Wind-whipped fires rage across California as lights go out
GEYSERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Fast-growing fires throughout California forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes Thursday as dry winds and high heat fed flames and fears in the state still jittery from devastating wildfires in the past two years.
The dramatic fires and evacuations — near Los Angeles and in the wine country of Northern California — came against a backdrop of power shutoffs that utility companies said were necessary to stop high winds from toppling trees or blowing debris into power lines and starting fires.
The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., warned that more widespread blackouts this weekend were expected to shut power across much of the San Francisco Bay Area. It would be the third major outage this month.
Officials said they did not yet know how many homes had burned in the state, and that no immediate injuries were reported. It is not clear how any of the blazes began.
In Southern California, two fires rolled along the parched foothills north of Los Angeles, forcing at least 40,000 people to flee neighbourhoods where thousands of homes have sprung up in recent decades.
AP source: DOJ review of Russia probe now a criminal inquiry
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department has shifted its review of the Russia probe to a criminal investigation, a person familiar with the matter said Thursday, a move that is likely to raise concerns that President Donald Trump and his allies may be using the powers of the government to go after their opponents.
The revelation comes as Trump is already facing scrutiny about a potential abuse of power, including a House impeachment inquiry examining whether he withheld military aid in order to pressure the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation of former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The person who confirmed the criminal investigation was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
It is not clear what potential crimes are being investigated, but the designation as a formal criminal investigation gives prosecutors the ability to issue subpoenas, potentially empanel a grand jury and compel witnesses to give testimony and bring federal criminal charges.
The Justice Department had previously considered it to be an administrative review, and Attorney General William Barr appointed John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to lead the inquiry into the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. It’s not clear when Durham’s inquiry shifted to a criminal investigation.
Trump confronts the limits of impeachment defence strategy
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is confronting the limits of his main impeachment defence.
As the probe hits the one-month mark, Trump and his aides have largely ignored the details of the Ukraine allegations against him. Instead, they’re loudly objecting to the House Democrats’ investigation process, using that as justification for ordering administration officials not to co-operate and complaining about what they deem prejudicial, even unconstitutional, secrecy.
But as a near-daily drip of derogatory evidence emerges from closed-door testimony on Capitol Hill, the White House assertion that the proceedings are unfair is proving to be a less-than-compelling counter to the mounting threat to Trump’s presidency. Some senior officials have complied with congressional subpoenas to assist House Democratic investigators, defying White House orders.
Asked about criticism that the White House lacks a co-ordinated pushback effort and could do a better job delivering its message, spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said, “It’s hard to message anything that’s going on behind closed doors and in secret.”
“It’s like you’re fighting a ghost, you’re fighting against the air. So we’re doing the best we can,” she said on Fox News.
Tally of children split at border tops 5,400 in new count
SAN DIEGO (AP) — U.S. immigration authorities separated more than 1,500 children from their parents at the Mexico border early in the Trump administration, the American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday, bringing the total number of children separated since July 2017 to more than 5,400.
The ACLU said the administration told its attorneys that 1,556 children were separated from July 1, 2017, to June 26, 2018, when a federal judge in San Diego ordered that children in government custody be reunited with their parents.
Children from that period can difficult to find because the government had inadequate tracking systems. Volunteers working with the ACLU are searching for some of them and their parents by going door-to-door in Guatemala and Honduras.
Of those separated during the 12-month period, 207 were under 5, said attorney Lee Gelernt of the ACLU, which sued to stop family separation. Five were under a year old, 26 were a year old, 40 were 2 years old, 76 were 3, and 60 were 4.
“It is shocking that 1,556 more families, including babies and toddlers, join the thousands of others already torn apart by this inhumane and illegal policy,” said Gelernt. “Families have suffered tremendously, and some may never recover.”
Probe expands into deaths of 39 in truck near British port
LONDON (AP) — British police expanded an investigation into one of the country’s deadliest cases of human smuggling after 39 people were found dead in a refrigerated container truck near an English port. Essex police said the victims were believed to be from China, though its embassy said their nationalities were still being verified.
The Essex Police force said 31 men and eight women were found dead in the truck early Wednesday at an industrial park in Grays, a town 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of London.
A magistrate gave detectives another 24 hours to question the driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland who has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. He has not been charged, and police have not released his name.
Police in Northern Ireland searched three properties there as detectives sought to piece together how the truck’s cab, its container and the victims came together on such a deadly journey.
Pippa Mills, deputy chief of Essex Police, said the process of conducting post-mortem examinations and identifying the victims would be “lengthy and complex.”
Texas GOP leaders enter custody battle over child’s gender
DALLAS (AP) — Top Republican leaders in Texas this week weighed in on two parents’ custody battle over their 7-year-old child’s gender identity after the case was shared widely on social media and conservative news sites.
Former spouses Anne Georgulas and Jeffrey Younger, who live in the Dallas area, have been embroiled in a legal dispute over their divorce and the care of their children since 2015. Georgulas says the couple’s 7-year-old who was born a boy now identifies as a girl and prefers to be called a female name. Younger, who says the child acts like a boy around him, requested sole custody and launched a website in which he pleads for help to “save” his child.
Inaccurate and misleading stories about the 7-year-old have since circulated in blogs, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and petitions, bringing attention to a usually private matter.
The Associated Press is not naming the 7-year-old to protect the child’s privacy.
Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Wednesday evening that the attorney general’s office and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services were looking into “the matter” of the child. And on Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was asking Family and Protective Services to investigate the mother for possible child abuse, citing “public reports” in a letter that alleges she is “forcing” the child to transition to a girl.
SC sheriff guilty of misconduct, faces up to 1 year in jail
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina sheriff faces up to a year in prison and will lose his job after a jury found him guilty Thursday of misconduct in office.
A Greenville jury deliberated more than four hours before splitting its verdicts, finding suspended Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis guilty of misconduct that involves corruption or fraud, but not guilty of misconduct that involves not doing a public job properly.
The jury’s verdict came back after 10:30 p.m., so Circuit Judge G. Thomas Cooper delayed Lewis’ sentencing until Friday. Cooper wanted to keep Lewis in jail overnight since he faces up to a year in jail, but defence lawyer Rauch Wise promised Lewis would return to court. The conviction also requires Lewis to be removed from office.
“Mr. Lewis, if you aren’t here tomorrow all hell is going to rain down on you,” the judge said.
Lewis is the ninth sheriff in South Carolina to be convicted of crimes while in office in the past decade. The convicted sheriffs’ crimes have ranged from using inmates for personal work to running a scheme to create fake police reports to help fix credit problems to protecting drug dealers. Two other sheriffs are awaiting trials.
Astros fire exec Taubman after rant at female reporters
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Houston Astros fired assistant general manager Brandon Taubman on Thursday for directing inappropriate comments at female reporters during a clubhouse celebration, announcing the decision in the middle of the World Series and putting a renewed spotlight on domestic violence in baseball.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow apologized for the team’s initial response Monday, which was to accuse a Sports Illustrated reporter of making up the story.
“That original reaction by the Astros was wrong, and we own it as an organization,” Luhnow said during a news conference at Nationals Park, a day before Game 3.
“There were many people involved in reviewing that and approving that. And I’m not going to get into the details of that. … But regardless of who wrote it and who approved it, it was wrong. It was incorrect. It should never have been sent out. We’ve learned a lesson about it,” he said.
Taubman had apologized Tuesday for using language that was “unprofessional and inappropriate” in the Astros clubhouse following Saturday night’s pennant-clinching victory over the New York Yankees.
Cook, Vikings wear down Redskins 19-9 for 4th straight win
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Dalvin Cook had 171 total yards and the game’s only touchdown, helping Kirk Cousins beat his old team on the first try and carrying the Minnesota Vikings to a 19-9 victory over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night.
Cook, the NFL leader in yards from scrimmage, rushed 23 times for 98 yards and caught five passes for 73 yards for the Vikings (6-2) in their fourth straight victory. Cousins went 23 for 26 for 285 yards without a turnover against the Redskins (1-7), who drafted him in 2012 and made him the full-time starter in 2015.
Case Keenum, the quarterback Cousins replaced, had his return to Minnesota spoiled by a concussion that kept him out of the second half. Keenum also lost a fumble on a first-quarter sack. Rookie Dwayne Haskins threw an interception deep in Minnesota territory when the Redskins trailed by only seven points.
Another former Vikings standout, Adrian Peterson, had 14 carries for 76 yards and in the process moved up to sixth place on the NFL’s career rushing list.
Keenum’s last time in the stadium was nearly two years ago, when his last-play touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs gave the Vikings a victory over New Orleans in a divisional round playoff game, but there was little reason to make this game a memory. Keenum went 12 for 16 for 130 yards.
Atty: Trump calendar helps prove woman’s 2007 groping claim
NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s private calendar helps support a former “Apprentice” contestant’s claim that he subjected her to unwanted kissing and groping, her lawyer said in a court filing Thursday.
The calendar records, filed in Summer Zervos’ defamation lawsuit, show Trump was scheduled to be at the Beverly Hills Hotel in California on Dec. 21, 2007, in the timeframe when she claims Trump made unwanted advances at that hotel.
She said he kissed and groped her, despite her objections, at what she thought would be a professional dinner, and then invited her to meet him at his nearby golf course the next morning. The calendar records show he was scheduled there the morning after his arrival at the hotel.
Trump’s calendar doesn’t include anything about a meeting with Zervos. But her lawyer, Mariann Wang, wrote that the documents “strongly corroborate” Zervos’ account — and indicate that Trump was lying in a 2016 statement that said he “never met her at a hotel.”
Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz said Thursday that Zervos’ claims are “entirely meritless and not corroborated by any documents.”
The Associated Press