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    With President Donald Trump leading the charge, Republicans and the White House went on the offensive on Tuesday, accusing Democrats of using flimsy allegations of sexual misconduct in a last-ditch bid to stop the Supreme Court nomination of federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, as GOP leaders vowed a Senate vote as early as next Tuesday. “We’re going to be moving forward – I’m confident we’re going to win,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters just off the Senate floor, as top Republicans formed a solid political wedge in public, making the argument that ‘vague, uncorroborated allegations’ should not be allowed to stop Kavanaugh. “The Democrats in the Senate have had one goal since the beginning of this process, and that is to sink Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). “I think everybody in America understands there is a presumption of innocence,” McConnell added. “That standard of fairness is applied to every American citizen.” . @SenateMajLdr: 'We have hired a female assistant to go on staff and to ask these questions in a respectful and professional way. We want this hearing to be handled very professionally not a political sideshow…' #Kavanaugh pic.twitter.com/N0hGKA6NqX — CSPAN (@cspan) September 25, 2018 Increasingly confident that Kavanaugh will survive Thursday’s hearing – where Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is scheduled to speak about her allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh from 1982 – Republicans set up a possible Friday vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Kavanaugh nomination. If Kavanaugh is approved by the panel on Friday, the full Senate could start debate on the nomination as early as Saturday, with a final vote occurring by the following Tuesday – if Republicans have 50 votes for the judge. “The committee will do its work,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), “and we’ll hopefully get to a vote as soon as possible.” So far, GOP Senators who have been on the record in support of Kavanaugh aren’t backing away from the judge at this point because of the multiple allegations against him. “Based on what I know now, it would not be enough for me to wipe out his entire life,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who argued to reporters that a lack of corroborating evidence from Ford is an important point. Republicans also set in motion a plan to hire a special outside counsel – Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona – who would ask questions of Ford, instead of the all male GOP lineup on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’ve taken this additional step to have questions asked by expert staff counsel to establish the most fair and respectful treatment of the witnesses possible,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think it’s smart of us to have someone who is a professional do it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of the outside counsel decision, as Graham told reporters if he felt like something else needed to be asked, then he might speak up at some point. The move was seemingly taken with the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings in mind, when GOP Senators faced stern criticism for how they questioned Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against the future Supreme Court Justice. Democrats expressed dismay at the decision. “I’m amazed that they would not ask questions themselves,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) of Republicans. Meanwhile at the United Nations, President Trump made very clear that he’s on board with Kavanaugh, as he lashed out at Democrats, and one of the judge’s accusers. “The Democrats are playing a con game. C-O-N. A con game,” the President said. “And it’s a shame. And they know it’s a con game.” President Trump on Judge #Kavanaugh confirmation process: 'This is a con game being played by the Democrats.' pic.twitter.com/rHDDaTO4z0 — CSPAN (@cspan) September 25, 2018 “I look at the second accuser – the second accuser has nothing. The second accuser doesn’t even know – she thinks, maybe, it could have been him, maybe not,” Mr. Trump said. “She admits that she was drunk.” That woman, Deborah Ramirez, is not expected to testify before the panel on Thursday.  
  • More world leaders step up to the podium at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday but the lion's share of attention will be down the hall where U.S. President Donald Trump will be chairing the Security Council. It'll be Trump's first experience in leading a session of the U.N.'s most powerful body, where the U.S. currently holds the rotating presidency — a perch it is using to double down on its criticism of Iran. While Wednesday's meeting of the council will be addressing the issue of nonproliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, Trump himself has left little doubt that it'll be another chance to target Tehran. On Tuesday, during an unabashedly 'America First' speech, Trump said Iranian leaders 'sow chaos, death and destruction' and 'spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.' His national security adviser, John Bolton, warned that there would be 'hell to pay' if Tehran crossed the U.S., its allies or their partners. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by accusing the Trump administration of violating the rules of international law and 'state obligations' by withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with the U.S. and five other major powers. Rouhani is almost certain not to attend the Security Council meeting that will test Trump's ability to maintain diplomatic decorum and interact with representatives of rival nations. The council is populated by five permanent members — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — and 10 other member states, who occupy a council seat for two-year terms. Iran is not among them. Business will continue Wednesday at the General Assembly, where for a second day, 193 U.N. members take turns to speak out on pressing world issues and their national priorities in world affairs. Among those tentatively scheduled to speak are the leaders of Panama, Iraq, Colombia, Afghanistan and Cuba. This year, 133 world leaders have signed up to attend this year's assembly session, which ends Oct. 1, a significant increase from the 114 leaders last year. However, America's go-it-alone attitude and growing divisions among key world powers risk eroding the U.N.'s ability to bring positive change in global affairs and end conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.
  • The Federal Reserve is set Wednesday to raise interest rates for a third time this year and possibly modify the likely direction of rates in the months ahead. The big question is whether the strong U.S. economy, which has been fueled this year by tax cuts and increased government spending, could weaken next year, especially if President Donald Trump's trade fights begin to inflict damage and the benefits of tax cuts start to fade. If the Fed finds that prospect likely, it might signal Wednesday that it expects to slow its rate increases next year. The Fed's key short-term rate — a benchmark for many consumer and business loans — now stands in a range of 1.75 percent to 2 percent after two quarter-point increases in March and June. A similar rate hike Wednesday would raise that range to a still-low 2 percent to 2.25 percent. Many analysts expect the economy to eventually weaken, in part from the effects of the conflicts Trump has pursued with China, Canada, Europe and other trading partners. If the economy should slow sharply in 2019, the Fed might decide to pull back on its rate increases to avoid hampering growth too much. In that scenario, it might raise rates only twice in 2019 and then retreat to the sidelines to see how the economy fares. Some analysts, though, say they think the momentum built up from the government's economic stimulus will keep strengthening the job market and lowering unemployment — at 3.9 percent, already near a 50-year low. A tight job market could accelerate wages and inflation and prod the Fed to keep tightening credit to ensure that the economy doesn't overheat. Any light the Fed might shed on those questions could come in the statement it will make after its latest policy meeting ends, in updated economic and rate forecasts it will issue or in a news conference that Chairman Jerome Powell will hold afterward. The modest rate increase that's widely expected reflects the continued resilience of the U.S. economy, now in its 10th year of expansion, the second-longest such stretch on record. Most analysts expect the Fed to signal that it plans to raise rates a fourth and final time this year, presumably in December. The Fed's rate increases typically lead to higher rates on some consumer and business loans. Should neither Powell nor the Fed itself clarify expectations for the months ahead, it could be because the policymakers are sharply divided and are coalescing into two familiar opposing groups — 'hawks' and 'doves.' Doves focus on the Fed's mandate to maximize employment and worry less about inflation. Hawks tend to concern themselves more with the need to prevent high inflation. One Fed board member, Lael Brainard, a leading dove, earlier this month surprised some with a speech that emphasized her belief in the need for continued gradual rate hikes. By its latest reckoning, the Fed estimates its 'neutral rate' — the point where it's thought to neither stimulate nor restrain growth — at around 2.9 percent. Two more hikes this year and two in 2019 would lift the Fed's benchmark rate to that level. Many economists worry that Trump's combative trade policies could significantly slow the economy next year. Trump insists that the tariffs he is imposing on Chinese imports, to which Beijing has retaliated, are needed to force China to halt unfair trading practices. But concern is growing that China won't change its practices, the higher tariffs on U.S. and Chinese goods will become permanent and both economies — the world's two largest — will suffer. Powell has so far been circumspect in reflecting on Trump's trade war. The Fed chairman has suggested that while higher tariffs are generally harmful, they could serve a healthy purpose if they eventually force Beijing to liberalize its trade practices. In the meantime, economists are divided over how many Fed rate increases are likely in 2019. The projections range from as few as two to a total of four.
  • The Trump administration is hoping Congress can come up with a new set of national rules governing how companies can use consumers' data that finds a balance between 'privacy and prosperity.' But it will be tricky to reconcile the concerns of privacy advocates who want people to have more control over the usage of their personal data — where they've been, what they view, who their friends are —and the powerful companies that mine it for profit. Executives of a half-dozen U.S. internet titans are due to appear Wednesday before the Senate Commerce Committee to explain their privacy policies. Senior executives from AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Google, Twitter and Charter Communications are expected to testify at the hearing, amid increasing anxiety over safeguarding consumers' data online and recent scandals that have stoked outrage among users and politicians. But the approach to privacy legislation being pondered by policymakers and pushed by the internet industry leans toward a relatively light government touch. An early move in President Donald Trump's tenure set the tone on data privacy. He signed a bill into law in April 2017 that allows internet providers to sell information about their customers' browsing habits. The legislation scrapped Obama-era online privacy rules aimed at giving consumers more control over how broadband companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon share that information. Allie Bohm, policy counsel at the consumer group Public Knowledge, says examples abound of companies not only using the data to market products but also to profile consumers and restrict who sees their offerings: African Americans not getting access to ads for housing, minorities and older people excluded from seeing job postings. The companies 'aren't going to tell that story' to the Senate panel, she said. 'These companies make their money off consumer data.' What is needed, privacy advocates maintain, is legislation to govern the entire 'life cycle' of consumers' data: how it's collected, used, kept, shared and sold. Meanwhile, regulators elsewhere have started to act. The 28-nation European Union put in strict new rules this spring that require companies to justify why they're collecting and using personal data gleaned from phones, apps and visited websites. Companies also must give EU users the ability to access and delete data, and to object to data use under one of the claimed reasons. A similar law in California will compel companies to tell customers upon request what personal data they've collected, why it was collected and what types of third parties have received it. Companies will be able to offer discounts to customers who allow their data to be sold and to charge those who opt out a reasonable amount, based on how much the company makes selling the information. The California law doesn't take effect until 2020 and applies only to California consumers, but it could have fallout effects on other states. And it's strong enough to have rattled Big Tech, which is seeking a federal data-privacy law that would be more lenient toward the industry. 'A national privacy framework should be consistent throughout all states, pre-empting state consumer-privacy and data security laws,' the Internet Association said in a recent statement . The group represents about 40 big internet and tech companies, spanning Airbnb and Amazon to Zillow. 'A strong national baseline creates clear rules for companies.' The Trump White House said this summer that the administration is working on it, meeting with companies and other interested parties. Thune's pronouncement and one from a White House official stress that a balance should be struck in any new legislation — between government supervision and technological advancement. The goal is a policy 'that is the appropriate balance between privacy and prosperity,' White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said. 'We look forward to working with Congress on a legislative solution.
  • The gunman in the Las Vegas mass shooting was armed with 23 AR-style weapons, 14 of them fitted with 'bump stocks' that allowed them to mimic fully automatic fire. The devices were little-known before they were used in the Oct. 1 rampage, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. And in the immediate aftermath, there were calls from a wide spectrum of lawmakers and advocates on firearms issues to have them banned. Here's what has happened with the devices since the attack that left 58 dead: LEGISLATIVE ACTION In the shooting's immediate aftermath, there appeared to be a growing desire to ban the sale and possession of bump stocks, which federal authorities previously deemed legal and not subject to the same tighter restrictions reserved for fully automatic firearms. Most notably, President Donald Trump vowed to ban the devices, which attach to the stock end of an AR-style firearm, greatly increasing the rate of fire so it mimics a fully automatic long gun. Trump in March tweeted: 'Obama Administration legalized bump stocks. BAD IDEA. As I promised, today the Department of Justice will issue the rule banning BUMP STOCKS with a mandated comment period.' The government determined in 2010 that bump stocks couldn't be regulated unless Congress changed the law. But as with many restrictions on firearms in recent years, more action has taken place at the state level than by the federal government. Ten states and three cities have enacted bans on the devices. California made bump stock-style devices illegal there decades ago. ___ WHAT HAS HAPPENED AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL? Trump expressed support for banning the devices and directed the Justice Department to rewrite the federal regulations. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this spring sought public comment on a proposal to reclassify bump stocks, but no action has been taken. The proposed rules drew more than 35,000 comments. THE COMPANY Slide Fire Solutions, America's largest bump stock manufacturer, closed its website in June and stopped taking orders. However, its remaining stock of the devices is now being sold by another company, RW Arms, based in Fort Worth, Texas. The devices were originally intended to help people with disabilities and were little-known until the Las Vegas shooting. Gun owners and enthusiasts frequently call bump stocks a novelty item. Gun dealers said very few of the devices were sold before the Las Vegas shooting, but demand soared afterward amid concern they might be banned. ___ Find complete AP coverage of the Las Vegas mass shooting here: https://apnews.com/tag/LasVegasmassshooting Part of a series of stories by The Associated Press marking the one-year anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting.
  • Senate Republicans are bringing in Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to handle questioning about allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, describing her as tough, experienced and, above all, objective. Mitchell, a Republican, was expected to question both Kavanaugh and his accuser at Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Kavanaugh drunkenly assaulted her when they were teenagers has predictably raised a political storm in the #MeToo era and the GOP's all-male presence on the panel made some want a woman to question Ford. Mitchell works in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix as the chief of the Special Victims Division. She supervises attorneys who handle cases involving child molestation, sexual assault and computer crimes against children in Arizona's most populous county. Mitchell, who has decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes, 'has been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity,' committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said in a statement Tuesday. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Mitchell's boss, praised her experience in an interview with the Arizona Republic , calling her an 'objective prosecutor' who has a 'caring heart' for victims. He said he was contacted by staff members of the Judiciary Committee over the weekend about Mitchell's qualifications. In July 2014, Mitchell prosecuted a former church volunteer in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale who molested children in his care as a church baby sitter and camp counselor over a seven-year period. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison with lifetime probation. 'People want to go to a church on a Sunday and feel safe,' Mitchell said at the time, adding that the settings of his actions 'should be taken into account.' In 2015, Mitchell prosecuted a 13-year veteran of the Mesa Police Department who groped two women, one of whom had passed out. She has been named Arizona's Outstanding Sexual Assault Prosecutor as well as Maricopa County Attorney's Office Prosecutor of the Year. Last year, the county attorney's office introduced a sex crimes protocol — the first in its history. The new policy manual will ensure that prosecutors have a guide 'so that we can do the best we can for victims,' Mitchell told a local NPR station. 'It's always hard to know which victims were not victims or which people were not victims because your system worked,' Mitchell said in a January interview with Phoenix radio station KJZZ. ___ Associated Press journalists Walter Berry and Michelle A. Monroe contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump's victory helped give rise to the #MeToo era. Now, as it threatens his latest pick to the Supreme Court and his party's electoral majorities in Congress, Trump is taking aim at the movement that has spurred a national reckoning around gender equity and sexual consent. Arguing that 'false accusations of all types are made against a lot of people,' Trump defended Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday against allegations of decades-old sexual abuse. Eyeing the Kavanaugh nomination fight through the prism of his own experiences with sexual assault allegations, Trump asked: 'Who is going to want to go before the system to be a Supreme Court judge or to be a judge, or to be even a politician?' The backdrop for the president's fervent defense of Kavanaugh is his belief that men can be ruined by false accusations. He told one associate in recent days that he believed the media was always inclined to give credence to an accuser's lies — as happened with his own accusers during the 2016 campaign, according to a Republican close to the White House who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. While Trump has repeatedly weathered allegations from women, the Kavanaugh controversy presents the biggest challenge yet for Trump in the #MeToo moment. And it reveals a Republican Party — and a president — struggling with issues of gender equity and sexual consent just weeks before midterm elections in which women already were leaning toward Democrats by lopsided margins. Kavanaugh, who is defending himself against allegations from two women who accuse him of sexual misconduct in the 1980s, sat for an interview on Fox News on Monday, an unusual move for a nominee to the high court. His cautious performance reassured some White House officials, but also left lingering concerns about how he would stand up under questioning from Democrats at a Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, where one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, is expected to appear. After initially showing caution with the accusations against Kavanaugh, Trump has grown increasingly frustrated, viewing the process as a political plot against his efforts to advance a long-sought conservative makeover of the high court. For a time, Trump told confidents that he did not need to wade into the specific allegations since they did not involve him, although they did evoke sexual misconduct allegations against him. But late last week Trump became convinced the allegations were a Democratic scheme to undermine his pick. On Friday, he fired off a tweet challenging Ford directly. That tweet — he questioned why Ford did not report the alleged assault at the time — drew a fiery response from women online, with many posting first-person stories about their experiences with the Twitter hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Trump's skepticism was only bolstered by a piece published in The New Yorker on Sunday recounting a second allegation against Kavanaugh, this time about college-era sexual misconduct. Trump spoke to advisers inside and outside the White House on Sunday about the report and it did not shake his support for Kavanaugh, said a person with knowledge of the conversations who was not authorized to speak publicly. Trump's dismissal of the claims against Kavanaugh echo his past defenses of his own behavior. More than a dozen women have accused him of sexual misconduct, which he denies. In the 2005 'Access Hollywood' tape that repelled many Republicans when it became public during the 2016 election, Trump can be heard boasting of grabbing women by their genitals and kissing them without permission. Trump apologized but also defended himself, dismissing his comments as 'locker-room talk.' In Bob Woodward's recent book about the Trump administration, he writes that Trump once told a friend who had acknowledged treating women badly: 'You've got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you're dead.' Trump has demonstrated he's not averse to deploying the potent politics around the issue to his own advantage. During the 2016 campaign, after threatening to use Bill Clinton's sexual history against his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Trump did just that. Before an October debate, he met publicly in a hotel conference room with three women — Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey — who had accused Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual advances — even rape in Broaddrick's case. Kathy Shelton, a fourth woman who appeared with Trump, was a 12-year-old Arkansas sexual assault victim whose alleged assailant was defended by Hillary Clinton. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway acknowledged the perilous moment, saying on CBS this week that 'there's pent-up demand for women to get their day, women who have been sexually harassed and sexually assaulted.' She added: 'I personally am very aggrieved for all of them, but we cannot put decades of pent-up demand for women to feel whole on one man's shoulders.' ___ Lemire and Miller reported from New York. ___ For more coverage of Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, visit https://apnews.com/tag/Kavanaughnomination
  • On Thursday morning, a psychology professor from California will sit before lawmakers to accuse a Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault — while all of Washington, and much of the nation, watches it live. It's a high-stakes, high-drama moment with the power to sink Judge Brett Kavanaugh's chances of winning a seat on the high court and to shift the dynamic in the upcoming midterm elections. How will Kavanaugh and Ford prepare for the make-or-break event? Here's a look at what it takes to get ready for a public grilling. REHEARSAL SESSIONS First, they will practice. Both Kavanaugh and Ford have undoubtedly spent time with lawyers and other experts in the art of mounting a strong public defense. These sessions can be nasty, merciless and rough — often called murder boards. They're designed to squeeze frustration or even anger out of a nominee before the public hearing. Better that it come out in private than in front of the cameras, the thinking goes. Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor all underwent this grilling before their confirmation hearings. So do presidential candidates ahead of televised debates. Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, for example, played Democrats Al Gore and Barack Obama in mock debates with George W. Bush and Mitt Romney to help the Republicans withstand anything that might throw them off-stride. Kavanaugh spent hours at a time in the White House complex last week preparing for the upcoming hearing. He was joined by a team of officials including White House counsel Don McGahn and members of his staff, officials from the Justice Department, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy press secretary Raj Shah and communications director Bill Shine. Shine's presence was noteworthy, since he was ousted from his previous job at Fox News in part due to his handling of sexual harassment claims at the company. ___ TEST THE MESSAGE Kavanaugh had a dry run of sorts with his Monday night interview with Martha MacCallum of Fox News Channel. With wife Ashley at his side, the appellate court judge denied at least six times ever sexually assaulting anyone. He said 15 times that he wants a 'fair' hearing. He refused to speculate on Ford's motives for making such an accusation. He volunteered that he was a virgin throughout high school and for years afterward. Kavanaugh, 53, even seemed emotional — not necessarily a bad thing, according to Josh Kroon, a Washington-based expert in crisis communications for the firm Levick International. 'I think it played well for the people at home,' Kroon said of the glimmer of Kavanaugh's frustration. 'I think he's going to have to expand on the language. He has to get away from 'fair process' and 'I didn't do it.'' Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, said, 'The challenge for Brett will be conveying the expected emotion that would come with a full-throated denial. His nature is to be quiet, buttoned-down and studious, and if I'm accused of something I didn't do, I get a little hot, I get a little emotional.' Dan Pfeiffer, former aide to President Barack Obama, suggested that Kavanaugh came across as insincere and the product of elite society. 'He seemed entitled,' Pfeiffer said. 'He left a lot of additional ground for the Senate to cover on Thursday.' After the interview aired, the sense in the West Wing was relief that Kavanaugh was able to present an image to counter the allegations. Yet there remained concern among aides, and Trump himself, as to how Kavanaugh, who appeared shaken at times during the interview, would hold up facing far fiercer questioning from Senate Democrats on Thursday, according to a White House official not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations. As for Ford, 51, she and her team have said nothing about how she's preparing for the hot lights to which she is even less accustomed than Kavanaugh. She works as a psychology professor in a consortium between Stanford and Palo Alto University. ___ PREPPING THE QUESTIONS Senators and their staffs are preparing, too, for a hearing that they may see as unavoidable. Ahead of the hearing, they're honing strategies, questions and follow-ups, all while laboring to avoid an election-year spectacle like the 1991 confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas with his accuser, Anita Hill. This time, the all-male Republican members of the Judiciary Committee are hiring an outside female counsel to, in effect, cross-examine Ford. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies at Yale University, said Thursday's hearing is unprecedented. 'This is different from all others,' he said. 'We don't have a press for comity the way we did for Anita Hill, with a lot of senators trying to avoid a partisan mud-throwing situation. Here, we're almost already there.' Fleischer said there is pressure on Republican senators to not appear too harsh when they interview Ford, but he said there's also pressure on Democratic senators interviewing Kavanaugh. 'If they come off looking like they have their fingers in Brett's chest, lecturing him ... they risk riling up half the nation,' Fleischer said. ___ Bauder reported from New York. Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Juliet Linderman and Eric Tucker and researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report. ___ For more coverage of Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, visit https://apnews.com/tag/Kavanaughnomination
  • U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost says she hopes she can inspire other women to sign up with the agency, which has just one female agent for every 20 men. Provost tells The Associated Press in an interview, 'If you're a woman in law enforcement, I don't care where you're at, you're a minority.' Provost joined the agency in 1995 and became its acting chief in April 2017. She took over last month as the first female chief in its 94-year history. The Border Patrol and its 19,000 agents have been under a constant spotlight and faced sharp criticism for its policies. Curbing immigration remains at the top of President Donald Trump's priorities, and the administration plans to add 5,000 Border Patrol agents.
  • President Donald Trump denounced Democratic efforts to block Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation as a cynical 'con job' on Tuesday and launched a dismissive attack on a second woman accusing the nominee of sexual misconduct in the 1980s, asserting she 'has nothing.' Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted that Kavanaugh would win approval, despite the new allegations and uncertainty about how pivotal Republicans would vote in a roll call now expected early next week. Like much of America, lawmakers awaited a momentous Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which Kavanaugh and chief accuser Christine Blasey Ford are to testify Thursday, though not together. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell will be brought in to handle questioning of Kavanaugh and Ford. Mitchell comes from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix, where she is the chief of the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence. Hanging in the balance is Trump's chance to swing the high court more firmly to the right for a generation. Despite McConnell's forecast that Republicans will 'win,' Kavanaugh's fate remains uncertain in a chamber where Republicans have a scant 51-49 majority. 'I will be glued to the television,' said Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, who has yet to declare her position on confirmation. Hoping the hearing will yield no new surprises, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled its own vote on Kavanaugh for Friday, and Republican leaders laid plans that could keep the full Senate in session over the weekend and produce a final showdown roll call soon after — close to the Oct. 1 start of the high court's new term. Given that the Judiciary Committee's GOP members are all male, McConnell said the panel was hiring a 'female assistant' to handle the questioning for Republicans 'in a respectful and professional way.' Grassley, R-Iowa, identified Mitchell in a press release late Wednesday, describing her as 'a career prosecutor with decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes.' 'My gut is they're trying to avoid a panel of all white guys asking tone-deaf questions,' said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. Each senator on the 21-member panel will be allowed five minutes to ask questions, said committee spokesman Taylor Foy. That's a tight rein for such a major hearing. Meanwhile, the Republicans were still assessing what Kavanaugh's Monday interview on the Fox News Channel — an unusual appearance for a Supreme Court nominee — indicates about how he would do in Thursday's hearing. During the interview, Kavanaugh denied sexually assaulting anyone. He also denied the account of a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who told The New Yorker magazine that Kavanaugh caused her to touch his penis at a party when both were Yale freshmen. Some in the White House expressed relief that Kavanaugh, 53, presented a positive image to counter the allegations. Yet he appeared shaky at times. And there remained concern among aides and Trump himself about how Kavanaugh would hold up facing far fiercer questioning from Senate Democrats, according to a White House official not authorized to speak publicly. The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, acknowledged that for the nominee 'it's extremely awkward to be talking about such private matters on TV.' But Cornyn said he thought Kavanaugh 'did well and did what he needed to do' in the interview. Yet Kavanaugh's accounts of his behavior in high school and college have faced intense scrutiny, with some of his former classmates coming forward to challenge his claims. James Roche, a Yale graduate who says he was Kavanaugh's roommate in 1983, issued a public statement saying he was 'close friends' with Ramirez and 'cannot imagine her making up' the story about Kavanaugh exposing himself. While a few Republicans have strongly challenged the credibility of Kavanaugh's accusers, Trump's words have been more biting. Last week, he lampooned Ford's allegation that an inebriated Kavanaugh trapped her beneath him on a bed at a high school house party and tried to take her clothes off before she escaped. Surely she would have reported it to police if the encounter was 'as bad as she says,' the president said. 'It's a con game they're playing,' he said Tuesday. 'They're really con artists. They don't believe it themselves, OK?' Trump's latest broadside was aimed at Ramirez, who conceded to The New Yorker that she'd been drinking at the time she says Kavanagh exposed himself. She also said she was uncertain of some details. 'The second accuser has nothing,' Trump told reporters at the United Nations. 'The second accuser doesn't even know— thinks maybe it was him, maybe not. She admits she was drunk. She admits time lapses.' Predictably, that played badly with Democrats. 'How many women have heard that before? How many women have kept their experiences quiet because they knew they would hear that?' Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said of Trump's characterization. She said Trump's remarks were 'disgusting, it's disgraceful and by the way, women are paying attention.' She herself was carried to Washington on a 1992 wave of fervor by female voters, a year after the Senate discounted sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas and sent him to the Supreme Court. In a phone call with Judiciary Committee staff of both parties, Kavanaugh denied Ramirez's story, panel spokesman Foy said. Ramirez's attorney, John Clune, said his client stood by The New Yorker story and said he and Grassley's committee were trying to decide how to provide more information to the panel. He said an FBI investigation — which Democrats have also sought for Ford and Trump and Republicans have blocked — 'is the only way to get the truth.' Aides said Kavanaugh answered questions by Judiciary panel staff members about Ramirez's allegations Republicans are concerned that, win or lose, the battle over Kavanaugh's nomination is further animating women already inclined to vote against Trump's party in November's elections in which control of the next Congress is at stake. Treatment of Ford, 51, on Thursday will be watched closely. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a potentially key Republican vote, said GOP senators need to come into the hearing with open minds. 'It's very important to take allegations of those who come forward seriously, and I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen,' she said. Grassley is planning to use his committee's modest-sized hearing room instead of a far larger chamber that's often home to high-profile hearings. He said in a recent letter that the smaller room would help avoid a 'circus atmosphere,' and Ford herself has sought to limit the number of TV cameras and journalists covering the event. Congressional testimony is often magnified by TV close-ups, and a single moment, good or bad, can have a major impact. ___ Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly, Darlene Superville, Jonathan Lemire, Zeke Miller and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report. ___ For more coverage of Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, visit https://apnews.com/tag/Kavanaughnomination

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  • The desperate search for a 6-year-old North Carolina boy who vanished from a Gastonia park entered its fifth day Wednesday. >> Watch the news report here Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the return of Maddox Ritch. The boy was last seen Saturday at Rankin Lake Park with his father and a friend. Here are the latest updates: Update 6:19 a.m. EDT Sept. 26: For the first time, we are hearing from 6-year-old Maddox Ritch's father Ian Ritch in an exclusive interview with “Good Morning America.” Ian Ritch said he and a friend were with Maddox last Saturday at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia when Maddox decided to take off and got too far away from him.  'We were walking on a track around the lake. He just decided to take off from me and I let him go a little bit because he likes running so I didn't think nothing of it. He just got a little too far away from me before I could catch up to him,' Ian Ritch said.  Ian said he started to panic as soon as it got to the point where he could not see Maddox anymore.  'I'd love to let you see the difference between him running and you running 'cause he's pretty fast,' Ian Ritch said. It's hard, I'm so worried, and scared hoping that he's OK out there.' Ian Ritch said he wishes he could have handled the situation differently.  'I should've called him. I should've not let him get so far ahead of me before I started after him,' Ian Ritch said. 'It's been hard to sleep. I feel guilty because I can go into a house and lay down in a bed and my little boy might be out there in the woods sleeping on the ground. That's very upsetting.'  >> Watch a clip from the interview here Search crews patroled overnight on foot and on ATVs to continue the search for Maddox, authorities said in a news release Tuesday night.  Rankin Lake Park remains closed to the public.  Several tips were called into authorities after investigators held a news conference earlier in the day. Although the community is not allowed to help with search efforts at the park, several people gathered at a nearby parking lot Tuesday night to hold a vigil. “A lot of us are running off little sleep, no appetites, because it doesn't make sense,” resident Ashley Dolby said. About 30 people were there, who felt connected to the boy. “All we can do is pray,” resident Kara Smart said. “Keep hope alive and let police do their job.” Update 4:55 p.m. EDT Sept. 25:  Maddox Ritch’s mother, Carrie, is pleading for help, asking anyone who may have seen her son to come forward. 'Continue praying for him, because I just want my baby home,' she said, breaking down in tears during a news conference on Tuesday. 'Please, anything you can do.' The FBI is now offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the child. The little boy with special needs disappeared Saturday from a park in Gastonia. Officials said search crews on ATVS checked new areas around the park Tuesday, looking for any trace of the boy.  Gastonia police officers and troopers went door-to-door Tuesday morning at businesses along Highway 321 just a few blocks away from the park. They were trying to obtain security camera footage that could reveal what happened to the child. An employee at a local business said law enforcement has come to the shop six times since the boy went missing looking for video. “They’ve checked the dumpsters, we’ve seen them go from business to business, and they’ve just been in and out of our office,” Faith Gates said. Gates also said it’s comforting knowing that investigators are thoroughly searching for the the boy. Update 10:05 a.m. EDT Sept. 25: Officials said they're using recorded messages from Maddox's mother and father to play during the search, hoping he'll recognize their voices. Neighbors told WSOCTV that the terrain around the park has many deep holes and they were concerned that Maddox could have fallen in one. 'Pray to God that they find him alive,' resident Jerry Stewart said. He said there is a lot of wetland around the park, and that it would be easy for a child to step into a deep drop. 'If you get too close and you miss your step, you are going to go somewhere,' Stewart said. Update 10:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 24: Officials said they've received 80 leads as of Monday afternoon, and they're looking into them all. 'No piece of information is too small,” Gastonia Police Chief Rob Helton said. “Something that you may think is insignificant can help us.' Later in the evening, local and federal authorities posted to social media outlets asking people to not spread rumors. 'The Gastonia Police Department and the FBI ask the public not to spread rumors on social media about the search for Maddox Ritch,' the post read.  >> On WSOCTV.com: Search for boy with special needs at Gastonia park Original report: Overnight, dozens of people continued to look for the child, and more than two dozen agencies are helping with the search and investigation. Police said Maddox was with his father and another adult, who officials have yet to identify, before he disappeared. Maddox is autistic and nonverbal but officials said there is a special team with the FBI that is highly trained and experienced in mysterious missing children's cases that are working to find him. 'We're going to explore all possibilities, including abduction, but we're also going to make sure we search every inch of land around here to make sure that he's not simply lost,' said FBI Special Agent Jason Kaplan. Police said the boy’s family has been interviewed and they are cooperating with law enforcement. >> Read more trending news  On Sunday, search dogs roamed the area near Rankin Lake, where Maddox was last seen. Search boats also checked the lake with divers and sonar devices. Police are asking anyone who may have been at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday and saw Maddox, especially if they have pictures or videos, to call them. 'If you were at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday and saw Maddox or took video or photos of their outing at the park, call us,' Helton said. 'We know a lot of people were in the park and we have spoken to many of them, but we have not spoken to everyone. No piece of information is too small. Something you may think is insignificant could be helpful to our case.” Crews have been searching more than 1,400 acres and will continue Monday morning. Search and rescue crews have been patrolling areas of the park on foot and on ATVs. Maddox was last seen at the park at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. He was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with “I’m the man” on the front. Maddox is 4 feet tall and weighs 45 pounds. He has blond hair and blue eyes. 'They were walking around the lake,” Gastonia spokeswoman Rachel Bagley said. “They got around to the back side of the lake. He started running, according to the parents, and when they started running after him, they lost sight of him, and no one has seen him ever since.' The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's helicopter was used Sunday night once the sun set, and used its infrared technology.  The city confirmed crews are reviewing surveillance video at the park, and crews worked through the night searching on foot and with dogs. Officials said hundreds of volunteer agencies have assisted in the search, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is also helping. Gastonia police said additional search units from around the region have joined the search. They said hundreds of law enforcement, search and rescue teams, and state and federal authorities are now involved.  Officials said they are receiving assistance from the Gastonia Police, Gaston County Sheriff's Department, Gaston County Emergency Management, Gaston County Police, Gastonia and Gaston County Fire Departments, Lincoln County Sheriff's Department, Lincolnton Fire, Charlotte Fire, Stanley Rescue, Lincoln County Land Search team, Spartanburg County Search and Rescue and Search and Rescue Dog Assistance, and Central Carolina K-9 Search Team.  A spokesperson with the city said the park will be closed until further notice as crews continue their search. Police advise the public to stay away from the area surrounding the park as they continue their search in the nearby neighborhoods. Officials are also asking people who live near the park to search areas around their homes where a child might hide. “If you have a shed, barn, wooded area, go take a look and call us immediately if you find anything out of the ordinary,” Helton said. If you have any information regarding Maddox's whereabouts, police encourage you to call the new 24-hour tip line at 704-869-1075. “Every second counts when a child is missing,” Kaplan said. “Our focus is to find Maddox as quickly as possible and to bring him home.”
  • The Crittenden County Medical Examiner in Arkansas has ruled the death of Memphis, Tennessee, mother Aisha Fair and her two sons a murder-suicide. >> Watch the news report here The news comes several weeks after deputies found Fair and her young boys dead inside a car in the Mississippi River. The Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office said Fair was in an accident on I-40 moments before going into the river in late July.  Investigators said she fled the scene of that accident, drove through a nearby field and into the river, where the bodies were recovered.  Fair, 26; Charvon Lofton, 7; and Jattir Ragland Jr., 2, died in the crash. >> On Fox13Memphis.com: Family identifies Memphis mother and 2 children after drowning in lake Days before driving into the river, Fair posted on GoFundMe and Facebook about her battle with “schizoaffective disorder,” a mental health condition, WHBQ reported. Moments after getting the medical examiner's results, WHBQ’s Tony Atkins sat with Dr. John McCoy, a clinical psychologist of 45 years, to discuss the incident. “Nobody did anything wrong. It’s a genetic medical disorder just like two or three other medically inherited disorders,” said Dr. John McCoy.  He said it's not common for people dealing with mental health issues to become violent.  >> Read more trending news  “Most people who have a severe mental illness are not dangerous, but sometimes they are,” McCoy said.  McCoy said best practices for loved ones are to keep constant communication with those affected by the disorder.  “It helps to know what they’re thinking. It’s a lot better if you know what a person is thinking and the conclusions they’ve come to,” McCoy said. “These are largely inherited and they affect normal, ordinary people that had not idea they had the particular genetic makeup.” WHBQ reached out to Fair’s loved ones about the report but are still working to make contact. 
  • With President Donald Trump leading the charge, Republicans and the White House went on the offensive on Tuesday, accusing Democrats of using flimsy allegations of sexual misconduct in a last-ditch bid to stop the Supreme Court nomination of federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, as GOP leaders vowed a Senate vote as early as next Tuesday. “We’re going to be moving forward – I’m confident we’re going to win,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters just off the Senate floor, as top Republicans formed a solid political wedge in public, making the argument that ‘vague, uncorroborated allegations’ should not be allowed to stop Kavanaugh. “The Democrats in the Senate have had one goal since the beginning of this process, and that is to sink Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). “I think everybody in America understands there is a presumption of innocence,” McConnell added. “That standard of fairness is applied to every American citizen.” . @SenateMajLdr: 'We have hired a female assistant to go on staff and to ask these questions in a respectful and professional way. We want this hearing to be handled very professionally not a political sideshow…' #Kavanaugh pic.twitter.com/N0hGKA6NqX — CSPAN (@cspan) September 25, 2018 Increasingly confident that Kavanaugh will survive Thursday’s hearing – where Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is scheduled to speak about her allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh from 1982 – Republicans set up a possible Friday vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Kavanaugh nomination. If Kavanaugh is approved by the panel on Friday, the full Senate could start debate on the nomination as early as Saturday, with a final vote occurring by the following Tuesday – if Republicans have 50 votes for the judge. “The committee will do its work,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), “and we’ll hopefully get to a vote as soon as possible.” So far, GOP Senators who have been on the record in support of Kavanaugh aren’t backing away from the judge at this point because of the multiple allegations against him. “Based on what I know now, it would not be enough for me to wipe out his entire life,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who argued to reporters that a lack of corroborating evidence from Ford is an important point. Republicans also set in motion a plan to hire a special outside counsel – Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona – who would ask questions of Ford, instead of the all male GOP lineup on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’ve taken this additional step to have questions asked by expert staff counsel to establish the most fair and respectful treatment of the witnesses possible,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think it’s smart of us to have someone who is a professional do it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of the outside counsel decision, as Graham told reporters if he felt like something else needed to be asked, then he might speak up at some point. The move was seemingly taken with the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings in mind, when GOP Senators faced stern criticism for how they questioned Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against the future Supreme Court Justice. Democrats expressed dismay at the decision. “I’m amazed that they would not ask questions themselves,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) of Republicans. Meanwhile at the United Nations, President Trump made very clear that he’s on board with Kavanaugh, as he lashed out at Democrats, and one of the judge’s accusers. “The Democrats are playing a con game. C-O-N. A con game,” the President said. “And it’s a shame. And they know it’s a con game.” President Trump on Judge #Kavanaugh confirmation process: 'This is a con game being played by the Democrats.' pic.twitter.com/rHDDaTO4z0 — CSPAN (@cspan) September 25, 2018 “I look at the second accuser – the second accuser has nothing. The second accuser doesn’t even know – she thinks, maybe, it could have been him, maybe not,” Mr. Trump said. “She admits that she was drunk.” That woman, Deborah Ramirez, is not expected to testify before the panel on Thursday.  
  • Police believe a Roswell, Georgia, piano teacher may have sexually abused dozens of his students over three decades of teaching.  >> Watch the news report here WSB-TV first reported on Troy Palmer's arrest earlier this month at his home in north Fulton County. Two victims came forward over the summer with stories about the abuse they suffered during Palmer's lessons. Since his arrest, police tell WSB-TV's Mike Petchenik that at least three more victims have contacted them. >> PREVIOUS STORY: Georgia piano teacher arrested on child molestation charges “We really suspect that there’s (dozens) of people that could be victims. He’s actually targeting boys,' Officer Lisa Holland told Petchenik. Investigators said Palmer abused some of those students while parents were just feet away. According to arrest warrants, Palmer told parents to stay outside of his home so that he could have the kids inside. The warrant said he taught the children in a “sound proofed” and locked room.  'It's kind of a classic 'grooming case' where he is a friend with the parents, tries to be friends with the kids and this goes on for years,' Holland said. Petchenik also spoke with a woman who lived up the street from Palmer and asked WSB-TV to conceal her identity.  >> Read more news stories  She recalled a specific comment that Palmer made to her that in hindsight was concerning. '“He said something about loving children so much, how he loved the big, fat ones. ‘You just want to squeeze them,’” she told Petchenik. Palmer was indicted on child molestation charges by a grand jury Tuesday and remains in the Fulton County Jail without bond.