AP News in Brief 01-11-19

Congo’s surprise election result could face court challenge

KINSHASA, Congo — Congo appeared on the cusp of its first peaceful transfer of power with the surprise victory Thursday of opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi, despite clear signs that a rival opposition leader actually won in a landslide.

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With no major protests in the capital and limited violence elsewhere in the vast Central African country, the population seemed to be choosing stability over credibility, accepting Tshisekedi’s win and the end to President Joseph Kabila’s long and turbulent rule.

But a court challenge to the results could spin the country into chaos, observers warned.

The influential Catholic Church, which deployed 40,000 observers at all polling stations, said official results did not match its findings, and diplomats briefed on them said rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu won easily.

Fayulu alleges Kabila engineered a backroom deal with the largely untested Tshisekedi to protect his power base in a country with staggering mineral wealth. An outspoken campaigner against Congo’s widespread graft — it ranked 161th among 180 countries in Transparency International’s latest index — Fayulu denounced the official results as “robbery.”

Cohen, ex-Trump lawyer, to testify publicly before Congress

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, will testify publicly before a House committee next month in a hearing that could serve as the opening salvo of a promised Democratic effort to scrutinize Trump, his conflicts of interest and his ties to Russia.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Thursday that Cohen will appear before that panel Feb. 7, a little more than a month after the Democrats took the House majority.

The hearing marks the latest step in Cohen’s transformation from a trusted legal adviser to the president to a public antagonist who has cooperated extensively against him. Although Democrats say the questioning will be limited to avoid interfering with open investigations, the hearing is still likely to pull back the curtain on key episodes involving Trump’s personal life and business dealings, including hush-money payments to women and a proposed Moscow real estate deal, that federal prosecutors have been dissecting for months.

Cohen is a pivotal figure in investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign and by federal prosecutors in New York into campaign finance violations related to payments to buy the silence of a porn actress and a former Playboy Playmate who say they had sex with Trump. Federal prosecutors have said Trump directed those payments during the campaign.

Trump has denied having the extramarital affairs.

From wire sources

At the border, Trump moves closer to emergency declaration

MCALLEN, Texas — Taking the shutdown fight to the Mexican border, President Donald Trump edged closer Thursday to declaring a national emergency in an extraordinary end run around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall. Pressure was mounting to find an escape hatch from the three-week impasse that has closed parts of the government, cutting scattered services and leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without pay.

Trump, visiting McAllen, Texas, and the Rio Grande to highlight what he says is a crisis of drugs and crime, said that “if for any reason we don’t get this going” — an agreement with House Democrats who have refused to approve the $5.7 billion he demands for the wall — “I will declare a national emergency.”

Some 800,000 workers, more than half of them still on the job, were to miss their first paycheck on Friday under the stoppage, and Washington was close to setting a dubious record for the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history. Those markers — along with growing effects to national parks, food inspections and the economy overall — left some Republicans on Capitol Hill increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s demands.

Asked about the plight of those going without pay, the president shifted the focus, saying he felt badly “for people that have family members that have been killed” by criminals who came over the border.

Trump was consulting with White House attorneys and allies about using presidential emergency powers to take unilateral action to construct the wall over the objections of Congress. He claimed his lawyers told him the action would withstand legal scrutiny “100 percent.”

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Expert: Comatose woman may not have shown signs of pregnancy

PHOENIX — A doctor examined an Arizona woman in a vegetative state nearly nine months before she gave birth but did not find that she was pregnant, and medical experts said Thursday that it’s possible she displayed no outward signs that workers who cared for her every day would have noticed either.

Police are looking for her rapist and say it appears none of the staff members at a Phoenix long-term care facility knew about the pregnancy until the baby was born Dec. 29, a notion that has drawn skepticism. But the 29-year-old woman, who is described in a medical report as having tubes to feed her and help her breathe, may not have had a swollen belly, according to a doctor of fetal medicine.

While factors remain unknown, such as how far along she was, someone who is fed the same amount from a tube every day might not show any dramatic changes that would be noticed, especially by staffers who don’t work with pregnant patients, said Dr. C. Kevin Huls, a clinical assistant professor and maternal-fetal medicine fellowship director at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.

The mother could actually lose weight in other places like her face or arms if a fetus is consuming nutrients, Huls added.

“A good way to understand it is that really, the baby’s going to continue to grow even at the expense of the mom’s nutrition,” Huls said. “So, her weight may not change because she’s not taking in additional calories. There may be changes to her body that are going to go undetected in a chronic care condition or at a facility like this.”

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Strong economy does little to lift department store sales

NEW YORK — It was supposed to be a great holiday shopping season. Many investors had expected department stores to enjoy robust sales in light of a U.S. economy buoyed by low unemployment, higher wages, strong consumer confidence and cheap gas.

So when Macy’s and Kohl’s reported lackluster numbers on Thursday, they were taken aback, sending retail stocks into a tailspin and calling into question whether such mall-based chains can compete in a changing landscape where shoppers are shifting more of their spending online.

Macy’s saw only a slight increase of 1.1 percent in sales during November-December at stores opened at least year. And while sales were strong during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the company said sales fell off noticeably until the week of Christmas.

Meanwhile, Kohl’s reported a small sales growth that showed a dramatic slowdown from a year ago. Comparable sales rose 1.2 percent, versus 6.9 percent in the previous year.

Shares of Macy’s plummeted nearly 18 percent Thursday, suffering its worst one-day decline. Kohl’s stock closed down nearly 5 percent. Even Target’s stock took a hit, falling nearly 3 percent despite showing strong holiday sales.

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Q&A: How the government shutdown might end

WASHINGTON — Somehow, some day, the nasty deadlock between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats that’s shuttered federal agencies for a near-record 20 days will end. The only real questions are when, how and who will be crowned the winner in public opinion polls and ultimately by voters.

Things got bleaker this week when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Trump at a fiery White House meeting that Democrats would not bow to his demand for $5.7 billion to start building a wall along the border with Mexico. Trump slammed his hand on the negotiating table and stormed out, Democrats said. Trump said he calmly left the room, saying, “Bye-bye.”

A look at how the impasse might be resolved:

Q: What’s the easiest solution?

A: None is easy. Trump’s conservative base strongly backs his fight for wall money, even if it has meant a partial government shutdown. Democrats’ liberal stalwarts just as ardently oppose giving in. Trump and Democratic leaders have been so insistent on not surrendering that each would risk rebellion by supporters if they agreed to something viewed as a capitulation.

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Documentary puts new attention on R. Kelly sex allegations

R. Kelly, one of the top-selling recording artists of all time, has been dogged for years by allegations of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls — accusations he and his attorneys have long denied.

But an Illinois prosecutor’s plea for potential victims and witnesses to come forward and new protests have sparked hope among some advocates that the R&B star might face criminal charges.

“Please come forward. There’s nothing that can be done to investigate these allegations without cooperation between victims and witnesses,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said Tuesday at a news conference in Chicago. “We cannot seek justice without you.”

Still, some legal experts and prosecutors say it may be difficult to bring charges. Accusers and witnesses would have to speak out, and even then, prosecutors could have a hard time winning a conviction.

In recent days, Kelly has faced increased pressure from advocates who have protested outside of his Chicago studio and demanded that police investigate allegations against minors.

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Surgeons fear pelvic mesh lawsuits will spook patients

SEATTLE — Doctors who specialize in female pelvic medicine say lawsuits by four states, including Washington and California, over products used to treat pelvic floor disorders and incontinence might scare patients away from the best treatment options — or maybe even push the products off the market.

Sixty-three Washington surgeons signed a letter to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson , arguing his consumer-protection lawsuit against Johnson &Johnson and its Ethicon Inc. subsidiary is off-base. The lawsuit says the companies failed to disclose risks associated with the products, but in their letter the doctors said they were never deceived and that the case is based on a misconception about how they assess dangers posed by medical procedures.

“We have served on national and regional medical societies in women’s health,” wrote Dr. Jeffrey Clemons, a pelvic reconstructive surgeon in Tacoma. “It is astonishing to us that the AG is proceeding with this lawsuit without first availing themselves of the significant experience and expertise of this group.”

Doctors in California are drafting a similar letter to Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and the president of the American Urogynecologic Society, which represents 1,900 medical professionals, has issued a statement expressing some of the same concerns.

Clemons and two other doctors who signed the Washington letter have been retained by defense counsel as consultants in the case, but Clemons said he wrote it without payment or assistance from Johnson &Johnson.

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Las Vegas police seeking soccer star’s DNA in rape case

LAS VEGAS — Cristiano Ronaldo is being asked by police to provide a DNA sample in an investigation of a Nevada woman’s allegation that he raped her in his Las Vegas hotel penthouse in 2009 and paid her to keep quiet, the soccer star’s lawyer and Las Vegas police said Thursday.

Attorney Peter S. Christiansen downplayed the development, denied the rape allegation and called evidence collection common in any investigation.

Police said in a statement that an official request has been submitted to Italian authorities for a DNA sample from the superstar player. Officer Laura Meltzer, a department spokeswoman, said the request involved a warrant.

Ronaldo, 33, plays for the Turin-based soccer club Juventus.

“Mr. Ronaldo has always maintained, as he does today, that what occurred in Las Vegas in 2009 was consensual in nature,” Christiansen said, “so it is not surprising that DNA would be present, nor that the police would make this very standard request as part of their investigation.”

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Flexin’ in her Complexion: Bullied girl a messenger of hope

NEW YORK — Kheris Rogers was in the first grade in a predominantly white private school in Los Angeles when she felt the bite of racism among her peers — she was being bullied because of her dark skin. She tearfully kept it to herself, eventually turning to her older sister, Taylor Pollard, and switching to a more diverse school, where colorism among fellow African-American students surprised and confused her.

With her young sister’s self-esteem bruised, Pollard inadvertently launched Kheris to social media fame in 2017 when she posted a photo of the girl on Twitter dressed up for a fashion show, using their beloved grandmother’s down-home words for a hashtag: “Flexininhercomplexion.”

Soon, Kheris had her own Twitter and Instagram accounts (@KherisPoppin) and was posting photo shoots of herself that she and Pollard created. Her own fashion line followed, with T-shirts sporting her tagline, “Flexin’ in My Complexion ,” along with backpacks reading “The Miseducation of Melanin” and other apparel and accessories.

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Lupita Nyong’o posted a photo of herself wearing a black version of the shirt with bright yellow letters in support of Kheris. Whoopi Goldberg sported one while attending the Rodarte show at New York Fashion Week in September. Alicia Keys lauded her black girl magic.

While the words of her tormenters no longer sting, they haven’t been forgotten. The behavior wasn’t restricted to children, either.