AP Evening News Brief

Impeachment reversal, elections, drug cartel, wetlands, Epstein accuser, acid attack, NFL and more

Impeachment reversal: Diplomat now acknowledges quid pro quo

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a striking reversal, a top diplomat revised his testimony in the House impeachment inquiry to acknowledge that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being withheld until the foreign ally promised to investigate corruption as President Donald Trump wanted.

The three-page update from U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, tucked beneath hundreds of pages of sworn testimony released Tuesday, provides new insight into Trump's push for Ukraine to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden in what the Democrats call a quid pro quo at the center of the House inquiry.

Specifically, Sondland said he now recalls telling a top aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on the sidelines of a Warsaw meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, that military aid to the country "would likely not occur" until Ukraine had provided a public anti-corruption statement "as we have been discussing for many weeks."

Trump has denied any quid pro quo, but Democrats say that is the singular narrative developing from the president's July 25 call with Zelenskiy . In that call, Trump, asked for "a favor," the spark for the impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the House panels conducting the inquiry are releasing the word-by-word transcripts of the past weeks' closed-door hearings so the American public can decide for themselves.

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Elections in 4 states offer tests of 2020 voter enthusiasm

Gubernatorial and legislative elections in four states Tuesday will test voter enthusiasm and party organization amid impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and a fevered Democratic presidential primary scramble.

Results in Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia won't necessarily predict whether Trump will be reelected or which party will control Congress after the general election next fall. But partisans of all stripes invariably will use these odd-year elections for clues about how voters are reacting to the impeachment saga and whether the Republican president is losing ground among suburban voters who rewarded Democrats in the 2018 midterms and will prove critical again next November.

Trump is eager to nationalize whatever happens, campaigning Monday evening in Kentucky for embattled Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, a first-term Trump ally, as he tries to withstand Democrat Andy Beshear, the attorney general whose father was the state's last Democratic governor. The president campaigned Friday in Mississippi, trying to boost Republican Tate Reeves in a tight governor's race against Democrat Jim Hood. Reeves is lieutenant governor; Hood is attorney general.

Legislative seats are on the ballots in New Jersey and in Virginia, with the latter presidential battleground state offering perhaps the best 2020 bellwether. Democrats had a big 2017 in the state, sweeping statewide offices by wide margins and gaining seats in the legislature largely on the strength of a strong suburban vote that previewed how Democrats would go on to flip the U.S. House a year later. This time, Virginia Democrats are looking to add to their momentum by flipping enough Republican seats to gain trifecta control of the statehouse: meaning the governor's office and both legislative chambers.

Democrats are looking to maintain their legislative supermajorities in New Jersey and ward off any concerns that Trump and Republicans could widen their reach into Democratic-controlled areas.

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Drug cartel gunmen kill 9 US citizens in an ambush in Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering six children and three women — all U.S. citizens living in northern Mexico — in a grisly attack that left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk, authorities said Tuesday.

The dead included 8-month-old twins. Eight youngsters were found alive after escaping from the vehicles and hiding in the brush, but at least five had gunshot wounds or other injuries and were taken to the U.S. for treatment, officials said.

One woman was killed after she apparently jumped out of her vehicle and waved her hands to show she wasn't a threat, according to family members and prosecutors.

Mexican Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said the gunmen may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for those of rival gangs.

The bloodshed took place Monday in a remote, mountainous area in northern Mexico where the Sinaloa cartel has been engaged in a turf war. The victims had set out to visit relatives in Mexico; one woman was headed to the airport in Phoenix to meet her husband.

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In last days, al-Baghdadi sought safety in shrinking domain

BEIRUT (AP) — In his last months on the run, Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was agitated, fearful of traitors, sometimes disguised as a shepherd, sometimes hiding underground, always dependent on a shrinking circle of confidants.

Associates paint a picture of a man obsessed with his security and well-being and trying to find safety in towns and deserts in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border as the extremists' domains crumbled. In the end, the brutal leader once hailed as "caliph" left former IS areas completely, slipping into hostile territory in Syria's northwestern Idlib province run by the radical group's al-Qaida-linked rivals. There, he blew himself up during an Oct. 26 raid by U.S. special forces on his heavily fortified safe house.

For months, he kept a Yazidi teen as a slave, and she told The Associated Press how he brought her along as he moved, traveling with a core group of up to seven close associates. Months ago, he delegated most of his powers to a senior deputy who is likely the man announced by the group as his successor.

The Yazidi girl, who was freed in a U.S.-led raid in May, said al-Baghdadi first tried to flee to Idlib in late 2017. She said one night she was loaded into a three-vehicle convoy that included the IS leader, his wife and his security entourage, headed for the province. The convoy reached a main road but then turned around, apparently fearing it would come under attack, said the girl, who was 17 at the time.

For about a week they stayed in the southeastern Syrian town of Hajin, near the Iraqi border. Then they moved north to Dashisha, another border town in Syria within IS-held territory.

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Bringing the world's buried wetlands back from the dead

HINDOLVESTON, England (AP) — The ghosts are all around the gently rolling farmlands of eastern England. But you have to know where to look.

These are not the kind of phantoms that scare or haunt — they are ghost ponds. Over the years, landowners buried them, filling in wetlands so they had more land for planting crops and other needs, or let ponds fade away with neglect. Along with those ponds, they erased entire ecosystems — and contributed to the decline of wetlands worldwide.

The result: an array of environmental calamities, ranging from rising floods to species hurtling toward extinction.

There are some who are trying to reclaim these lost waterbodies. In the wetlands of eastern England, a motley team of farmers, university researchers and conservationists is digging into the region's barley and wheat fields to turn back the clock. They seek out patches of muddy earth that hint at lost ponds lurking beneath.

Using chain saws, an excavator and plenty of sweat, the team takes just a few hours to resurrect one dying pond near Hindolveston, a thousand-year-old village not far from the North Sea. They fell trees and shrubs, then start digging until reaching their goal: an ancient pond bottom that once supported insects, aquatic plants and the birds and animals that fed on them.

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ABC says interview with Epstein accuser wasn't ready to air

NEW YORK (AP) — ABC News faced questions Tuesday about its reluctance to air a sensitive story of alleged sexual misconduct after a leaked video emerged of reporter Amy Robach complaining about how her bosses handled an interview with a Jeffrey Epstein accuser.

The conservative web site Project Veritas released video of Robach venting that "every day I get more and more pissed" that her 2015 interview with Virginia Giuffre never made the air. Robach made her remarks late in August while sitting in a Times Square studio with a microphone but not on the air.

ABC said Tuesday that the interview didn't meet its standards because it lacked sufficient corroborating evidence. Robach, co-anchor of ABC's "20/20" newsmagazine, said the leaked video caught her "in a private moment of frustration."

The episode was remindful of Ronan Farrow's accusations that NBC News discouraged his reporting on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's misconduct. Farrow then took his Pulitzer Prize-winning story to the New Yorker magazine.

ABC sought to minimize the comparison, saying it has pursued and aired other stories about Epstein, the New York financier who died Aug. 10 while in police custody on sex trafficking charges.

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US victims in Mexico attack from Mormon offshoot community

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The nine women and children killed by drug cartel gunmen in northern Mexico lived in a remote farming community where residents with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship consider themselves Mormon — with many descended from former members of The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints who fled the U.S. to escape the church's 19th century polygamy ban.

La Mora, population less than 1,000, lies in a desert valley ringed by rugged mountains about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of the border towns of Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta in Mexico's Sonora state.

While many La Mora residents identify as Mormon, they also consider themselves independent from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Cristina Rosetti, a Mormon fundamentalism scholar and expert.

Many of the families living in the area known for growing cotton and grain trace their La Mora origins to the 1950s — and some have much deeper roots.

The victims, including 8-month old twins, died in an ambush as the three SUVs they were in traveled along a dirt road in a remote, mountainous area where the Sinaloa cartel has been in a turf war. Eight youngsters were found alive after hiding in brush, but at least five had gunshot wounds or other injuries, officials said

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McDonald's CEO's ouster reflects trend on workplace romances

NEW YORK (AP) — Workplace couples are often romanticized — think Bill and Melinda Gates or Michelle and Barack Obama. But when the relationship involves two people with unequal power, it can also be fraught with peril, especially in the #MeToo era.

McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook is only the latest chief executive to be ousted over a consensual relationship with an employee. Increasingly, U.S. companies are adopting policies addressing workplace romances, a trend that began well before the #MeToo movement galvanized a national conversation surrounding sexual misconduct.

Addressing workplace romance can be complicated, but many companies have removed any gray areas by forbidding managers, especially C-suite executives, from having relationships with subordinates given the potential for favoritism or lawsuits if the relationship sours.

There are questions about whether consent is truly possible when the power imbalance is especially great. Many women who have come forward to share their #MeToo stories have said that they feared the consequences of saying no to a powerful person who could influence their careers.

"That power difference can create a dynamic where the relationship can never truly be consensual," said Debra Katz, a founder partner of the law firm Katz Marshall & Banks who has represented women in several prominent sexual harassment cases. "The #MeToo movement has shown how quickly it can go from consensual in the beginning to a huge problem when the relationship goes awry."

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Wisconsin acid attack suspect once held hunters at gunpoint

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A white man accused of throwing acid on a Hispanic man's face once held four hunters at gunpoint on his rural Wisconsin property, an encounter that one of the hunters said Tuesday he still vividly remembers.

The chance encounter with the hunters in 2006 sheds light into the temperament of 61-year-old Clifton A. Blackwell, now accused in a seemingly random, gruesome attack in Milwaukee.

When Blackwell spotted the hunters, he drove over in his tractor and pointed a rifle at the group, telling them to disarm because they had trespassed onto his property in Rusk County, a mostly rural area in northwestern Wisconsin. He then marched them to his house, sat them on a log and demanded money from them and threatened to call the police — all while pointing the rifle in their faces, according to court documents and statements from the hunters.

"He couldn't miss," Derrick Schultz, one of the hunters, told The Associated Press Tuesday. "... I thought he was going to shoot me the whole time ... no questions asked, nothing. Just instant gun. I remember it every time I drive past his house up north."

Mahud Villalaz, the victim in the acid attack Friday night , said it began when Blackwell approached taking issue with how Villalaz parked his car near a restaurant. Blackwell accused him of being in the country illegally and asked why he was "invading" the U.S., Villalaz said.

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Yellow flags, red flags, black eyes for NFL's 100th season

The NFL's 100th season has not been worth celebrating even if the history of the league is.

Several teams are tanking, penalties are wrecking the flow of games, some of the biggest stars have been sidelined, the new pass interference rule appears to have been adapted only to quiet the uproar that started after last season's NFC championship game and even though ratings are up, it all looks like one big mess on TV.

The NFL opted to go for a history-tinged Packers-Bears opener this year and what it got was a throwback to, well the 1920s, with a knock-down, dragged-out defensive clash that Green Bay won 10-3 in a rivalry rumpus that featured 20 penalties.

That foreshadowed a sea of yellow flags that would give the NFL another black eye following the Antonio Brown head-to-toe, coast-to-coast saga and threatened to hijack the league's centennial celebration.

Although flags continue to fly, six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady's indignation helped whittle the whistles.

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