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AP News in Brief 11-05-17

Updated: 
November 5, 2017 - 12:05am

Trump’s Asia trip presents a crucial international test

HONOLULU (AP) — On his most grueling and consequential trip abroad, President Donald Trump stands ready to exhort Asian allies and rivals on the need to counter the dangers posed by North Korea’s nuclear threat.

The 12-day, five-country trip, the longest Far East itinerary for a president in a generation, comes at a precarious moment for Trump. Just days ago, his former campaign chairman was indicted and another adviser pleaded guilty as part of an investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russian officials.

With Trump set to arrive Sunday in Japan, the trip presents a crucial international test for a president looking to reassure Asian allies worried that his inward-looking “America First” agenda could cede power in the region to China. They also are rattled by his bellicose rhetoric about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The North’s growing missile arsenal threatens the capitals Trump will visit.

“The trip comes, I would argue, at a very inopportune time for the president. He is under growing domestic vulnerabilities that we all know about, hour to hour,” said Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The conjunction of those issues leads to the palpable sense of unease about the potential crisis in Korea.”

Trump’s spontaneous, and at time reckless, style flies in the face of the generations-old traditions and protocol that govern diplomatic exchanges in Asia. The grand receptions expected for him in Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and beyond are sure to be lavish attempts to impress the president, who raved about the extravagances shown him on earlier visits to Saudi Arabia and France.

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AP finds hackers hijacked at least 195 Trump web addresses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four years ago, well before the furor over allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 election that put Donald Trump in the White House, at least 195 web addresses belonging to Trump, his family or his business empire were hijacked by hackers possibly operating out of Russia, The Associated Press has learned.

The Trump Organization denied the domain names were ever compromised. But a review of internet records by the AP and cybersecurity experts shows otherwise. And it was not until this past week, after the Trump camp was asked about it by the AP, that the last of the tampered-with addresses were repaired.

After the hack, computer users who visited the Trump-related addresses were unwittingly redirected to servers in St. Petersburg, Russia, that cybersecurity experts said contained malicious software commonly used to steal passwords or hold files for ransom. Whether anyone fell victim to such tactics is unclear.

A further mystery is who the hackers were and why they did it.

The discovery represents a new twist in the Russian hacking story, which up to now has focused mostly on what U.S. intelligence officials say was a campaign by the Kremlin to try to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and benefit Trump’s.

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Lebanese premier resigns, plunging nation into uncertainty

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri resigned from his post in a televised address from the Saudi capital Saturday, accusing Hezbollah of taking the country hostage, in a surprise move that plunged the nation into uncertainty amid heightened regional tensions.

In his resignation speech, Hariri fired a vicious tirade against Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah group for what he said was their meddling in Arab affairs and said that “Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off.”

“The evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it,” Hariri said, accusing Tehran of spreading chaos, strife and destruction throughout the region.

Hariri was appointed prime minister in late 2016 and headed a 30-member coalition government that included members of the Shiite militant Hezbollah. But it’s been an uneasy partnership between Hariri, who heads a Sunni-led camp loyal to Saudi Arabia, and Hezbollah, which represents a camp loyal to Shiite Iran. President Michel Aoun, who was elected in October 2016 after more than a two-year presidential vacuum, is a close ally of Hezbollah.

As U.S. and Saudi Arabia sought ways to curb Iran’s growing influence in the region, Hariri has come under pressure to distance himself from the militant group which has sent thousands of troops to neighboring Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad’s forces.

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AP Explains: Bergdahl judge weighed complex leniency factors

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s brutal five years of captivity by Taliban allies carried significant weight in an Army judge’s decision to spare him prison time for leaving his post in Afghanistan in 2009, legal experts said. Criticism of Bergdahl by President Donald Trump also appeared to push the judge toward leniency.

Army Col. Jeffery Nance didn’t explain how he formulated the sentence that also included a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and a fine. But the judge had to consider a complex array of arguments for and against leniency.

Prosecutors asked for a 14-year prison sentence, citing several service members’ serious wounds while searching for Bergdahl. The defense sought to mitigate the punishment with evidence of Bergdahl’s captivity, mental illnesses, contrition and Trump’s harsh criticism.

“It’s really rare for there to be this much mitigation evidence,” said Eric Carpenter, a former Army lawyer who teaches law at Florida International University. “It’s kind of hard to distinguish which is the one that Nance gave the most weight to. But I think the Taliban conditions were pretty onerous.”

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump on terrorism, taxes and Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Terrorism, taxes and Russia tribulations provided fertile ground for President Donald Trump and others to sow confusion over the past week.

Over days of head-snapping developments, the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election produced indictments and a guilty plea reaching into Trump’s campaign team, then eight people died in New York City in what authorities called a terrorist attack by a man acting in the name of the Islamic State group.

Trump opened an Asia trip after House Republicans came out with a tax overhaul that, if successful, could mark Trump’s first major legislative achievement after a series of health care flops.

A look back at the rhetoric:

TRUMP: “It’s a tax bill for middle class; it’s a tax bill for jobs, it’s going to bring a lot of companies in; and it’s a tax bill for business, which is going to create the jobs.” — meeting with business leaders Tuesday.

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Police: Sen. Paul suffers minor injury in assault at home

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — A man has been arrested and charged with assaulting and injuring U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, authorities said Saturday.

Kentucky State Police said in a news release that Paul suffered a minor injury when 59-year-old Rene Boucher assaulted him at his Warren County home on Friday afternoon.

The release did not provide details of the assault or the nature of Paul’s injury. In a statement, Paul spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said the Republican senator is “fine.” The statement said Paul was “blindsided” by the assault but she did not provide further details.

Boucher, of Bowling Green, is charged with fourth-degree assault with a minor injury, a misdemeanor. He is being held at Warren County’s jail on $5,000 bond. An automated phone system at the jail did not provide access to lawyer information for Boucher.

Kentucky State Police Master Trooper Jeremy Hodges said he could not release details of the assault because of security issues. Hodges did say that Boucher is an acquaintance of Paul, an ophthalmologist who was elected to the Senate in 2010. It was not immediately clear how they knew each other.

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Russia struggles with legacy of 1917 Bolshevik Revolution

MOSCOW (AP) — They played key roles in Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which triggered a civil war that killed millions, devastated the country and redrew its borders. A century later, their descendants say these historic wounds have not healed.

As Russia approaches the centennial of the uprising, it has struggled to come to terms with the legacy of those who remade the nation. The Kremlin is avoiding any official commemoration of the anniversary, tip-toeing around the event that remains polarizing for many and could draw unwelcome parallels to the present.

Alexis Rodzianko, whose great-grandfather was speaker of the pre-revolutionary Russian parliament and pushed Czar Nicholas II to abdicate but later regretted it, sees the revolution as a calamity that threw Russia backward.

“Any evolutionary development would have been better than what happened,” Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, told The Associated Press. “The main lesson I certainly would hope is that Russia never tries that again.”

He said the revolution and the civil war, combined with the devastation of World War II and the overall legacy of the Soviet system, eroded Russia’s potential and left its economy a fraction of what it could have been.

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Local voting districts seen as crucial to election security

CONYERS, Ga. (AP) — Last November, election officials in a small Rhode Island town were immediately suspicious when results showed 99 percent of voters had turned down a noncontroversial measure about septic systems.

It turned out that an oval on the electronic ballot was misaligned ever so slightly and had thrown off the tally. The measure actually had passed by a comfortable margin.

The scary part: The outcome might never have raised suspicion had the results not been so lopsided.

Amid evidence that Russian hackers may have tried to meddle with last year’s presidential election, the incident illustrates a central concern among voting experts — the huge security challenge posed by the nation’s 10,000 voting jurisdictions.

While the decentralized nature of U.S. elections is a buffer against large-scale interstate manipulation on a level that could sway a presidential race, it also presents a multitude of opportunities for someone bent on mischief.

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Sprint, T-Mobile end merger talks

NEW YORK (AP) — Wireless carriers Sprint and T-Mobile called off a potential merger, saying the companies couldn’t come to an agreement that would benefit customers and shareholders.

The two companies have been dancing around a possible merger for years, and were again in the news in recent weeks with talks of the two companies coming together after all. But in a joint statement Saturday, Sprint and T-Mobile said they are calling off merger negotiations for the foreseeable future.

“The prospect of combining with Sprint has been compelling for a variety of reasons, including the potential to create significant benefits for consumers and value for shareholders. However, we have been clear all along that a deal with anyone will have to result in superior long-term value for T-Mobile’s shareholders compared to our outstanding stand-alone performance and track record,” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile US, in a prepared statement.

T-Mobile and Sprint are the U.S.’ third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers, respectively, but they are significantly smaller than AT&T and Verizon, who effectively have a duopoly over U.S. wireless service. The two companies have said they hoped to find a way of merging to make the wireless market more competitive.

Sprint and its owner, the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, have long been looking for a deal as the company has struggled to compete on its own. But Washington regulators have frowned on a possible merger. D.C. spiked AT&T’s offer to buy T-Mobile in 2011 and signaled in 2014 they would have been against Sprint doing the same thing. But with the new Trump administration, it was thought regulators might be more relaxed about a merger.

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China border traders losing money amid N. Korea sanctions

BEIJING (AP) — For Yu Kaiguang, harsh new United Nations sanctions on North Korea are a disaster.

The trader in the Chinese border city of Dandong has seen business all but dry up, and he spends his days scrambling to obtain payment from the suddenly broke North Korean state companies to whom he sold on credit.

“They have no money to pay us in cash, and the worst is that because of sanctions they can’t settle the bill with goods such as coal, as they did in the past,” said Yu, reached by telephone at the offices of his Dandong Gaoli Trading Company.

Yu said he’s owed about $1 million in all for deliveries of toothpaste, instant noodles and other household items. He’s trying to avoid laying off staff by continuing to export foodstuffs such as pine nuts and red beans. “If they become unemployed, it would be bad for both the state and society.”

Yu’s plight appears increasingly commonplace across Dandong, where the bulk of the cross-border trade is handled. Interviews with four trading companies and recent media reports indicate Chinese companies are hurting in a city where North Korean trucks used to rumble across the Yalu River bridge several times a week delivering metal scrap and returning with everything from televisions to toilet bowls.

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