News in Brief
The Associated Press
Democrats appeal for GOP help to convict 'corrupt' Trump
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats opened marathon arguments in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial Wednesday, appealing to skeptical Republican senators to join them in voting to remove Trump from office to "protect our democracy."
Trump's lawyers sat by, waiting their turn, as t he president blasted the proceedings from afar, threatening jokingly to face off with the Democrats by coming to "sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces."
The challenge before the House managers is clear. Democrats have 24 hours over three days to prosecute the charges against Trump, trying to win over not just fidgety senators sitting silently in the chamber but an American public, deeply divided over the president and his impeachment in an election year.
Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, outlined what the Democrats contend was the president's "corrupt scheme" to abuse his presidential power and then obstruct Congress' investigation. He then called on senators not to be "cynical" about politics, but to draw on the intent of the nation's Founding Fathers who provided the remedy of impeachment.
"Over the coming days, we will present to you—and to the American people—the extensive evidence collected during the House's impeachment inquiry into the president's abuse of power," said Schiff standing before the Senate. "You will hear their testimony at the same time as the American people. That is, if you will allow it."
AP-NORC poll: Public doubts Senate trial will be revealing
WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are sharply divided along party lines about whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office, and they doubt the Senate impeachment trial will do anything to change their minds, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Overall, the public is slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45 percent to 40 percent. But a sizable percentage, 14 percent, say they don't know enough to have an opinion.
Americans on both sides of the debate say they feel strongly about their positions, and three-quarters say it's not very likely or not at all likely that the trial will introduce new information that would change their minds.
Linda Valenzuela, 46, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, leans Democrat and said she is certain that Trump acted unlawfully in pressuring Ukraine's leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate activities by former Vice President Joe Biden, a Trump political rival, and his son Hunter in the Eastern European nation.
But Valenzuela also said that it is "not at all likely" that she will hear anything from Trump's defense team during the trial that would change her mind about the president.
The South Dakota Water Management Board on Tuesday approved five water permit applications for Keystone XL pipeline construction.
The hearing was so contentious that it stretched into a dozen days over the course of four months as tribes and environmental groups argued against their approval. After holding a brief period for public comment in Fort Pierre Tuesday, the board met in a closed executive session before voting to approve the permits, with added requirements for real-time monitoring and weekly check-ins with the state.
Opponents can appeal the board's decision.
The first count of the US Census Bureau in Toksook Bay, Alaska, did not go off as planned Tuesday.
Reuters reports the two charter flights carrying the director of the US Census Bureau and other officials to Toksook Bay were delayed due to freezing fog. After landing at Toksook Bay, Steven Dillingham, the director of the census bureau, conducted the first interview after riding on the back of a snowmobile from the airport to Chimiugak’s home.
That was five hours later than scheduled.
Federal environmental regulators say the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs violated an order to repair a public water supply system serving about 1,300 people on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana.
Environmental Protection Agency officials said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that the bureau has repeatedly missed deadlines to complete repairs following concerns last spring about potential water contamination.
Chinese city stops outbound flights, trains to fight virus
BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese city of more than 11 million people planned to shut down outbound flights and trains Thursday as the world's most populous country battled the spread of a new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and killed 17, state media reported.
Everyone in the city of Wuhan was to be restricted to some degree. The state-owned People's Daily newspaper said no one would be allowed to leave. The official Xinhua News Agency said no one would be permitted to leave without a specific reason.
Train stations and the airport were to shut down at 10 a.m. Buses, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses would also be temporarily closed.
Most of the cases are in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, but dozens of infections have popped up this week around the country as millions travel for the Lunar New Year, one of the world's largest annual migrations of people. A handful of infected people who came from Wuhan have also been found overseas.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization put off deciding whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency and asked an expert committee to continue meeting for a second day Thursday.
Saudi crown prince's WhatsApp linked to Bezos phone hack
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The cellphone of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was hacked in what appeared to be an attempt by Saudi Arabia's crown prince to "influence, if not silence" the newspaper's reporting on the kingdom, two U.N. human rights experts said Wednesday.
The U.N. experts called for an "immediate investigation" by the United States into a report commissioned by Bezos that showed the billionaire technology mogul's phone was likely hacked after he received an MP4 video file sent from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's WhatsApp account after the two men exchanged phone numbers during a dinner in Los Angeles in 2018.
The video file was sent to Bezos' phone five months before Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. At the time, the crown prince was being widely hailed for ushering in major social reforms to the kingdom, but Khashoggi was writing columns in the Post that highlighted the darker side of Prince Mohammed's simultaneous clampdown on dissent.
The Post was harshly critical of the Saudi government after Khashoggi's killing and demanded accountability in a highly public campaign that ran in the paper for weeks after his death.
"The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia," the independent U.N. experts said.
Biden and Sanders' rift could define closing days in Iowa
MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) — The rivalry between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders is deepening as the Democratic presidential candidates are increasingly at loggerheads over their support of Social Security, signaling a battle ahead that could last well beyond the Iowa caucuses.
Biden's campaign released a video late Tuesday accusing Sanders of "dishonest" attacks, while Sanders' official Twitter account countered: "Let's be honest, Joe. One of us fought for decades to cut Social Security, and one of us didn't."
Sanders, a Vermont senator, has accused Biden of advocating for budget deals as a senator from Delaware that would have curtailed entitlement spending over time. During his decades on Capitol Hill, Biden supported a balanced budget constitutional amendment, but he says he would not have "cut" Social Security benefits as part of the deals. In his current campaign, Biden proposes expanding Social Security benefits and raising more revenue by lifting the cap on the income that is subject to Social Security payroll taxes.
Biden tacitly acknowledged on Wednesday that he's moved to the left over the years on Social Security. But he compared that with Sanders' legislative history on gun control, an issue that — like Social Security — is a core concern to many Democratic voters.
Sanders "voted to protect gun manufacturers," Biden said in an MSNBC interview, referring to Sanders' vote to give weapons makers immunity from civil liability. Hillary Clinton skewered Sanders over that position during their 2016 primary battle.
Weinstein rape trial opens, marking milestone for #MeToo
NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein went on trial Wednesday in a landmark moment for the # MeToo movement, with prosecutors painting him as a sexual predator who used his Hollywood clout to abuse women for decades, while his lawyers sought to portray his accusers as willing participants.
Prosecutor Meghan Hast told the jury of seven men and five women that the former studio boss was "not just a titan in Hollywood — he was a rapist" who screamed at one victim that she "owed" him sex, used injections to induce an erection before an assault and pushed his way into the apartment of another woman and attacked her.
"It is for his complete lack of empathy that he must be held accountable," Hast said.
Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis countered by laying out plans to use friendly-sounding emails, calendar entries and other evidence to call into question the accusers' accounts of being attacked.
The opening of the rape trial more than two years after a barrage of allegations against Weinstein gave rise to the #MeToo movement was seen by activists as a milestone in the global reckoning over sexual misconduct by powerful men. Weinstein's lawyers have portrayed the case as the result of a climate of accusation run amok.
US to impose visas restrictions for pregnant women
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is coming out Thursday with new visa restrictions aimed at restricting "birth tourism," in which women travel to the U.S. to give birth so their children can have a coveted U.S. passport.
Visa applicants deemed by consular officers to be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth will now be treated like other foreigners coming to the U.S. for medical treatment, according to State Department guidance sent Wednesday and viewed by The Associated Press. The applicants will have to prove they are coming for medical treatment and they have the money to pay for it.
The State Department planned to publicize the rules Thursday, according to two officials with knowledge of the plans who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The rules will take effect Friday.
The practice of coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal, although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.
The Trump administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but the president has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship — anyone born in the U.S. is considered a citizen, under the Constitution. He has railed against the practice and threatened to end it, but scholars and members of his administration have said it's not so easy to do.
Hallmark media CEO leaves, month after same-sex ad backlash
NEW YORK (AP) — The head of Hallmark's media business is leaving the company after 11 years, just a month after its flagship Hallmark Channel faced an outcry over a decision to pull an ad with a lesbian couple kissing.
No reason was given for Bill Abbott's departure, and no replacement was immediately named.
In a statement, Mike Perry, president and CEO of Hallmark Cards Inc., said that with immense competition from TV networks and streaming services, it is important for the company to find "relevant new ways to grow our business."
Abbott was CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, a company controlled by Hallmark Cards. Crown Media's flagship cable channel is The Hallmark Channel, known for family-friendly programming, particularly made-for-TV Christmas-themed movies.
In December, the Hallmark Channel's decision to pull an ad featuring the same-sex couple led to an outcry online. The company later reversed the decision.
New rules could bump emotional-support animals from planes
The days of passengers bringing rabbits, turtles and birds on planes as emotional-support animals could be ending.
The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals, which must be allowed in the cabin at no charge. Airlines could let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply.
Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. They also imposed their own restrictions in response to passengers who show up at the airport with pigs, pheasants, turkeys, snakes and other unusual pets.
"This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals that perform a task to mitigate our disability," said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, which advocates for accessibility for people of different ability levels.
The U.S. airline industry trade group praised the tighter rules. Industry officials believe that hundreds of thousands of passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees, which are generally more than $100 each way.
'Naughty boy': Monty Python star Terry Jones dies at 77
LONDON (AP) — Terry Jones, a founding member of the anarchic Monty Python troupe who was hailed by colleagues as "the complete Renaissance comedian" and "a man of endless enthusiasms," has died at age 77 after suffering from dementia.
Jones's family said he died Tuesday evening at his home in London "after a long, extremely brave but always good humored battle with a rare form of dementia."
"We have all lost a kind, funny, warm, creative and truly loving man whose uncompromising individuality, relentless intellect and extraordinary humor has given pleasure to countless millions across six decades," Jones's wife, Anna Soderstrom, and children Bill, Sally and Siri, said in a statement.
Born in Wales in 1942, Jones attended Oxford University, where he began writing and performing with fellow student Michael Palin.
After leaving university, he wrote for seminal 1960s comedy series, including "The Frost Report" and "Do Not Adjust Your Set." At the end of the decade he and Palin, along with Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam, formed Monty Python's Flying Circus. The troupe's irreverent humor — a blend of satire, surrealism and silliness — helped revolutionize British comedy.