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

December 02, 2017 - 8:05 PM

Analysis: Flynn plea clouds Trump's tax victory

WASHINGTON (AP) — For President Donald Trump, this is a best-of-times, worst-of-times moment. So far.

The president was up early Saturday celebrating the Senate's overnight passage of a sweeping tax overhaul package that puts him on the cusp of a major legislative achievement that has so far eluded him. But within hours, he was tweeting and commenting about Russia, even in the midst of a victory tour in New York celebrating the advance of the tax overhaul.

That victory was clouded by Friday's news that Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts during the presidential transition. Flynn is co-operating with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, a potentially ominous sign for Trump.

The head-snapping developments in less than 24 hours underscored a reality of his presidency: He just can't escape Russia.

"I think the timing probably displeased him," said former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett, an understatement about a man given to overstatement.

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After erroneous Flynn report, ABC News suspends Brian Ross

NEW YORK (AP) — ABC News on Saturday suspended investigative reporter Brian Ross for four weeks without pay for his erroneous report on Michael Flynn, which it called a "serious error."

Ross, citing an unnamed confidant of Flynn, the former national security adviser, had reported Friday that then-candidate Donald Trump had directed Flynn to make contact with the Russians. That would have been an explosive development in the ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the election. But hours later, Ross clarified his report on the evening news, saying that his source now said Trump had done so not as a candidate, but as president-elect. At that point, he said, Trump had asked Flynn to contact the Russians about issues including working together to fight ISIS.

ABC was widely criticized for merely clarifying and not correcting the report. It issued a correction later in the evening.

"We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday," the network said in a statement Saturday. "The reporting conveyed by Brian Ross during the special report had not been fully vetted through our editorial standards process. As a result of our continued reporting over the next several hours ultimately we determined the information was wrong and we corrected the mistake on air and online.

"It is vital we get the story right and retain the trust we have built with our audience — these are our core principles. We fell far short of that yesterday. Effective immediately, Brian Ross will be suspended for four weeks without pay."

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Why Republicans who once fought budget debt now embrace it

WASHINGTON (AP) — When did Republicans stop worrying and learn to love budget deficits?

Over the next decade, their tax plan would add at least $1 trillion to the national debt. That would be on top of an additional $10 trillion in deficits over the same period already being by forecast by the Congressional Budget Office. As a share of the economy, the national debt would be rising to levels last seen during the height of World War II.

This borrowing spree would mark a sharp reversal for Republicans who made a career of sounding the alarm that mounting national debt would ultimately crush the economy and perhaps impoverish future generations. House Speaker Paul Ryan warned back in 2013 that endless deficits would "weigh the country down like an anchor. In short, we are on the verge of a debt crisis."

But on Friday, as the Senate debated its version of tax legislation, which it passed early Saturday, a rather different Republican Party was in full view. The party's few remaining deficit hawks, like Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, were clearly out of step with most in their party.

"Obviously, I'm kind of a dinosaur on fiscal issues," Corker said ruefully before declaring his opposition to the bill.

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Trump alters story on why he fired Flynn

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump changed his story Saturday on why he fired Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, now suggesting he knew at the time that Flynn had lied to the FBI as well as to Vice-President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russians during the presidential transition.

That was a turnabout from his initial explanations that Flynn had to go because he hadn't been straight with Pence about those contacts. Lying to the FBI is a crime, and one that Flynn acknowledged Friday in pleading guilty and agreeing to co-operate with the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Trump's tweet: "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice-President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

Amid questions raised by the tweet, Trump associates tried to put distance Saturday evening between the president himself and the tweet. One person familiar with the situation said the tweet was actually crafted by John Dowd, one of the president's personal attorneys. Dowd declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press on Saturday night.

In another email wrinkle in the investigation into Trump's ties to Russia, The New York Times reported Saturday that emails among top Trump transition officials suggested that Flynn was in close contact with other senior members of the transition team before and after he spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. A Dec. 29 email from K.T. McFarland, a transition adviser to Trump, suggested that Russian sanctions announced by the Obama administration had been aimed at discrediting Trump's victory.

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High court betting case pits states against sports leagues

OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) — With its spacious bar and banks of TVs tuned to all-sports stations, the lounge at New Jersey's Monmouth Park Racetrack is a sports gamblers' paradise-in-waiting. All that's standing in its way: a 25-year-old federal law that bars betting on sports in most states.

An hour before Thursday night's Washington-Dallas NFL game, only about half a dozen people sat at the bar, most of them workers at the horse-racing track or nearby residents. But a case the Supreme Court will take up Monday could change that, packing the bar and making wagering on sports widely available nationwide.

The high court is weighing whether a federal law that prevents states from authorizing sports betting is constitutional. New Jersey is leading the challenge against that law, with all four major U.S. professional sports leagues and the federal government on the other side.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the law, giving sports betting the go-ahead, dozens of states could quickly make it legal. Monmouth Park is gambling on a win for New Jersey and has already spent $1 million on its sports lounge, ready to turn it into a sports betting parlour in short order. British bookmaking company William Hill would run the operation.

"I don't think it's unfair to say if there is a broad ruling, you could be witnessing a reshaping of the global gambling industry around that ruling," said Chris Grove, managing director of Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a California-based research firm that believes 32 states would probably offer sports betting within five years if the Supreme Court makes that possible.

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Trump suggests openness to negotiations on GOP tax plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump suggested Saturday he may be willing to negotiate changes to a significant portion of the tax overhaul, the corporate tax rate, injecting an element of uncertainty into the tax plan only hours after it cleared the Senate.

Trump told reporters at the White House before a trip to New York City that he would consider setting the corporate tax rate at 22 per cent, compared to a 20 per cent rate that he has pushed for with House and Senate Republicans during the fall.

Pointing to expected talks between House and Senate negotiators this month, Trump predicted "something beautiful is going to come out of that mixer" and the business tax would come "all the way down from 35 to 20. It could be 22 when it comes out, but it could also be 20. We'll see what ultimately comes out."

Trump spoke after the Senate approved a $1.5 trillion tax bill early Saturday that would rewrite the nation's tax code, cut individual rates and slash the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 20 per cent beginning in 2019. If enacted, the bill would provide the most sweeping changes to the tax system in three decades and help Trump deliver the first major legislative win of his presidency.

Trump's suggestion of a higher corporate tax rate than what has been included in legislation approved by the House and Senate represented an about-face after the president and administration officials maintained a hard line that a corporate rate higher than 20 per cent was a nonstarter.

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Girl's body found; mom's boyfriend charged with hiding death

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) — The body of a missing 3-year-old North Carolina girl was found in a creek less than a day after her mother's boyfriend was charged with hiding her body after knowing she didn't die of natural causes, authorities said.

Investigators continue to stay tight-lipped about what happened to Mariah Woods. But they left little doubt Earl Kimrey knew how she died and was trying to cover it up. He was charged late Friday with concealing of death.

"It was too late to save Mariah the moment the 911 call came in," FBI agent Stanley Meador said of the call the girl's mother made Monday to report her missing. "The arrest warrants are public record and the records speaks for themselves. We will not discuss any details related to the homicide investigation."

Kimrey removed the girl's body from the place where she died and knew her death was not natural, according to those arrest warrants.

Sixteen hours after announcing Kimrey's arrest, Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller said the girl's body was found by dive teams around 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

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Remembering 1963 eruption, Bali's elderly wary of another

KLUNGKUNG, Indonesia (AP) — Bali's glowering Mount Agung has seemingly quietened since hurling huge columns of ash from its crater a week ago, but some villagers on the Indonesian island who survived the catastrophic 1963 explosions believe a bigger eruption is coming.

Ash plumes have dissipated in the past few days though an online seismogram from the mountain's monitoring post resembles a crazed abstract painting, indicating the tremendous forces churning within.

Explosions from the smoking crater and tremors still rattle the surrounding region and authorities have maintained Agung's alert at the highest level. Its 1963 eruptions killed about 1,100 people.

"The situation now is almost the same," said Nengah Tresni, who was 12 when Agung erupted in 1963. She recalls being at one of the Hindu temples that dot the volcano's slopes and the sky suddenly turning dark as she left with her family.

"I'm sure there will be a big eruption. It is just a matter of time," said Tresni, who came with family members on Tuesday to an ageing sports centre that's serving as an evacuation camp after officials told them to leave their village.

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Smoked pot and want to enlist? Army issuing more waivers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Smoked pot? Want to go to war?

No problem.

As more states lessen or eliminate marijuana penalties, the Army is granting hundreds of waivers to enlist people who used the drug in their youth — as long as they realize they can't do so again in the military.

The number of waivers granted by the active-duty Army for marijuana use jumped to more than 500 this year from 191 in 2016. Three years ago, no such waivers were granted. The big increase is just one way officials are dealing with orders to expand the Army's size.

"Provided they understand that they cannot do that when they serve in the military, I will waive that all day long," said Maj. Gen. Jeff Snow, head of the Army's recruiting command.

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McConnell: Tax bill won't add to nation's debt woes

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Fresh off his biggest legislative victory of the Trump era, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday disputed projections that the Senate's tax bill would add to the nation's debt woes.

Back home in Kentucky just hours after the Senate narrowly pushed through the nearly $1.5 trillion tax bill, McConnell predicted that the boldest rewrite of the nation's tax system in decades would generate more than enough economic growth to prevent the burgeoning deficits being forecast.

"I not only don't think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue neutral," he told reporters. "In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap."

Over the next decade, Republicans' tax plan is projected to add at least $1 trillion to the national debt. That would be on top of an additional $10 trillion in deficits over the same period already being forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.

"I'm not one of the total supplier siders who just believes that if you cut taxes, no matter what amount, you turn out ahead," McConnell said. "I still believe in revenue neutrality for tax reform, and I believe this is a revenue neutral tax reform bill."

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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