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Russian warplanes, navy ships to visit Venezuela

Russia's defense minister says the country's aircraft and navy ships will make visits to Venezuela.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the statement during Thursday's talks in Moscow with his Venezuelan counterpart Vladimir Padrino Lopez. Shoigu said Russia's military aircraft would continue to make stopovers in Venezuela and its ships would calls at its ports as part of bilateral military cooperation, but didn't mention any specific dates.

Padrino Lopez said Caracas hopes that Moscow will help modernize previously supplied weapons.

Russia sent its Tu-160 strategic bombers and a missile cruiser to visit Venezuela in 2008 amid tensions with the U.S. after Russia's brief war with Georgia.

Russia-U.S. relations are currently at post-Cold War lows over Ukraine, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

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  • Facing investigations by the Justice Department, his own Inspector General, and Democrats in the U.S. House, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave his post by the end of this year, President Donald Trump announced on Saturday, continuing the high profile staff changes since the elections in his administration. “Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation,” the President tweeted, not mentioning the investigations Zinke faced, covering excessive travel costs, improper political activities, and potential conflicts of interest. Zinke – like others in the Trump Cabinet – also faced the prospect of actual aggressive oversight in the Congress, with Democrats taking over the House of Representatives in January. The lawmaker who would lead most of those questions is Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), whom Zinke said a few weeks ago was nothing but a drunk. “It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke tweeted from his official account. My thoughts on Rep. Grijalva’s opinion piece. #TuneInnForMore pic.twitter.com/VMGxdtHwvU — Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 30, 2018 “This is no kind of victory, but I’m hopeful that it is a genuine turning of the page,” Grijalva said on Saturday. Among the investigations into Zinke, the internal watchdog at the Interior Department found that he had taken a security detail with him for a vacation with his wife to Turkey and Greece, costing taxpayers $25,000. Zinke also spent $12,375 on a chartered flight to take him from Las Vegas back to his home of Kalispell, Montana. During some of the Inspector General investigations of Zinke, the Trump Administration tried to move an appointed from the Department of Housing and Urban Development into the IG office at Interior; after complaints and questions about the legitimacy of the move, the change did not occur. Democrats in Congress, who often compared Zinke’s ethics questions to those of former Trump EPA chief Scott Pruitt, had nothing good to say about Zinke, who arrived at the Interior Department for his first day of work in Washington, on his horse. “Glad to see that Interior Secretary Zinke is being forced out,” tweeted Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). “Tired of Trump Administration officials who use their office for personal gain.” “Ryan Zinke kept zero of his promises and used our public lands as handouts to his fossil fuel cronies,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). “Ryan Zinke’s tenure at Interior was a never-ending stream of terrible management decisions,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). “I will not miss him.” Good riddance to Ryan Zinke and the horse he literally rode in on. pic.twitter.com/triFovIXPZ — Chellie Pingree (@chelliepingree) December 15, 2018 The President’s announcement about Zinke’s future came a day after the President announced that his budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, would be Acting White House Chief of Staff starting in 2019. Other Trump Cabinet officials also could be on their way out in coming weeks, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Thank u, next,” tweeted Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV).
  • Insuring that North Carolina’s Ninth District seat will be vacant when the 116th Congress convenes in January, the North Carolina state elections board on Friday set a hearing for January 11, 2019, where officials will receive evidence on election irregularities focused on absentee ballot fraud which seemingly benefited Republican Mark Harris. “State investigators are awaiting additional documents from parties subpoenaed in this matter and finalizing the investigation prior to the hearing,” the State Board of Elections and Ethics said in a statement. Originally, the board had planned a hearing before December 21. In an interview with WBTV on Friday, Harris denied knowing that McRae Dowless – hired to run an absentee ballot operation in Bladen County – was doing anything which was illegal. “No, absolutely not,” Harris said in his first interview since allegations of election fraud began to surface after the November elections. This means Mark Harris will not be sworn in on January 3. #NC09 #ncpol — Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) December 14, 2018 “In the Marines, I learned what it means to fight for our democracy,” tweeted Democrat Dan McCready, who lost to Harris by 905 votes. “I never imagined I would watch our democracy come under attack right here at home,” McCready added. It’s not clear if the U.S. House of Representatives will also investigate the possible fraud in the Ninth District race, which possibly involved ballot fraud and discarded ballots. The North Carolina board could still order a new election, which may involve a new primary as well, as some Republicans would like to get Harris out of the race for the seat in Congress, worried that he will be too tainted by the charges of election fraud. . @NCSBE will hold public hearing into 9th CD irregularities on Jan. 11. Notice below. #ncpol #ncga pic.twitter.com/5TYZOFhJYC — NCSBE (@NCSBE) December 14, 2018 The decision to extend the investigation of any election fraud into 2019 means that the U.S. House will start the 116th Congress with Democrats holding a 235-199 edge in the House – with the one vacancy from North Carolina.
  • A federal judge in Texas ruled President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act 'invalid' Friday, the eve of the sign-up deadline for coverage next year. In a 55-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor ruled that last year's tax cut bill knocked the constitutional foundation from under 'Obamacare' by eliminating a penalty for not having coverage.  Supporters of the law immediately said they would appeal.  California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has been leading the multistate coalition to defend the law, issued a statement saying: 'The ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court. Today's misguided ruling will not deter us: our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and wellbeing of all Americans.'  Becerra called Friday's ruling 'an assault on 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA's consumer protections for healthcare, on America's faithful progress toward affordable healthcare for all Americans.'  President Donald Trump hailed the ruling, tweeting: 'As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions.'  But Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to become House speaker in January, vowed to fight what she called an 'absurd ruling.' She said the House 'will move swiftly to formally intervene in the appeals process to uphold the life-saving protections for people with pre-existing conditions and reject Republicans' effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act.'  White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement saying: 'We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place.'  Twenty Republican-led states brought the lawsuit. After Trump ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the health law, a coalition of ACA-supporting states took up the defense.  O'Connor is a conservative Republican appointee who has previously blocked other Obama-era policies.
  • Update 5:23 p.m. EDT Dec. 14: In a tweet Friday, President Donald Trump named Mick Mulvaney, the current Director of the Office of Management and Budget, as acting White House Chief of Staff. Trump deemed Mulvaney his “acting chief of staff” but it was not immediately clear what that meant for the length of his tenure. >> Read more trending news President Donald Trump said Saturday that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will leave his position by the end of the year. The president’s first choice was Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, who bowed out after being unable to come to an agreement on how long he would serve in the post. Read the original report below. Trump announced last week that Kelly, who served in the post for more than a year, would soon be departing. Rumors have swirled off-and-on for months that Kelly, a retired four-star general, planned to leave his post. >> Related: Who is Gen. John Kelly, President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff?  Sources with knowledge of the inner workings of the West Wing told CNN that President Donald Trump and Kelly have recently stopped speaking. He reportedly clashed with several members of the administration, including national security adviser John Bolton, the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Politico reported. Tension between Bolton and Kelly spilled out into the public earlier this year when The Washington Post reported Kelly stormed out of the White House after getting into a shouting match with Bolton over immigration. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Kelly expected to make his exit over the summer, but the newspaper later reported that he agreed to stay on through the 2020 election at the president’s request. Reports indicate that the relationship between Trump and Kelly has long been fraught with tension. Former FBI director James Comey said in his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” that Kelly was “sick about my firing” in May 2017 and that he intended to quit in protest of Trump’s decision. Comey said he urged Kelly not to quit. >> 'A Higher Loyalty:' Here’s some of what James Comey says about Trump NBC News reported in April that Kelly called Trump “an idiot” who he needed to “save from himself” during a tense meeting on immigration. Kelly later denied making such a statement and claimed he and the president had “an incredibly candid and strong relationship,” according to NBC News. Kelly faced criticism earlier this year after two of former staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse. Porter denied the allegations, but submitted his resignation Feb. 7 amid public outcry. >> White House ‘could have done better’ handling Rob Porter allegations, spokesman says In a statement released after the revelations first surfaced, Kelly stood behind Porter, who he called “a man of true integrity and honor.” He appeared to walk back his comments in a subsequent statement, amid criticism based on reports that the White House knew of the allegations long before Porter’s resignation. The allegations held up the security clearance process for Porter, who was only ever issued a temporary clearance. Amid the media furor, Kelly moved to end or downgrade temporary clearances for all staff members, including some, like Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had regular access to top secret U.S. documents. Kelly joined the Trump Administration as the secretary of Homeland Security in January 2017. Six months later, he was appointed as chief of staff after Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Preibus, submitted his resignation amid tension with Trump. >> Reince Priebus out: Trump names new chief of staff Reuters reported in February that Kelly and Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster were considering leaving their posts because of the way they were treated by Trump in public. Unidentified sources told Reuters that 'Kelly and McMaster have chafed at Trump’s treatment of them in public and in private, which both at times have considered insulting.' The Associated Press contributed to this story.
  • Two New Orleans psychiatrists have found a man who stabbed his brother 93 times before placing his body under a burning mattress in 2013 “irrestorably incompetent” to stand trial and recommended he be committed to a psychiatric hospital.  Ian Broyard, 27, is accused of murder and tampering with evidence in the Nov. 6, 2013, stabbing death of 23-year-old Michael Broyard III, NOLA.com reported. Ian Broyard was 22 at the time of the crime.  Michael Broyard, a tattoo artist, was working on a degree in social work at Southern University at New Orleans. >> Read more trending news The New Orleans Advocate reported in July 2014, when Broyard was indicted, that the brothers had been in several fights prior to the killing. Their sister arrived at the family home in the Gentilly section of New Orleans the morning of the stabbing to see smoke coming from the front door.  Firefighters found Michael Broyard dead inside but there was no sign of Ian Broyard, who had been home shortly before the fire broke out, the Advocate reported. While police officers and firefighters worked the scene, Ian Broyard showed up, with cuts on his forearms and holding his stomach in pain, the newspaper said.  A witness told police he saw a man, who was riding away from the Broyard home on a bicycle, toss something into a trash can nearby. Investigators found a bloodstained vest constructed out of book covers taped together.  The DNA from the blood on the vest matched that of Michael Broyard, the Advocate reported. Other DNA and fingerprints recovered from the vest matched Ian Broyard, NOLA.com said.  NOLA.com reported that Ian Broyard was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic in June 2013, just five months before his brother’s brutal slaying. Broyard’s arrest warrant indicated that he sometimes became violent. Broyard was initially found competent to stand trial in August 2014 but was found incompetent during another hearing almost three years later, the news site said. He was sent to Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in June 2017 and has been there since.  Two of the members of the court-appointed sanity panel who examined Broyard have found it unlikely that Broyard will ever become competent to stand trial for his brother’s slaying. NOLA.com reported that Dr. Sarah DeLand testified Thursday that Broyard, who suffers from delusions and auditory hallucinations, would be unable to assist his lawyer at trial. Broyard believes that the IRS and the FBI control him and those around him, DeLand said in court. He also believes that the federal agencies could influence his case based on his outstanding student loans.  A judge will decide next week if Broyard will be committed indefinitely, NOLA said.  Investigators said during Broyard’s March 2014 preliminary hearing that it was possible he was connected to a second slaying 10 months before that of his brother. NOLA.com reported that a homicide detective testified at the hearing that Broyard was related to Edward Richardson, an 83-year-old retiree who was found stabbed to death New Year’s Day 2013 in his apartment at a senior living community.  Like Michael Broyard, Richardson was found stabbed an excessive number of times -- more than 50 -- and his body was under a mattress that had been set on fire, NOLA.com reported in 2014. No physical evidence linked Ian Broyard to the scene.  WDSU in New Orleans reported in 2015 that cold case investigators were still seeking leads in the unsolved case.