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

January 15, 2020 - 8:04 PM

House leaders march Trump impeachment articles to the Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a dramatic procession across the U.S. Capitol, House Democrats carried the formal articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate late Wednesday, setting the stage for only the third trial to remove a president in American history.

Trump complained anew it was all a “hoax,” even as fresh details emerged about his efforts in Ukraine.

The ceremonial pomp and protocol by the lawmakers prosecuting the case against Trump moved the impeachment out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic-run House to the Republican-majority Senate, where the president’s team is mounting a defence aiming for swift acquittal.

“Today we will make history,'' Pelosi said as she signed the documents, using multiple pens to hand out and mark the moment. “This president will be held accountable."

Moments later the prosecutors walked solemnly through the stately hall, filing into the Senate back row as the Clerk of the House announced the arrival: “The House has passed House Resolution 798, a resolution appointing and authorizing managers of the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump, President of United States.”

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Democrats to investigate 'profoundly alarming' Ukraine texts

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee chairman said his panel will investigate what he says are “profoundly alarming” text messages that have raised questions about the possible surveillance of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before she was ousted by the Trump administration last spring.

House Democrats on Tuesday night released a trove of documents they obtained from Lev Parnas, a close associate of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. The messages show that a Trump donor named Robert F. Hyde disparaged Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on her location and cellphone use.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday that the messages are “profoundly alarming" and “suggest a possible risk" to Yovanovitch’s security in Kyiv before she was recalled from her post.

“These threats occurred at the same time that the two men were also discussing President Trump’s efforts, through Rudy Giuliani, to smear the ambassador’s reputation," Engel said.

He said the committee staff flagged the information for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and is seeking assurances that proper steps have been taken to ensure the security of Yovanovitch and committee staff. He said he also wanted to know what, if anything, the State Department knew about the situation.

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'You called me a liar,' Warren told Sanders post-Iowa debate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Elizabeth Warren accused Bernie Sanders of calling her a liar before a national television audience during a tense, post-debate exchange in which she refused to shake his outstretched hand, according to audio released Wednesday by CNN.

The Democratic presidential rivals are strong progressives who had steadfastly refused to attack each other for more than a year on the campaign trail. But that changed Monday, when Warren said that, during a private meeting between the two in 2018, he disagreed with her that a woman could win the presidency.

Sanders, a senator from Vermont, has denied that, and did so again during Tuesday night's presidential debate, which was hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register and held in Iowa, whose first-in-the-nation caucuses are Feb. 3. Warren stood by her account and said it was time to confront the larger issues of sexism in politics.

That exchange lasted only a few minutes. But after the debate was over, Warren, a Massachusetts senator, approached Sanders, who put out his hand for her to shake. Instead, she confronted him, and the two talked briefly in tense tones.

Neither campaign would confirm what was said Tuesday night, but CNN released the audio Wednesday. As she is refusing his extended hand, Warren repeats, “I think you called me a liar on national TV." Sanders gently brushes her with his hand, then says, “Let's not do it right now.”

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US military resumes counter-Islamic State operations in Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military is resuming operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and is working to soon restart training Iraqi forces, U.S. officials said Wednesday, despite deep divisions over the American drone strike that killed an senior Iranian commander in Baghdad and the resulting missile attacks by Iran on Iraqi bases.

One official said some joint operations between the U.S. and Iraqi forces have already begun, but there are not yet as many as before. The official said details are still being worked out to restore the training of Iraqi forces, but that could happen relatively soon.

Relations with Iraq were fractured after the U.S. launched a drone strike near Baghdad's international airport on Jan. 3 that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The Parliament later voted to expel U.S. forces from the country and Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi asked Washington to work out a road map for a troop withdrawal. The U.S. flatly rejected that request and has not moved to pull the more than 5,000 troops out.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss decisions not yet made public.

One official said military leaders have discussed the resumption of operations with the Iraqis, but it's not clear who was involved in those talks or whether Iraqi government leaders are publicly endorsing the move.

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Emphasis on US exports, trade secrets in China trade deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and China reached a trade deal Wednesday that eases tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, offers massive export opportunities for U.S. farms and factories, and promises to do more to protect American trade secrets.

Still, the Phase 1 agreement leaves unresolved Washington's fundamental differences with Beijing, which is relying on massive government intervention in the economy to turn China into a technological power.

President Donald Trump is wanting to show progress on an issue that he has made a hallmark of his presidency and hopes to use in his reelection campaign this year. Wednesday's signing ceremony at the White House gave him the chance to do that just hours before the House voted to send articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial.

Trump promoted the trade signing as a way of delivering economic justice for American workers he claims have been betrayed by past administrations and their trade policies.

“We mark more than just an agreement. We mark a sea change in international trade,” Trump declared during a rambling ceremony in which he made references to former FBI Director James Comey, the impeachment proceedings and a possible visit to Mount Rushmore on July Fourth for a fireworks display.

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Putin engineers shake-up that could keep him in power longer

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin engineered a surprise shake-up of Russia's leadership Wednesday, proposing changes to the constitution that could keep him in power well past the end of his term in 2024.

Hours after he made the proposals, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigned and Putin named the little-known head of Russia's tax service to replace him.

Putin kept his longtime ally Medvedev in the Kremlin's leadership structure by appointing him to the newly created post of deputy head of the presidential Security Council. But the duties and influence of that position are unclear.

The shakeup sent shock waves through Russia's political elites who were left pondering what Putin's intentions were and speculating about future Cabinet appointments.

Putin’s proposed constitutional reforms, announced in a state of the nation address, indicated he was working to carve out a new governing position for himself after his term ends, although the suggested changes don’t immediately specify what path he will take to stay in charge.

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Aviation experts puzzled after airliner dumps fuel over city

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some aviation experts said Wednesday that they were puzzled after the crew of a commercial airliner decided to dump fuel at low altitude during an emergency landing, causing a vapour to fall on schoolyards and neighbourhoods east of Los Angeles International Airport.

“No one is going to dump fuel where these guys did it over populated areas and schools. It's a pretty outrageous thing,” said Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts and a retired United Airlines pilot. “They should have gone over the ocean or landed heavyweight.”

Delta Air Lines said Flight 89 to Shanghai had an engine problem after takeoff Tuesday and needed to quickly return. The Boeing 777-200 landed safely after circling back over Los Angeles while dumping fuel to reach a safe landing weight, the airline said in a statement.

Los Angeles County firefighters were called to schools where nearly 60 children and adults were examined for minor skin and lung irritations, but none required hospitalization. Fire Inspector Sky Cornell also said monitoring showed the vapour wasn't flammable.

When a plane is forced to turn back after takeoff, the weight of a full load of fuel carries a risk of damaging the jet during landing. That can be costly for airlines to fix. And even if there isn’t damage, airlines try to avoid overweight landings because they are required to inspect planes, which puts them out of service.

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Prosecutor: Texas teen mistakenly killed friend in school

HOUSTON (AP) — A 16-year-old student mistakenly shot his friend in their Houston-area high school’s ROTC room before fleeing and being arrested several hours later, officials said Wednesday.

The two were in a room at Bellaire High School with four other students but no adult Tuesday afternoon when the 16-year-old took a semi-automatic pistol out of his waistband and pulled the trigger, killing 19-year-old Cesar Cortes, said Lt. Greg Bartlett.

The suspect, whose name wasn't released, fled the scene after the shooting and was arrested about 3 1/2 hours later, authorities said. He was charged as a minor with manslaught er, according to the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

District Attorney Kim Ogg said that based on evidence gathered so far, the shooting does not appear to have been intentional. She said the students were part of the school's ROTC program and that there's no indication that they'd been fighting before the shooting.

“They were friendly. They were friends,” Ogg said. “Pulling a trigger on a gun, whether you know if it’s loaded or not, is an intentional act. But he did not, based on the evidence we have right now, intend to kill his friend.”

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Virginia moves to brink of becoming 38th state to ratify ERA

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia on Wednesday moved to the brink of becoming the crucial 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in what was seen as a momentous victory for the women's rights movement even though it is far from certain the measure will ever be added to the U.S. Constitution.

The state House and Senate approved the proposed amendment with bipartisan support, well over a generation after Congress sent the ERA to the states for ratification in 1972. Each chamber now must pass the other's resolution, but final passage is considered all but certain.

Amendments to the Constitution must be ratified by three-quarters of the states, or 38. But whether this one will go on to become the 28th Amendment may have to be decided in court because the deadline set by Congress for ratification of the ERA ran out in 1982 and because five states that approved it in the 1970s have since rescinded their support.

Still, the twin votes carried symbolic weight and showed how much once-solidly conservative Virginia, a place that defeated the ERA time and again, has changed.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a sponsor of the House ERA measure, told her colleagues they were taking “the vote of a lifetime.”

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Wrestler Rocky Johnson, Dwayne Johnson’s father, dead at 75

Rocky "Soulman" Johnson, a WWE Hall of Fame wrestler who became better known as the father of actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has died. He was 75.

WWE issued a statement on Johnson's death Wednesday night. Johnson and Tony Atlas became the first black world tag team champions in WWE history when they defeated The Wild Samoans on Dec. 10, 1983.

“A loss for every fan of @WWE, Rocky Johnson was a barrier-breaking performer. Our thoughts are with his family at this time,” WWE executive and wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque tweeted.

Johnson later helped train his son, who adopted the Rocky moniker from his father. Johnson came to his son's aid after a match at WrestleMania in 1997. The Rock inducted his father into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.

Former professional wrestler Brian Blair, another 1980s WWE star, was friends with Johnson for decades and they still went to church together in the Tampa, Florida area. Blair told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Johnson had complained of an unspecified illness of late and had missed church that he attended with Blair and other former wrestlers. Blair said Johnson's wife, Sheila, was distraught over her husband's death.

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