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

Scandals drive calls for top Virginia leadership to resign

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia's state government seemed to come unglued Friday as an embattled Gov. Ralph Northam made it clear he won't resign and the man in line to succeed him was hit with another sexual assault accusation and barraged with demands that he step down, too.

Top Democrats, including a number of presidential hopefuls and most of Virginia's congressional delegation, swiftly and decisively turned against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who stands to become the state's second black governor if Northam quits.

"Fairfax can no longer fulfil his duties," the Democratic caucuses of both the state House and Senate said in a joint statement.

The developments came near the end of an astonishing week that saw all three of Virginia's top elected officials — all Democrats — embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals fraught with questions of race, sex and power.

Northam, now a year into his four-year term, announced his intention to stay at an afternoon Cabinet meeting, according to a senior official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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AP sources: Prosecutors probing Enquirer after Bezos report

NEW YORK (AP) — The National Enquirer's alleged attempt to blackmail Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with intimate photos could get the tabloid's parent company and top editors in deep legal trouble and reopen them to prosecution for paying hush money to a Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump.

Federal prosecutors are looking at whether the Enquirer's feud with Bezos violated a co-operation and non-prosecution agreement that recently spared the gossip sheet from charges in the hush-money case, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday.

The clash between the world's richest man and America's most aggressive supermarket tabloid spilled into public view late Thursday when Bezos accused it of threatening to print photos of him and the woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

He said the Enquirer made two demands: Stop investigating how the publication recently obtained private messages that Bezos and his girlfriend had exchanged. And publicly declare that the Enquirer's coverage of Bezos was not politically motivated.

Enquirer owner American Media Inc. said Friday that its board of directors ordered a prompt and thorough investigation and will take "whatever appropriate action is necessary." Earlier in the day, the company said it "acted lawfully" while reporting the story and engaged in "good-faith negotiations" with Bezos.

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Abortion case shows Roberts firmly at Supreme Court's centre

Chief Justice John Roberts broke with the Supreme Court's other conservative justices and his own voting record on abortion to block a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Roberts didn't explain his decision late Thursday to join the court's four liberal justices. But it was the clearest sign yet of the role Roberts intends to play as he guides a more conservative court with two new members appointed by President Donald Trump.

Since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy last summer, Roberts has become the court's new swing vote. He is, by most measures, a very conservative justice, but he seems determined to keep the court from moving too far right too fast and being perceived as just another forum for partisan politics in Washington.

"People need to know that we're not doing politics. They need to know that we're doing something different, that we're applying the law," Roberts said during an appearance this week at Tennessee's Belmont University.

Roberts' vote in the Louisiana case was the fourth time in recent weeks that he has held the decisive vote on 5-4 outcomes that otherwise split the court's conservative and liberal justices.

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Acting AG overseeing Mueller probe says he's not interfered

WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Friday that he has "not interfered in any way" in the special counsel's Russia investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job.

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. They confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller's work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country's chief law enforcement officer.

"We're all trying to figure out: Who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted, "Mr. Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference."

Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller probe as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated — he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up — Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there'd been no change in its "overall management."

"We have followed the special counsel's regulations to a T," Whitaker said. "There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation."

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Reckoning time: Trump checks in for another medical checkup

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — It's reckoning time: President Donald Trump had his annual medical exam Friday, a year after his doctor advised him to up the exercise and cut the calories.

Trump spent more than four hours at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a checkup supervised by Dr. Sean P. Conley, his physician, and involving a panel of 11 specialists.

"I am happy to announce the President of the United States is in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his Presidency, and beyond," Conley wrote afterward.

He did not go into detail except to say Trump did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia. He said reports and recommendations stemming from the exam were still being finalized. It's unclear how much more detail will be released in the coming days.

Last year, Trump clocked in at 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds. He had a body mass index, or BMI, of 29.9, putting him in the category of being overweight for his height. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.

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Blackface scandal doesn't surprise people of colour

DETROIT (AP) — In the brightly lit Vintage Barbershop in northwest Detroit, Thomas Carter carefully trimmed the greying hair of a customer as he was asked about photos that depict whites wearing blackface.

He paused and slowly scanned the shop where about a half-dozen black men of various ages awaited their turn. "It's not funny to me. It's not funny to me at all," he said.

From police shootings of black men, to white supremacy rallies, to efforts to remove Confederate Civil War monuments, the nation has lurched from one racial controversy to another in recent years. The latest is blackface — in which someone darkens their face and adds bright red lipstick to create stereotypes and caricatures. The disclosures have angered and frustrated many black people, who say it is mocking and demeaning.

The practice took hold in New York City in the 1830s and became immensely popular among post-Civil War whites. In fact, the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South took their name from a character played by blackface performer Thomas Dartmouth Rice. He said his act "Jump, Jim Crow" (or "Jumping Jim Crow") was inspired by a slave he saw.

On the first day of Black History Month a week ago, a photo emerged from Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook page that showed someone in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

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AP Explains: Venezuela's humanitarian aid standoff

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido declared himself Venezuela's interim president last month, vowing to oust President Nicolas Maduro from power and end the once-wealthy nation's deepening political and humanitarian crisis.

Millions of Venezuelans have migrated, and those left behind struggle to afford scarce supplies of food and medicine. Guaido called upon the international community for humanitarian aid. The world watches now whether Maduro's government will let the first shipments from United States cross its borders.

The Associated Press explains the Venezuela aid standoff:

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HOW DID WE GET HERE?

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Rare tiger kills prospective mate in London at first meeting

LONDON (AP) — For ten days, the London Zoo kept its newly arrived male Sumatran tiger Asim in a separate enclosure from Melati, the female tiger who was supposed to become his mate.

Zoologists gave them time to get used to each other's presence and smells, and waited for what they felt would be the right time to let them get together. On Friday, they put the two tigers into the same enclosure — and Asim killed Melati as shocked handlers tried in vain to intervene.

It was a tragic end to hopes that the two would eventually breed as part of a Europe-wide tiger conservation program for the endangered Sumatran subspecies.

"Everyone here at ZSL London Zoo is devastated by the loss of Melati and we are heartbroken by this turn of events," the zoo said in a statement.

It said the focus now is "caring for Asim as we get through this difficult event."

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Former Fleetwood Mac guitarist undergoes open heart surgery

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lindsey Buckingham underwent open heart surgery that left the former Fleetwood Mac guitarist with damaged vocal cords.

Buckingham's publicist said in a statement Friday that he experienced chest pains last week and was taken to the hospital where he had the life-saving procedure. Buckingham is recovering at home with his family.

The 69-year-old rocker's wife, Kristen Buckingham, said on social media that it's unclear if the damage after the surgery is permanent. She says the past year has been stressful, but she is thankful her husband is still alive.

Last year, Buckingham sued Fleetwood Mac after being kicked off the band's new tour. The guitarist-songwriter is seeking his share of the tour income because he felt he was able to perform.

Fleetwood Mac disputes the allegations made by Buckingham.

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Manfred: No DH or draft changes likely for 2019

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Don't look for a National League designated hitter this year or for new anti-tanking rules in June's amateur draft.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday that management is focused on pace-of-game changes for 2019 and bolder ideas proposed by the players' association are too complex to be put in place for this season.

Speaking Friday after an owners' meeting, Manfred felt encouraged the union responded to management's proposal for a pitch clock and a three-batter minimum for a relief pitcher unless an inning ends.

"Some of these items need to be part of broader discussions that certainly will continue after opening day, and I hope we can focus on some of the issues that need to get resolved quickly in the interim," Manfred said.

Baseball is in its third year of a five-year labour deal, one in which the free-agent market has slowed considerably — even with premier players available such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Management would discuss larger changes as part of a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement extending beyond December 2021.


This image released by Amazon Studios shows Eddie Redmayne, left, and Felicity Jones in "The Aeronauts."
MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Aeronauts' doesn't exactly soar, but Felicity Jones does
Would you like to ride in Eddie Redmayne's beautiful balloon? Tom Harper's “The Aeronauts,” starring Felicity Jones and Redmayne, is loosely based on a record-setting 19th century balloon expedition into the atmosphere.

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