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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST

Barr swipes at Trump: Tweets make it ‘impossible’ to do job

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr publicly swiped at President Donald Trump on Thursday, declaring the president’s tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and open cases “make it impossible for me to do my job.”

Barr made the comment during an interview with ABC News just days after his Justice Department overruled its own prosecutors — who had recommended in a court filing that Trump’s longtime ally and confidant Roger Stone be sentenced to 7 to 9 years in prison — and took the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek. The department didn’t offer an amended number.

Barr himself has been under fire for the reversal. Still, it was a highly unusual move for a member of the Cabinet to criticize the president — especially a Trump loyalist who shares the president’s views on expansive executive powers. Thursday’s comment served as a defence of his own integrity — an effort to salvage his own reputation and that of the Department of Justice by publicly rebuking the president he’s propped up from Day One of his tenure.

The remarks, made so quickly after the decision to back away from the sentencing, suggested Barr was aware the reversal had chipped away at the department’s historic reputation for independence from political sway. But he stopped short of acknowledging wrongdoing by anyone.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump “wasn’t bothered by the comments at all and he has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions.” She added, “The President has full faith and confidence in Attorney General Barr to do his job and uphold the law.”

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Trump says he might keep others from listening in on calls

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he might end the long-running practice of letting other administration officials listen in on presidential calls with foreign leaders. That’s after Trump’s impeachment was triggered by his July phone call with the president of Ukraine.

“I may end the practice entirely,” Trump told Geraldo Rivera in a radio interview that aired Thursday. Records experts said that was a bad idea, for multiple reasons.

Trump also offered new insights into his feelings about being impeached, saying it made him think about the “dark” days when Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal before his own likely impeachment.

“Well, it’s a terrible thing and, you know, I think of Nixon more than anybody else and what that dark period was in our country and the whole thing with the tapes and the horror show,” Trump said. “It was dark and went on for a long time, and I watched it.”

He said he often passes portraits of past presidents that hang in the White House.

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Virus death toll nears 1,400 in China, with 5,090 new cases

BEIJING (AP) — China on Friday reported another sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new virus, as the death toll neared 1,400.

The National Health Commission said 121 more people had died and there were 5,090 new confirmed cases.

The number of reported cases has been rising more quickly after the hardest-hit province changed its method of counting them Thursday. There are now 63,851 confirmed cases in mainland China, of which 1,380 have died.

Hubei province is now including cases based on a physician’s diagnosis and before they have been confirmed by lab tests. Of the 5,090 new cases, 3,095 fell into that category.

The acceleration in the number of cases does not necessarily represent a sudden surge in new infections of the virus that causes COVID-19 as much as a revised methodology.

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China’s virus crackdown leaves millions working at home

BEIJING (AP) — In the middle of a phone call with a customer, an important visitor knocks on Michael Xiong’s door: his 3-year-old son.

Xiong, a salesman in Chibi, a city near the centre of a virus outbreak, is one of millions of people in China who are obeying government orders to work from home as part of the most sweeping anti-disease measures ever imposed.

After breakfast, Xiong leaves the 3-year-old and his 10-month-old brother with their grandparents. The salesman for IQAir, a Swiss maker of household air purifiers that are popular in China’s smog-choked cities, goes into a bedroom to talk to customers and try to find new ones by phone and email.

His son “comes to knock on the door when I am in a meeting, asking for hugs,” Xiong said. “I put myself on mute, open the door and tell him I will be with him later, and he is fine with that.”

Most access to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people where Xiong usually works, was cut off Jan. 23 and some other cities have imposed travel restrictions. Controls imposed on business to try to stem the spread of infection extend nationwide, affecting tens of thousands of companies and hundreds of millions of employees.

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2020 Democrats step up attacks to blunt Bloomberg’s rise

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidates hoping to revive their flagging campaigns increasingly took aim at Mike Bloomberg on Thursday, blasting their billionaire rival for trying to buy his way into the White House and raising questions about his commitment to racial equality.

Struggling to recover from poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden took the lead in attacking Bloomberg. Biden, the former vice-president, said on ABC’s “The View” that “I don’t think you can buy an election,” while Warren took Bloomberg to task for his 2008 comments that ending redlining, a discriminatory housing practice helped trigger the economic meltdown.

Biden and billionaire Tom Steyer also joined forces in slamming Bernie Sanders after the Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist won New Hampshire and essentially tied for the lead in Iowa with Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Biden said Sanders hadn’t done enough to explain how he’d pay for his “Medicare for All” proposal to replace private insurance with a government-run program. Steyer said that “refusal to tell us how he will pay for his plan adds unnecessary financial risk to achieving health care as a right for every person.”

Voters, Steyer said, “should have all the facts.”

The sniping reflects the remarkably fluid state of the Democratic race even after two states that typically winnow presidential fields have already voted. The White House hopefuls are trying to blunt Bloomberg, who gained attention by flooding the national airwaves with hundreds of millions of dollars in advertisements and is on the verge of being admitted into next week’s presidential debate. And the lagging candidates are trying to prove that they still have the mettle to stay in the race, even if their path is becoming increasingly difficult.

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Limbaugh draws bipartisan criticism for Buttigieg remarks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh drew bipartisan criticism Thursday for saying the country won’t elect Pete Buttigieg president because he’s been “kissing his husband” on stage after debates.

Limbaugh’s comments came eight days after President Donald Trump awarded him the nation’s top civilian honour during the State of the Union address. Trump said Limbaugh inspires millions of people daily and thanked him for “decades of tireless devotion to our country.”

Limbaugh, a staunch Trump ally who recently announced he has advanced lung cancer, made the remarks on his nationally syndicated radio show. Buttigieg has finished in the top two in Democrats’ first two presidential contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“They’re saying, ‘OK, how’s this going to look?'” Limbaugh said Wednesday, imagining Democrats’ thinking. “Thirty-seven-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage, next to Mr. Man, Donald Trump.'”

Buttigieg didn’t directly address Limbaugh’s remarks. But at a town hall in Las Vegas Thursday night, he said, “I’m proud of my marriage I’m proud of my husband.”

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Trump’s story about veteran’s comeback was not quite true

NEW YORK (AP) — Tony Rankins, a formerly homeless, drug-addicted Army veteran, got a standing ovation at the State of the Union after President Donald Trump described how he turned his life around thanks to a construction job at a company using the administration’s “Opportunity Zone” tax breaks targeting poor neighbourhoods.

But that’s not completely true.

Rankins, who indeed moved out of his car and into an apartment since landing a job refurbishing a Nashville hotel two years ago, doesn’t work at a site taking advantage of the breaks and never has done so. In fact, he started that job four months before the Treasury Department published its final list of neighbourhoods eligible for the breaks. And the hotel where he worked couldn’t benefit even now because it’s an area that didn’t make the cut.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rankins said he always considered the job that launched him on his new life two years ago to be in an Opportunity Zone and was honoured to be invited by the White House to the State of the Union, with a prime seat in the balcony next to Ivanka Trump.

“After struggling with drug addiction, Tony lost his job, his house and his family. He was homeless. But then Tony found a construction company that invests in Opportunity Zones,” the president said in his Feb. 4 speech. “He is now a top tradesman, drug-free, reunited with his family.”

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Holding-cell stats raise questions about Trump asylum policy

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Many U.S. holding cells along the Mexican border were less than half-full, even empty, during an unprecedented surge of asylum-seeking families from Central America, newly unsealed court documents show, raising questions about the Trump administration’s claims that it had to make people wait in Mexico because it didn’t have the means to accommodate them.

Holding cells were no more than half-full at 18 of 24 border crossings on a majority of days between July 2018 and June 2019, according to the analysis of government data. Cells in the Texas cities of Laredo and Brownsville were no more than half-full on nearly nine out of 10 days during the 12-month period. Cells at some smaller crossings were often empty.

Legal advocates for migrants say the figures show that Trump administration officials were making up excuses to keep people from entering the U.S. to apply for asylum.

Customs and Border Protection, in its defence, has long maintained that the number of migrants it can take in at any one time is governed not just by the amount of holding-cell space but by available manpower. And during the surge, the staff was stretched especially thin dealing with priorities deemed more important, such as fighting drug trafficking and inspecting truck cargo.

Also, holding-cell figures do not tell the whole story, a senior official said in the unsealed documents. Some cells are less than full because some migrants must be isolated from others for safety reasons. For example, someone arrested for a crime would be held in a cell alone, as would a family with lice, or migrants with tattoos denoting gang membership.

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Weinstein lawyer: Prosecutors have a ‘tale,’ not a case

NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer told jurors Thursday that prosecutors in the rape case against him were acting like moviemakers, conjuring up a world “where women had no free will.”

“In the alternative universe that prosecutors have created for you, Harvey Weinstein is a monster,” lawyer Donna Rotunno said in her closing argument. But, she said, he’s an innocent man relying on jurors not to be swayed by a “sinister tale.”

Rotunno argued that prosecutors had to come up with a damning story about the once-powerful movie producer because they don’t have the evidence to prove the charges.

“The irony is that they are the producers and they are writing the script,” Rotunno said, urging the jury to not buy into “the story they spun where women had no free will.”

“In their universe, women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the choices they make to further their own careers, the hotel room invitations, the plane tickets they accept, the jobs they ask for help to obtain,” or the messages they send, Rotunno said.

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Chicagoans: City not just NBA host, it’s the Mecca of hoops

CHICAGO (AP) — The NBA is headquartered in New York. Anthony Davis, one of the game’s biggest names, plays in Los Angeles.

Both, unquestionably, are world-class cities.

But in Davis’ eyes, they both pale to his hometown. And this weekend, the Chicago native believes the eyes of the basketball world are where they belong — on his city.

“Chicago basketball,” the Lakers’ forward said. “There is nothing like Chicago basketball.”

Chicago is called the Second City, though no one from Chicago believes that the city is second to any other city on the planet — particularly those who represent the city in the NBA. L.A. has the glitz and glamour of the Lakers and now the Clippers, New York has the tradition of Madison Square Garden and possibly the best-known outdoor court in the world at Rucker Park, but Chicago guys scoff at the notion that the game means more anyplace else.

The Associated Press