As investigations swirl, Trump team ready to fight, distract
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has beefed up its legal team. Its political team is ready to distract and disparage. And President Donald Trump is venting against Democratic prying.
Trump’s plan for responding to the multiplying congressional probes into his campaign, White House and personal affairs is coming into focus as newly empowered Democrats intensify their efforts. Deploying a mix of legal legwork and political posturing, the administration is trying to minimize its exposure while casting the president as the victim of overzealous partisans.
“It’s a disgrace, it’s a disgrace for our country,” Trump said at the White House on Tuesday as he accused Democrats of “presidential harassment.”
Typically used to setting the national or global agenda, presidents are by definition on their back foot when they come under investigation. And the latest fusillade of requests for information has the Trump White House, already increasingly focused on the twin challenges of dealing with the probes and the 2020 election, in a reactive position.
Trump’s response points to his increasing frustration with Congress and his intention to seize on the investigations as evidence that he is under siege in Washington.
Record-breaking family migration overwhelming border agency
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of migrant families crossing the southwest border is again breaking records, and the crush is overwhelming border agents and straining facilities, officials said Tuesday.
More than 76,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last month, more than double the number from the same period last year. Most were families coming in ever-increasingly large groups — there were 70 groups of more than 100 people in the past few months, and they cross illegally in extremely rural locations with few agents and staff. There were only 13 large groups during the previous budget year, and only two the year before.
The system “is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said a press conference Tuesday.
The new figures reflect the difficulties President Donald Trump has faced as he tries to cut down on illegal immigration, his signature issue. But it could also help him make the case that there truly is a national emergency at the border — albeit one built around humanitarian crises and not necessarily border security. The Senate is expected to vote next week and join the House in rejecting his national emergency declaration aimed at building border walls, but Trump would almost certainly veto the measure and the issue is likely to be settled in the courts.
After the deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody, Customs and Border Protection stepped up medical screenings. They also announced sweeping changes including more rigorous interviews as migrants come into the system.
China says new law will bar demands for technology handover
BEIJING (AP) — China will bar government authorities from demanding overseas companies hand over technology secrets in exchange for market share, a top economic official said Wednesday, addressing a key complaint at the heart of the current China-U.S. trade dispute.
The provision is contained in a foreign investment law to be debated at the current annual session of the National People’s Congress, Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of the Cabinet’s economic planning agency told reporters at a news conference.
The law will “clarify the system for advancement and protection of foreign investment,” Ning said. The legal system will ensure that foreign businesses “cannot be required to transfer technology by administrative means, providing a more encompassing and beneficial legal guarantee,” he said.
Ning’s statement came a day after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a robust annual economic growth target and promised in a speech to the congress’ opening session that foreign companies will be “treated as equals” with their Chinese competitors.
Accusations that China demands the disclosure of technology secrets are a key stumbling point in the U.S.-China trade dispute that has significantly disrupted commerce between the world’s two largest economies, affecting farmers, liquor exporters and China’s key manufacturing industries.
Teen tells Senate why he defied his mom to get vaccinated
WASHINGTON (AP) — An Ohio teen defied his mother’s anti-vaccine beliefs and started getting his shots when he turned 18 — and told Congress on Tuesday that it’s crucial to counter fraudulent claims on social media that scare parents.
Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, said his mother’s “love, affection and care is apparent,” but that she was steeped in online conspiracies that make him and his siblings vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases like the ongoing measles outbreaks.
“I grew up under my mother’s beliefs that vaccines are dangerous,” Lindenberger told a Senate health committee. He’d show her scientific studies but said she instead turned to illegitimate sources that “instil fear into the public.”
Last December, despite his mother’s disapproval and realizing that “my school viewed me as a health threat,” Lindenberger began catching up on his missed immunizations. He told lawmakers it’s important “to inform people about how to find good information” and to remind them how dangerous these diseases really are.
This year is shaping up to be a bad one for measles as already, the U.S. has counted more than 200 cases in 11 states — including about 70 in an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest.
Reports: NKorea rebuilding structures at rocket site
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea is reportedly restoring facilities at its long-range rocket launch site that it had dismantled as part of disarmament steps last year.
The development came after a high-stakes nuclear summit last week between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump ended without any agreement.
South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday that the country’s spy service gave such an assessment on the North’s Tongchang-ri launch site to lawmakers in a private briefing Tuesday.
An article from 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea studies, cited commercial satellite imagery as indicating that efforts to rebuild some structures at the site started sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2.
Dismantling parts of its long-range rocket launch facility in the northwest was among several steps the North took last year when it entered talks with the United States and South Korea. The site is where North Korea carried out satellite launches in recent years, inviting rounds of sanctions from the U.N. that saw it as disguised test of missile technology.
Aftermath: Alabama’s tornado dead range in age from 6 to 89
BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — The youngest victim was 6, the oldest 89. Relatives said one extended family lost 10 members.
The 23 people killed in the nation’s deadliest tornado in nearly six years came into focus Tuesday with the release of their names by the coroner.
They included 6-year-old Armando Hernandez Jr., known as “AJ,” torn from his father’s arms two days after singing in his first-grade class musical; 10-year-old Taylor Thornton, who loved horses and was visiting a friend’s home when the twister struck; and Jimmy Lee Jones, 89, who perished along with his wife of six decades, Mary Louise, and one of their sons.
“Just keep those families in your prayers,” Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said, two days after the disaster.
The search for victims, pets and belongings in and around the devastated rural community of Beauregard continued amid the din of beeping heavy machinery and whining chain saws. But Sheriff Jay Jones said the list of the missing had shrunk from dozens to just seven or eight.
AP Explains: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s political crisis
TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s former attorney general says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and senior members of his government inappropriately tried to pressure her to avoid prosecution of a major Canadian engineering company in a case involving allegations of corruption in Libya. The scandal has rocked Trudeau’s government in an election year and led to the resignations of two top Cabinet ministers as well as Trudeau’s top aide and best friend. The Associated Press explains the scandal.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Trudeau has been on the defensive since the Globe and Mail newspaper reported Feb. 7 that Trudeau’s staff put pressure on ex-Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to try to avoid a criminal prosecution of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin over allegations of bribes for government contracts in Libya. Critics say that would be improper political meddling in a case.
R. Kelly tells CBS ‘I didn’t do this stuff’ in interview
CHICAGO (AP) — In his first interview since being charged with sexually abusing four people, including three underage girls, R. Kelly says he “didn’t do this stuff” and he’s fighting for his life.
The R&B singer, out on bail after his Feb. 22 arrest in Chicago, gave the interview to Gayle King of “CBS This Morning,” with excerpts airing Tuesday night. More of the interview will air Wednesday and Thursday on “CBS This Morning.”
In an excerpt, Kelly tells King that rumours of him having sex with and abusing underage girls are, “Not true.
“Whether they’re old rumours, new rumours, future rumours, not true,” Kelly said.
When King asked Kelly if he has held women against their will, he replied “That’s stupid!”
Venezuela’s adversaries seek to show resolve in crisis
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Appearing a day after his rival returned home to a tumultuous welcome, President Nicolas Maduro denounced his opponents in a speech Tuesday at a military ceremony but did not refer by name to opposition leader Juan Guaido. The man who says he is the rightful president, meanwhile, escalated his campaign to topple Maduro with an appeal for support from state unions, long reliant on government handouts.
The dueling scenes, evidence of the rift in a country in crisis, came as Venezuelans and the world awaited the next moves of two adversaries manoeuvring for an edge in what could be a protracted struggle. The Maduro government’s decision not to move against Guaido upon his return to Venezuela on Monday reflects the intense pressure Maduro faces and, possibly, a calculation that restraint is the best tactic for now.
Still, Maduro was defiant during a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of the death of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, belittling a “minority of opportunists and cowards.” He said government supporters would hold a rally on Saturday, a “day of anti-imperialism” in his words, and a counter to U.S.-backed Guaido’s plans to hold nationwide protests the same day.
Maduro also pinned medals on members of the security forces involved in a crackdown on Guaido’s failed Feb. 23 attempt to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia. Maduro has described the attempt, backed by the U.S. and its allies, as part of a plot to overthrow his government.
Hours earlier, Guaido said police officials were among those at a meeting that he held with leaders of public employee unions, which rely heavily on subsidies from Maduro’s government to get by in a country suffering from hyperinflation and shortages of food and other necessities.
Mind-altering, ketamine-like drug OK’d for severe depression
WASHINGTON (AP) — A mind-altering medication related to the club drug Special K won U.S. approval Tuesday for patients with hard-to-treat depression, the first in a series of long-overlooked substances being reconsidered for severe forms of mental illness.
The nasal spray from Johnson & Johnson is a chemical cousin of ketamine, which has been used for decades as a powerful anesthetic to prepare patients for surgery. In the 1990s, the medication was adopted as a party drug by the underground rave culture due to its ability to produce psychedelic, out-of-body experiences. More recently, some doctors have given ketamine to people with depression without formal FDA approval.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Spravato as a fast-acting treatment for patients who have failed to find relief with at least two antidepressants. Up to 7.4 million American adults suffer from so-called treatment-resistant depression, which heightens the risk of suicide, hospitalization and other serious harm, according to the FDA.
The drug will cost between $590 and $885 depending on the dosage and before various insurance discounts and rebates.
There have been no major pharmaceutical innovations for depression since the launch of Prozac and related antidepressants in the late 1980s. Those drugs target the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, and can take weeks or months to kick in.
The Associated Press