In brief

Trump defends Acosta but will look into Epstein plea deal

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would be looking “very closely” at Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s handling of a sex trafficking case involving now-jailed billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein. But he also seemed to stand by his Cabinet official, praising Acosta’s performance on the job and saying he felt “very badly” for him.

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As for Epstein, Trump — who had once praised the financier as “a terrific guy” — distanced himself from the hedge-fund manager now charged with abusing minors, saying the two had had a falling-out 15 or so years ago. “I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you,” Trump said.

His comments came as a parade of Democratic presidential contenders and party leaders demanded that Acosta, a former federal prosecutor in south Florida, resign or be fired over his role in a secret 2008 plea deal that let Epstein avoid federal prosecution after allegations he molested teenage girls.

Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to new child sex-trafficking charges . Federal prosecutors in New York accuse him of abusing dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s, paying them hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and then molesting them at his homes in Florida and New York. He could face up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trump repeatedly praised Acosta, calling him a “really great secretary of labor” and “very good” at his job. He suggested it’s not unusual to find past mistakes if you look hard enough.

Financier in sex case went from math whiz to titan

NEW YORK — He has rubbed elbows with a prince and flown a former president on his private jet. He amassed a fortune that includes a 100-acre island in the Caribbean and one of the biggest mansions in New York.

He has donated tens of millions of dollars to Harvard and other causes, becoming a darling of professors and scientists — all without a college degree.

Jeffrey Epstein has long been an enigma, his ascent shrouded in mystery. Just how a middle-class Brooklyn math whiz became a Wall Street master of high finance with friends in very high places has been a subject of tabloid speculation for years.

Now, the details of Epstein’s life and his alleged predilections are coming into sharper focus as federal prosecutors in New York pursue sex-trafficking charges accusing the 66-year-old billionaire of recruiting and abusing dozens of underage girls at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, Florida, in the early 2000s.

Epstein, who pleaded not guilty Monday, could get up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Most attackers made threats before incident, report finds

WASHINGTON — One-third of the attackers who terrorized schools, houses of worship or businesses nationwide last year had a history of serious domestic violence, two-thirds had mental health issues, and nearly all had made threatening or concerning communications that worried others before they struck, according to a U.S. Secret Service report on mass attacks.

The Secret Service studied 27 incidents where a total of 91 people were killed and 107 more injured in public spaces in 2018. Among them: the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were 17 people were killed and 17 others injured, and the fatal attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The report analyzed the timing, weapons, locations and stressors of the attacker, plus events that led up to the incident, in an effort to better understand how such attacks unfold and how to prevent them. Members of the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, which did the study, briefed police, public safety and school officials at a seminar Tuesday.

“We want the community to know prevention is everyone’s responsibility,” said Lina Alathari, the center’s chief. “Not just law enforcement.”

Other incidents examined included a man who drove a truck into a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Jersey, injuring three, and a man who killed two at a law firm, and then one at a psychologist’s office in June. Criteria for the study included an incident where three or more people were injured in a public place.

H. Ross Perot rose from poverty to self-made billionaire

DALLAS — H. Ross Perot rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty to become a self-made billionaire who twice ran for president with a mixture of folksy sayings and simple solutions to America’s problems. His 19% of the vote in 1992 stands among the best showings by an independent candidate in the last century.

Perot died of leukemia Tuesday at his home in Dallas surrounded by his family, family spokesman James Fuller said. He was 89.

As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Perot delivered newspapers from the back of a pony. He earned his billions in a more modern way, however. After attending the U.S. Naval Academy and becoming a salesman for IBM, he set out on his own — creating and building Electronic Data Systems Corp., which helped other companies manage their computer networks.

The most famous event in his storied business career didn’t involve sales or earnings. In 1979, Perot financed a private commando raid to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran. The tale was turned into a book and a movie.

“I always thought of him as stepping out of a Norman Rockwell painting and living the American dream,” said Tom Luce, who was a young lawyer when Perot hired him to handle his business and personal legal work. “A newspaper boy, a midshipman, shaking Dwight Eisenhower’s hand at his graduation, and he really built the computer-services industry at EDS.”

McConnell equates his ancestors’ slave ownership to Obama’s

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his family’s history of slave ownership doesn’t change his opposition to reparations.

The Kentucky Republican said Tuesday that he and former President Barack Obama have opposed reparations, and “both are the descendent of slave owners.”

Last month, McConnell said he didn’t think “reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea.” He said the nation paid for the “sin of slavery” by electing Obama president.

NBC News this week used census records to show that two of McConnell’s great-great-grandfathers were slave owners before the Civil War. Obama has white ancestors who were slave owners, according to reports.

House Democrats are considering legislation to study reparations for slavery.

GOP-led Virginia Legislature abruptly adjourns gun session

RICHMOND, Va. — Less than two hours after beginning a special session called in response to a mass shooting, Virginia lawmakers abruptly adjourned Tuesday and postponed any movement on gun laws until after the November election.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam summoned the Republican-led Legislature to the Capitol to address gun violence in the wake of the May 31 attack that killed a dozen people in Virginia Beach. He put forward a package of eight gun-control measures and called for “votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers” in reaction to the massacre.

But not a single vote was cast on the legislation. Republican leaders said the session was premature and politically motivated. They assigned the state’s bipartisan crime commission to study the Virginia Beach shooting and the governor’s proposed legislation.

In reply, angry Democrats said Republicans were beholden to the gun lobby and afraid of passing commonsense laws they know will save lives.

It was a familiar outcome in a stalled debate that plays out yearly in Virginia on an issue that has divided the nation for more than two decades.

Trump v. Big Tech: Social media summit will snub tech titans

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is gathering conservative groups at the White House this week for a “summit” on social media that will prominently snub the tech titans who run big platforms on Facebook, Twitter and Google.

It’s a sharp contrast to earlier days in Trump’s tenure when tech executives were occasional celebrity guests at the White House, serving as a fresh indication of the president’s escalating battle with Big Tech.

Now, Trump regularly accuses the big social media platforms of suppressing conservative voices. He has suggested the companies may be acting illegally and should be sued by U.S. regulators.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the White House conference on Thursday would bring together “digital leaders for a robust conversation on the opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.”

But Google, Facebook and Twitter weren’t invited, their representatives confirmed. And their leaders may be more likely to turn up Thursday at an annual media industry conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, a venue oriented more toward high-stakes deal-making than reflections on perceived bias in online communications.

Amazon, Microsoft wage war over the Pentagon’s ‘war cloud’

Amazon and Microsoft are battling it out over a $10 billion opportunity to build the U.S. military its first “war cloud” computing system. But Amazon’s early hopes of a shock-and-awe victory may be slipping away.

Formally called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure plan, or JEDI, the military’s computing project would store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities. The Defense Department hopes to award the winner-take-all contract as soon as August. Oracle and IBM were eliminated at an earlier round of the contract competition.

But that’s only if the project isn’t derailed first. It faces a legal challenge by Oracle and growing congressional concerns about alleged Pentagon favoritism toward Amazon. Military officials hope to get started soon on what will be a decade-long business partnership they describe as vital to national security.

“This is not your grandfather’s internet,” said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a defense-oriented think tank. “You’re talking about a cloud where you can go from the Pentagon literally to the soldier on the battlefield carrying classified information.”

Amazon was considered an early favorite when the Pentagon began detailing its cloud needs in 2017, but its candidacy has been marred by an Oracle allegation that Amazon executives and the Pentagon have been overly cozy. Oracle has a final chance to make its case against Amazon — and the integrity of the government’s bidding process — in a court hearing Wednesday.

UK Tory contenders trade blows; Labour backs new Brexit vote

LONDON — The two men vying to be Britain’s next leader traded verbal blows in a televised debate Tuesday about who is more likely to break the country’s Brexit deadlock and lead the U.K. out of the European Union.

About 160,000 Conservative Party members are voting for a successor to Prime Minister Theresa May, who announced her resignation last month after failing repeatedly to get Parliament to back her divorce deal with the EU.

The two finalists, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, both used their only televised debate to argue that they were best placed to negotiate Britain’s twice-postponed exit, currently scheduled for Oct. 31.

Johnson, a populist former mayor of London whom polls suggest is the strong front-runner, argued that Britain leaving on schedule, with or without a divorce deal, is a “do or die” issue.

“Delay does not deliver a deal. A deadline will deliver a deal,” Johnson said, adding that his “energy and optimism” would help Britain “get back our mojo.”

AP Exclusive: Nicki Minaj pulls out of Saudi Arabia concert

NEW YORK — Nicki Minaj is pulling out of a concert in Saudi Arabia because she says she wants to show support for women’s rights, gay rights and freedom of expression.

“After careful reflection I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest. While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression,” Minaj said in a statement Tuesday to The Associated Press.

Minaj was originally scheduled to headline the concert on July 18.

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In Saudi Arabia, gender segregation between single men and women is still enforced in many restaurants, coffee shops, public schools and universities, but other rules have loosened with women now allowed to drive and attend events in sports stadiums.

Jeddah World Fest, which in line with Saudi laws is alcohol and drug-free, is open to people 16 and older and will take place at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in the Red Sea city. Other performers include former One Direction member Liam Payne and DJ-producer Steve Aoki.

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