyfriend returned home from work Thursday and found his 27-year-old girlfriend’s body, and their newborn daughter missing.
UN agency lifts Zika emergency, prepares for long-term fight
GENEVA (AP) — Acknowledging Zika is “here to stay,” the United Nations health agency on Friday lifted a 9-month-old emergency declaration and prepared for a longer-term response to the mosquito-borne virus that can result in severe neurological defects in newborns whose mothers were infected.
The World Health Organization was quick to note that the move does not mean the agency is downgrading the threat of the virus that has spread across Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere. Nearly 30 countries have reported birth defects linked to Zika, with over 2,100 cases of nervous-system malformations reported in Brazil alone.
The officials also emphasized that the now-lifted “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” was declared in February, when Zika clusters were appearing and a sharp increase in research was needed — with the looming Rio Olympics in mind.
WHO said the emergency measures had led the world to an “urgent and coordinated response.” But the virus has continued to spread. The agency acknowledged “many aspects of this disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research.”
“It is a significant and enduring public health challenge, but it no longer represents an emergency,” Dr. David Heymann, who heads the WHO emergency committee on Zika, said after the panel met for the fifth time this year. “There was no downgrading of this.”