AP News in Brief 05-03-19

  • Peter Mayhew, left, and Harrison Ford at the European premiere of the film ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens ’ in London. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision, AP File)

Barr besieged by allegations of being president’s protector

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr portrayed himself as an apolitical elder statesman at his confirmation hearing. He declared he’d rather resign than be asked to fire special counsel Robert Mueller without cause and insisted the prosecutor he’d known for decades would never involve himself in a witch hunt as the president claimed.

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But now Barr has emerged as arguably the most divisive figure in Donald Trump’s administration. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused him on Thursday of lying — a charge the Justice Department called reckless and false — and House Democrats are poised to hold him in contempt.

His appearance this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee accelerated calls for his resignation after he said Trump had been falsely accused and he spun politically damning episodes in Mueller’s report in the president’s favor.

Barr might have seemed an unlikely lightning rod given his long government career, his distance from Trump’s inner circle and his age, 68, that he said made him unconcerned with political advancement. But he had telegraphed his sympathetic view of strong presidential powers — surely a useful viewpoint for Trump — in a memo to the Justice Department last year that criticized Mueller’s Trump-Russia obstruction of justice investigation. His latest testimony, including that Trump’s actions weren’t criminal, reaffirmed that philosophy and, to critics, established Barr as the president’s protector .

Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in the ‘Star Wars’ films, dies at 74

LOS ANGELES — Actor Peter Mayhew, who played shaggy, towering Chewbacca in several of the “Star Wars” films, has died, his family said Thursday. He was 74.

Mayhew died at his home in Texas on Tuesday, according to a family statement. No cause was given.

The 7-foot-3 Mayhew played the beloved and furry Chewbacca, sidekick to Han Solo and co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, in the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

He went on to appear as the Wookiee in 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith” and shared the part in 2015’s “The Force Awakens” with actor Joonas Suotamo, who later took over the role.

From wire sources

“He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films,” the family statement said. “But, to him, the ‘Star Wars’ family meant so much more to him than a role in a film.”

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Trump defends clinicians’ right to refuse to do abortions

WASHINGTON — Advancing his anti-abortion agenda, President Donald Trump moved Thursday to protect health care workers who object to procedures like abortion on moral or religious grounds.

Trump chose the National Day of Prayer to announce the new regulation.

“Just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities,” Trump told an interfaith audience in the White House Rose Garden. “They’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”

The conscience rule was a priority for religious conservatives who are a key part of Trump’s political base, but some critics fear it will become a pretext for denying medical attention to LGBT people or women seeking abortions, a legal medical procedure.

In a strongly worded statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “these bigoted rules are immoral, deeply discriminatory and downright deadly, greenlighting open discrimination in health care against LGTBQ Americans and directly threatening the well-being of millions.

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Secluded Baltimore mayor resigns amid scandal

BALTIMORE — Baltimore’s mayor resigned under pressure Thursday amid a flurry of investigations into whether she arranged bulk sales of her self-published children’s books to disguise hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation came exactly a week after her City Hall offices, homes and multiple other locations were raided by FBI and IRS agents. She is the second mayor in less than a decade to step down because of scandal . She came to office contrasting her clean image with her main opponent, ex-mayor Sheila Dixon, who was forced to depart office in 2010 as part of a plea deal for misappropriating about $500 in gift cards meant for needy families.

“I am sorry for the harm that I have caused to the image of the city of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor,” Pugh said in a written statement read by her lawyer, Steven Silverman.

A federal grand jury has been empaneled and state and local inquiries are also underway into the roughly $800,000 Pugh made over the years in exchange for her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks about health and nutrition. She hasn’t been charged with any crime.

Since the book scandal erupted in late March, Pugh’s fractured administration has lurched from one crisis to another and various aides have been fired or left City Hall.

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Venezuelans return to daily struggle after violent unrest

CARACAS, Venezuela — Bumping shoulders with fellow shoppers as she navigated Caracas’ biggest open-air market, Naira Garcia had no trouble tuning out the messy political struggle that plunged Venezuela into two days of deadly violence this week.

She focused instead on her own daunting task: How to feed her family of five for the next two weeks on the $4 she had in her pocket. Like many of Venezuela’s poor, Garcia scrapes by on odd jobs — selling home-made lollipops or mangos that recently came into season.

“There are good days and bad days,” said the 43-year-old mother of three teenagers, lugging two shopping bags with sardines, sweet peppers and leafy green onions. “I never abandon my faith.”

The bustling Coche Market is a sign that Caracas has returned to what passes for normal life after the outburst of violent unrest that left at least four people dead. It began Tuesday when U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for a military uprising, attempting to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro.

The socialist Maduro is blamed for leading Venezuela into the deepest economic and political crisis in the nation’s history, despite having the world’s largest oil reserves. Soaring hyperinflation has pulverized paychecks in a nation where the average monthly wage is just $6.50.

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Pharmaceutical exec guilty of bribing doctors to push opioid

BOSTON — A pharmaceutical company founder accused of paying doctors millions in bribes to prescribe a highly addictive fentanyl spray was convicted Thursday in a case that exposed such marketing tactics as using a stripper-turned-sales-rep to give a physician a lap dance.

John Kapoor, the 76-year-old former chairman of Insys Therapeutics, was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy after 15 days of jury deliberations. Four ex-employees of the Chandler, Arizona-based company, including the former exotic dancer, were also convicted.

Some of the most sensational evidence in the months-long federal trial included a video of employees dancing and rapping around an executive dressed as a giant bottle of the powerful spray Subsys, and testimony about how the company made a habit of hiring attractive women as sales representatives.

Federal prosecutors portrayed the case as part of the government’s effort to go after those it views as responsible for fueling the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.

“This is a landmark prosecution that vindicated the public’s interest in staunching the flow of opioids into our homes and streets,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement.

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Synagogue didn’t get to fund security upgrades before attack

POWAY, Calif. — Leaders at a Southern California synagogue knew they needed to increase security around their front door a year before a gunman walked through it and opened fire.

The Chabad of Poway synagogue sought a $150,000 federal grant to install gates and more secure doors, but it took nearly a year for the application to be approved and the money to be distributed. It was awarded in late March.

“Obviously, we did not have a chance to start using the funds yet,” rabbi Simcha Backman told The Associated Press.

Backman, who oversees security grants for the 207 Chabad institutions across California, wouldn’t give details on the planned enhancements or speculate whether they might have changed the outcome of Saturday’s attack.

The gunman killed a woman and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday. Goldstein, who lost a finger, joined President Donald Trump on Thursday for the National Day of Prayer .

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Would-be NYC bomber gets 10 years in foiled al-Qaida plot

NEW YORK — A man who plotted to bomb New York City’s subways, then switched sides after his arrest and spent nearly a decade helping the U.S. identify and prosecute terrorists, was rewarded for his help Thursday with a sentence of 10 years in prison, effectively time he has already served.

Najibullah Zazi, a 33-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who became radicalized and received explosives training from al-Qaida after traveling to Pakistan in 2008, faced up to life in prison after pleading guilty to terrorism-related charges.

The subway plot sent shockwaves through New York and the federal law enforcement community, underscoring the continuing threat of terrorism years after Sept. 11. But federal prosecutors said Zazi, after his 2009 arrest, provided “extraordinary” assistance to U.S. counterterrorism authorities, implicating his closest friends and offering a window into the inner workings of al-Qaida.

U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie described Zazi’s cooperation as “unprecedented,” referring in part to federal investigations that remain ongoing. Details of those cases were blacked out of a court filing that prosecutors made public this week in light of concerns for national security.

“I have no doubt you saved a life,” Dearie said, adding he believed Zazi had undergone a compelling transformation during his years in custody. “Your obvious intelligence served you well.”

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Solemn air on campus ahead of memorials for shooting victims

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The campus has turned quiet. Flowers and candles fill the steps outside the building where two students were killed. Exams have been postponed or canceled.

For students, professors and administrators, Tuesday’s shooting that left two dead and four wounded at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte has altered what they thought was a safe space, a home away from home.

“My gut tells me that was one of those moments where everything from this point on will be different. I can’t imagine us going unaltered. It’s a 9/11, it’s a Kennedy assassination, it’s a Challenger disaster, it’s a death of a family member kind of moment,” said Tricia Kent, an archivist who has spent 33 years at the school.

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Student Cooper Creech said his life has changed forever.

Creech was in the classroom where the six students were shot and ran to save his life when the gunman opened fire. But the medic with the National Guard stayed close to the building and gave first aid to a wounded classmate.

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