AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST

February 21, 2020 Off By The Wall of Law

Intel officials say Russia boosting Trump candidacy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election campaign to help President Donald Trump get reelected,three officialsfamiliar with the closed-door briefing said Thursday.

The warning raises questions about the integrity of the presidential campaign and whether Trump’s administration is taking the proper steps to combat the kind of interference that the U.S. saw in 2016.

The officials asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. They said the briefing last week focused on Russia’s efforts to influence the 2020 election and sow discord in the American electorate.

The warning was first reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Times said the news infuriated Trump, who complained that Democrats would use the information against him. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has dismissed the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s 2016 election interference as a conspiracy to undermine his victory.

One day after the Feb. 13 briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Trump berated the then-director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and he announced this week that Maguire would be replaced by Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist.


Trump ally Roger Stone sentenced to over 3 years in prison

WASHINGTON (AP) — Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, was sentenced to more than three years in prison Thursday for obstructing a congressional investigation in a case that has sparked fears about presidential interference in the justice system.

Soon after Judge Amy Berman Jackson pronounced sentence, Trump publicly decried Stone’s conviction as unfair and prominent Republican legislators were giving tacit support for a pardon. But Trump said he wasn’t ready to act just yet.

“I want the process to play out. I think that’s the best thing to do because I would love to see Roger exonerated,” he said. “I’m going to watch the process. I’m going to watch very closely. … At some point I’ll make a determination.”

The case was marked by the Justice Department’s extraordinary about-face on a sentencing recommendation and a very public dispute between Trump and Attorney General William Barr, who said the president was undermining the department’s historical independence and making “it impossible for me to do my job.”

The president responded by asserting that he was the “chief law enforcement officer of the federal government.”


Infighting and online hoaxes mar Democrats’ campaign

RINDGE, N.H. (AP) — A group of Los Angeles artists were awaiting the results of the Democratic Party’s Iowa caucuses, hoping Bernie Sanders would win, when they fired off a hashtag on Twitter poking fun at Pete Buttigieg.

By the next morning, the hashtag — #MayorCheat — was trending worldwide.

“That’s so funny that we’re the first people to make this joke,” said Nick Thorburn, a 38-year-old musician.

Not everyone was laughing.

Some on social media capitalized on the trending hashtag to spread misinformation or conspiracy theories about Buttigieg, including claims that he had colluded with the Democratic Party to rig the caucuses. Other accounts accused Russian trolls of promoting the hashtag to divide Democrats.


Bloomberg struggles to respond to politics of #MeToo era

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Bloomberg’s name last appeared on a ballot a decade before #MeToo transformed cultural mores surrounding sexual harassment and the treatment of women. As he campaigns for the presidency, the 78-year-old billionaire is struggling to adjust.

The former New York City mayor was caught flat-footed during much of Wednesday night’s debate when rival Elizabeth Warren blasted his company’s use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment. She sought to portray such agreements as endemic of a broader culture of sexism at the company, Bloomberg LP, when he was CEO.

Bloomberg’s response was dismissive. He said those who alleged misconduct “didn’t like a joke I told” and argued that non-disclosure agreements were “consensual” deals supported by the women involved.

The response struck some women as out of touch with how the #MeToo movement has reshaped the conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace — and the use of non-disclosure agreements in particular. Employment lawyer Debra Katz, who represented accuser Christine Blasey Ford in her Senate testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, said Bloomberg’s comments “really missed the mark.”

“I think Bloomberg’s comments were tone-deaf,” she said. “In this moment, when we now understand that many NDAs were entered into in coercive manners, it’s incumbent upon companies and especially those (led by people) like Bloomberg, who are public figures, to agree to revisit these issues.”


South Korea ups emergency response as viral cases surge

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea reported more virus cases Friday and declared a “special management zone” around a southeastern city where the surging outbreak, largely linked to a church in Daegu, threatens to overwhelm the region’s health system.

In the capital, Seoul, officials banned major downtown rallies and shut down a big park to avoid mass public gatherings where the virus could spread. Workers in protective gear also sprayed disinfectant in the city’s subway.

Health authorities reported 52 new cases of the illness, raising South Korea’s total to 156, most of them since Wednesday. The spike, especially in and around Daegu city, has raised fears the outbreak is getting out of control in the country.

And the first two cases were confirmed in South Korea’s 600,000-member military, a navy sailor and an army officer who had both reportedly visited Daegu recently.

Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said in a televised statement the central government will concentrate its support to the southeastern region to ease a shortage in sickbeds, medical personnel and equipment.


Stress, rumours, even violence: Virus fear goes viral

TOKYO (AP) — You might have heard that the fear of a new virus from China is spreading faster than the actual virus.

From earnest officials trying to calm a building panic. From your spouse. From the know-it-all who rattles off the many much more likely ways you’re going to die: smoking, car accidents, the flu.

None of it seems to matter.

As the number of cases rise — more than 76,000 and counting — fear is advancing like a tsunami. And not just in the areas surrounding the Chinese city of Wuhan, the site of the vast majority of coronavirus infections.

Subway cars in Tokyo and Seoul look more like hospital wards, with armies of masked commuters shooting dirty looks at the slightest cough or sneeze. A restaurant owner in a South Korean Chinatown says visitors have dropped by 90%.


German gunman calling for genocide kills 9 people

HANAU, Germany (AP) — A German who shot and killed nine people of foreign background in a rampage that began at a hookah bar frequented by immigrants had posted an online rant calling for the “complete extermination” of many “races or cultures in our midst,” authorities said Thursday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack exposed the “poison” of racism in the country.

The gunman, Tobias Rathjen, 43, was found dead at his home along with his mother, and authorities said they were treating the rampage as an act of domestic terrorism.

Turks, ethnic Kurds and people with backgrounds from Bulgaria, Bosnia and Romania were among those killed, according to news reports. Turkey’s ambassador said five of the dead were Turkish citizens. People of Turkish background make up Germany’s single largest minority.

Rathjen opened fire at the hookah bar and a neighbouring cafe in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau around 10 p.m. Wednesday, killing several people, then travelled about 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) and fired on a car and a sports bar, claiming more victims. In addition to the dead, six people were injured, one seriously, authorities said.


Wrestler adds to abuse allegations against university doctor

ANN Arbour, Michigan (AP) — An Olympic wrestler on Thursday accused a University of Michigan doctor of touching him inappropriately during medical exams at the school and said the physician’s reputation for such conduct was well known among his teammates.

Andy Hrovat, who competed for the U.S. in the 2008 Summer Olympics, told The Associated Press that the encounters with the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson happened during his freshman year in 1998.

“I would like to let people know that it’s OK to come out,” Hrovat said in an interview from his attorney’s office in Denver. “It’s OK to let your voice be heard.”

He is the first athlete to make public accusations against Anderson following complaints this week from other former students that the doctor sexually abused them decades ago.

“I was warned about him from teammates, saying, ‘If anything happens and you go see the doctor, he’s going to inappropriately touch you, that’s just what Dr. A does,’” Hrovat recalled.


TV analyst? Spokesman? Freed ex-governor goes job hunting

CHICAGO (AP) — Job wanted: Ex-governor and ex-con with strong speaking skills and good hair seeking employment.

Fresh out of prison thanks to a commutation this week from President Donald Trump, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is in the hunt for a post-prison career.

“I need to start working and providing for my family,” the 63-year-old told Fox News this week. He didn’t elaborate on the kind of job he is seeking.

Job hunts have gotten Blagojevich in trouble before.

His expletive-laden talk captured on FBI wiretaps about landing a job or campaign cash for naming someone to Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat is part of what led to his multiple corruption convictions.


Trump apparently not a fan of ‘Parasite’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is apparently not a fan of “Parasite,” his biggest complaint being that the movie was made in South Korea.

Trump started talking about the Academy Awards during a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday. Parasite was named best picture, becoming the first non-English-language film to get the top honour.

“What the hell was that all about?” Trump said. “We’ve got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of that, they give them best movie of the year. Was it good? I don’t know.”

Neon, the U.S. distributor for the subtitled film, shot back on Twitter: “Understandable. He can’t read.”

The audience booed when Trump mentioned the Academy Awards and then cheered when he said: “Can we get like ‘’Gone with the Wind’ back please? ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ so many great movies.”

The Associated Press

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