AP News in Brief 07-11-19

  • Terrian Jones reacts as she feels something moving in the water at her feet as she carries Drew and Chance Furlough to their mother on Belfast Street in New Orleans during flooding from a storm in the Gulf Mexico that dumped lots of rain Wednesday. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Flooding swamps New Orleans; possible hurricane coming next

NEW ORLEANS — A storm swamped New Orleans streets and paralyzed traffic Wednesday as concerns grew that even worse weather was on the way: a possible hurricane that could strike the Gulf Coast and raise the Mississippi River to the brim of the city’s protective levees.

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The storm was associated with an atmospheric disturbance in the Gulf that forecasters said was on track to strengthen into a hurricane by the weekend. The National Hurricane Center expected the system to become a tropical depression by Thursday morning, a tropical storm by Thursday night and a hurricane on Friday.

Lines of thunderstorms ranged far out into the Gulf and battered New Orleans, where as much as 8 inches of rain fell over a three-hour period, officials said.

Mississippi and Texas were also at risk of torrential rains.

In New Orleans, streets turned into small, swift rivers that overturned garbage cans and picked up pieces of floating wood. Water was up to the doors of many cars. Other vehicles were abandoned. Kayakers paddled their way down some streets.

UK ambassador to US quits after leaked cables enrage Trump

LONDON — Britain’s ambassador to the United States resigned Wednesday after being branded a fool and made a diplomatic nobody by President Donald Trump following the leak of the envoy’s unflattering opinions about the U.S. administration.

Storm clouds gathered over the trans-Atlantic relationship as veteran diplomat Kim Darroch said he could no longer do his job in Washington after Trump cut off all contact with the representative of one of America’s closest allies.

The break in relations followed a British newspaper’s publication Sunday of leaked documents that revealed the ambassador’s dim view of Trump’s administration, which Darroch described as dysfunctional, inept and chaotic.

“The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like,” Darroch said in his resignation letter. He had been due to leave his post at the end of the year.

In the leaked documents, he called the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran “incoherent,” said the president might be indebted to “dodgy Russians” and raised doubts about whether the White House “will ever look competent.”

Facing calls for resignation, Acosta defends Epstein deal

WASHINGTON — Trying to tamp down calls for his resignation, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday defended his handling of a sex-trafficking case involving now-jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein, insisting he got the toughest deal he could at the time.

In a nearly hour-long news conference, Acosta retraced the steps that federal prosecutors took in the case when he was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida a decade ago, insisting that “in our heart we were trying to do the right thing for these victims.” He said prosecutors were working to avoid a more lenient arrangement that would have allowed Epstein to “walk free.”

“We believe that we proceeded appropriately,” he said, a contention challenged by critics who say Epstein’s penalty was egregiously light.

The episode reignited this week when federal prosecutors in New York brought a new round of child sex-trafficking charges against the wealthy hedge fund manager. And on Wednesday, a new accuser stepped forward to say Epstein raped her in his New York mansion when she was 15.

Jennifer Araoz, now 32, told “Today” she never went to police because she feared retribution from the well-connected Epstein. She now has filed court papers seeking information from Epstein in preparation for suing him.

‘It will not be easy’: Dems prepare for their Mueller moment

WASHINGTON — Some are watching old video of his previous testimony. Others are closely re-reading his 448-page report. And almost all are worrying about how they’ll make the most of the short time they’ll have for questioning.

Robert Mueller, the Democrats know, will be tough to crack.

The stern, reticent former FBI director has said he won’t answer questions beyond what is in the report on Russia’s election meddling and the Trump campaign and possible obstruction of justice when he comes to Congress on July 17.

Mueller is expected to testify in front of the Judiciary and intelligence committees for two hours each, with time split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, though that timing is still a subject of negotiations. That means Democrats will have to be efficient and targeted in their attempts to extract information from the former special counsel and spotlight what they say are his most damaging findings against President Donald Trump.

“It will not be easy,” said Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee. He added: “We just have to be very smart about how we use the time and really give the special counsel the time to tell the story.”

Officer accuses general of sexual misconduct

WASHINGTON — A senior military officer has accused the Air Force general tapped to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of sexual misconduct, potentially jeopardizing his nomination. Members of Congress have raised questions about the allegations and the military investigation that found insufficient evidence to charge him.

The officer told The Associated Press that Gen. John Hyten subjected her to a series of unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 while she was one of his aides. She said that he tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him.

The Air Force investigated the woman’s allegations, which she reported days after Hyten’s nomination was announced in April, and found there was insufficient evidence to charge the general or recommend any administrative punishment. The alleged victim remains in the military but has moved to a different job.

“My life was ruined by this,” she told the AP.

The woman asked to not be identified by name. The AP generally does not identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted.

From Wire Sources

Powell’s message to Congress: Rate cut is likely coming soon

WASHINGTON — Pointing to a weaker global economy, rising trade tensions and chronically low inflation, Chairman Jerome Powell signaled Wednesday that the Federal Reserve is likely to cut interest rates late this month for the first time in a decade.

Delivering the central bank’s semiannual report to Congress, Powell said that since Fed officials met last month, “uncertainties around trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy continue to weigh on the U.S. economic outlook.” In addition, inflation has dipped further below the Fed’s annual target level.

The chairman’s remarks led investors to send stock prices up, bond yields down and the value of the U.S. dollar lower on expectations of lower interest rates. The S&P 500 index briefly traded over 3,000 for the first time.

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Testifying to the House Financial Services Committee, Powell was asked, as he has been before, what he would do if President Donald Trump tried to fire or demote him. Powell offered the same terse reply he’s given in the past when asked about Trump’s attacks on his leadership and the president’s insistence that he has authority to remove the chairman: Powell said he intends to serve out his full four-year term, which ends in early 2022.

The president has repeatedly accused Powell and the Fed of keeping credit too tight for too long and of thereby holding back the economy and the stock market. Most experts dispute Trump’s assertion that he has authority to either fire Powell or demote him from the chairman’s post, and his attacks have raised alarms that he’s undermining the Fed’s long-recognized independence from political pressure.