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    Federal prosecutors are planning to interview an executive with Ukraine’s state-owned gas company as part of an ongoing probe into the business dealings of Rudy Giuliani and two of his Soviet-born business associates. A lawyer for Andrew Favorov confirmed Tuesday that he is scheduled to meet voluntarily with the U.S. Justice Department. Favorov is the director of the integrated gas division at Naftogaz, the state-owned gas provider in Ukraine. Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating the business dealings of Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, including whether he failed to register as a foreign agent, according to people familiar with the probe. The people were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Giuliani’s close associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested last month at an airport outside Washington while trying to board a flight to Europe with one-way tickets. They were later indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records. Following an inquiry from The Associated Press, Favorov lawyer Lanny Breuer confirmed his client is set to meet with prosecutors. 'The Department of Justice has requested an interview,” Breuer said. “He has agreed and will voluntarily sit down with the government attorneys. At this time, it would not be appropriate to comment further.' Breuer declined to say when or where Favorov, who has dual U.S.-Russian citizenship and lives in Ukraine, will be meeting with prosecutors. Jim Margolin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, declined to comment. According to a federal indictment filed last month, Parnas and Fruman are alleged to have been key players in Giuliani's efforts earlier this year to spur the Ukrainian government to launch an investigation of Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The two men’s efforts included helping to arrange a January meeting in New York between Giuliani and Ukraine's former top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, as well as other meetings with top government officials. While the House impeachment hearings have focused narrowly on Giuliani’s role in pursuing Ukrainian investigations into Democrats, the interest of federal prosecutors in interviewing Favorov suggests they are conducting a broader probe into the business dealings of Giuliani and his associates. The Associated Press reported on Oct. 7 that while they were working with Giuliani to push for investigating the Bidens, Parnas and Fruman were also leveraging political connections to Trump and other prominent Republicans as part of an effort to enrich themselves. In March, Parnas and Fruman approached Favorov while the Ukrainian executive was attending an energy industry conference in Texas. Over drinks and dinner, Giuliani’s associates told him they had flown in from Florida on a private jet to recruit him to be their partner in a new venture to export up to 100 tanker shipments a year of U.S. liquefied gas into Ukraine, where Naftogaz is the largest distributor, according to two people Favorov later briefed on the details. As part of the plan, Parnas suggested backing Favorov to replace his boss, Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev. Parnas is reported to have also told Favorov that Trump planned to remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and replace her with someone more open to aiding their business interests. Yovanovitch was recalled to Washington in May. Giuliani, who has described Parnas and Fruman as his clients, has denied involvement in the two men’s efforts to forge a gas deal in Ukraine. ___ Follow Associated Press investigative reporters Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck and Desmond Butler at http://twitter.com/desmondbutler ___ Contact AP's global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.
  • The former special envoy to Ukraine testified Tuesday he should have realized — as many of his colleagues did — that President Donald Trump was holding up military aid to pressure the country to investigate political rival Joe Biden. Testifying in the House impeachment inquiry, Kurt Volker said he believes now, thanks to hindsight and the testimony of other witnesses, that Trump was using the aid to compel Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma. But Volker insisted he did not know of the effort at the time, despite his deep involvement with Ukrainian officials on a statement — never released — that would have committed the country to investigating Burisma and the 2016 U.S. election. Nor did he make the connection after Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, mentioned allegations against Joe Biden during a July 19 breakfast, Volker said. “In retrospect I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections,” he said Tuesday. Volker was testifying alongside former White House national security official Tim Morrison in the second hearing of the day in the House’s impeachment inquiry, the fourth in history against a U.S. president. Both witnesses were requested by Republicans. Democrats say there may be grounds for impeachment in Trump’s push for Ukraine’s new leader to investigate his Democratic rival and the 2016 U.S. election as he withheld critical U.S. military assistance. Trump denies any such quid pro quo, and he dismissed the hearings Tuesday as a “kangaroo court.” Morrison, who stepped down from the National Security Council shortly before he appeared before House investigators behind closed doors last month, has said he was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed on Trump’s July 25 call, something Republicans have repeatedly highlighted. 'As I stated during my deposition, I feared at the time of the call on July 25th how its disclosure would play in Washington’s political climate,” he said Tuesday. “My fears have been realized.” He told lawmakers Tuesday that the transcript of the call was incorrectly placed in a highly secure location. “It was a mistake,” he said, merely “an administrative error.” Volker was the first person to testify behind closed doors in the inquiry that started in September, resigning his position shortly before he did so. Since then, a parade of witnesses have testified publicly and privately about what they recalled about the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s new leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Many of those statements cast doubt on Volker’s account that he didn’t know Burisma was tied to Biden, and that he wasn’t aware of a possible quid pro quo. Volker was not on the call. On Tuesday, Volker said he opposed any hold on security assistance. “I did not understand that others believed that any investigation of the Ukrainian company, Burisma, which had a history of accusations of corruption, was tantamount to investigating Vice President Biden,” he said. “I drew a distinction between the two.” Even though, he said, he understood that Hunter Biden had been a board member. Morrison has confirmed to investigators that he witnessed a key September conversation in Warsaw between Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and a Ukrainian official. Sondland told the official that U.S. aid might be freed if the country’s top prosecutor “would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” Morrison said in previous closed-door testimony. Volker shifted his account of a pivotal July 10 interaction at the White House. In his closed-door interview last month, he said there was no discussion of Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine or investigations sought by the president. But on Tuesday, he said the meeting was essentially over when Sondland made a “general” comment about investigations. “I think all of us thought it was inappropriate; the conversation did not continue and the meeting concluded,” Volker said. A series of text messages Volker provided to lawmakers showed conversations between him, Sondland and other leaders where they discuss the need for Ukraine to launch investigations, including into Burisma. Volker said meeting with Giuliani was just part of the dialogue, and he had one in-person meeting with him, in which Giuliani “raised, and I rejected, the conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden would have been influenced in his duties as Vice President by money paid to his son.” He said he has known Biden for more than two decades and believes him to be an honorable man. “The allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and non-credible,” Volker said. Volker said he wasn’t part of an irregular foreign policy channel led Giuliani, as others have testified. He also said Trump never christened him, Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary the “three amigos” in charge of Ukraine policy. “My role was not some irregular channel, but the official channel,” Volker said. Volker also said a senior aide to Zelenskiy approached him last summer to ask to be connected to Giuliani. He said he made clear to the Zelenskiy aide, Andrey Yermak, that Giuliani was a private citizen and not a representative of the U.S. government. Volker himself requested a meeting in July with Giuliani. He said Giuliani mentioned the accusations about the Bidens, as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. ___ Associated Press Writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Matthew Daly, Alan Fram, Lisa Mascaro and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.
  • Gordon Sondland didn’t come for coffee klatsch at European Union headquarters on Tuesday. Instead, Donald Trump’s diplomatic pit bull in Brussels was preparing to appear at the presidential impeachment inquiry in Washington. He may not have been missed on the Continent. Before Sondland stirred any controversy with his dealings on behalf of Trump in Ukraine, his caustic style had already created problems in Brussels, where he is the U.S. ambassador to the 28-nation EU. Sondland originally planned to meet Tuesday with EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis to discuss better cooperation between the two trading juggernauts. That meeting was postponed indefinitely because Sondland was to testify Wednesday before Congress about his involvement in Ukraine. But in truth, the relationship has been galloping backward ever since Trump entered office, and diplomats say Sondland’s style has not helped. EU officials who talked with The Associated Press about working with Sondland spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern that their comments could damage relations with the U.S. Sondland knows he is not a typical ambassador and has called himself “a disruptive diplomat.” “If it appears like I am trying to disrupt the stagnant and circuitous way in which the U.S. and the EU have dealt with issues of mutual concern, such as impacting our national security and economic prosperity, you’re right,” he has said. His involvement in Ukraine is an example of Sondland’s less-than-diplomatic approach. He visited Ukraine twice, even though it is not part of the EU and not part of his formal responsibilities. He also gave an interview with Ukrainian television boasting of his closeness to Trump and laying out his views of Ukraine, almost like instructions: “They’re Western and they’re going to stay Western.” Sondland is known for the grand gesture. At a party for diplomats and journalists last month at the ornate Cercle Gaulois club between the Belgian parliament and royal palace, he highlighted his close links with Trump and Trump’s confidants. He spoke of a three-hour “family dinner” in Manhattan with two incoming EU leaders and Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner. “We all sat in the kitchen together, rolled up our sleeves and had a great discussion.” He called it “just five friends enjoying a wonderful evening.” For all the sweet talk with EU officials, the U.S. administration and Sondland are happy to rip deep into the EU when necessary. Sondland, a hotel magnate from Portland, Oregon, had little experience when he came to Brussels, and was not an original Trump supporter. He initially backed Jeb Bush during the Republican primaries in 2016, but later donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee. Trump left the EU post vacant for nearly a year and a half. Trans-Atlantic relations got so rocky that EU Council President Donald Tusk said of Trump in May 2018, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” “Then Sondland came, and at the beginning there indeed was some relief,” said an official from a major member state. Pretty soon though, Trump’s confrontational attitude toward the EU, NATO and several major European nations found a perfect extension in Sondland. He became part of a group of ambassadors, including Berlin envoy Richard Grenell, who aggressively pushed Trump’s agenda, whatever the diplomatic practice. The EU and US disagreed over a host of issues, including plane subsidies, the reluctance of European nations to jack up defense spending and economic relations with China. The administration’s combative style contrasted sharply with trans-Atlantic relations of the past, which were driven by a common agenda shaped by post-world war geopolitics and globalization. In Washington and Brussels, Sondland was also criticized for not always grasping the complicated subject matter at hand. On some issues like trade, where many different strands of policy interact and several different officials call the shots, Sondland struggled to understand policy, the official said. Whatever happens to Sondland at the impeachment hearings, the EU should not expect it will make much of a difference back in Brussels. “Europeans should not expect the trans-Atlantic relationship, and in particular the US-EU relationship, to significantly improve under the Trump administration, even if there is a new ambassador,” said Erik Brattberg, a director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ___ Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.
  • The House passed a short-term spending bill Tuesday that would keep federal agencies running for another month in hopes the additional time will help negotiators wrap up more than $1.4 trillion in unfinished appropriations bills. The bill would avert a Thanksgiving government shutdown but opens the door to a possible shutdown just before Christmas. The 231-192 vote sent the measure to the Senate, which is on track to pass the legislation in time to meet a midnight Thursday deadline. President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign it. The monthlong spending bill comes as negotiations on the full-year spending package have hit a rough patch. Most recently there was a failed effort by lawmakers to win even more money on top of $100 billion in additional agency dollars permitted by July’s hard-won two-year budget and debt deal. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who negotiated the July budget deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reentered the talks last week but was unable to produce a breakthrough. The measure would fund the government through Dec. 20. There isn’t much optimism, however, that the deadline will make it easier for a successful negotiation on full-year measure that would fully put in place the July budget pact. The House is also expected to be in the midst of impeachment proceedings in December, adding another obstacle to negotiations. The chief holdup is Trump’s demands for up to $8.6 billion more for the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Republicans controlling the Senate have stuck with Trump despite worries that an impasse over his demands could force Congress into resorting to funding the government for the entire budget year at current spending levels. “It is vital that we work in good-faith to fund important priorities for the coming year,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The measure contains an assortment of technical provisions to ensure that spending on the 2020 census can ramp up despite delays in the agency’s full-year funding bill. It also reverses a planned cut in highway spending next year and offers greater assurances about funding a 3.1 percent pay raise for the military that takes effect Jan. 1. It would extend, for three more months, surveillance-related provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that expire Dec. 15. One would allow the government to gather details of call records, gain access to business records, and conduct roving wiretaps of people trying to duck surveillance.
  • A prosecutor who came under harsh criticism when her office suddenly dropped charges against actor Jussie Smollett and is now the subject of a court-ordered investigation announced Tuesday she is running for reelection. In her news release saying she’s seeking the position again, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx addressed the Smollett case and the furor over the handling of it. The actor was accused of staging a racist and homophobic attack against himself earlier this year in Chicago while in the city filming the television series “Empire.” “Truth is, I didn’t handle it well. I own that. I’m making changes in my office to make sure we do better,” Foxx said, without elaborating. She is the first black woman to lead the office that prosecutes cases in the county, which includes Chicago. She was elected in 2016 after promising to make criminal justice reform a priority. “Four years ago, I ran for State’s Attorney to change criminal justice in Cook County,” said Foxx, who grew up in Chicago’s crime-ridden Cabrini Green housing project. “I’m running again because we’re only getting started.” Since being top prosecutor, she has verbally tussled with Chicago’s police union. In July, Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president Kevin Graham sent her a letter demanding that she turn over to a special prosecutor any cases in which officers are accused of misconduct or are victims of crimes because of a “deep mistrust” between police and Foxx’s office. Foxx, in her release Tuesday, accused the union of being opposed to change. She also criticized President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly singled out Chicago for its gun violence, and the National Rifle Association. “Every day, my office is under attack: from a President who uses our city as a punching bag, the NRA hell bent on letting guns flood our streets, and the FOP clinging to the old ways,” she said, adding that they will “do anything to undercut progress.” She said her office has been successful in prosecuting more violent crimes, including murder convictions in the high-profile Chicago shootings of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee in 2015 and 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in 2013. Foxx’s opponents include two former prosecutors, Donna More and Bill Conway, and former Cook County Circuit Judge Pat O’Brien. It remains to be seen how much they will focus on the way Foxx and her office handled the Smollett investigation, but the case will undoubtedly loom over the campaign. Smollett, who is black and gay, reported that two men shouted racist and anti-gay slurs at him and physically attacked him in January in downtown Chicago. Foxx was approached by former first lady Michelle Obama’s onetime chief of staff on behalf of Smollett’s family after the attack. Foxx later recused herself from the actor’s case because she said she wanted to avoid “even the perception of a conflict” of interest after communicating with a relative of Smollett. She handed the case to a top aide. And just weeks after Smollett was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly staging the attack, Foxx’s office announced it was dropping the case. Critics, including then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson blasted the decision, and months later a judge appointed a special prosecutor to look into why the office abruptly dismissed the case. Smollett has maintained his innocence. Ironically, it was another criminal investigation by Foxx’s predecessor that is widely believed to have been a critical factor in Foxx’s election in 2016. At the time Foxx was running, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was under fire for her handling of the investigation into the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Alvarez was harshly criticized because her office did not charge Van Dyke until a dashcam video of the shooting was made public more than a year later. Foxx defeated Alvarez in the Democratic primary in March 2016 and went on to win the general election.
  • White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Tuesday that Obama administration aides left behind taunting notes for incoming Trump officials when they handed over their offices in 2017. Numerous Obama aides denounced the accusation as fiction. “We came into the White House. I’ll tell you something, every office was filled with Obama books and we had notes left behind that said ‘you will fail,’ ‘you aren’t going to make it,'” Grisham told conservative radio show host John Fredericks in an interview Tuesday. Grisham later backtracked and said the nasty notes were left only in one part of the White House that houses press operations. Some high-profile Obama administration officials flatly denied the claim, including former national security adviser Susan Rice. “This is a bald faced lie,” Rice wrote on Twitter. Grisham’s complaint came as House Democrats held a third day of public impeachment hearings. Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan tweeted that he left behind an iPhone charger, but that “nobody left unimaginative notes written at a sixth-grade level.” “I mean, if they read the ‘how to do your job’ memos and briefing books we actually left, they’d at least know how to write a coherent speech, vet their appointees, and maybe fewer of them would be indicted or heading to jail,” Keenan jabbed. Another Obama speechwriter, Jon Favreau, and Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett also pushed back against Grisham’s claim. Grisham, who first worked as an adviser to first lady Melania Trump, said after the radio interview that she found a “lovely note” from her predecessor in the East Wing. “I was talking specifically (and honestly) about our experience in the lower press office – nowhere else,” Grisham said. “I don’t know why everyone is so sensitive. At the time we saw it as kind of a prank, and something that always happened. We were so busy trying to learn where the bathrooms were and how to turn on the lights, it wasn’t that big of a deal.” Grisham’s predecessor in the East Wing posted on social media the note she left behind for Grisham. 'Welcome to the small family of White House staffers, past and present,' Joanna Rosholm wrote. 'The bond we all share transcends politics.” Pranks or mean jabs have certainly happened in the past. Aides in the George W. Bush administration reported inheriting government computers from the Bill Clinton administration with missing “W” keys and finding Gore presidential campaign stickers affixed to government property. But Obama officials insisted they knew of no mean-spirited hijinks. Rice wrote in “Tough Love” that she left behind an encouraging note for her Trump administration successor, Michael Flynn. 'On a White House stationery card, I reiterate my best wishes for his success in a job so crucial to the nation's security. I offered to help him, if ever I could,' Rice wrote. ___ Follow Aamer Madhani on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@AamerISmad
  • Kris Kobach isn’t fazed that fellow Republicans worry he’s unpopular or too brash in pushing his hard-right views to keep Kansas’ open Senate seat in GOP hands next year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others are so concerned that they’ve spent months urging Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, to step down as U.S. secretary of state and run for the seat Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is leaving. Pompeo in the race would make it far more difficult for Kobach to win the GOP primary in August. But Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, isn’t softening his rhetoric or putting less focus on the tough immigration policies that built his national profile. He’s tripling down — and deriding critics as “weak Republicans” seeking a “malleable” senator. “One main reason Republican voters have supported me in the past is that I haven’t waffled,” Kobach said during an interview. Republican leaders worry about red-state losses that include the Kentucky and Louisiana governors’ races this year. Setbacks in 2018 included Kobach’s loss to Democrat Laura Kelly in the Kansas governor’s race. Still, Kobach appeals to many conservative GOP voters, and the speculation about Pompeo is a sign that Kobach has a good chance of winning the Senate primary if Pompeo doesn’t jump in. If Kobach had no political base, top Republicans in Washington would not be wooing Pompeo, said Kelly Arnold, a former Kansas GOP chairman. “This seat would no longer be a priority on their list because they’d know it’s in good hands here in Kansas,” Arnold said. All the major GOP candidates for Roberts’ seat support Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, defend the president, and oppose abortion and gun control. What makes Kobach different is how aggressive he is about poking his critics. “It’s likability and then, touching-third-rail, caustic comments that drive controversy and nothing else,” said Doug Heye, a GOP consultant in Washington. “Yeah, Donald Trump can do it, but not everybody’s Donald Trump.” Yet for all the GOP concerns, Kobach’s brand still sells on the right — where the party’s primary races are waged. “I like a fighter, someone like Donald Trump,” said Sandy Connary, a 66-year-old retired county clerk who attended a Kobach fundraiser in Wichita last week. “He is a known quantity. I know him. I trust him.” Critics of Kobach’s aggressiveness often reference an iconic jeep he used in the governor’s race for summer and fall parades with a replica machine gun on back. Kobach called criticism of it a “snowflake meltdown.” “He knew that, that bothered people,” said Tim Shallenburger, another former Kansas GOP chairman and an ex-state treasurer. “He kind of flaunted it.” The Wichita fundraiser last week featured David Clarke, the cowboy-hat-wearing ex-Milwaukee sheriff who has likened the Black Lives Matter movement to terrorism. Clarke urged the audience of 60 or so people to recapture their anger from 2016. Kobach has also had fundraisers with ex-White House aide Steve Bannon and conservative commentator Ann Coulter. A 2018 event’s headliner was gun-rights rocker Ted Nugent. Kobach is a board member and lawyer for a group collecting funds for the border wall and attempting to build parts of it on its own. He upped the ante on border security with a recent column arguing for American military strikes on drug cartels inside Mexico. He rouses Democrats and liberal activists like no other Republican in Kansas. An online fundraising site for Democrats’ top Senate candidate, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, features Kobach’s picture and says, “we can beat him again in 2020.” Kobach’s GOP rivals include U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall of western Kansas, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, and Dave Lindstrom, a Kansas City-area businessman and former Kansas City Chiefs player. Wagle took her own fact-finding trip to the border this summer and argues that private wall-building isn’t the proper way to handle border security. Complaints filed by watchdog group Common Cause accuse Kobach of illegally mixing fundraising for the group and his campaign, something he denies. Kobach has lagged Marshall, Wagle and Lindstrom in campaign cash. He didn’t fill the room at his Wichita event because some of the 100 people who RSVP’d stayed away in the chilly weather. And Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief political strategist, called Kobach “a stone-cold loser.” “It’s not his positions,” said Reed, who managed Kansas Republican icon Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. “It’s his history as a candidate and the fact that he came up way short.” Some Republicans worry Kobach can’t win over moderate GOP voters in a general election after spending two decades focusing on illegal immigration as his core issue. In the governor’s race, Kobach made a migrant caravan moving through Mexico an issue during a late October debate and ran an ad featuring footage from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political scientist, doubted other Republicans would go as far in playing to fears about illegal immigration. Yet support for a tough stance on illegal immigration is widespread within the GOP. A September AP-NORC poll showed about 8 in 10 Republicans nationally expressed approval of Trump’s job handling immigration. “Kobach almost owns the immigration issue in a way that nobody else can,” said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist. Strong criticism of Kobach helps him with some voters. Glen Burdue, a 73-year-old machine shop worker in a small town south of Wichita, said he likes Kobach partly because Kobach “has taken the most flack” for conservative views. Vaughn Fox, a 72-year-old retired Wichita automobile dealer, doesn’t see Kobach as too strident. “Not for true conservative Republicans,” he said. ___ Hanna reported from Topeka. Also contributing was Hannah Fingerhut in Washington. ___ Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .
  • A specially equipped Boeing 777 jet took off from Dulles International Airport on Tuesday carrying a true Washington celebrity: Bei Bei, a 4-year-old giant panda. Visitors to Washington’s National Zoo have watched him grow up since Day One. But now he’s headed to China. Under terms of the zoo’s agreement with the Chinese government, any panda born here must be sent to China when they reach age 4. When he reaches sexual maturity after age 6, Bei Bei will be entered into China’s government-run breeding program, seeking to expand the vulnerable panda population. Bei Bei was born at the zoo on Aug. 22, 2015, the cub (via artificial insemination) of National Zoo pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. His name, which translates as “treasure” or “precious” in Mandarin, was jointly selected by former first lady Michelle Obama and Peng Liyuan, the first lady of the People’s Republic of China. Zoo Director Steve Monfort called the occasion “bittersweet.” He said zoo staff and visitors had grown to love the bear but that his return was important to the future of the species. “Our team has cared for him, learned from him and, along with millions, loved watching him grow,” Monfort said. “We're sad he's leaving, but excited for the contributions he will make to the global giant panda population.” The giant panda was once classified as an endangered species. Efforts to save the animal have been successful enough that the International Union for Conservation of Nature changed their status from “endangered” to “vulnerable” in 2016. There are an estimated 1,800 giant pandas in the wild, all of them in southwestern China.
  • President Donald Trump said Tuesday he went through a “very routine physical” when he visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over the weekend. The president complained that first lady Melania Trump and some of his staff members expressed concern about his health based on media reports about Saturday’s trip to the hospital. He said it’s the media that’s “sick.” Trump’s weekend hospital visit was not on his public schedule. It raised questions about his health in part because the trip didn’t follow protocols the White House has used for previous physicals, including advance public notice. Trump brought up the hospital visit on Tuesday while meeting with his Cabinet. He complained that when he returned from Walter Reed, the first lady asked him “Darling, are you OK? What’s wrong?” He said false reports about a health problem caused her to worry. The White House released a statement late Monday from the president’s personal physician, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Sean Conley. He said Saturday’s visit was a “routine, planned interim checkup.” He said that due to scheduling uncertainties, the trip was “kept off the record.” “Despite some of the speculation, the President has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues,” Conley wrote. Conley added that Trump consented to sharing his cholesterol level, now at 165, down from 196. A total below 170 is considered good. He said a more thorough exam will be conducted next year and a full summary of the president’s physical on Saturday will be incorporated into next year’s report.
  • Iran will likely buy new advanced fighter jets and tanks next year when a U.N. Security Council arms embargo is scheduled to be lifted, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Tuesday as the Defense Intelligence Agency released a new assessment of Iran’s military capabilities. The DIA report concludes Tehran is committed to becoming the dominant power in the Middle East, and it warns that the Islamic Republic is making rapid progress developing attack drones and other missile systems. The report comes amid escalating tensions between Iran and the West in the wake of a series of attacks on commercial shipping vehicles and Saudi oil facilities this year that have been blamed on Tehran. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, an intelligence official said Iran would probably buy the tanks and aircraft from Russia and China. The U.S. has stringent economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic and those would likely continue even if the U.N. embargo is lifted. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. Currently, Iran uses 1970s-era Soviet tanks and a number of older fighter aircraft, according to the DIA report. Iran’s defense budget declined a bit this year and could face more cuts, as the country struggles under severe economic pressure due to the U.S. sanctions. There have been widespread protests in Iran as people have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency, the rial. The DIA report said the budget problems could affect Tehran’s ability to meet its military goals. But, it added that Iran also uses other sources of funding to support its military activities, including money from private corporations, smuggling and other illicit activities. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, the United Nations-imposed arms embargo on Iran is slated to be lifted in October 2020. The Trump administration pulled out of the deal last year and imposed new sanctions on Iran. The five other parties to the agreement — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- still support it. Tensions between Iran and the West intensified earlier this spring, when there were a number of suspected Iranian attacks against commercial ships in the Persian Gulf region. Then in September, there was an attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that U.S. and Western officials also blamed on Iran. In response, the U.S. sent about 3,000 troops along with missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia, and it beefed up its naval and air presence in the region. Iran has denied involvement in the attacks and has warned the U.S. that any military response will spark an 'all-out war' with immediate retaliation from Tehran. The DIA report says Iran has also increased its use of drones, as surveillance assets to watch American troops and ships in the Gulf and as weapons platforms to launch attacks. And the report says Tehran is improving its cyberspace capabilities, both to collect information and to launch cyberattacks against U.S. and other targets. “Although still technologically inferior to most of its competitors,” the report said, “the Iranian military has progressed substantially over the past few decades.”

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  • Two jail guards tasked with monitoring wealthy financier and accused child predator Jeffrey Epstein on the night he committed suicide were arrested Tuesday and accused of falsifying records to hide the fact that they apparently slept during their shifts and browsed the internet instead of conducting mandated inmate checks. >> Read more trending news  Prosecutors said guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas falsified records at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York to make it appear as though they carried out the required checks every half-hour on Aug. 9-10. Instead, authorities said, they spent 'substantial portions of their shifts' sitting at their desks, browsing the internet and moving around the common area of the jail's Special Housing Unit. During one two-hour period, the indictment said, both appeared to have been asleep. 'As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center,' U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. 'Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.' Authorities said video surveillance from the jail showed that no one checked on Epstein between at least 10:30 p.m. Aug. 9 and 6:30 a.m. Aug. 10, despite U.S. Bureau of Prisons protocol mandating inmate checks every half-hour. When Noel and Thomas went to serve inmates breakfast just after 6:30 a.m., they found Epstein dead in his cell with a noose around his neck, prosecutors said. Montell Figgens, a lawyer for Thomas, told The Associated Press both guards are being “scapegoated.” 'We feel this a rush to judgment by the U.S. attorney's office,' he said. 'They're going after the low man on the totem pole here.' U.S. Attorney General William Barr vowed earlier this year to investigate Epstein's death and some 'serious irregularities' in his treatment at MCC. In August, Barr announced the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons had been replaced and reassigned. Epstein died weeks after an earlier suicide attempt, according to investigators. Officers found him with a strip of bedsheet around his neck in July after he apparently tried to hang himself, authorities said in the indictment unsealed Tuesday. Officials briefly placed Epstein on suicide watch after the July suicide attempt, though that status had been lifted before Epstein's suicide in August. Epstein had been housed at MCC since his arrest in July on federal sex trafficking charges. He had been accused of sexually abusing and exploiting dozens of girls as young as age 14 between 2002 and 2005. He had pleaded not guilty and was preparing to argue that he could not be charged because of a 2008 deal he made to avoid federal prosecution on similar allegations in Florida. Epstein’s death prompted a whirl of conspiracy theories from people, including members of Epstein’s family and some of his alleged victims, who questioned whether it was possible that he’d killed himself in such a high-security setting. His death was considered a major embarrassment for the Bureau of Prisons, according to the AP. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The Clay County Sheriff's Office says it has identified a person of interest, nearly a month after a Fleming Island woman was reported missing. Deputies say Susan Mauldin was last seen on October 23 and was reported missing from the Eagle Harbor area the following day. At that time, detectives said they did not believe that Mauldin was in danger.  But now, the sheriff's office says their detectives have identified a person of interest in Mauldin's disappearance, which it says has 'mysterious' circumstances associated with it.  'The facts and circumstances developed during the course of this investigation led us to believe an individual, identified as Corey Binderim, has pertinent information related to this case. Mr. Binderim has cooperated during the course of this investigation, but until recently, he's left the area all of sudden, with no explanation and his whereabouts are unknown at this time, ' says Detective Howard Fryer.  The sheriff's office says their investigation revealed that Mauldin wasn't the type of woman to wander off and has missed several medical appointments.  'She would tell her friends if she had any plans to travel and there's no signs of financial transactions or travel plans made. Mr. Binderim's association with Susan Mauldin was, he is a contractor, contracted to perform a remodeling job in her bathroom. During the course of that contract, he failed to perform all the work. He took a deposit from her, which during the course of that, Ms. Mauldin determined she didn't want to work with him anymore and requested her money back. There's no indication during the course of our investigation that Ms. Mauldin left her home, willingly. Her vehicle is still at the house. There were signs that she was to be there at the house, with no indications of leaving,' says Fryer.  Anyone with information about Mauldin's or Binderim's whereabouts is urged to contact the sheriff's office.
  • A 16-year-old girl has been arrested after authorities discovered her plan to kill people at a predominantly black church in Hall County. >> Read more trending news  The teen, who is white, planned to attack the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to Gainesville police. “Our investigation indicated the church was targeted by the juvenile based on the racial demographic of the church members,” police Chief Jay Parrish said Tuesday in a news release. “The church was immediately notified of the incident by Gainesville police to ensure the safety of our community and the current threat was under control.” Students at Gainesville High School told school administrators that the girl had a notebook with “detailed plans to commit murder” at the church, Parrish said. Administrators notified school resource officers of the plan on Friday and opened an investigation. They verified the threat and turned the investigation over to Gainesville police, who took the girl into custody, Parrish said. Her name has not been released. The teen was charged with criminal attempt to commit murder and taken to the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center. “This is an active investigation and a prime example of how strong relationships between the student body, school administration and law enforcement can intercept a potentially horrific incident,” Parrish said.
  • President Donald Trump checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday for medical tests as part of his annual physical, White House officials said. >> Read more trending news   The trip, which was not on the president's public schedule, sparked speculation about the 73-year-old's health. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump is 'anticipating a very busy 2020' and wanted to take advantage of 'a free weekend' in Washington to begin portions of his routine checkup. Here are the latest updates: Update 12:45 p.m. EST Nov. 19: At a Cabinet Meeting on Tuesday, President Donald Trump complained about speculation that he might have suffered a heart attack over the weekend. Speculation swirled after Trump visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for two hours Saturday. The trip had not been on Trump's public schedule, though White House officials said the visit was routine. 'I went and did a very routine -- just a piece of it, the rest takes place in January -- very routine physical,' he said, according to CNN. When he returned to the White House, he said, 'I get greeted with the news, 'We understand you had a heart attack.'' 'These people are sick and the press really in this country is dangerous,' Trump said. 'We don't have freedom of the press in this country. We have the opposite. We have a very corrupt media.' Update 11:33 p.m. EST Nov. 18: In a memorandum, President Donald Trump's physician said Monday the president's visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday was merely part of a 'routine, planned interim checkup, several media outlets reported. 'This past Saturday afternoon the President traveled up to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a routine, planned interim checkup as part of the regular, primary preventative care he receives throughout the year,' Sean P. Conley wrote in the memo, CBS News reported. 'Due to scheduling uncertainties, the trip was kept off the record. 'Despite some of the speculation, the President has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues,' Conley wrote. 'Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations.'  Update 2:05 p.m. EST Nov. 18: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham deflected rumors about President Donald Trump's health, saying it is “absolutely not” true that the president's visit to a doctor Saturday was anything other than a routine procedure, The Washington Post reported. Grisham also said the President is “healthy as can be,' the newspaper reported. In a statement Saturday, Grisham said Trump, 73, had “a quick exam and labs” and “remains healthy and energetic without complaints, as demonstrated by his repeated vigorous rally performances in front of thousands of Americans several times a week,” the Post reported. Grisham said rumors about the president 'are always flying.' 'He is healthy as can be,' Grisham told Fox News Channel host Jeanine Pirro on Saturday. 'I put a statement out about that. He’s got more energy than anybody in the White House. That man works from 6 a.m. until, you know, very, very late at night. He’s doing just fine.” Update 12:56 a.m. EST Nov. 17: Trump took to Twitter early Sunday, just hours after his visit to Walter Reed Medical Center. 'Visited a great family of a young man under major surgery at the amazing Walter Reed Medical Center,' he tweeted shortly after midnight. 'Those are truly some of the best doctors anywhere in the world. Also began phase one of my yearly physical. Everything very good (great!). Will complete next year.' According to The Associated Press, the two-hour appointment did not appear on the president's public schedule like his previous annual physicals.  Original story: 'Anticipating a very busy 2020, the President is taking advantage of a free weekend here in Washington, D.C., to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed,' Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary, said in a statement, CNN reported. Trump’s last physical was in February at Walter Reed. He weighed 243 pounds with a body mass index of 29.9, and 30 is considered obese, USA Today reported. He also had increased his use of a statin that helps control his cholesterol. 'I am happy to announce the president of the United States is in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency, and beyond,' Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, wrote at the time.  The visit Saturday is different than the president’s previous physicals. The last two physicals were announced beforehand and noted on the president’s calendar. Trump usually takes the Marine One helicopter to Walter Reed, but this time, a motorcade dropped him off unannounced, CNN reported. 
  • One of two women accused of cutting an infant out of an expectant mother's womb earlier this year has given birth to a child of her own, according to multiple reports. >> Read more trending news  Cook County Sheriff's Office spokesman Joseph Ryan told the Chicago Tribune that Desiree Figueroa, 25, gave birth Nov. 1 at the John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. She has been in custody since May, when she and her mother, Clarisa Figueroa, were arrested and charged in the death of 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez. Desiree Figueroa has since been returned to jail, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Additional information was not immediately available. Prosecutors said Clarisa Figueroa, 46, lured Ochoa-Lopez to her home on Chicago's Southwest Side in April after they met through a Facebook group geared toward young mothers. Authorities said the Figueroas strangled Ochoa-Lopez and cut her baby from her womb. Clarisa Figueroa later called 911 to falsely claim she'd given birth to a child who was not breathing, investigators said. Tests later confirmed the newborn was Ochoa-Lopez's son. The baby, named Yovanny Jadiel Lopez, died in June of severe brain injury. Both Figeuroas have been charged with one count each of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, dismembering a human body and concealing a homicidal death. They pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 26, the Tribune reported. Clarisa Figueroa's boyfriend, 40-year-old Piotr Bobak, was also arrested and charged with one count of concealment of a homicide. He has also pleaded not guilty, according to WTTW.

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