AP News in Brief 12-02-17

Flynn pleads guilty, is cooperating in Trump-Russia probe

WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn, the retired general who campaigned at Donald Trump’s side and then served as his first national security adviser, pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about reaching out to the Russians on Trump’s behalf and said members of the president’s inner circle were intimately involved with — and at times directing — his contacts.

Flynn’s plea to a single felony count of false statements made him the first official of the Trump White House to admit guilt so far in a wide-ranging criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

It also establishes Flynn as a key cooperator and likely witness in the federal investigation into whether Russia and associates of the president collaborated to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor.

Friday’s developments don’t resolve that paramount question, but they do show that Flynn lied to the FBI about multiple conversations last December with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Court papers make clear that Flynn knows the identities of members of Trump’s transition team who were fully aware of his outreach to Russian officials in the weeks before the inauguration. Mueller’s prosecutors indicated the officials were senior and within Trump’s inner circle.

That revelation moves the Russia investigation, which has shadowed Trump throughout the year, deeper into the White House and raises questions about the accuracy of repeated assertions by the administration that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about the content of his calls with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Police: Retiree made ricin, tested it on neighbors

BURLINGTON, Vt. — A retirement community resident made ricin and tested the deadly toxin on her neighbors by putting it on their food or in beverages over a period of weeks, investigators said.

Betty Miller told an FBI agent that she wanted to “injure herself” and was testing the poison’s effectiveness on other residents at the Wake Robin senior living facility, according to a criminal complaint.

A handcuffed Miller, 70, made her first appearance in federal court Friday. Judge John Conroy noted that Miller had a “lengthy mental health history,” but did not elaborate.

Miller was placed in custody and was scheduled to be in court again on Wednesday. She said she was working on getting a lawyer.

Police were called to the senior community in Shelburne on Tuesday after Miller told heath care providers she had manufactured the ricin and placed it on other residents’ food and beverages, the agent said in the complaint. No residents reported symptoms of ricin poisoning, he said.

From wire sources

Immigration anger builds against San Francisco after verdict

SAN FRANCISCO — The attacks on San Francisco and other cities with similar immigration policies began moments after a jury acquitted a Mexican man charged with killing a woman on a popular pier.

President Donald Trump called the verdict a “complete travesty of justice,” and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanded cities like San Francisco scrap immigration policies barring cooperation with federal deportation efforts.

Thousands of Twitter users turned to the hashtag #BoycottSanFrancisco. Conservative politicians and celebrities such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and actor James Woods lambasted the city.

City officials pushed back and vowed to stand behind their so-called sanctuary city policy. It’s what led Garcia Zarate to be released from San Francisco’s jail despite a federal request to detain him for deportation several weeks before Kate Steinle was fatally shot in the back in 2015. He had been deported five times before.

“San Francisco is and always will be a sanctuary city,” said Ellen Canale, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Lee.

Attorney: Conyers to assess future plans based on health

DETROIT (AP) — An attorney for Michigan Rep. John Conyers said on Friday that the congressman will discuss in the next few days whether to resign following allegations of sexual misconduct, but his health will be the paramount factor and not pressure from Washington politicians.

Arnold Reed told a news conference Friday that he will be meeting with doctors to assess the medical prognosis for the 88-year-old Conyers following a second round of medical tests.

Facing growing calls for his resignation, Conyers returned to Detroit from Washington on Tuesday and was hospitalized the next day. He remains there although no details of his condition have been released.

“We will discuss in the next day or so what Mr. Conyers plans to do. As you know his health is not the best. It’s not what it should be,” Reed said. “It will be Congressman John Conyers who decides what it is he is going to do.”

Reed told reporters that he had not spoken Conyers in two days, allowing his client to rest.


Quick firing not an option in political sex-misconduct cases

NEW YORK (AP) — When sexual misconduct allegations surface in the private sector, a boss can say, “You’re fired” — as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and others can attest. In the political world, it’s never that simple.

Rep. John Conyers has refused to step down even after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged the veteran Democrat from Detroit to do so. Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota faces a Senate ethics investigation but plans to stay on. And Republican Roy Moore is pressing ahead with his Senate candidacy in Alabama despite allegations he sexually assaulted two teenage girls decades ago.

In the recent cases where the alleged harasser worked for a major media organization, the firings have been depicted as necessary to uphold the company’s reputation.

But elected officials “are their own brands,” said Gayle Goldin, a Democratic state senator from Rhode Island. “It’s up to them to decide how they’re going to respond to pressure on them to step down.”

Members of Congress can, as a matter of fact, be expelled by their colleagues. But lawmakers historically have been loath to do that. Since the Civil War, only two have been expelled; they were ousted in 1980 and 2002, both of them for corruption.


NBC source: No payout for Lauer on rest of his contract

LOS ANGELES (AP) — NBC is standing firm against giving fired “Today” host Matt Lauer a payout on the multimillion-dollar salary he’s leaving behind, according to a person at the network.

Lauer, said to have earned around $25 million a year, reportedly is negotiating to receive the remainder of his salary for the current contract that runs through 2018 and made him one of TV’s highest-paid journalists.

But NBC won’t agree, said the person, who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because a personnel matter was involved.

Some NBC News employees who raised the question of Lauer’s compensation at a staff meeting were told that he was fired “for cause” and wouldn’t be paid beyond his last day worked, according to a Variety report Friday.

Also Friday, NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack said an internal review into Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct is underway, including how it happened and why it wasn’t stopped earlier.


Beleaguered World Cup gets weak opener: Russia-Saudi Arabia

MOSCOW (AP) — A World Cup shrouded in corruption controversies and struggling to attract sponsors could have the dreariest of starts on the field: a meeting of the lowest-ranked teams in the 32-team field.

Host Russia and Saudi Arabia play June 14 at Moscow in an opener lacking global appeal, but things pick up the next day when 2010 champion Spain and defending European champion Portugal meet in Sochi.

The Iberian neighbors were drawn into Group B at a Kremlin ceremony Friday. Morocco coach Herve Renard hoped to avoid the “two ogres” but will face them along with Iran.

“It’s a complicated group,” Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said. “It will be tough. Portugal is a great team. It is the defending European champion and has a squad filled with top players.”

None more so than Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently joined Argentina’s Lionel Messi as the only five-time winners of FIFA’s player of the year award. Messi’s quest for his first World Cup title begins the following day when Argentina takes on Iceland — at 334,000 the least-populous country to qualify for the World Cup.

Trump denies Tillerson out as secretary of state

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday denied he wants to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, calling reports to that effect “fake news,” as his top diplomat brushed off speculation that he has lost the confidence of the White House.

As Tillerson went about his normal schedule of diplomatic activities, including two meetings with Trump, the president said his secretary of state is “not leaving.”

“The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS!” Trump tweeted. “He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!”

The tweet was Trump’s strongest endorsement of his top diplomat since senior White House officials on Thursday began telling reporters that a plan had been devised to push Tillerson out and replace him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo. Immediately after reports of the plan emerged, Trump offered only tepid support for Tillerson, noting only that he was at the White House for a previously scheduled meeting.

The halfhearted backing amid the swirl of speculation over Tillerson’s imminent demise had threatened to impair his effectiveness, particularly as he prepares for an official trip to Europe next week.