AP News in Brief 01-26-18

More than 20 White House employees quizzed by Mueller, lawyer says

WASHINGTON — More than 20 White House employees have given interviews to the special counsel in his probe of possible obstruction of justice and Trump campaign ties to Russian election interference, according to a document released Thursday that underscores the breadth of the investigation.

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The document, released by President Donald Trump’s attorney John Dowd, details what the White House calls its unprecedented cooperation with Robert Mueller’s investigation, including that it has turned over more than 20,000 pages of records. The president’s 2016 campaign has turned over more than 1.4 million pages.

However, the number of voluntary interviews, including eight people from the White House counsel’s office, also suggests the scope of Mueller’s work so far. And the document confirms Mueller’s interest in the circumstances surrounding two men the president fired: former FBI Director James Comey and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

An additional 28 people affiliated with the Trump campaign have also been interviewed by either the special counsel or congressional committees probing Russian election meddling, the document notes. It does not name the people nor provide a breakdown of how many were interviewed by Mueller’s team.

According to Dowd, the White House produced nearly 13,000 pages of documents related to Comey and “issues regarding Michael Flynn and Russia.”

Trump in Davos: threatens Palestinians, reassures Brits

DAVOS, Switzerland — President Donald Trump barreled into a global summit in the Swiss Alps on Thursday, threatening to stop U.S. aid to the Palestinians and dismissing as a “false rumor” the idea that there are tensions in the U.S. relationship with Britain.

Trump’s debut appearance at the glitzy World Economic Forum was hotly anticipated, with longtime attendees of the free-trade-focused event wondering how the “America First” president would fit in. Crowds clustered around Trump as he entered the modern conference hall, the president telling passers-by that he was bringing a message of “peace and prosperity.”

Trump framed his visit as a sign of positive things happening for the U.S. economy.

“When I decided to come to Davos, I didn’t think in terms of elitist or globalist, I thought in terms of lots of people that want to invest lots of money and they’re all coming back to the United States, they’re coming back to America,” the president told CNBC.

His meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally, was their first since the president announced earlier this month that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there. The declaration delighted Netanyahu and outraged Palestinians, who declared a new U.S.-led peace push dead and refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his recent visit to the Mideast.

Man waits for shot at freedom 2 years after landmark ruling

BATON ROUGE, La. — A landmark ruling by the nation’s highest court gave Henry Montgomery his first chance at freedom after nearly a half-century behind bars. Two years later, the 71-year-old Louisiana man is still waiting for a parole hearing that could set him free.

Thursday is the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Montgomery’s favor. The decision enabled roughly 2,000 inmates to argue for release after receiving mandatory life-without-parole sentences as juveniles.

Louisiana’s parole board delayed a hearing on Montgomery’s parole request from Dec. 14 to Feb. 19. The board is waiting for a legal opinion from Louisiana’s attorney general on how many board members must hear Montgomery’s case. Under Louisiana law, a three-member panel is required for juvenile parole hearings, while at least five members are required for a parole hearing when a violent crime was committed against a law enforcement officer.

Montgomery was 17 when he killed Charles Hurt, an East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy, in 1963. He was initially sentenced to death after a jury convicted him. After the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled he didn’t get a fair trial and threw out his murder conviction in 1966, Montgomery was retried, found “guilty without capital punishment” and automatically sentenced to life without parole.

The Supreme Court decided in 2012 that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional “cruel and unusual” punishment.

From wire sources

Undeterred by failed appeal, Brazil’s da Silva vows to run

SAO PAULO — A day after a corruption conviction cast serious doubts on his future, Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva insisted on Thursday that he’ll be on October’s presidential ballot, while also appearing to acknowledge that he could be sidelined.

The comments to high-ranking members of his left-leaning Workers’ Party underscored the conundrum facing the party that governed Brazil between 2003 and 2016: Its best chance of winning the presidency rests with da Silva, but the once wildly popular former leader may ultimately be ineligible or even jailed.

His chances of running went down sharply on Wednesday when an appellate court upheld a graft conviction against him and even increased the sentence to more than 12 years.

“I hope this candidacy does not depend on Lula,” the former leader told Thursday’s meeting, hinting that others in the Workers’ Party must be ready to carry forward its vision for the country. “You have to put the Brazilian people in motion.”

Party stalwarts at Thursday’s meeting doubled down on their insistence that da Silva will run and that nobody is entertaining alternatives.

NASA honors 7 killed on space shuttle Columbia 15 years ago

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA honored the seven astronauts killed aboard shuttle Columbia 15 years ago, with a special musical tribute Thursday by the son of Israel’s first astronaut.

Singer and songwriter Tal Ramon joined a few hundred others at Kennedy Space Center to remember the Columbia crew and other astronauts killed in the line of duty over the decades.

Seven astronauts — including Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon— died Feb. 1, 2003, when Columbia shattered in the skies over Texas, just minutes before a Florida touchdown.

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Ramon performed two of his own songs, singing in Hebrew and playing the keyboard. Later, he and relatives of other astronauts killed in action, placed long-stemmed, yellow, orange and pink roses at the Space Mirror Memorial. In all, 24 names are engraved in the large granite monument.

“I’m just so emotional to be here with you,” Ramon told the crowd before performing at the first Kennedy memorial he’s attended.