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The Latest News about Government and Politics

    Kansas' new Democratic governor on Monday vetoed a tax relief bill approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, arguing it would repeat an infamous fiscal experiment that failed under a GOP predecessor. Gov. Laura Kelly signaled for weeks that she would reject Republican leaders' top priority this year, a measure aimed at preventing individuals and businesses from paying more in state income taxes because of changes in federal tax laws at the end of 2017. Kelly's top priorities are boosting funding for public schools and expanding the state's Medicaid health coverage for the needy. 'We cannot fix our state if we repeat the mistakes of the past,' Kelly said Monday. A clash was inevitable. Allowing the tax relief to become law would have undermined the state's ability to sustain Kelly's proposals for education funding and Medicaid expansion. Republican leaders have yet to muster the two-thirds majorities necessary to override a veto and enact the tax bill, so Kelly is likely to prevail. Republicans argued that failing to enact tax relief would allow an unlegislated tax increase. They said the issue was akin to deciding whether to return a lost wallet full of cash after finding it on the sidewalk with the owner's ID inside. The governor and fellow Democrats noted the persistent budget woes that Kansas experienced after Republican legislators jumped into cutting income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at the urging of then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. Voters came to view the experiment as a failure, and bipartisan majorities reversed most of the tax cuts in 2017. Kelly's administration projected that under the bill, taxpayers would save $209 million during the state budget year beginning in July. Like other states, Kansas faced the issue of revising its income tax code because it is tied to the federal tax code. While changes in federal tax laws championed by President Donald Trump lowered rates, they also included provisions that raised money for Kansas, in party by discouraging individual filers from claiming itemized deductions. The bill vetoed by Kelly would have provided relief to taxpayers who have itemized on their state returns. It would have allowed them to keep itemizing even if they don't on their federal returns, something previously prohibited. Republican legislators also attached a provision to lower the state's sales tax on groceries to 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent to make the bill harder for Kelly to veto. Kelly herself promised during her campaign last year to work to lower the tax. But much of the relief in the bill would have gone to large businesses that faced paying state income taxes on income generated by operations outside the U.S. because of the federal changes. ___ Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .
  • Michael Avenatti, the attorney best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was arrested Monday on charges that he tried to extort millions of dollars from Nike and embezzled a client's money to pay his own expenses. Avenatti, 48, was charged with extortion and bank and wire fraud in separate cases in New York and California. He was arrested in New York. The allegations 'paint an ugly picture of lawless conduct and greed,' said Nick Hanna, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. Avenatti describes himself on Twitter as an attorney and advocate, but the accusations describe 'a corrupt lawyer who instead fights for his own selfish interests.' In New York, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Avenatti engaged in 'a shakedown.' 'When lawyers use their law licenses as weapons, as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals,' Berman said. The New York case accuses Avenatti of threatening to use his ability to get publicity to harm Nike. In the California case, he allegedly misused a client's money to pay his debts and those of his coffee business and law firm. Federal prosecutors said he also defrauded a bank by using phony tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans. Avenatti allegedly threatened to hold a news conference last week on the eve of Nike's quarterly earnings call and the start of the NCAA tournament to announce allegations of misconduct by Nike employees. The attorney and a co-conspirator demanded to be paid $15 to $25 million and an additional $1.5 million for an Avenatti client to remain silent, the complaint said. Shortly before the charges came to light, Avenatti tweeted that he planned to hold another news conference regarding Nike on Tuesday morning. Less than 45 minutes later, prosecutors announced the extortion case. The co-conspirator, who was not identified, is also an attorney licensed to practice in California who represents celebrities and public figures, court papers said. The Avenatti client is a coach of an amateur athletic union men's basketball program in California, according to the papers. The AAU program coached by the client was sponsored by Nike for $72,000 annually, the complaint said. An email requesting comment was sent to Avenatti's office, and phone and text messages were sent to his phone by The Associated Press. Avenatti rose to national prominence by representing Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in a lawsuit to break a confidentiality agreement to speak about her alleged affair with Trump. He has also made headlines in recent weeks as the attorney representing two women who have accused R&B star R. Kelly of sexual abuse. Daniels said she was 'saddened but not shocked' to learn of Avenatti's arrest.
  • Rep. Jose Serrano, a 16-term Democrat from the South Bronx, said Monday he has Parkinson's disease and will retire at the end of his term. The 75-year-old Serrano is a fixture in Bronx politics and is among Congress' foremost defenders of Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory where he was born. He's chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the departments of Justice and Commerce, and he pledged to use that post to 'fight for climate change research, a fairer justice system, and an accurate 2020 census count.' Serrano's announcement came shortly after New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres announced he'd run for the congressional seat, which is a lopsided Democratic stronghold that gave Hillary Clinton 94 percent of the vote against President Donald Trump. Serrano's announcement promises to lead more Democrats to enter the fray. In his announcement, however, Serrano cited his diagnosis. 'Although this disease has not affected my work in Congress, over the last few months I've come to the realization that Parkinson's will eventually take a toll, and that I cannot predict its rate of advancement,' Serrano said. Serrano said Parkinson's hasn't affected his work yet, but he has slowed in recent years. Over almost three decades in Congress, Serrano has been a reliable vote for Democratic leaders and has focused much of his attention on the issues before the Appropriations Committee, such as funding legal aid for the poor, the Census, and revitalizing the economically troubled South Bronx. 'I am extremely proud of the work we did to revitalize the Bronx River, to bring billions of federal dollars to our borough, to expand access to the ballot for language minorities, to increase STEM resources for minority students,' Serrano said. He also cited efforts to end the bombing of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, as part of U.S. training exercises.
  • New Mexico Senator Tom Udall announced Monday he will not seek re-election in 2020 in a move that opens up a secure Democratic seat to competition. The second-term senator and former congressman said in a statement he is confident he could run a strong campaign but preferred to look for new ways to serve the public, without specifying how. The decision marks an end to a 20-year political career on Capitol Hill for Udall, who first was elected to Congress in 1998. Udall's father was Stewart Udall, who served as Interior Secretary in the 1960s and helped write far-reaching conservation legislation. And his uncle was Morris 'Mo' Udall, a longtime Arizona congressman and a prominent Democratic 1976 presidential contender. Since 2017, Udall has helped organize resistance in Congress to attempts by the administration of President Trump to roll back development restrictions on public lands, while defending the regulation of heat-trapping gasses linked to climate change. The 70-year-old Senator from Santa Fe said he'll dedicate the final two years of his term to fighting climate change, protecting public lands and to trying 'to stop the president's assault on our Democracy and our communities.' 'The worst thing anyone in public office can do is believe the office belongs to them,' Udall said in a videotaped message . 'There will be more chapters in my public service to do what needs to be done.' In 2008, Udall readily defeated then-U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce to take Democratic control of a Senate seat held for 36 years by Pete Domenici, who retired when diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease and died in 2017. New Mexico's junior senator, Democrat Martin Heinrich, last year won re-election to a second term last year, easily defeating Libertarian former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Republican political newcomer Mick Rich. Democrats consolidated control of New Mexico's delegation to Washington in November elections, when U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small last year flipped a district in the south of the state that was long dominated by the GOP.
  • The Latest on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington (all times local): 2 p.m. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says the U.S. has 'ignored international law' by recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Cavusoglu said on Twitter on Monday that the decision would 'never legitimize Israeli occupation.' The minister said: 'The decision will further increase tensions in the region by preventing peace efforts in the Middle East.' President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Monday recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981. __ 2:05 p.m. Lebanon says the decision by President Donald Trump to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory undermines any efforts to reach a fair peace and further isolates Israel. Lebanon's foreign ministry said Monday that the Golan Heights are 'Syrian Arab' territory and 'no country can falsify history by transferring' land from one country to another. Lebanon is technically at war with Israel, which occupied parts of southern Lebanon until it withdrew in 2000. Lebanon says Israel is still occupying the disputed Shebaa Farms and Israel considers the Lebanese Hezbollah group a strategic threat. Trump signed a proclamation Monday recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The decision further isolates Israel, Lebanon's foreign ministry said, adding that Israel will only find security with a fair and comprehensive peace. __ 1:05 p.m. Syria says President Donald Trump's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights makes Washington 'the main enemy' of Arabs, and the Damascus government is calling the U.S. decision a 'slap' to the international community. Trump has signed a proclamation recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan, which Israel occupied in 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981. Syria's Foreign Ministry calls the decision a 'blatant aggression' on its own sovereignty and territorial integrity. The ministry says the U.S. move represents the 'highest level of contempt for international legitimacy.' The U.N. Security Council refers to Israel as 'the occupying power' and says Israel's attempt to 'impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.' Trump's decision reverses more than a half-century of U.S. policy. ___ 12:55 p.m. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (neh-ten-YAH'-hoo) is asking President Donald Trump for permission to share Israeli wine with the White House staff. And the Israeli leader is joking that he hopes 'they don't open an investigation' as a result. Back home, Netanyahu is facing a pending indictment on corruption charges. And Trump has been the subject of numerous investigations, but is claiming vindication following the release of a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's report. Netanyahu made the offer after Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Netanyahu says he brought Trump a case 'of the finest wine from the Golan.' But he says Trump, who doesn't drink alcohol, is 'not a great wine drinker,' and that he wanted to give the wine to Trump's staff instead. ___ 12:20 p.m. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (neh-ten-YAH'-hoo) says Israel is 'responding forcefully' to a morning rocket attack in central part of the Jewish state. Israel's military says it's started striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip after a rocket hit a house north Tel Aviv and wounded seven people. Netanyahu spoke during a meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump, who later signed an official proclamation formally recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Netanyahu calls the rocket attack 'wanton aggression' and says 'Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate it.' The prime minister says he plans to return to Israel after the meeting with Trump. ___ 12:05 p.m. President Donald Trump has signed a proclamation recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The document reverses more than a half-century of U.S. policy as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (neh-ten-YAH'-hoo) visited the White House. Trump had previewed the move in a tweet last week that it was time for the U.S. to take the step after 52 years of Israeli control of the strategic highlands on the border with Syria. Netanyahu has pressed for such recognition for months. Trump's action gives him a political boost just weeks before what's expected to be a close Israeli election. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war but its sovereignty over the territory is not recognized by the international community. ___ 9:35 a.m. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (neh-ten-YAH'-hoo) says he's cutting short his visit to Washington after a Gaza rocket attack on Israel. Netanyahu describes Monday morning's rocket launch that struck a home in central Israel as a 'criminal attack' and he's pledging to strike back hard. He says he'll return to Israel to handle the crisis shortly after his meeting with President Donald Trump. An Israeli rescue service says the rocket from the Gaza Strip wounded seven people. Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Sunday for what was to have been a three-day visit. He was going to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's policy conference and was to be hosted at a White House dinner.
  • The Latest on Congress and the special counsel's Russia investigation (all times local): 1:40 p.m. Sen. Lindsey Graham says he told President Donald Trump that the late Sen. John McCain 'deserves better' than the president's harsh criticism. The South Carolina Republican said Monday that Trump blames McCain for the Russia investigation. The former Arizona senator had turned over to the FBI a salacious dossier he received about Trump's activities in Russia. McCain died last year. Says Graham: 'Trump believes it was the McCain people who spread this.' But Graham says he told Trump, 'it was not John McCain.' Graham and McCain were dear friends, but parted ways over Trump. Graham is now close to Trump and spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago club. Graham said McCain did 'exactly what he should have done' in giving the dossier to authorities. Trump publicly criticized McCain last week. ___ 1:10 p.m. Kentucky's Republican senators say special counsel Robert Muller's investigation vindicated President Donald Trump, but a home-state, Democratic colleague in the House says many questions remain after the summary of Mueller's report was made public. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the special counsel's conclusions confirmed Trump's account that there was no effort by Trump's campaign to conspire or coordinate with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Paul told reporters in Louisville on Monday that the nearly two-year investigation was a 'colossal waste of money and time.' Rep. John Yarmuth said Attorney General William Barr's summary of Mueller's conclusions 'leaves many questions unanswered.' ___ 1:01 p.m. President Donald Trump is accusing those responsible for launching the special counsel investigation of 'treason' and says they 'will certainly be looked at.' Trump did not specify who he's referring to, but told reporters Monday, that 'There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things. I would say treasonous things against our country.' Trump adds that, 'Those people will certainly be looked at' and says: 'I've been looking at them for a long time.' The comments come a day after the attorney general told Congress that special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence Trump or his associates conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Asked about the possibility of issuing pardons, Trump also says: I 'haven't thought about it.' __ 12:40 p.m. President Donald Trump says the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report 'wouldn't bother me at all.' Trump says he's glad Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling is over and wishes it could have gone quicker. Trump says 'we can never let this happen to another president again.' Asked Monday whether Mueller had acted honorably, Trump responded: 'Yes, he did.' Attorney General William Barr has told Congress that Mueller found no evidence Trump or his associates conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller did not make a determination on whether Trump obstructed justice. Trump was asked about Mueller's report as he spoke to reporters along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (neh-ten-YAH'-hoo). ___ 12:35 p.m. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team told the attorney general about three weeks ago it would not be reaching a conclusion about whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice. That's according to a Justice Department official who spoke to The Associated Press on Monday on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. The official says the news from Mueller's team to Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was 'unexpected.' In releasing a summary of Mueller's findings on Sunday, Barr said Mueller had drawn no conclusion about whether Trump obstructed justice. Instead, his report laid out the evidence on both sides of the question. Barr told Congress that he and Rosenstein decided there wasn't enough evidence to prove Trump had committed that crime. — Associated Press writer Eric Tucker ___ 12:05 p.m. A close ally says President Donald Trump felt a sense of relief after learning special counsel Robert Mueller's report had cleared him of conspiring with the Russian government. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham flew home from Florida with Trump after spending the weekend awaiting Mueller's findings. On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr told Congress Mueller did not find evidence that Trump's campaign 'conspired or coordinated' with Russia during the 2016 election. Graham says that on the flight home Trump conveyed a 'sense of relief' that there was now the 'legitimacy' of his presidency where there had been questions before. Trump has declared the findings a total vindication, but Mueller reached no conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice. Barr says Mueller's report presents 'evidence on both sides' of that question. ___ 11:45 a.m. Sen. Lindsey Graham says President Donald Trump came out of the Russia investigation stronger. But he is warning Trump not to pardon any associates convicted during special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The South Carolina Republican, who spent the weekend with Trump, told reporters on Monday that 'if President Trump pardoned anybody in his orbit, it would not play well.' He's referring to figures such as Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman. Manafort has been convicted in Washington and Virginia of crimes related to years of Ukrainian political consulting work. Mueller's report, turned over to Friday to Attorney General William Barr, did not find evidence that Trump's campaign 'conspired or coordinated' with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. ___ 11:35 a.m. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says his panel will 'unpack the other side of the story' of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into President Donald Trump and his campaign. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who spent the weekend with Trump in Florida, said his committee will investigate the actions of the Justice Department in the Russia investigation, including the FBI's use of a dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele. Graham spoke Monday after Attorney General William Barr reported to Congress on Mueller's findings. Barr said Mueller found no evidence that Trump or his associates conspired with Russia. Mueller did not make a determination on whether Trump obstructed justice. Graham said he will be speaking with Barr at noon and wants him to testify before his committee.
  • For President Donald Trump, the fight over the 'witch hunt' is only just beginning. Now that special counsel Robert Mueller's two-year investigation into Trump's campaign is over, it's being transformed into a rallying cry and a weapon for the president's re-election campaign. The pall of the two-year probe lifted Sunday, when Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Mueller's findings that said the wide-ranging investigation found no evidence of collusion by Trump's 2016 campaign with the Russian government. Barr's four-page letter was immediately seized upon by the Republican president and his allies as a weapon to use against Democrats, the so-called Deep State and the media. 'There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country,' Trump said Monday as he sat in the Oval Office next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 'Those people will certainly be looked at.' Even before Mueller's conclusions were revealed, it was clear that Trump saw the end of the investigation as a political opportunity. As the president's lawyers debated legal strategy, Trump aides and political allies developed a plan to turn the end of the probe into the launching pad for a new round of attacks on the president's foes and a moment to reinvigorate his supporters in the run-up to the 2020 campaign. Trump surrogates rushed to take a victory lap, depict the probe as a failed coup and rub the results in the face of Democrats, many of whom had spent months promising that Mueller would turn up more. 'You've made a great victim of Donald Trump here,' Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway said Monday morning. Trump's campaign moved quickly to raise money off the Mueller news, with a text message to supporters stating, 'Dems raised millions off a lie. Now we FIGHT BACK!' The team's plans going forward are more expansive, according to seven aides and allies involved with the effort, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private deliberations. While Trump's base has long been suspicious of Mueller, the president's team believes independents and moderate Democrats who backed him in the last election but have since soured may return to the fold if convinced he was unfairly targeted. Some Republicans who had mused about a primary challenge to Trump if Mueller returned a smoking gun may now stay on the sidelines. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of several Republicans considering a bid to unseat the president, had told the AP last month he would only mount a campaign if the political dynamics in the race have changed. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, though, said Monday in New Hampshire that 'I wasn't really counting on the president getting caught in the soup' and was still considering a bid. Major talking points for Democrats who had pinned great hopes on Mueller may have vanished. And some swing voters, wary at the prospect of endless investigations and talk of impeachment, may prove more sympathetic to the president. The president and his allies will now link the report with the investigations launched by House Democrats and try to make the case that, in the wake of Mueller's findings, further probes are partisan overreach. 'I think they can't move forward until they apologize,' Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The Associated Press. He singled out Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and said the congressman's investigation would have no credibility because he had deemed Trump 'treasonous' and promised clear evidence of collusion that didn't materialize. 'If there are people who contrived this investigation, who made up this collusion, maybe they themselves should be investigated,' Giuliani said. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., echoed that sentiment, making clear that Republicans weren't ready to move on from the investigations, firing a warning shot to Hillary Clinton and Justice Department officials that 'to those who were abusive of the process in 2016 on the other side, you haven't had much scrutiny, but that's coming.' Trump's campaign on Monday afternoon released a memo from communications director Tim Murtaugh warning television producers against booking Democrats who had claimed on their networks that there had been evidence of collusion with Russia. 'At this point, there must be introspection from the media who facilitated the reckless statements and a serious evaluation of how such guests are considered and handled in the future,' Murtaugh wrote. Democrats have pointed out that Mueller found evidence for and against obstruction and have demanded to see his full report. The president's allies also intend to use the moment to heighten attacks on the media, which many Trump supporters believe unjustly fanned the flames of the special counsel's probe in an effort to bring down the president. They aim to highlight specific news organizations and, in some cases, individual reporters and paint them as biased and untrustworthy, according to two presidential confidants. The president's campaign and pro-Trump outside groups are poised to amplify the message that Democrats tried to use the probe to obstruct the White House's agenda, while his advisers expect Fox News and the conservative media to act as an echo chamber. A full-throated attack on the investigation also will be the centerpiece of Trump campaign events, including rallies, Trump advisers have said. Trump's next rally is set for Thursday in Michigan, a state he narrowly won in 2016 and will invest in heavily this time. Count on hearing an earful. ___ Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Hunter Woodall contributed reporting from Concord, New Hampshire. ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Miller at http://twitter.com/@zekejmiller
  • The Supreme Court said Monday it won't step in to referee a copyright dispute between Nike and a photographer who took a well-known image of basketball great Michael Jordan. That means lower court rulings for the athletic apparel maker will stand. Photographer Jacobus Rentmeester sued Nike after it used an image he took of Jordan in the 1980s as inspiration for a photograph it commissioned for its own ads. The company's photo, which was used on posters and billboards, then became the basis for the 'Jumpman' logo for Nike's Air Jordan shoes. Rentmeester sued Beaverton, Oregon-based Nike in 2015 saying both the Nike photo and logo infringed on his copyright image. Rentmeester's original photo of Jordan was taken for Life magazine in 1984, while Jordan was a student at the University of North Carolina. It shows Jordan holding a basketball in his left hand and leaping, ballet-like toward a basketball hoop. At the time, Jordan was preparing for the upcoming Summer Olympics, which were being held in Los Angeles. In the photo, Jordan is wearing the U.S. Olympic team uniform. Both Rentmeester's photo and Nike's photo involve a basketball hoop at the right side of the image and were taken from a similar angle. Jordan's pose is similar in both photos. But in the Nike photo, Jordan is wearing the red and black of the Chicago Bulls, which he joined in 1984, and the Chicago skyline is the background. One other difference: In Rentmeester's photo, Jordan is wearing Converse. Rentmeester cried foul, argued that the differences between his photo and Nike's were 'minor,' and said that nearly every original element in his photo also appeared in Nike's. Lower courts ruled for Nike. ___ Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko
  • The Supreme Court is rejecting an appeal from a company owned by an unidentified foreign government that has refused to turn over information demanded by special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The justices didn't comment Monday in turning away the company, which is racking up a fine of $50,000 a day for not complying with the grand jury subpoena for documents. Mueller turned over his report to Attorney General William Barr on Friday, but the status of the grand jury is unclear. Fines have been accruing since Jan. 15 and could total nearly $3.5 million. New daily fines stop once the grand jury is discharged. Mueller found no evidence President Donald Trump's campaign 'conspired or coordinated' with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election but reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Trump claims vindication.
  • President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Monday recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, reversing more than a half-century of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Trump made formal a move he announced in a surprise tweet last week. The president said it was time for the U.S. to take the step after 52 years of Israeli control of the strategic highlands on the border with Syria. The U.S. is the first country to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan, which the rest of the international community regards as Israeli-occupied. Trump said his decision would cement the Jewish state's ability to defend itself from regional threats should a broad Arab-Israeli peace deal ever be reached. Trump's action also likely gives Netanyahu a political boost ahead of what's expected to be a close Israeli election. During his 90-minute visit to the White House, reporters and photographers were invited to see Netanyahu at least four times: his arrival at the South Lawn, the signing of the declaration in the Diplomatic Room, a walk through the Colonnade and in the Oval Office. Syria denounced the U.S. move as 'blatant aggression' on its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The foreign ministry said Trump's step represented the 'highest level of contempt for international legitimacy' and showed that Washington was 'the main enemy' of Arabs. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told Syrian TV that the Golan is a Syrian-occupied territory and that Trump decision will only isolate America. Lebanon, which Secretary of State Mike Pence visited over the past weekend, said the Golan Heights are 'Syrian Arab' territory and that 'no country can falsify history by transferring' land from one country to another. Amnesty International called the decision 'irresponsible, reckless and yet another example of the Trump administration violating international law and consensus by condoning Israel's illegal annexation.' Netanyahu had pressed for recognition of his country's sovereignty over the area for months. Israel has long argued that the strategically important area has for all practical purposes been fully integrated into Israel since it was captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and that control of the strategic plateau is needed as protection from Iran and its allies in Syria. 'Today, aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, in southern Syria continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel,' Trump said in the proclamation. The proclamation noted the 'unique circumstances' presented by the Golan, language that appeared to be aimed at countering criticism that the recognition would be used by other countries to justify control of disputed territory such as Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said Trump seems to want to 'drive a wrecking ball' through international law that protects the people who live in 'occupied Golan Heights.' He said it could embolden other 'occupying states to double down on their own land grabs, settlements and plunder of resources.' Netanyahu, even as he was somberly cutting short his visit to Washington to deal with a rocket attack in central Israel, was elated by Trump's move. 'Israel has never had a better friend than you,' he told the president. Netanyahu noted a series of steps Trump has taken since assuming office, including his withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. In addition to signaling U.S. support for Israel's security, the decision appeared to show Trump's support for Netanyahu, the political candidate in April 9 elections. Netanyahu is facing a tough challenge from a popular former military chief and reeling from a series of corruption allegations. He has repeatedly sought to focus attention on his foreign policy record and strong ties with Trump. The two leaders met as the Israeli military was striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket that hit a house north of Tel Aviv, wounding seven people. In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee earlier Monday, Vice President Mike Pence said the rocket attack 'proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace.' Pence told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that 'Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel, and the United States will never negotiate with terrorist Hamas.' Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Sunday for what was to have been a three-day visit but announced early Monday he would leave early to take charge of the response to the rocket. ___ Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A widely shared Facebook post shows a lone prayer closet remaining on the site of a home where an EF4 tornado ripped through in Alabama. Earlier in March, a tornado carved a path across Lee County, Alabama destroying homes and ripping up trees.  Only a few buildings and homes were able to make it, including a local grandmother’s prayer closet. According to 11 Alive, Chaplain Jason Smith was out with Billy Graham’s Rapid Response Team and noticed the prayer closet.   In his Facebook post, he reports the entire family who lived there survived. “Listen to me please,” he wrote in the post.  “I just left a family who survived the tornado in this house and the only left standing is this closet.  It’s the grandmother’s prayer closet, and the whole family survived.  Are you kiddin me!!! My God is awesome!!! Shout somebody! --Jason--” As of this article, the two-week old post has been shared over 96 thousand times and garnered more than 62 thousand likes.
  • Federal prosecutors in New York and California announced charges Monday in separate cases against attorney Michael Avenatti. >> Read more trending news Authorities in New York arrested Avenatti on Monday to face allegations out of the Southern District of New York that he attempted to extort Nike and charges of bank and wire fraud out of the Central District of California. >> Read the complaint against Avenatti filed in New York Update 3:20 p.m. EDT March 25: In a statement obtained by CNBC, a Nike spokesperson said the company “has been cooperating with the government’s investigation into NCAA basketball for over a year.” “When Nike became aware of this matter, Nike immediately reported it to federal prosecutors,” the statement said. “When Mr. Avenatti attempted to extort Nike over this matter, Nike with the assistance of outside counsel at Boies Schiller Flexner, aided the investigation.” Authorities said Avenatti and an unnamed co-conspirator attempted to extort Nike of more than $20 million by threatening “to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met.” Citing a pair of unidentified sources, The Wall Street Journal reported the unnamed co-conspirator allegedly involved in the case was attorney Mark Geragos. Update 3:05 p.m. EDT March 25: Investigators with the IRS launched a probe into Aveantti more than a year ago, after an official noticed “irregularities” while attempting to collect payroll taxes from Avenatti, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Nick Hanna said. The bank and wire fraud “allegations ... paint an ugly picture of lawless conduct and greed,” Hanna said, calling Avenatti “a corrupt lawyer who ... fights for his own selfish interests by misappropriating close to $1 million that rightfully belonged to one of his clients.” Hanna said Avenatti negotiated a settlement for one of his clients in December 2017 as part of an intellectual property dispute. Under the settlement, Avenatti’s client was expected to get $1.6 million in January 2018. However, Hanna said Avenatti presented his client with a false settlement agreement that listed March 2018 at the date by which the payment was due. The payment was made to an account controlled by Avenatti on Jan. 5, 2018. “Mr. Avenatti then used his client’s money to pay expenses for his own coffee business, Global Baristas LLC which did business as Tully’s coffee as well as to pay his own expenses,” Hanna said. Avenatti was arrested Monday in New York to face federal charges on both the east and west coasts. Avenatti is facing a maximum of 50 years in prison if he’s convicted of the bank and wire fraud charges in California. Federal prosecutors in New York also charged Avenatti in a separate case in which he was accused of attempting to extort Nike. Update 2:35 p.m. EDT March 25: Authorities in New York are providing more details Monday in the case against Avenatti. Update 2:20 p.m. EDT March 25: Authorities in California are providing more details Monday in the case against Avenatti. Update 2:15 p.m. EDT March 25: Avenatti’s former client, Stormy Daniels, said in a statement Monday that she was “saddened but not shocked by news reports that he has been criminally charged.” “I made the decision more than a month ago to terminate Michael’s services after discovering that he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly,” Daniels said. Avenatti represented Daniels in her court battle to throw out a non-disclosure agreement she had signed before the 2016 presidential election. The agreement barred her from talking about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump years before the election. Original report: Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said Avenatti attempted “to extract more than $20 million in payments from a public traded company by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met.” The company was identified in a criminal complaint as Nike. Earlier Monday, Avenatti had announced plans to hold a press conference Tuesday “to disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike.” Authorities said in a complaint filled in court that Avenatti and another person threatened to release damaging information about Nike unless the company “did not agree to make multi-million dollar payments” to Avenatti and an unnamed co-conspirator. Avenatti “threatened to hold a press conference on the eve of Nike’s quarterly earnings call and the start of the annual (NCAA) tournament at which he would announce allegations of misconduct by employees of Nike,” prosecutors said.  “Avenatti stated that he would refrain from holding the press conference and harming Nike only if Nike made a payment of $1.5 million to a client of Avenatti’s in possession of information damaging to Nike... and agreed to ‘retain’ Avenatti and (the unnamed co-conspirator) to conduct an ‘internal investigation’ -- an investigation that Nike did not request.” Authorities said Avenatti told Nike’s attorneys in a phone call on Wednesday that, “I’ll go take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap ... I’m not (expletive) around.” Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced Monday they were charging Avenatti with wire and bank fraud in a separate case. Authorities plan to detail charges against him at a news conference scheduled for 2 p.m. EDT. Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • An Italian couple is under investigation after authorities say they performed a home circumcision on their 5-month-old son, causing the boy’s death.  The boy, whose parents are of Ghanian origin, was in critical condition when he was taken Friday night to a hospital in Scandiano in the province of Reggio Emilia, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported. He died overnight. >> Read more trending news This weekend’s death is not the first of a child who underwent an illegal circumcision in Italy. The BBC reported that a 2-year-old boy bled to death in December after undergoing a failed circumcision at a migrant center in the Roman suburb of Monterotondo.  The boy’s twin brother underwent the same surgery but survived after a stint in the intensive care unit.  In the December case, a 66-year-old man was charged with murder in the toddler’s death, the BBC reported.  The 2-year-old and his brother were born in Italy, but their parents were from Nigeria, according to the BBC. The man charged with killing the boy is an American of Libyan heritage.  The BBC reported that circumcision is unavailable in public health institutions. Italy’s Roman Catholic majority does not practice circumcision, but many of the country’s Muslim immigrants do.  Private clinics will perform the procedure, but the surgery can be costly. There are people willing to circumcise children for a fraction of the cost, the news agency reported.  In the December case, the procedure was performed at a refugee center run by the Monterotondo council and nonprofit group Arci. Arci officials condemned the incident in a Facebook post, in which they said in 2018, there should be “no sorcerers and midwives.” “The Monterotondo tragedy leaves the whole of Arci, starting with our Arci workers in Rome, sorrowful and upset,” the post read, as translated from Italian. One commenter argued for a near-complete ban on circumcision.   “Circumcision should be considered a sexual mutilation, apart from the few cases in which it is appropriate for medical reasons, and therefore prohibited and punished if practiced,” the woman, Claudia Lanzi, wrote.  Another woman, Barbara Pilati, asked how it is mutilation if it causes no damage. “It is made to children who cannot express their opinion,” Lanzi responded.  ANSA reported that between 4,000 and 5,000 immigrant children undergo circumcisions in Italy each year. About 35 percent of those procedures are done illegally.  Yassine Lafram, who heads the Bologna area’s Islamic community, condemned the fatal procedure on the infant Monday. “We learn of the terrible news of the death of a 5-month-old baby following an illegal circumcision with dismay,” Lafram told ANSA. “It’s a death that could certainly have been avoided and pains us deeply.”
  • Police opened an investigation Monday into a deadly officer-involved shooting in north Charlotte. >> Read more trending news Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney told WSOC-TV that officers responded just after 9 a.m. to the Burger King on Beatties Ford Road, near Interstate 85.  Dozens of police cruisers could be seen surrounding the fast-food restaurant, which was roped off with crime scene tape. Putney said officers responded to a call about an armed man at the business. The man gave employees an uneasy feeling, Putney said, so they called police. When officers arrived, they spotted the man outside the Burger King, according to Putney. Authorities said the man was still armed when officers arrived, and they repeatedly ordered him to drop the weapon. Putney said an officer felt there was a lethal threat and shot the man at least once. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His name has not been released. A witness told WSOC-TV the armed man had gotten into an argument with an employee inside the restaurant and that another man intervened and was assaulted by the suspect. Police have not confirmed that witness's account. Police said no officers were hurt. The shooting remains under investigation, and no other details have been released.
  • ORLANDO, Fla. - The trailer for the new movie, Lucy in the Sky,  portrays Natalie Portman as an astronaut struggling to readjust to life on Earth after seeing 'the whole universe.' The film is loosely based on real-life astronaut Lisa Nowak, who became embroiled in an affair with fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein. But when they broke up, and he began to date U.S. Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, Nowak became enraged. She made national headlines when she drove 900 miles from Houston to Orlando and packed a trench coat, black wig, pepper spray, a BB gun, rope, trash bags and an 8-inch knife in an attempt to kidnap Shipman. Nowak was discharged from NASA and the Navy.

Washington Insider

  • A day after Congress was told the Mueller investigation had not found evidence of coordination or conspiracy involving Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 elections, a leading GOP Senator vowed to fully investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, arguing that President Donald Trump may have been the victim of overzealous investigators inside the Justice Department. 'The double standard here has been striking and quite frankly disappointing,' said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who told reporters at the Capitol on Monday morning that it's time to find out more about how the investigation began during the 2016 campaign, how it meshed with the probe into Hillary Clinton's emails, and whether there had been bias inside the Justice Department and FBI against President Trump. While Graham said he would conduct oversight via the Senate Judiciary Committee, the South Carolina Republican also said he wants a more formal review by the Justice Department, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr. 'What I want to do is see if he'll appoint a Special Counsel,' Graham said, as he argued that President Trump had been unfairly targeted. Graham said he would look at the role of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch - who tried to step back from the Clinton email investigation, which led to the broader involvement of former FBI Director James Comey. 'What was the conflict that made Loretta Lynch so unable to preside over the Clinton email investigation?' Graham asked. While Graham ticked off the boxes of a series of questions which have dominated conservative talk radio over the past two years, the ally of the President made clear he agreed with the Mueller report findings on one very key issue - that the Russians were responsible for the hacking of the Democratic Party in 2016. “It was the Russians - it wasn’t some 300 pound guy sitting on a bed somewhere,” Graham said, making reference to a quote by President Trump, who at times has rejected assertions that Russian Intelligence was responsible for the hacking of emails from Clinton campaign and DNC officials. Graham said he also wanted answers on how the Obama Administration handled the initial developments in the Russia investigation - which came during the 2016 campaign. 'Nobody went to President Trump to tell him, there may be some people in your orbit that are connected to the Russians and working with the Russians,' Graham said at a news conference. At the White House, President Trump kept his comments limited about the Mueller report, saying he would not oppose the release of the details of the report, if that’s what Attorney General Barr wants to do. Asked during an event in the Oval Office whether the Special Counsel had done his job honorably, Mr. Trump responded: 'Yes, he did.' “I wish it could have gone a lot sooner, a lot quicker,” the President added.