Barr, Mueller trade barbs as Russia probe rift goes public
WASHINGTON — Private tensions between Justice Department leaders and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team broke into public view in extraordinary fashion Wednesday as Attorney General William Barr pushed back at the special counsel’s “snitty” complaints over his handling of the Trump-Russia investigation report.
Testifying for the first time since releasing Mueller’s report, Barr faced sharp questioning from Senate Democrats who accused him of making misleading comments and seeming at times to be President Donald Trump’s protector as much as the country’s top law enforcement official.
The rift fueled allegations that Barr has spun Mueller’s findings in Trump’s favor and understated the gravity of Trump’s behavior. The dispute is certain to persist, as Democrats push to give Mueller a chance to answer Barr’s testimony with his own later this month.
Barr separately informed the House Judiciary Committee that he would not appear for its scheduled hearing Thursday because of the panel’s insistence that he be questioned by committee lawyers as well as lawmakers. That refusal sets the stage for Barr to possibly be held in contempt of Congress.
At Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee session, Barr spent hours defending his handling of Mueller’s report against complaints from Democrats and the special counsel himself. He said, for instance, that he had been surprised that Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had tried to obstruct justice, and that he had felt compelled to step in with his own judgment that the president committed no crime.
Student tackled campus gunman, slain while saving lives
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A North Carolina college student tackled a gunman who opened fire in his classroom, saving others’ lives but losing his own in the process, police said Wednesday.
Riley Howell, 21, was among students gathered for end-of-year presentations in an anthropology class at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte when a man with a pistol began shooting. Howell and another student were killed; four others were wounded.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Howell “took the assailant off his feet,” but was fatally wounded. He said Howell did what police train people to do in active shooter situations.
“You’re either going to run, you’re going to hide and shield, or you’re going to take the fight to the assailant. Having no place to run and hide, he did the last. But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed,” Putney said. “Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.”
The father of Howell’s longtime girlfriend said news that he tackled the shooter wasn’t surprising. Kevin Westmoreland, whose daughter Lauren dated Howell for nearly six years, said Howell was athletic and compassionate — and would have been a good firefighter or paramedic.
Venezuelans take to streets as uprising attempt sputters
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelans heeded opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s call to fill streets around the nation Wednesday but security forces showed no sign of answering his cry for a widespread military uprising, instead dispersing crowds with tear gas as the political crisis threatened to deepen.
Thousands cheered Guaidó in Caracas as he rolled up his sleeves and called on Venezuelans to remain out in force and prepare for a general strike, a day after his bold attempt to spark a mass military defection against President Nicolas Maduro failed to tilt the balance of power.
“It’s totally clear now the usurper has lost,” Guaidó proclaimed, a declaration belied by events on the ground.
Across town at the Carlota air base near where Guaidó made his plea a day earlier for a revolt, intense clashes raged against between protesters and troops loyal to Maduro, making clear the standoff would drag on. There and elsewhere, state security forces launched tear gas and fired rubber bullets while bands of mostly young men armed with makeshift shields threw rocks and set a motorcycle ablaze.
“I don’t want to say it was a disaster, but it wasn’t a success,” said Marilina Carillo, who was standing in a crowd of anti-government protesters blowing horns and whistles.
Brazil’s Bolsonaro wants police in schools, discipline code
BRASILIA, Brazil — When students at Ceilandia state school No. 7 in Brazil’s capital came back from their break in February, they were met by two dozen uniformed police officers in a place they barely recognized anymore.
Guns in their holsters, the officers ordered students to form rows in the schoolyard. The students were given white T-shirts pending the arrival of their new uniforms. From now on, hair would have to be kept short for boys and tied at the back for girls. No more shorts, caps, brightly colored nail varnish, earrings or any distinctive pieces of clothing. Students arriving late wouldn’t be let in.
“Sometimes we feel intimidated,” said Michael Pereira da Silva, 17, who was against the decision to hire police to instill military-like discipline in the school. “Just going out into the hall, we are obligated to bow our heads or say hello to police officers.”
Although experiments began in previous years, the quasi-military approach is one of the most visible educational efforts being championed under new President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who campaigned on promises to improve Brazilian schools, which are widely recognized as a problem. A 2015 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked educational performance in Brazil as 63rd out of 72 countries and regions.
From wire sources
Schools now being co-run by police are modeled on Brazil’s exclusive military colleges, which tend to perform better than most public schools — a fact that makes many parents eager to see similarly rigid discipline.
Under Trump change, Cuba business partners can now be sued
MIAMI — People who lost properties after the Cuban revolution hope that, starting Thursday, they will be able to sue European and American companies doing business on their former properties.
That’s thanks to the Trump administration’s decision to activate a provision of the U.S. embargo on Cuba with the potential to affect foreign investment in Cuba for years to come.
Known as Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the section allows Americans, and Cubans who later become Americans, to sue almost any company deemed to be “trafficking” in property confiscated by Cuba’s government. Every president since the law’s passage has suspended Title III because of objections from U.S. allies doing business in Cuba and because of the potential effect on future negotiated settlements between the U.S. and Cuba.
California inches toward 40M people, but growth rate slows
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California had its slowest recorded growth rate in its history last year as the country’s most populous state was hit by a slowdown in immigration and a sharp decline of births.
Estimates released Wednesday show California had 39.9 million people as of Jan. 1, adding nearly 187,000 people for a growth rate of 0.47% — the lowest since 1900, the earliest records available. And while thousands lost their homes after last year’s deadly wildfire in the northern part of the state, initial estimates show most people shuffled to cities closest to the blaze.
California’s population has been creeping toward 40 million people, viewed as a milestone for a state that began as a frontier outpost and now boasts the world’s fifth largest economy. While the state will surely reach that peak, officials on Wednesday noted the latest estimates should temper expectations for robust growth as births decline, deaths rise and immigration slows.
“We see that as a process of maturity,” said Ethan Sharygin, a demographer with the California Department of Finance.
Despite the slowdown, California remains by far the country’s most populous state. Texas at No. 2 is still shy of 30 million people.