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    The Latest on developments related to tensions between the U.S and Iran (all times local): 12:55 p.m. The chairman of Britain's House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee says military action to free the oil tanker seized by Iran would not be a good choice. Tom Tugendhat said Saturday it would be 'extremely unwise' to seek a military solution to the escalating crisis, especially because the vessel has apparently been taken to a well-protected port. 'If it has been taken to Bandar Abbas then that's an important Iranian military port and I think any military options will therefore be extremely unwise,' he told BBC. He also said it would not be useful to expel Iran's ambassador to the United Kingdom because it is important to keep talking. Other senior British figures have said military options should not be used. ___ 11:05 a.m. Iran's state-run IRNA news agency is reporting that the country's seizure of British-flagged oil tanker a day earlier was due to a collision with an Iranian fishing boat. Saturday's report says the British tanker caused damage to the fishing boat, then didn't respond to calls from the smaller craft. The fishing boat informed Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization, which notified the Revolutionary Guard. The report says Revolutionary Guard vessels directed the Stena Impero to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for an investigation Friday. Iran's attempt to offer a 'technical' explanation for seizing the tanker could signal a possible de-escalation of tensions in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which has become a flashpoint between Tehran and the West. Another British ship was briefly detained by Iran on Friday before being allowed to go.
  • The Wall Street Journal says Equifax will pay around $700 million to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over a 2017 data breach that exposed Social Security numbers and other private information of nearly 150 million people. The Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said the settlement could be announced as soon as Monday. Equifax declined to comment. The report says the deal would resolve investigations by the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and most state attorneys general. It would also resolve a nationwide consumer class-action lawsuit. Spokesmen for the FTC and the CFPB didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Friday night. The breach was one of the largest affecting people's private information. Atlanta-based Equifax did not notice the attack for more than six weeks. The compromised data included Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver license numbers and credit card numbers. The company said earlier this year that it had set aside around $700 million to cover anticipated settlements and fines.
  • Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker Friday and briefly detained a second vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, intensifying tensions in the strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint between Tehran and the West. The seizing of the British tanker marked perhaps the most significant escalation since tensions between Iran and the West began rising in May. At that time, the U.S. announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier and additional troops to the Middle East, citing unspecified threats posed by Iran. The ongoing showdown has caused jitters around the globe, with each maneuver bringing fear that any misunderstanding or misstep by either side could lead to war. Details of what took place Friday remained sketchy after Iran reported that it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is a shipping channel for one-fifth of all global crude exports. The Stena Impero was taken to an Iranian port because it was not complying with 'international maritime laws and regulations,' Iran's Revolutionary Guard declared. A statement from Stena Bulk, which owns the seized tanker, said it was unable to make contact with the ship after it was approached by unidentified vessels and a helicopter in international waters. A spokesman for the company's owners said the tanker was in 'full compliance with all navigation and international regulations.' The company said the tanker had 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationalities and there were no reports of any of them were injured. The U.K. has featured prominently in the recent tensions with Iran. Britain's Royal Marines assisted in the seizure of an Iranian oil supertanker on July 4 by Gibraltar, a British overseas territory off the southern coast of Spain. Britain said it would release the vessel if Iran could prove it was not breaching European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. Gibraltar's government said Friday that its Supreme Court had extended by 30 days the detention of the Panama-flagged Grace, which was loaded with over 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt initially said two ships were seized Friday in the Strait of Hormuz, the second sailing under a Liberian flag. The owner of the Liberian-flagged tanker later said the ship was briefly boarded by armed guards before being allowed to go. Iran's semi-official Fars news agency tweeted that the Mesdar had left Iran's territorial waters. 'These seizures are unacceptable,' Hunt said as he prepared to enter an emergency government meeting Friday night. 'It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.' 'We're not looking at military options, we're looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved,' Hunt later told Sky News, warning that if the situation is not resolved quickly 'there will be serious consequences.' U.K. Chamber of Shipping chief executive Bob Sanguinetti said the seizure represented a severe escalation of tensions in the Gulf and made it clear that merchant vessels urgently needed more protection. The British government should do 'whatever is necessary' to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship's crew, Sanguinetti said. President Donald Trump said U.S. officials would talk with Britain about the unfolding crisis. 'This only goes to show what I'm saying about Iran: Trouble, nothing but trouble,' he said. Central Command said the U.S. has intensified air patrols over the Strait of Hormuz in response to the seizure. A Central Command spokesman, Lt. Col. Earl Brown, said a small number of additional patrol aircraft are flying in international airspace to monitor the situation. The incident came two days after Washington claimed that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denied that it lost an aircraft in the area. On June 20, Iran shot down an American drone in the same waterway, and Trump came close to retaliating but called off an airstrike at the last moment. Tensions in the region have been escalating since Trump withdrew the U.S. last year from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran, including its oil exports. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard. Iran's government has desperately tried to get out of the chokehold, pressuring the other partners in the nuclear deal, particularly European nations, to pressure the U.S. to lift the crippling sanctions. The Europeans — Germany, France, Britain, and the European Union — want to maintain the deal, but have not been able to address Iranian demands without violating the sanctions. Iran has begun breaching some of the restrictions on its activities outlined in the agreement to put pressure on them to find a solution. The U.S. has asked Mideast allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in past weeks to contribute financially and militarily to a Trump administration proposal called the Sentinel Program — a coalition of nations working with the U.S. to preserve maritime security in the Persian Gulf and keep eyes on Iran. Late Friday, officials said the U.S. is sending several hundred troops as well as aircraft and air defense missiles to Saudi Arabia to counter Iran. The move has been in the works for many weeks and is not a response to Friday's seizure by Iran of a British tanker. The arrangement was announced by the Saudi government, which said it was meant to 'enhance security' in the region. Before the British ship was seized, Iran and the United States disagreed over Washington's claim that a U.S. warship downed the Iranian drone. American officials said they used electronic jamming to bring down the unmanned aircraft, while Iran said it simply didn't happen. Neither side provided evidence to prove its claim. At the White House, Trump said flatly of the Iranian drone: 'We shot it down.' But Pentagon and other officials have said repeatedly that the USS Boxer, a Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz, actually jammed the drone's signal, causing it to crash, and did not fire a missile. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology. In Tehran, the Iranian military said all its drones returned safely to their bases. Maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz has deteriorated in recent weeks after six attacks on oil tankers that the U.S. has blamed on Iran — an allegation the Islamic Republic denies. There was also a brief, but tense standoff between the British navy and Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels recently. The British navy said it warned three Guard vessels away after they tried to impede the passage of a commercial British tanker that the navy was escorting. The incidents have jolted the shipping industry, with some of the 2,000 companies operating ships in the region on high alert and many ordering their vessels to transit the Strait of Hormuz only during the daylight hours and at high speed. Of the roughly 2,000 companies that operate ships in the Persian Gulf, only a handful of companies have halted bookings outright. U.K.-flagged vessels represented less than 0.6% of the 67,533 ships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz in 2018, with 427 transits, according to maritime publication Lloyd's List, quoting research from Russel Group. Crude oil prices climbed following Iran's announcement about the Stena Impero as traders worried the escalating tensions could affect crude supplies. __ Jill Lawless in London, Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and David Rising in Berlin contributed.
  • Recent seizures and attacks aimed at oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz will raise insurance rates for shipping companies and, if unchecked, reduce tanker traffic in the vital waterway, according to energy experts. Britain's foreign secretary said Iranian authorities on Friday seized two ships, one flying under the British flag, the other registered in Liberia. The events occurred in a passageway that carries one-fifth of the world's crude exports. 'If this kind of problem continues, you might see people start to shy away from the (Persian) Gulf or try to reflag — not be a British tanker,' said energy economist Michael Lynch. The near-term impact will fall most heavily on the shipping industry in the form of higher insurance rates, said Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc. Richard Nephew, a Columbia University researcher who wrote a book on sanctions, also believes the tanker seizures could create 'a real risk premium' for companies that operate in the Gulf and insurers that underwrite them. 'Certainly we've seen concern with this in the past on sanctions grounds, and I would imagine security groups would be a far more complicating element,' Nephew said. On Friday, Iran's Revolutionary Guard said it took the British tanker Stena Impero to an Iranian port because it allegedly violated international shipping regulations. An Iranian news agency said the Liberian-flagged Mesdar was briefly detained and then released after being told to comply with environmental rules. The seizures marked a sharp escalation of tension in the region that began rising when the Trump administration withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and imposed severe restrictions on Iranian oil exports and other sanctions. Many of the 2,000 companies operating ships in the region have ordered their vessels to transit the Strait of Hormuz only during the daylight hours and at high speed. But only a handful of the companies have halted bookings. The tensions in the Gulf also pushed oil prices slightly higher. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 0.9% to $62.47 a barrel on Friday, while benchmark U.S. crude gained 0.6% to settle at $55.63. There's a long history of shippers enduring threats in the region. 'There have always been little problems around the Gulf where people will say, 'You're in our territorial waters,' but usually that doesn't go so far as the seizure of tankers,' Lynch said.
  • An appeals court on Friday ordered a federal judge to reconsider letting Justice Department lawyers immediately appeal a case that accuses President Donald Trump of profiting off the presidency. The three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued the order, which included a reprimand of U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan for not adequately addressing key legal questions before him and thereby abusing his discretion to deny the appeal merely because the case would proceed quickly. In response to the appeals court's ruling, Sullivan on Friday immediately paused ongoing legal discovery — including 37 subpoena requests for information. The Justice Department had asked the appeals court earlier this month to allow an appeal or dismissal of the case before Sullivan. The effort came ahead of the imminent deadline for discovery at the end of this month, which would have forced Trump-related entities such as his New York and Washington hotels, Trump Tower, the Trump Organization and Mar-a-Lago to turn over business tax returns, receipts and other documents. The lawsuit was brought by nearly 200 congressional Democrats led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who is also chair of the House Judiciary Committee. It argues that Trump has been accepting gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval. Trump, unlike modern presidents before him, has declined to fully divest from his businesses. Ethics experts say the constitutional emoluments clause was created by the Founding Fathers to ensure that government officials act with the interests of the American public in mind instead of their own pocketbooks. The Justice Department declined to comment Friday. The Democrats' attorney, Elizabeth Wydra, who is president of the nonprofit Constitutional Accountability Center, said the D.C. Circuit's decision to return the case to Sullivan's court for reconsideration of an early appeal was understandable, but it should be resolved quickly. 'The courts should not allow the president to run out the clock and evade accountability to his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution— which includes the Foreign Emoluments Clause,' Wydra said in a statement. This was the second time Justice lawyers have petitioned a higher court to take up a case dealing with the emoluments clause, which bans government officials from accepting foreign gifts and money without Congress' permission. Earlier this month, that effort bore fruit when an appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, threw out a lawsuit on the same clause of the U.S. Constitution, unanimously overturning the ruling of a Maryland federal judge. The Democrats' attorneys have argued that Congress not only has a right but is required, as part of their jobs, to weigh in on potential emoluments to Trump, such as a $6.5 million condo purchase by the Qatari government or a Chinese government-owned company's investment in a project that will include a Trump-branded hotel and golf course in Indonesia. Justice Department lawyers have argued in court papers that the Democrats suing the president are not being injured by him at all but by their colleagues in Congress, who have refused to take up the emoluments issue. The Justice lawyers also contended that Trump's business activity, such as hotel room earnings, doesn't qualify under the constitutional definition of emoluments. Also at question, as raised by the appeals court Friday and by Justice lawyers, is whether one branch of government can conduct discovery against the president in his official capacity. Friday's ruling was made by judges nominated by President Barack Obama in 2013 to the federal appeals court: Patricia Ann Millett, Cornelia Pillard and Robert Leon Wilkins. ___ Follow Tami Abdollah on Twitter at https://twitter.com/latams
  • Two executives of a Salt Lake City biodiesel company linked to a polygamous group have pleaded guilty to charges filed in what prosecutors have called a $511 million tax credit scheme, according to documents made public Friday. Washakie Renewable Energy once described itself as the largest producer of clean burning and sustainable biodiesel in Utah, but prosecutors said the company was actually creating fake production records to get renewable-fuel tax credits, then laundering the proceeds from 2010 through 2016. Prosecutors plan to seize items including a $3.6 million home in Huntington Beach, California, as well as a Bugatti and Lamborghini as a result of the pleas. Company CEO Jacob Kingston pleaded guilty Thursday to more than three dozen counts, including mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. His brother and company CFO Isaiah Kingston pleaded guilty to more than a dozen similar counts. Prosecutors have said both men are members of the northern Utah-based Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group, which practices polygamy and owns hundreds of businesses. Group leaders have condemned fraudulent business practices. The money was used to buy houses and property in Turkey and Belize as well as Utah and Arizona, according to plea documents. Among the homes set to be seized is an upscale six-bedroom house in a Salt Lake City suburb owned by Jacob Kingston that is valued at $4 million, according to county property records. Another home is the multimillion-dollar luxury waterfront property in California. Prosecutors are also seizing other cars and cash. The mother of the two men, Rachael Kingston, also pleaded guilty Thursday to charges including mail fraud and money laundering, as did Jacob Kingston's wife Sally. They are accused of helping the men rotate the same fuel between tanks in Texas, Louisiana and Panama to create the false appearance of buying biodiesel, then helping them launder the money and purge records. Defense attorneys for all four members of the Kingston family did not immediately return messages seeking comment, or declined to comment. Jacob Kingston also had an unidentified contact who tipped him off ahead of a federal raid 2016, allowing the brothers to remove their hard drives from their computers and one belonging to their mother, according to plea documents. A fifth person charged in the case, California businessman Lev Aslan Dermen, has pleaded not guilty to charges including mail fraud and money laundering. That hasn't changed, his lawyer Mark Geragos said. __ Associated Press writers Morgan Smith and Brady McCombs contributed to this story.
  • J.C. Penney, looking to soothe rattled investors, said Friday it hasn't hired any advisers to prepare for an in-court restructuring or bankruptcy. The company's statement came after a report said Penney was hiring experts to help restructure its debt. Reuters reported Thursday that Penney has held discussions with lawyers and investment bankers who work with struggling companies on debt restructurings. It cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter. Penney's shares fell nearly 17% Friday. The department store chain based in Plano, Texas, continues to maintain strong liquidity but faces a $4 billion debt bill in the next few years. It said that it routinely hires outside advisers to evaluate opportunities. But it cited its strong liquidity position and noted it doesn't have any significant debt maturities due in the near term. 'As a public company, we routinely hire external advisers to evaluate opportunities for the company,' Penney said. 'By working with some of the best firms in the industry, we are taking positive and proactive measures, as we have done in the past, to improve our capital structure and the long-term health of our balance sheet.' Penney's CEO Jill Soltau, who took the helm in October, faces numerous challenges as it seeks to avoid the fate of Sears and other retailers that have filed for bankruptcy protection, or vanished. Department stores like J.C. Penney are trying to reinvent themselves in an era when Americans are buying more online, or turning to discounters like T.J. Maxx for clothing. But Penney's faces an additional challenge: It is trying to claw its way back after a disastrous reinvention plan in 2012 by its former CEO Ron Johnson, who dramatically cut back on promotions and brought in new brands in an attempt to attract young shoppers. Penney's sales went into a freefall, it suffered massive losses and once-loyal customers moved on. But while sales have stabilized, its business is still weak. Penney had a 5.5% decline in sales at stores opened at least a year for its fiscal first quarter. Its revenue was $2.56 billion, down 5.6%, and losses were a worse-than-expected at $154 million. Soltau jettisoned sales of major appliances, which accounted for 2.7% of J.C. Penney's sales last year, but dragged on the company's operating profit. It's focusing instead on women's clothing, and goods for the home like towels and bedsheets, which carry higher profit margins. Furniture is still available, but only online. That reverses the course followed by predecessor Marvin Ellison, who three years ago began selling major appliances again in an attempt to capitalize on problems at Sears.
  • The president and his reelection campaign are mocking efforts to replace plastic straws with paper ones and turning that disdain into a fundraising gimmick. The president's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted that he was 'so over paper straws. #LiberalProgress.' He said liberals would do the same to the economy: 'Squeeze it until it doesn't work.' Later, Parscale tweeted a link to the campaign's online store, where supporters could buy a pack of 10 recyclable and laser engraved 'Trump Straws' for $15. Sure enough, the site now says the straws have already sold out. Some cities are banning plastic straws because of their impact on oceans. Over 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year — though plastic straws make up less than 1% of ocean waste. Most recycling centers don't accept plastic straws because they're so small that they fall through the cracks of machinery at processing plants. The president weighed in Friday when asked about the plastic straw debate before departing for New Jersey, saying, 'I do think we have bigger problems than plastic straws.' He wasn't done though: 'You know, it's interesting about plastic straws. So you have a little straw, but what about the plates, the wrappers and everything else that are much bigger? And they're made of the same material,' Trump observed. 'Everybody focuses on the straws. There's a lot of other things to focus. But it's an interesting question.
  • The New Hampshire Supreme Court dealt a possibly fatal blow Friday to plans for a hydropower transmission line that has raised concerns among communities and environmentalists that it would harm tourism and property values. In its unanimous ruling, the court upheld a state committee's rejection of the Northern Pass project. The court didn't accept the argument of the utility behind the project that the Site Evaluation Committee never considered all the evidence, as required by law, or the possible ways the company could mitigate opponents' concerns. The energy company, Eversource, wanted the court to send the case back to the committee for reconsideration following its decision last year to reject the application. The $1.6 billion project proposes to send Canadian hydropower through 192 miles of transmission lines in New Hampshire to supply power to a million homes in southern New England. Associate Justice Anna Barbara 'Bobbie' Hantz Marconi, who wrote the decision, said the court was limited to whether the committee's 'findings are supported by competent evidence in the record and are not are no erroneous as a matter of law.' 'We have reviewed the record and conclude that the Subcommittee's findings are supported by competent evidence and are not erroneous as a matter of law,' she wrote. Although Eversource could try to submit a new plan to the evaluation committee, the company has lost most of its political support in the state including one of the most vocal backers, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. Sununu had long supported the project as a way to reduce energy costs. 'The Court has made it clear - it is time to move on,' Sununu said in a statement. 'There are still many clean energy projects that lower electric rates to explore and develop for New Hampshire and the rest of New England.' Eversource, which has long said the project would get built despite a recent string of judicial and regulatory defeats, said it was reviewing its options. They had hoped to finish the project by 2020. 'We are deeply disappointed that the New Hampshire Supreme Court reached this decision, but we are grateful for their consideration and deliberation in this case,' the company said. 'Northern Pass was the most advanced project to bring abundant low-cost, clean energy into the region, and this outcome is an unfortunate setback to our efforts to advance an affordable clean energy future for our customers.' Northern Pass has been one of the most contentions projects in the state, long pitting unions and business interests since it was proposed in 2010 against rural residents and environmentalists. Opponents in orange jerseys packed hearings arguing that the proposal for towering transmission lines would hurt the tourism industry and destroy their rural way of life. Others complained the disruptions would be borne by New Hampshire residents while most of the energy would go elsewhere. But most assumed the company, which had received numerous federal approvals and was contracted to supply power to Massachusetts, would eventually win approval. Then, the committee denied the application. The committee's rejection last year led Massachusetts to drop the project and shift toward Maine. That project will bring Canadian hydropower through transmission lines in Maine. The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect has won the support of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. The Maine Public Utilities Commission also gave its approval, but several other agencies must sign off on the project. In New Hampshire, the court's ruling was welcomed by opponents who hopeful the ruling would spell the end to Northern Pass. 'Today's Supreme Court decision is the right one for New Hampshire,' said Tom Irwin, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation New Hampshire. 'Eversource has been nothing but dismissive of community concerns throughout this process and that alone is enough to reject Northern Pass for good.' The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said the court's ruling showed there was no viable path forward for Northern Pass. 'We took on Northern Pass because we saw the proposed overhead line as a direct threat to conserved lands in the state, including three of our Forest Reservations and dozens of conservation easements,' said Jane Difley, president/forester of the Forest Society.
  • A federal judge is upholding the Trump administration's expansion of cheaper short-term health insurance plans as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act's costlier comprehensive insurance. U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon in Washington, D.C., ruled Friday that the potential downside of expanding short-term plans is 'minimal' and 'benefits are undeniable' for some consumers. He found that the Trump administration had the legal authority to issue rules last year making the plans more attractive to customers. Where available, the plans now are good for up to 12 months and may be renewed for 36 months. But they don't have to cover people with pre-existing conditions or provide basic benefits like prescription drugs. The Association for Community Affiliated Plans, an insurer group that sued the administration, plans to appeal. Health and Human Services Alex Azar called the ruling 'a clear victory' for patients.