AP Interview: Maduro reveals secret meetings with US envoy
CARACAS, Venezuela — President Nicolas Maduro said in an AP interview Thursday that his foreign minister recently held secret talks in New York with the U.S. special envoy to Venezuela, even as the Trump administration was publicly backing an effort to unseat the Venezuelan president.
While harshly criticizing Donald Trump’s confrontational stance toward his socialist government, Maduro said he holds out hope of meeting the U.S. president soon to resolve a crisis over America’s recognition of opponent Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
Maduro said that while in New York, his foreign minister invited the Washington, D.C.-based envoy, Elliott Abrams, to come to Venezuela “privately, publicly or secretly.”
“If he wants to meet, just tell me when, where and how and I’ll be there,” Maduro said without providing more details. He said both New York meetings lasted several hours.
A senior administration official in Washington who was not authorized to speak publicly said U.S. officials were willing to meet with “former Venezuela officials, including Maduro himself, to discuss their exit plans.”
Congress OKs border deal; Trump will sign, declare emergency
WASHINGTON — Congress lopsidedly approved a border security compromise Thursday that would avert a second painful government shutdown, but a new confrontation was ignited — this time over President Donald Trump’s plan to bypass lawmakers and declare a national emergency to siphon billions from other federal coffers for his wall on the Mexican boundary.
Money in the bill for border barriers, about $1.4 billion, is far below the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed and would finance just a quarter of the 200-plus miles he wanted. The White House said he’d sign the legislation but act unilaterally to get more, prompting condemnations from Democrats and threats of lawsuits from states and others who might lose federal money or said Trump was abusing his authority.
The uproar over Trump’s next move cast an uncertain shadow over what had been a rare display of bipartisanship to address the grinding battle between the White House and lawmakers over border security.
The Senate passed the legislation 83-16, with both parties solidly aboard. The House followed with a 300-128 tally, with Trump’s signature planned Friday. Trump will speak Friday morning in the Rose Garden about border security, the White House said.
House Democrats overwhelmingly backed the legislation, with only 19 — most of whom were Hispanic — opposed. Just over half of Republicans voted “no.”
White House scrambles to find pots of money to use for wall
WASHINGTON — If President Donald Trump declares an emergency to build the wall with Mexico, he still needs money to pay for it. And shifting money from other accounts to deliver the $5.7 billion he wants is not without political problems.
The administration has been eyeing several pots of money — including disaster funds, counternarcotic accounts and military construction dollars — to fund Trump’s wall, according to congressional aides and White House officials.
White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has said there are various accounts available.
One possibility is shifting a portion of the $13 billion in disaster aid Congress approved last year for Puerto Rico and a dozen states, including California and Texas, hit hard by hurricanes, flooding and other disasters. The money funds Army Corps projects, and the Puerto Rico aid alone totals more than $2 billion.
But Texas lawmakers revolted over White House plans to tap Hurricane Harvey funds, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Thursday they won assurances from the White House that the money won’t be used for the wall.
Amazon dumps NYC headquarters and its promised 25,000 jobs
NEW YORK — Amazon abruptly dropped plans Thursday for a big new headquarters in New York that would have brought 25,000 jobs to the city, reversing course after politicians and activists objected to the nearly $3 billion in incentives promised to what is already one of the world’s richest, most powerful companies.
“We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion — we love New York,” the online giant from Seattle said in a blog post announcing its withdrawal.
The stunning move was a serious blow to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had lobbied intensely to land the project, competing against more than 200 other metropolitan areas across the continent that were practically tripping over each other to offer incentives to Amazon in a bidding war the company stoked.
Cuomo lashed out at fellow New York politicians over Amazon’s change of heart, saying the project would have helped diversify the city’s economy, cement its status as an emerging tech hub and generate money for schools, housing and transit.
“A small group (of) politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community,” he said.
Trump Org scraps plans for 2 hotel chains, blaming politics
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s company is scrapping plans for two new hotel chains announced two years ago, casting blame in part on a hostile political environment.
The Trump Organization said Thursday that it will no longer try to open hotels under its Scion and American Idea brands catering to budget and mid-priced travelers, a departure from its focus on luxury hotels. The announcement comes as the company has posted losses at a few of its golf properties and brand experts say it has lost some of its appeal.
“We live in a climate where everything will be used against us, whether by the fake news or by Democrats who are only interested in presidential harassment and wasting everyone’s time, barraging us with nonsense letters,” the president’s son, Eric Trump, said in an emailed statement. “We already have the greatest properties in the world and if we have to slow down our growth for the time being, we are happy to do it.”
The rollout began with promises of fast success. The company said in March 2017 that nearly two dozen developers had already signed letters of intent to open mid-priced Scion hotels, and was enthusiastic about the future prospects.
“It’s full steam ahead,” said Eric Danziger, who oversees the hotel business for the family. “It’s in our DNA.”
Avenatti says he has new video evidence against R. Kelly
CHICAGO — Attorney Michael Avenatti said Thursday that he has given Chicago prosecutors new video evidence of R&B star R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl.
Avenatti said the video is not the same evidence used in Kelly’s 2008 trial, when he was acquitted on child pornography charges. CNN, which said it had viewed the footage, reported that the nearly 45-minute VHS tape shows a man who appears to be Kelly performing sex acts with a girl who refers to her body parts as 14 years old.
Tandra Simonton, spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, would not confirm or deny that the office is investigating.
Kelly and his attorney have for years denied allegations of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday on the latest allegations.
Avenatti is best known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump. He said his office was retained in April 2018 by multiple people regarding allegations of sexual assault of minors by Kelly, whose legal name is Robert Kelly.
Oregon official: texts show police-extremist collusion
PORTLAND, Ore. — A member of Portland’s city council said Thursday a newspaper’s report that the commander for the police rapid response team exchanged friendly text messages with a leader of far-right protests that have rocked the city confirms collusion exists between some police and right-wing extremists.
“I am not shocked, and I am not surprised at today’s reporting of Lt. Jeff Niiya’s collaboration with Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson over text to provide aid and support for their hate marches,” Councilwoman Jo Ann Hardesty said in a statement.
Willamette Week obtained text messages through a public records request between Niiya and Gibson. The texts purportedly show Niiya had a friendly rapport with Gibson, frequently discussing Gibson’s plans to demonstrate.
In one text reported by the newspaper, Niiya tells Gibson that he doesn’t see a need to arrest his assistant, Tusitala Toese, who often brawls with antifascist protesters, even if he has a warrant, unless Toese commits a new crime.
“Just make sure he doesn’t do anything which may draw our attention,” Niiya texted Gibson on Dec. 9, 2017, Willamette Week reported. “If he still has the warrant in the system (I don’t run you guys so I don’t personally know) the officers could arrest him. I don’t see a need to arrest on the warrant unless there is a reason.”
Deadly blue ‘Mexican oxy’ pills take toll on US Southwest
TUCSON, Ariz. — Aaron Francisco Chavez swallowed at least one of the sky blue pills at a Halloween party before falling asleep forever. He became yet another victim killed by a flood of illicit fentanyl smuggled from Mexico by the Sinaloa cartel into the Southwest — a profitable new business for the drug gang that has made the synthetic opioid responsible for the most fatal overdoses in the U.S.
Three others at the party in Tucson also took the pills nicknamed “Mexican oxy.” They were saved after partygoers flagged down police who administered naloxone overdose reversal medication. The treatment came too late for the 19-year-old Chavez.
The pills vary widely in strength, from a tiny amount to enough to cause lethal overdoses. Law enforcement officials say they have become a lucrative new product for the cartel, despite the conviction this week of Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera in New York.
The four Tucson partiers thought they were taking oxycodone, a much less powerful opioid, investigators believe. The death of Chavez and many others, officials said, illustrate how Arizona and other southwestern states bordering Mexico have become a hot spot in the nation’s fentanyl crisis. Fentanyl deaths tripled in Arizona from 2015 through 2017.
“It’s the worst I’ve seen in 30 years, this toll that it’s taken on families,” said Doug Coleman, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of Arizona. “The crack (cocaine) crisis was not as bad.”
After shooting: ‘You can’t really trust other students’
OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Some students have difficulty trusting classmates outside their circle. Parents say interactions with school staff are more impersonal. Teachers worry that added security detracts from learning.
The Parkland massacre a year ago upended school life across Florida. In the year since a gunman fatally shot 14 students and three staffers, school districts have reshaped the K-12 experience, adopting new rules for entering campus, hiring more police and holding frequent safety drills. Some districts trained teams of armed employees to confront attackers.
“You can’t really trust other students. They all have different mindsets,” said Allen White, a senior at the lone high school in the central Florida farming town of Okeechobee.
Reflecting at a skate park near campus, White and four friends said their school’s atmosphere changed after Feb. 14, 2018. Only last month, suspicious social media posts put Okeechobee High on alert, prompting many students, including White, to stay home.
“I don’t really feel safe. It has become a real-life epidemic,” he said. He attributed school violence primarily to bullying and mental health and said schools need to better address those issues.
Chicago police, Fox dispute reports about Smollett attack
CHICAGO — Chicago police said Thursday night that local media reports that the attack against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was a hoax are unconfirmed.
The reports surfaced as detectives were questioning two “persons of interest” who were captured on surveillance cameras in the area of downtown Chicago where Smollett said he was attacked last month.
The two men aren’t considered suspects but may have been in the area when Smollett says he was attacked, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said earlier Thursday. Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and homophobic slurs before attacking him and putting a rope around his neck early on Jan. 29.
Guglielmi said Thursday night that Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson contacted at least one Chicago news outlet to say investigators have no evidence to support their reporting. The spokesman added that Johnson said the “supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
Producers of the television drama also disputed media reports that Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, was being written off the show, calling the idea “patently ridiculous.”
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.