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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

January 29, 2019 - 8:04 PM

US intel heads list North Korea, not border, as threat to US

WASHINGTON (AP) — Directly contradicting President Donald Trump, U.S. intelligence agencies told Congress on Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, that the Islamic State group remains a threat and that the Iran nuclear deal is working. The chiefs made no mention of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border for which Trump has considered declaring a national emergency.

Their analysis stands in sharp contrast to Trump's almost singular focus on security gaps at the border as the biggest threat facing the United States.

Top security officials including FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats presented an update to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday on their annual assessment of global threats. They warned of an increasingly diverse range of security dangers around the globe, from North Korean nuclear weapons to Chinese cyberespionage to Russian campaigns to undermine Western democracies.

Coats said intelligence information does not support the idea that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will eliminate his nuclear weapons and the capacity for building more — a notion that is the basis of the U.S. negotiating strategy.

"We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival," Coats told the committee.

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Midwest cities scramble to keep homeless from dangerous cold

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Winter's sharpest bite in years moved past painful into life-threatening territory Tuesday, prompting officials throughout the Midwest to take extraordinary measures to protect the homeless and other vulnerable people from the bitter cold, including turning some city buses into mobile warming shelters in Chicago.

Temperatures plunged as low as minus 26 (negative 32 degrees Celsius) in North Dakota with wind chills as low as minus 62 (negative 52 degrees Celsius) in Minnesota. It was nearly that cold in Wisconsin and Illinois. Governors in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan declared emergencies as the worst of the cold threatened on Wednesday.

The U.S. Postal Service said it will not deliver mail in parts of the Midwest Wednesday because of the cold.

The bitter cold is the result of a split in the polar vortex that allowed temperatures to plunge much further south in North America than normal.

The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday night called for temperatures in Chicago as low as minus 28 (negative 33 degrees Celsius), with wind chills to minus 50 (negative 46 degrees Celsius). Detroit's outlook was for Wednesday overnight lows around minus 15 (negative 26 degrees Celsius), with wind chills dropping to minus 40 (negative 40 degrees Celsius).

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China-US row over tech giant Huawei overshadows trade talks

BEIJING (AP) — U.S. criminal charges against Chinese electronics giant Huawei have sparked a fresh round of trans-Pacific recriminations, with Beijing demanding Tuesday that Washington back off what it called an "unreasonable crackdown" on the maker of smartphones and telecom gear.

China's foreign ministry said it would defend the "lawful rights and interests of Chinese companies" but gave no details. Huawei is the No. 2 smartphone maker and an essential player in global communications networks.

A day earlier, U.S. prosecutors criminally charged Huawei and several of its officials for allegedly stealing technology secrets and violating Iran sanctions. That followed the detention in Canada of the Huawei founder's daughter — a top company official who was named in one of the U.S. indictments, and who is now awaiting possible extradition to the U.S. Huawei has denied wrongdoing.

All that has further complicated U.S.-China relations amid attempts to defuse a trade war instigated by President Donald Trump and clashes over alleged Chinese theft of trade secrets and other intellectual property from U.S. firms. A new round of trade talks are planned for Wednesday in Washington.

The nearly two dozen charges unsealed Monday by the Justice Department accuse Huawei of trying to spirit a robot arm and other technology out of a T-Mobile smartphone testing lab. They also allege that Huawei, two subsidiaries and a top executive misled banks about the company's business and violating U.S. sanctions.

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US launches plan for asylum seekers to wait in Mexico

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration on Tuesday quietly launched an effort to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. immigration courts, despite clear reservations and conflicting messages from the Mexican government.

The U.S. returned one asylum seeker to Mexico — a Honduran man — on the first day of what would be one of the most dramatic changes to the U.S. immigration system of Donald Trump's presidency, if the policy survives an anticipated legal challenge. Carlos Gomez, 55, arrived in Tijuana around midday and asked authorities for a ride to a migrant shelter.

Mexican officials sent mixed signals on the crucial point of whether Mexico would impose limits on accepting families. Tonatiuh Guillen, commissioner of Mexico's National Immigration Institute, said Mexico would only accept people 18 to 60 years old, which rules out families with young children.

But Roberto Velasco, spokesman for Mexico's foreign relations secretary, said Friday that families would be considered case by case. And a Mexican official with direct knowledge of the process said Mexico requested that families be excluded from the policy but that the U.S. declined to make any commitment, conceding only to start with single adults. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations were not public.

The launch is limited to San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing, the nation's busiest, though Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan wrote in a memo released Tuesday that it is expected to expand to other crossings "in the near future." Adding to a sense of confusion, Guillen said Mexico will only allow it at the one crossing that connects San Diego and Tijuana.

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FBI finds no specific motive in Vegas attack that killed 58

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The high-stakes gambler responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history sought notoriety in the attack but left his specific motive a mystery, the FBI said Tuesday as it concluded the investigation of the 2017 massacre that killed 58 country music fans.

While the agency found no "single or clear motivating factor" to explain why Stephen Paddock opened fire from his suite in a high-rise casino hotel, Paddock may have been seeking to follow in his father's criminal footsteps, the FBI said.

"It wasn't about MGM, Mandalay Bay or a specific casino or venue," Aaron Rouse, the agent in charge of the FBI's Las Vegas office, told The Associated Press. "It was all about doing the maximum amount of damage and him obtaining some form of infamy."

Paddock's physical and mental health was declining. The 64-year-old's wealth had diminished, and he struggled with aging, federal agents said. The findings were contained in a long-awaited report compiled by the FBI's Behavior Analysis Unit, a group of experts who spent months examining several factors that might have led to the rampage.

"This report comes as close to understanding the why as we're ever going to get," Rouse said.

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Court bars Venezuela opposition leader from leaving nation

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's Supreme Court barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country Tuesday, a move certain to heighten tensions as the man challenging President Nicolas Maduro's claim to the presidency presses forward with establishing a transitional government and the U.S. warns of "serious consequences" if he is harmed.

The government-stacked high court announced the order just hours after chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced that he was opening a criminal investigation into Guaido's anti-government activities and requested that restrictions be placed on his movements abroad. The court also approved Saab's request that all of Guaido's financial assets be frozen.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton issued a warning to the Maduro government earlier in the day urging them not to harm Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled congress who has been recognized by the Trump administration and two dozen other nations as Venezuela's rightful president.

"Let me reiterate. There will be serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido," Bolton said on Twitter.

The Supreme Court's order comes as tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela reach a new high, with Maduro accusing the Trump administration of staging a coup against his presidency and Guaido seeking to consolidate an interim government under his own leadership.

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'Empire' cast member alleges homophobic attack in Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) — A cast member on the hit television show "Empire" alleged he was physically attacked by men in Chicago who shouted racial and homophobic slurs, police said Tuesday.

Police did not release the actor's name but a statement from Fox, which airs "Empire," identified him as Jussie Smollett, 36. Authorities said they are investigating the alleged attack as a hate crime. Smollett is black and openly gay.

According to a police statement, the actor was walking near the Chicago River downtown around 2 a.m. Tuesday when he was approached by two men who shouted at him, struck him in the face and poured an "unknown substance" on him before one of them wrapped a rope around his neck.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that when officers first came in contact with Smollett, he still had a rope around his neck. While being interviewed by detectives, Guglielmi said Smollett told them that the attackers yelled he was in "MAGA country," an apparent reference to the Trump campaign's "Make America Great Again" slogan that some critics of the president have decried as racist and discriminatory.

The police spokesman added that the two men were wearing masks. Investigators have not found any surveillance video or witnesses from which they can put together a description of the offenders, he said.

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Utility bankruptcy could be costly to wildfire victims

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Faced with potentially ruinous lawsuits over California's recent wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday in a move that could lead to higher bills for customers of the nation's biggest utility and reduce the size of any payouts to fire victims.

The Chapter 11 filing allows PG&E to continue operating while it puts its books in order. But it was seen as a glimpse of the financial toll that could lie ahead for the industry because of climate change , which scientists say is leading to fiercer, more destructive blazes and longer fire seasons.

The bankruptcy could also jeopardize California's ambitious program to switch entirely to renewable energy sources within a few decades.

PG&E, which supplies natural gas and electricity to 16 million people in Northern and central California, cited hundreds of lawsuits over fires in 2017 and 2018 and tens of billions of dollars in potential liability when it announced earlier this month that it planned to file for bankruptcy.

The blazes include the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century — the one in November that killed at least 86 people and destroyed 15,000 homes in and around the Northern California town of Paradise. The cause is still under investigation, but suspicion fell on PG&E after it reported power line problems nearby around the time the fire broke out.

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Apple opens new chapter amid weakening iPhone demand

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Apple hoped to offset slowing demand for iPhones by raising the prices of its most important product, but that strategy seems to have backfired after sales sagged during the holiday shopping season.

Results released Tuesday revealed the magnitude of the iPhone slump — a 15 per cent drop in revenue from the previous year. That decline in Apple's most profitable product caused Apple's total earnings for the October-December quarter to dip slightly to $20 billion.

Now, CEO Tim Cook is grappling with his toughest challenge since replacing co-founder Steve Jobs 7 1/2 years ago. Even as he tries to boost iPhone sales, Cook also must prove that Apple can still thrive even if demand doesn't rebound.

It figures to be an uphill battle, given Apple's stock has lost one-third of its value in less than four months, erasing about $370 billion in shareholder wealth.

Cook rattled Wall Street in early January by disclosing the company had missed its own revenue projections for the first time in 15 years. The last time that happened, the iPod was just beginning to transform Apple.

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Maroon 5 cancels Super Bowl halftime news conference

ATLANTA (AP) — Maroon 5 has cancelled its news conference to discuss the band's Super Bowl halftime performance, choosing to not meet with reporters as most acts have done.

The NFL announced Tuesday that "the artists will let their show do the talking as they prepare to take the stage this Sunday."

Maroon 5, with frontman Adam Levine, will be joined by Outkast member Big Boi and Houston rapper Travis Scott at halftime of the game between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots. The NFL says instead of a news conference with the performers, it will use media platforms to show behind-the-scenes footage and content.

While Maroon 5 did not give a reason for its decision, it comes as some entertainers have said social injustice needs to be addressed during the Super Bowl.

That has led to some criticism of performers who are holding events in Atlanta. Jermaine Dupri said he was called a "sellout" for hosting a Super Bowl-related event during a meeting with people who had lost family members as result of police brutality. After the meeting, Dupri and the victims' family members came to a compromise and the music mogul plans to give mothers a platform to speak onstage during his Super Bowl Live event in Atlanta

News from © The Associated Press, 2019
The Associated Press

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