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 27, 2018 - 8:04 PM

Kushner security status reduced, cutting access to secrets

WASHINGTON (AP) — The security clearance of White House senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has been downgraded, significantly reducing his access to classified information, according to two people informed of the decision.

Kushner had been operating with an interim clearance at the "top secret/sensitive compartmented information" level for more than a year. Now he is authorized to access information only at the lower "secret" level, according to a White House official and a person familiar with the decision, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. Neither source was authorized to discuss the decision publicly.

Tuesday's news set off rampant speculation among Trump allies that Kushner's days in the White House might be numbered. On the same day, the departure of a third Kushner ally in the West Wing in as many months was announced. And the selection of a Kushner ally to serve as Trump's 2020 campaign manager appeared to suggest the campaign could provide Kushner with a convenient place to land after his White House duties end.

Kushner lost his access to the nation's deepest secrets after chief of staff John Kelly ordered that White House officials with interim clearances pending since before June 1, 2017, be cut off if they hadn't received permanent clearances by last Friday. A White House official confirmed to The Associated Press that Kelly's order has been implemented.

President Donald Trump could have reversed Kelly's decision and unilaterally offered Kushner a clearance, but deferred to Kelly. Kushner is one of dozens of White House aides who have been working without permanent security clearances for the better part of a year.

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Trump campaign chief lends name to penny stock tied to felon

WASHINGTON (AP) — The political strategist and online guru who was named President Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager Tuesday has a close financial relationship with a penny-stock firm with a questionable history that includes longstanding ties to a convicted fraudster, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Brad Parscale, who played a key role in Trump's 2016 election victory, signed a $10 million deal in August to sell his digital marketing company to CloudCommerce Inc. As part of the deal, Parscale currently serves as a member of California-based company's management team.

The company touts itself as "a global provider of cloud-driven e-commerce and mobile commerce solutions." But records reviewed by the AP raise questions about its current financial picture and its rocky past.

CloudCommerce's operations have not turned a profit in nearly a decade, the records indicate. The company's most recent quarterly earnings showed it has spent more than $19 million in investor money since its creation nearly two decades ago and has only $107,000 in cash on hand.

And in 2006, a top executive at the company, which was operating under a different name at the time, was caught in an FBI bribery sting and later pleaded guilty to securities fraud. The company said the former executive no longer has any connection to the company, but documents reviewed by the AP indicate he has remained involved in CloudCommerce's major corporate decisions in recent years.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

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

1. DEBATE ON GUN REFORM STALLS

House Speaker Ryan shows little interest in stricter gun control proposals being floated in Congress, leaving the issue in the hands of wary Senate leaders and President Trump, whose shifting views have left no clear strategy for legislative action.

2. TRUCE FAILS TO EASE SUFFERING

A five-hour truce ordered by Assad's Russian allies to allow civilians to flee a besieged, opposition-held enclave near Damascus doesn't result in aid deliveries or medical evacuations.

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Police called after brawl in dispute over Trump Panama hotel

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Rival teams of security guards grappled in a stairwell Tuesday as a business dispute for control over the Trump luxury hotel in Panama mounted.

Cellphone video of the confrontation obtained by The Associated Press showed a security official working for President Donald Trump's family hotel business screaming "Out!" in Spanish as condo owners attempted to enter a room filled with computer equipment.

Men in suits wrestled in a stairway before a large man aligned with the Trump Hotel team slapped the phone out of the hand of the person recording the confrontation.

Panama City police responded to calls about the scuffle, which took place in an area belonging to a condo association that operates independently of the hotel but shares the building. One of Trump's guards was escorted by police off the property after the incident, though not arrested, according to officers on the scene.

The video was provided to the AP by a person opposed to Trump who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for being drawn into current and future litigation over the property.

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Hope Hicks declines to answer some questions in Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's longtime aide Hope Hicks declined to answer questions about her time in the White House during a nine-hour, closed-door interview with the House intelligence committee Tuesday, saying she was advised not to.

The panel is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and any contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia. As one of Trump's closest aides, Hicks is a key eyewitness to his actions over the past several years. She was his spokeswoman during the 2016 presidential campaign and is now White House communications director.

The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said after the meeting was over that Hicks answered questions about her role in Trump's campaign and answered some questions about the transition period between the election and the inauguration. But she would not answer any questions about events since Trump took the oath of office, similar to some other White House officials who have spoken to the committee. Schiff said Hicks did not assert any type of executive privilege, but just said she had been advised not to answer.

While the investigation is focused on Russian interference during the campaign, House investigators also had questions about her time in the White House, including her role in drafting a statement about a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians. That statement has been of particular interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating matters related to the Russian meddling and potential obstruction of an ongoing federal inquiry.

The White House has said the president was involved in drafting the statement after news of the meeting broke last summer. The statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, though emails released later showed that Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., enthusiastically agreed to the sit-down with a Russian lawyer and others after he was promised dirt on Trump's presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Hicks was with the president on Air Force One while they were writing the initial statement.

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Across Florida, parents, teens, officials, talk safety

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Florida's governor said Tuesday that he's determined to make the Parkland school shooting the last the state ever experiences.

Gov. Rick Scott met with Miami-Dade County officials to outline a plan to pass a school safety bill before the state's annual legislative session ends next Friday.

Scott says he wants to spend $500 million to increase law enforcement and mental health counsellors at schools, to make buildings more secure with metal detectors and to create an anonymous tip line.

Family members of slain students spoke during the news conference and during a legislative hearing Tuesday in Tallahassee.

The father of a girl who was shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 urged people not to allow the contentious gun debate to stall other efforts.

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UN experts: North Korea sent banned chemical items to Syria

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea sent items used in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs to Syria along with missile technicians in violation of U.N. sanctions — and banned ballistic missiles systems to Myanmar, U.N. experts said.

The panel of experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea said its investigations into Pyongyang's transfer of prohibited ballistic missile, conventional arms and dual use goods found more than 40 previously unreported shipments to Syria between 2012 and 2017.

It said an unnamed U.N. member state also reported evidence of Myanmar's receipt of a range of conventional weapons from North Korea including multiple rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles in addition to ballistic missile systems.

The Associated Press reported on Feb. 2 that according to the experts' report, North Korea was flouting U.N. sanctions on oil and gas, engaging in prohibited ballistic missile co-operation with Syria and Myanmar, and illegally exporting commodities that brought in nearly $200 million in just nine months last year.

AP obtained details from the more than 200-page report late Tuesday, including the panel's findings related to chemical weapons in Syria. The U.S. and other Western nations have accused Syria of using chemical weapons against rebel-controlled areas including recently in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, which President Bashar Assad's government denies.

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What's in the IV bag? Studies show safer option than saline

New research calls into question what's in those IV bags that nearly every hospitalized patient gets. Using a different intravenous fluid instead of the usual saline greatly reduced the risk of death or kidney damage, two large studies found.

The difference could mean 50,000 to 70,000 fewer deaths and 100,000 fewer cases of kidney failure each year in the U.S., researchers estimate. Some doctors are hoping the results will persuade more hospitals to switch.

"We've been sounding the alarm for 20 years" about possible harms from saline, said Dr. John Kellum, a critical care specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. "It's purely inertia" that prevents a change, he said.

Kellum had no role in the studies, which were discussed Tuesday at a critical care conference in San Antonio and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Federal grants helped pay for the work.

IVs are one of the most common things in health care. They are used to prevent dehydration, maintain blood pressure or give patients medicines or nutrients if they can't eat.

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Top intel official: US must do more to stop Russian meddling

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. response to Russian meddling and disinformation campaigns has not been strong enough to deter Moscow's activities, a top intelligence official said Tuesday.

Adm. Mike Rogers, director of both the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, said he's taken steps to respond to the threat, but that neither President Donald Trump nor Defence Secretary James Mattis has granted him any additional authorities to counter Russian efforts to sow discord in the United States.

"I've never been given any specific direction to take additional steps outside my authority. I have taken the steps within my authority, you know, trying to be a good, pro-active commander," Rogers said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "I have not been granted any additional authorities."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders wouldn't discuss what authority Rogers was referencing, but said the president was looking at ways to prevent Russian meddling. "I can tell you that we are taking a number of steps to prevent this and we are looking at a variety of other ways that we're going to continue to implement over the coming weeks and months," Sanders said.

Rogers told Congress that he thinks a more aggressive response is needed, but that he doesn't set policy and doesn't want to tell the president what to do.

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Powell's bullish outlook on US economy rattles markets

WASHINGTON (AP) — New Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell delivered a message Tuesday that wasn't quite what Wall Street had expected: The U.S. economy is doing well, maybe even better than he thought late last year.

Powell emphasized in his first Congressional testimony that the central bank plans to raise rates gradually. Nonetheless, his growing optimism about the economy rattled investors. Treasury yields climbed and stocks fell amid fresh speculation that the Fed would accelerate the pace of hikes in its benchmark policy rate this year. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 299 points.

The Fed raised rates three times in 2017 and had projected in December that it would raise rates another three times this year. However, many private economists said they now expected the Fed will boost rates four times this year rather than three.

"My personal outlook for the economy has strengthened since December," Powell said when asked whether the Fed might boost its projection for rate hikes from three to four when it updates its outlook next month.

Powell would not say whether the Fed's projection for rate hikes would change. But he noted a number of ways that the economic outlook has improved since December, including stronger data on growth and inflation, the passage of a $1.5 trillion tax cut in late December and an increase in government spending in a January budget deal.

News from © The Associated Press, 2018
The Associated Press

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