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

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

February 28, 2018 - 8:04 PM

White House communications director Hope Hicks resigning

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House communications director Hope Hicks, one of President Donald Trump's most trusted and longest-serving aides, abruptly announced her resignation Wednesday, leaving a void around a president who values loyalty and affirmation.

The departure of Hicks, who worked as a one-woman communications shop during his campaign, came as a surprise to most in the White House — and cast a pall over the West Wing at a trying time for the president. It leaves Trump increasingly without support of the familiar aides who surrounded him during his campaign, and marks the latest in a string of high-level departures in the administration's second year.

Hicks, 29, had a seemingly untouchable role in the West Wing, often viewed more as a surrogate daughter than a staffer. Perhaps most importantly, she served as Trump's glamorous shield and validator, always ready to provide "Mr. Trump" with a smiling dose of positive reinforcement, and controlling reporters' access. She was the fourth person to occupy the position since the president was sworn in, as the Trump White House has set modern records for staff turnover.

In a statement, Trump praised Hicks for her work over the last three years, saying he "will miss having her by my side." Hicks informed Trump of her decision Wednesday, a White House official said.

Hicks, who occupied the desk closest to the Oval Office in the West Wing, has been a central participant in or witness to nearly every milestone and controversy of the Trump campaign and White House. She began her White House tenure as director of strategic communications — a title that only partly captured her more expansive role as the president's gatekeeper to the press.

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Walmart sets age of 21 to buy firearms, ammunition

NEW YORK (AP) — Walmart announced Wednesday that it will no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21 and would also remove items resembling assault-style rifles from its website.

The move comes after Dick's Sporting Goods announced earlier in the day that it would restrict the sale of firearms to those under 21 years old. It didn't mention ammunition. Dick's also said it would immediately stop selling assault-style rifles, and its CEO took on the National Rifle Association by demanding tougher gun laws.

Walmart said its decision came after the company reviewed its firearm sales policy in light of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people. The teenage gunman used an AR-15 rifle. It said it takes "seriously our obligation to be a responsible seller of firearms" and also emphasized its background of serving "serving sportsmen and hunters."

Several major corporations, including MetLife, Hertz and Delta Air Lines, have cut ties with the NRA since the Florida tragedy, but none were retailers that sold guns. The NRA has pushed back aggressively against calls for raising age limits for guns or restricting the sale of assault-style weapons.

Walmart Inc. stopped selling AR-15 guns and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015. It doesn't sell bump stocks, the accessory attached to a semi-automatic gun that makes it easier to fire rounds faster. It also doesn't sell large-capacity magazines. It also says it doesn't sell handguns, except in Alaska.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. TRUMP PUTS FELLOW REPUBLICANS ON HOT SEAT

The president calls for speedy and substantial changes to the nation's gun laws, criticizing lawmakers in a White House meeting for being too fearful of the NRA.

2. EMOTIONS OVERFLOW AT FLORIDA SCHOOL

Students and teachers cry and hug as they return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for the first time since a troubled teenager with an assault rifle killed 17 people there.

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In public spat, Trump taunts Sessions, AG doesn't keep quiet

WASHINGTON (AP) — Harshly criticized yet again by his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday abandoned his usual stony silence and pushed back against President Donald Trump for saying Sessions' response to Republican complaints about the FBI was "disgraceful."

Sessions gave no suggestion he would step down in light of the charge made on Twitter and insisted he would "continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honour."

Trump's latest tirade stems from a comment Sessions made Tuesday, when he suggested the Justice Department's inspector general will evaluate whether prosecutors and FBI agents wrongly obtained a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of a onetime Trump campaign associate. Sessions had asked the watchdog office to review the complaints in response to pressure from congressional Republicans, who, like Trump, have fumed about what they believe to be bias within the FBI.

Trump tweeted: "Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn't the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!"

Sessions answered hours later, saying his department had taken the appropriate step and "will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution."

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Trump puts GOP in the hot seat on guns _ for now

WASHINGTON (AP) — Putting fellow Republicans in the hot seat, President Donald Trump called for speedy and substantial changes to the nation's gun laws on Wednesday, criticizing lawmakers in a White House meeting for being too fearful of the National Rifle Association to take action.

In a freewheeling, televised session that stretched for an hour, Trump rejected both his party's incremental approach and its legislative strategy that has stalled action in Congress. Giving hope to Democrats, he said he favoured a "comprehensive" approach to addressing violence like the shooting at Florida school earlier this month, although he offer no specific details.

Instead, Trump again voiced his support for expanded background checks. He endorsed increased school security and mental health resources, and he reaffirmed his support for raising the age to 21 for purchasing some firearms. Trump also mentioned arming teachers, and said his administration, not Congress, would ban bump-stock devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons with an executive order.

"We can't wait and play games and nothing gets done," Trump said as he opened the session with 17 House and Senate lawmakers. "We want to stop the problems."

Trump also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate people's firearms without a court order to prevent potential tragedies.

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Retailers Dick's and Walmart take harder line against guns

NEW YORK (AP) — Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart took steps Wednesday to restrict gun sales, adding two retail heavyweights to the growing rift between corporate America and the gun lobby.

Dick's said it will immediately stop selling assault-style rifles and ban the sale of all guns to anyone under 21. Its CEO took on the National Rifle Association by demanding tougher gun laws after the massacre in Florida.

Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, followed late Wednesday saying it will no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21. It had stopped selling AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015, citing weak sales.

The announcements from the major national retailers came as students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, returned to class for the first time since a teenager killed 17 students and educators with an AR-15 rifle two weeks ago.

"When we saw what the kids were going through and the grief of the parents and the kids who were killed in Parkland, we felt we needed to do something," Dick's Chairman and CEO Ed Stack said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

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Teacher barricades himself in class, fires gun; no one hurt

ATLANTA (AP) — A social studies teacher barricaded himself inside a classroom at a Georgia high school on Wednesday and fired a handgun, sending students running outside or hunkering down in darkened gym locker rooms, authorities said.

No Dalton High School students were in the classroom when the teacher fired the weapon, and despite the chaotic lockdown and evacuation, the only injury was a student who hurt her ankle running away.

It wasn't immediately clear why the teacher, 53-year-old Jesse Randal Davidson, had the gun. Under questioning by detectives, he refused to discuss what led to the shooting.

The gunfire erupted with a nation on edge two weeks after a Florida school shooting left 17 students and faculty dead and ignited a new debate over gun control in America. Within minutes of the Dalton shooting, students there took to social media, calling for restricting gun rights. In the afternoon, President Donald Trump, who has advocated for arming teachers, convened a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House to address gun violence.

The teacher was taken into custody without incident after a 30- to 45-minute standoff with officers, police spokesman Bruce Frazier said. A teacher since 2004, Davidson also serves as the play-by-play announcer for the high school's football team.

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Hugs, tears and police: High school reopens after shooting

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Students and teachers hugged and cried Wednesday as they returned under heavy police guard to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for the first time since a teenager with an assault rifle killed 17 people and thrust the huge Florida school into the centre of a renewed national gun debate.

The half-day began with fourth period so that the nearly 3,300 students could first be with the people they were with during the shooting two weeks ago.

"In the beginning, everyone was super serious, but then everyone cheered up and it started being the same vibes we had before the shooting. People started laughing and joking around," said Kyle Kashuv, a junior who said he hugged every single teacher.

On the way in, teens were guarded by hundreds of police officers. The police were accompanied by comfort animals, including dogs, horses and a donkey. One of the horses had "eagle pride" painted on its side. A nearby woman held a sign offering "free kisses."

After school dismissed, members of the Guardian Angels wearing their trademark red berets lined the streets at a crosswalk.

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Immigration head blames Oakland mayor for 800 missed arrests

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal official said Wednesday that about 800 "criminals" avoided immigration arrests because Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf alerted the public to the surprise operation, an extraordinarily high number of missed targets.

Thomas Homan, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's acting director, told Fox News that the mayor's warning on Twitter was "beyond the pale" and compared her to a gang lookout who tells people when a police car is arriving. Homan said the Justice Department is looking into whether Schaaf obstructed justice.

The mayor's unusual public warning last weekend came hours before the agency launched an operation in Northern California that resulted in more than 150 arrests as of Tuesday, according to the agency.

The agency declined to elaborate on the 800 who allegedly got away or answer other questions about the operation that began Sunday. Danielle Bennett, an agency spokeswoman, said more information would be released later in the week.

John Torres, the agency's director during the end of George W. Bush's administration and beginning of Barack Obama's, said agents generally capture about 40 per cent of people they target in such sweeps.

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Woman accused of poisoning her look-alike with a cheesecake

NEW YORK (AP) — A Russian native was charged with poisoning a look-alike with a tranquilizer-laced cheesecake and then stealing her passport, cash and other property after trying to make it look like a suicide attempt, authorities said Wednesday.

"This is a bizarre and twisted crime that could have resulted in the death of a Queens woman, whose only fault was that she shared similar features with the defendant," said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

The suspect, Viktoria Nasyrova, 42, of Brooklyn, was arraigned Tuesday on attempted murder, burglary, assault and other charges after being arrested in March 2017. Her lawyer, Barbara Byrne, declined to comment. In an earlier interview with CBS, Nasyrova denied forcing the woman to eat the cheesecake.

In August 2016, Nasyrova, visited the Forest Hills, Queens, home of the 35-year-old victim bearing a gift of a cheesecake, said Brown. He added that both women have dark hair, the same skin complexion and speak Russian.

"The woman ate the cheesecake, fell ill and laid down," Brown said. "Before passing out, the woman's last memory is of seeing the defendant sitting beside her inside her home."

News from © The Associated Press, 2018
The Associated Press

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