Trump tried hard to win Ukraine Biden probes, officials say

WASHINGTON — There was no hinting around, it was a straight-out trade, two key White House officials told impeachment investigators. If Ukraine’s new leader wanted an Oval Office welcome from Donald Trump — and he did — he would have to open a public probe into the president’s Democratic foe Joe Biden and his son.

“There was no ambiguity,” said Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer assigned to the National Security Council, recounting an extraordinary day of meetings at the White House last summer.

According to transcripts released Friday in the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, Vindman and Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia adviser, both gave firsthand descriptions of scenes central to the congressional probe.

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Vindman testified that Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor serving as ambassador to the European Union, told the visiting officials that if they hoped to win that coveted face-to-face meeting, “the Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens.”

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The Bidens? the House questioners pressed. In the White House Ward Room he mentioned the word “Bidens”?

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Bloomberg to pass on Iowa, NH, focus on Super Tuesday states

WASHINGTON — Michael Bloomberg plans to skip early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire if he launches a presidential bid and instead focus his efforts on the crush of states that vote on Super Tuesday and beyond. It’s a strategy that acknowledges the limitations of entering the race at this late stage and the opportunities afforded by the billionaire’s vast personal wealth.

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Bloomberg adviser Howard Wolfson says other candidates already have a big head start in the first four states to vote — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — and Bloomberg needs to be realistic about where he can make up ground.

“If we run, we are confident we can win in states voting on Super Tuesday and beyond, where we will start on an even footing,” Wolfson said. Nearly a quarter of primary delegates up for grabs in the March 3 Super Tuesday contests.

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Bloomberg qualified Friday to get on the ballot in Alabama, one of the Super Tuesday states. His team is also making plans to file in Arkansas, which has a Tuesday deadline.

Bloomberg’s candidacy has the potential to upend the Democratic race less than three months before primary voting begins. The billionaire businessman initially ruled out a 2020 run, but began to reconsider in recent weeks, citing concerns about the ability of the current crop of contenders to defeat President Donald Trump.

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AP Exclusive: Abusive S Korean facility exported children

BUSAN, South Korea — The Associated Press has found that a South Korean facility that kidnapped, abused and enslaved children and the disabled for a generation was also shipping children overseas for adoption, part of a profit-seeking enterprise that thrived by exploiting those trapped within its walls.

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The AP, which previously exposed a government cover-up at Brothers Home and a greater level of abuse than earlier known, has now found that the facility was part of an orphanage pipeline feeding private adoption agencies.

Relying on documents obtained from officials, lawmakers or from freedom of information requests, the AP uncovered direct evidence that 19 children were adopted out of Brothers and sent abroad, as well as indirect evidence showing at least 51 more such adoptions. The adoptions AP found took place between 1979 and 1986.

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Trump pushes back on reports US will remove China tariffs

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed a Chinese official’s assertion that his administration has agreed to roll back some of the higher tariffs it’s imposed on Chinese goods.

The Chinese official said Thursday that the two sides had agreed to a phased cancellation of their tariff hikes as part of an emerging agreement.

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Trump’s pushback suggested that negotiations haven’t progressed as far as hoped as the world’s two biggest economies struggle to negotiate an end to their trade war, which has hurt both economies.

“They’d like to have a rollback,” Trump told reporters at the White House, referring to the Chinese. “I haven’t agreed to anything.”

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The two sides have been working on an initial “Phase 1” deal that was announced Oct. 12 but that still isn’t final.

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Stay or go? US residents of Mexico town torn after 9 killed

COLONIA LEBARON, Mexico — U.S. citizens living in a small Mexican farming community established by their Mormon ancestors are trying to decide whether they should stay or leave after burying some of the nine American women and children slaughtered this week in a drug cartel ambush.

What had been a peaceful existence in a fertile valley ringed by rugged mountains and desert scrub about 70 miles (112 kilometers) from the border with Arizona became increasingly dangerous in recent years as the cartels exerted their power and battled each other in Sonora state, a drug smuggling hotbed.

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But La Mora, a hamlet of about 300 people where residents raise cattle and cultivate pomegranates, “will be forever changed” following the killings Monday as the women traveled with their children to visit relatives, a tearful David Langford told mourners at the funeral for his wife, Dawna Ray Langford, and their 11-year-old and 2-year-old sons.

“One of the dearest things to our lives is the safety of our family,” said Langford. “And I won’t feel safe. I haven’t for a few years here.”

On Friday, the bodies of Rhonita Miller and four of her children were taken in a convoy of pickup trucks and SUVS, on the same dirt-and-rock mountainous road where they were killed, for burial in the community of Colonia LeBaron in Chihuahua state. Many residents of the two communities that lie a five-hour, bone-jarring drive apart are related. They consider themselves Mormon but are not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and many have dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship.

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Facebook is deleting the name of the potential whistleblower

Facebook says it is deleting the name of the person who has been identified in conservative circles as the whistleblower who triggered a congressional impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s actions.

The company said Friday that mention of the potential whistleblower’s name violates Facebook’s “coordinating harm policy,” which prohibits material that could identify a “witness, informant, or activist.”

Facebook says it is removing mentions of the alleged whistleblower’s name and will revisit this decision if the name is widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate. The policy is not new. Facebook says it has been applying it to the whistleblower case and removing the person’s name for a few days.

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On Twitter, though, the alleged whistleblower’s name was circulating widely on Friday. The company does not have a policy against identifying whistleblowers by name and is not removing the posts.

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Some of the stories identifying the person came from the conservative news site Breitbart, which Facebook counts as one of its news partners in a newly launched news section on its app. However, the company said it was also removing identifying posts on the whistleblower from Breitbart.

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Bannon says Stone was Trump campaign link to WikiLeaks

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s campaign viewed Roger Stone as an “access point” to WikiLeaks and tried to use him to get advanced word about hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton, a former top presidential adviser testified Friday.

In reluctant testimony, former campaign CEO Steve Bannon told a federal court that Stone, on trial for lying to Congress and witness tampering, had boasted about his ties to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, alerting them to pending new batches of damaging emails.

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“The campaign had no official access to WikiLeaks or to Julian Assange,” Bannon told the court. “But Roger would be considered if we needed an access point.”

It was the first time that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign acknowledged in court that they had actively sought material from WikiLeaks, which released emails that U.S. intelligence agencies determined had been hacked by the Russian government in order to damage Clinton.

The White House had no immediate comment.

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Missing Clark Atlanta University student found dead

ATLANTA — A missing Clark Atlanta University student has been found dead, authorities said Friday.

The body of Alexis Crawford, 21, was found at a park in DeKalb County, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said at a news conference.

Investigators are securing arrest warrants for Crawford’s friend and roommate, 21-year-old Jordyn Jones, and Jones’ boyfriend, 21-year-old Barron Brantley, Sheilds said. One of the suspects led investigators to where Crawford’s body was found, she told reporters.

Shields said a motive has not been clearly established but she noted that Crawford filed a police report on Oct. 27 describing “unwanted kissing and touching” by Brantley.

Crawford last spoke to her family on Oct. 30. She was reported missing Nov. 1.

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Vanna White hosts ‘Wheel of Fortune’ after Sajak has surgery

LOS ANGELES — “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak had to have emergency surgery, and his longtime co-host Vanna White will fill in for him while he recovers.

The show said in a statement that Thursday’s taping was canceled as the 73-year-old Sajak underwent successful surgery to correct a blocked intestine.

The 62-year-old White stepped in as host when taping resumed Friday for episodes that will air starting Dec. 9.

The statement says Sajak is resting comfortably and looking forward to returning but does not say how long he is expected to be out or how long White will act as host.

Sajak and White have co-hosted the show since the early 1980s.

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Lawyer: Bolton has knowledge about Ukraine not yet public

WASHINGTON — Former national security adviser John Bolton was “part of many relevant meetings and conversations” pertaining to the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump that are not yet public, his lawyer said Friday.

Charles Cooper made the revelation in a letter that suggests Bolton will appear before Congress only if a judge orders him to do so.

The letter, addressed to the top lawyer for the House of Representatives, seeks to distinguish Bolton and former deputy Charles Kupperman from other current and former White House officials who have testified so far to impeachment investigators. The letter says that Bolton and Kupperman, unlike the other witnesses, provided direct advice to Trump regularly and would be asked during any congressional appearance to disclose sensitive foreign policy and national security information.

“After all, Dr. Kupperman was the Deputy National Security Advisor to the President throughout the period to your inquiry,” the letter states. “The same is true, of course, of Ambassador Bolton, who was the National Security Advisor to the President, and who was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far.”

Kupperman was subpoenaed as part of the impeachment inquiry but sued House Democrats and the Trump administration. He asked a judge to decide which directive he must follow — one from Congress ordering him to testify, the other from the White House telling him not to. Bolton has not been subpoenaed. Lawmakers scheduled a Thursday interview with Bolton, but he did not show.

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