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

April 10, 2019 - 8:04 PM

Trick or treat? EU, UK agree to delay Brexit until Halloween

BRUSSELS (AP) — As if Brexit hadn't spooked Britain and the European Union enough over the past three years, the two sides agreed early Thursday to extend the deadline to Halloween.

The new, Oct. 31 cutoff date averts a precipitous and potentially calamitous Brexit that had been scheduled for Friday.

"Please, do not waste this time," European Council President Donald Tusk pleaded. He said the EU was giving Britain six more months "to find the best possible solution" to its Brexit impasse.

Like many things related to Brexit, the extension was a messy compromise. May came to an emergency summit in Brussels seeking to postpone Britain's departure from the EU until June 30. Some European leaders favoured a longer extension, while French President Emmanuel Macron was wary of anything but a very short delay.

Leaders of the 27 remaining EU member states met for more than six hours over a dinner of scallop and cod before settling on the end of October, with the possibility of an earlier Brexit if Britain ratifies a withdrawal agreement.

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AP Interview: Pelosi: 'I don't trust Barr; I trust Mueller'

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday questioned Attorney General William Barr's independence from President Donald Trump, arguing Barr's pursuit of Trump's claims about "spying" during the 2016 campaign undermines his position as the nation's top law enforcement officer.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, the California Democrat said she was "very concerned" about Barr's handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian meddling in the campaign and accused Barr of doing Trump's political bidding in his testimony at a Senate hearing.

"He is not the attorney general of Donald Trump. He is the attorney general of the United States," Pelosi told AP. "I don't trust Barr, I trust Mueller."

Pressure is mounting on the attorney general in the days before his release of a version of Mueller's nearly 400-page report, and Pelosi amplified the demands from Capitol Hill to see the full document. Barr said Wednesday he expects to release a redacted version within a week. Pelosi said it's only a "matter of time" before the full report is made public.

"We will see it," she said.

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National Enquirer parent explores possible sale of tabloid

NEW YORK (AP) — The supermarket tabloid under fire for paying hush money to a former Playboy model to help Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign is on the auction block.

The parent of the National Enquirer said Wednesday that it is exploring a possible sale as part of a "strategic" review of its tabloid business. The decision by American Media comes after the tabloid said it paid $150,000 to keep Karen McDougal quiet about an alleged affair with Trump and being accused by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos of blackmail.

American Media said it was considering a sale so it could focus more on other parts of its business, including its teen brand and broadcast platforms.

"Because of this focus, we feel the future opportunities with the tabloids can be best exploited by a different ownership," said American Media CEO David Pecker in a statement.

Pecker is a longtime Trump ally who helped bury potentially embarrassing stories about the future president over the years by paying hush money in a tabloid practice called "catch-and-kill." The Associated Press reported last year that Pecker kept a safe that held documents on hush money payments and killed stories, including records on ones involving Trump.

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Barr says 'I think spying did occur' against Trump campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr declared Wednesday he thinks "spying did occur" against Donald Trump's presidential campaign, suggesting the origins of the Russia investigation may have been mishandled in remarks that aligned him with the president at a time when Barr's independence is under scrutiny.

Barr, appearing before a Senate panel, did not say what "spying" may have taken place but seemed to be alluding to a surveillance warrant the FBI obtained on a former Trump associate. He later said he wasn't sure there had been improper surveillance but wanted to make sure proper procedures were followed. Still, his remarks give a boost to Trump and his supporters who insist his 2016 campaign was unfairly targeted by the FBI.

Barr was testifying for a second day at congressional budget hearings that were dominated by questions about special counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation. His statements further inflamed Democrats already frustrated by Barr's handling of the Mueller report, including his release of a four-page summary letter last month that they say paints the special counsel's findings in an overly favourable way for the president. The attorney general said he expects to release a redacted version of Mueller's report on Russian interference in the campaign next week.

In an interview with The Associated Press , House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she didn't trust Barr and suggested his statements undermined his credibility as America's chief law enforcement officer.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York tweeted that Barr's comments "directly contradict" what the Justice Department previously has said. And intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California said Barr's comments were sure to please Trump, but strike "another destructive blow to our democratic institutions."

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Lawyers: Ex-Obama White House counsel Craig expects charges

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Obama administration White House counsel Greg Craig expects to be charged in a foreign lobbying investigation spun off from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, his lawyers said Wednesday.

"Mr. Craig is not guilty of any charge and the government's stubborn insistence on prosecuting Mr. Craig is a misguided abuse of prosecutorial discretion," the attorneys, William Taylor and William Murphy, said in a statement.

The investigation into Craig comes as the Justice Department is cracking down on unregistered foreign lobbying and consulting. Federal prosecutors in New York have been investigating two prominent Washington lobbying firms in a similar probe, and Justice Department officials in Washington have been increasingly willing to prosecute people who they believe intentionally conceal their lobbying work from the federal government.

The scrutiny of Craig stems from an investigation of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his work on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. If filed, the charges would come about three months after Craig's former law firm agreed to pay more than $4.6 million and publicly acknowledge that it failed to register with the government for its work for the Ukraine.

The civil settlement with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP laid much of the blame for the firm's conduct on Craig, who was a senior partner.

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Bomb cyclone storm hammering central US, disrupting travel

Blizzard warnings were posted from Colorado to Minnesota on Wednesday and wildfires were a concern in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma as the second so-called "bomb cyclone" storm in less than a month hit the central U.S., raising the prospect of renewed flooding in the already drenched Midwest.

Heavy snow disrupted ground and air travel Wednesday. Roads became impassable and visibility was down to a few feet in northeastern South Dakota due to heavy snowfall. About half of the daily flights at Denver International Airport were cancelled.

Up to 2 1/2 feet (0.61 metres) of snow was expected to fall in parts of eastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, the National Weather Service said. Winds in excess of 50 mph (80.46 kph) also were expected, creating life-threatening conditions.

"We're calling it historic because of the widespread heavy snow. We will set some records," said Mike Connelly, a weather service meteorologist in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Transportation officials closed Interstate 29 from east central South Dakota to the North Dakota border and said other stretches of major interstates were likely to close as conditions deteriorated.

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Mnuchin puts off decision on providing Trump tax returns

WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the department hasn't decided whether to comply with a demand by a key House Democrat to deliver President Donald Trump's tax returns and won't meet a Wednesday deadline to provide them.

In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., who asked for Trump's returns a week ago, Mnuchin said Treasury will consult with the Justice Department and "carefully" review the request further.

"The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically-motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power," Mnuchin wrote.

He said Treasury respects lawmakers' oversight duties and would make sure taxpayer protections would be "scrupulously observed, consistent with my statutory responsibilities" as the department reviews the request.

Neal said in a statement that he "will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response to the commissioner in the coming days." Under the law, the IRS commissioner is required to provide access to any taxpayer's returns when directed by the chairmen of the House or Senate tax-writing committees.

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Science fact: Astronomers reveal first image of a black hole

WASHINGTON (AP) — Humanity got its first glimpse Wednesday of the cosmic place of no return: a black hole.

And it's as hot, as violent and as beautiful as science fiction imagined.

In a breakthrough that thrilled the world of astrophysics and stirred talk of a Nobel Prize, scientists released the first image ever made of a black hole, revealing a fiery doughnut-shaped object in a galaxy 53 million light-years from Earth.

"Science fiction has become science fact," University of Waterloo theoretical physicist Avery Broderick, one of the leaders of the research team of about 200 scientists from 20 countries, declared as the colorized orange-and-black picture was unveiled.

The image, assembled from data gathered by eight radio telescopes around the world, shows light and gas swirling around the lip of a supermassive black hole, a monster of the universe whose existence was theorized by Einstein more than a century ago but confirmed only indirectly over the decades.

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Ribbon cutting a last act for ousted Trump DHS officials

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kirstjen Nielsen and other longtime civil servants stood outside the Department of Homeland Security's new headquarters Wednesday in the breezy sunshine — a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a building they'd never work in.

Nielsen, homeland security secretary for a few more hours, stood smiling next to her replacement. Both held giant gold scissors, and on a count of three, they sliced through the blue ribbon together. If there were bad feelings or awkwardness, they weren't on display. The event felt more like a graduation than the bloodbath orchestrated by the White House this week to axe the agency's leadership.

Nielsen, for her part, seemed relaxed as she stepped to the podium to address her employees one last time. She spoke of their accomplishments together, and cracked a joke about how construction took so long she almost didn't see the new headquarters, erected at the site of an old federal psychiatric hospital.

"But I just made it," she said.

Nielsen resigned Sunday, ending a tumultuous tenure at the helm of a sprawling department of 240,000 people responsible for border security, disaster relief, cyber security, counterterrorism and other missions. She finally had enough after the most recent tangle with President Donald Trump and his aides over the increase of Central American migrants crossing the Southern border, and Trump's growing frustration.

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China's spreading influence in Eastern Europe worries West

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Coal-powered plants, mobile networks, major bridges, roads and railways: Chinese investments have been booming throughout Central and Eastern Europe's cash-strapped developing countries, even as European Union officials scramble to counter Beijing's mounting economic and political influence on the continent.

EU member Croatia is hosting a summit Thursday between China and 16 regional countries — the 8th so far — that focuses on expanding business and other links between China and the region, which Beijing sees as a gateway into Europe.

The gathering in Dubrovnik of the so-called 16+1 initiative consists of Central and Eastern European countries that have endorsed China's ambitious global "Belt and Road" investment project, which has triggered concerns among some key EU states about increased Chinese political and economic clout in the region.

China has already invested billions of dollars in various infrastructure projects in Central and Eastern Europe. Western leaders worry that further investment in the states that are EU members — or those hoping to join — could mean lower environmental and other standards than those in the rest of the bloc.

Thorny issues include the flouting of EU competition rules, potential over-borrowing by some of the states, the quality of constructions, and security concerns over high-speed 5G network technology supplied by Chinese companies. Critics also say that in return for allowing Chinese expansion into the region, Beijing should give better reciprocal access for European companies to Chinese markets.

News from © The Associated Press, 2019
The Associated Press

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