AP News in Brief 12-14-19

  • Member of the committee work during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Friday, on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

Impeachment charges head to House; Trump cries anew: ‘Hoax’

WASHINGTON — Democrats propelled President Donald Trump’s impeachment toward a historic vote by the full U.S. House as the Judiciary Committee on Friday approved charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It’s the latest major step in the constitutional and political storm that has divided Congress and the nation.

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The House is expected to approve the two articles of impeachment next week, before lawmakers depart for the holidays.

The partisan split in the committee vote — 23 Democrats to 17 Republicans — reflects the atmosphere in Congress. The Democratic-majority House is expected to approve the charges against Trump next week, but the Republican-controlled Senate is likely to acquit him after a January trial.

Trump is accused, in the first article, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden while holding military aid as leverage, and, in the second, of obstructing Congress by blocking the House’s efforts to probe his actions.

“Today is a solemn and sad day,” Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told reporters after the session, marking the third time in U.S. history the panel has voted to recommend impeaching a president. He said the full House would act ”expeditiously.”’

Justices to take up dispute over subpoenas for Trump records

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Friday it will hear President Donald Trump’s pleas to keep his tax, bank and financial records private, a major confrontation between the president and Congress that also could affect the 2020 presidential campaign.

Arguments will take place in late March, and the justices are poised to issue decisions in June as Trump is campaigning for a second term. Rulings against the president could result in the quick release of personal financial information that Trump has sought strenuously to keep private. The court also will decide whether the Manhattan district attorney can obtain eight years of Trump’s tax returns as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

The subpoenas are separate from the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump, headed for a vote in the full House next week. Indeed, it’s almost certain the court won’t hear the cases until after a Senate trial over whether to remove Trump has ended.

Trump sued to prevent banks and accounting firms from complying with subpoenas for his records from three committees of the House of Representatives and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

In three separate cases, he has so far lost at every step, but the records have not been turned over pending a final court ruling. Now it will be up to a court that includes two Trump appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, to decide in a case with significant implications regarding a president’s power to refuse a formal request from Congress.

‘Rise of Skywalker’ is almost here, but a dark side looms

LOS ANGELES — When Disney bought Lucasfilm for more than $4 billion in 2012, there were lofty expectations of reviving “Star Wars” in spectacular hyper-speed fashion with a new trilogy that continued the story of Luke Skywalker and other beloved characters.

The space saga has been a smart investment, starting with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which in 2015 became the fastest movie to reach $1 billion. Despite the financial success, there’s been a dark side — fierce criticism of the new trilogy amplified by social media.

Some fans have attacked the story lines, which have shifted away from Skywalker toward a new generation of characters. The new films are more inclusive and feature a diverse cast and a focus on a female protagonist, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, leading to volleys of racist and sexist remarks directed at the franchise’s newest stars.

With “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” opening in theaters Dec. 20, director J.J. Abrams expects more backlash. Especially since the new film — which he calls the “aftermath of Luke Skywalker and his sister Princess Leia” — is the final installment of a nine-part movie series that began 42 years ago.

“There are some people who, in this age of outrage, need to be vitriolic and hurtful, and that’s not right,” said Abrams, who returns after directing “The Force Awakens.” He co-wrote and directed “Rise of Skywalker” after handing over the reins to Rian Johnson for 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” a blockbuster that received mostly positive reviews from movie critics but remains divisive among hardcore fans.

Johnson claims Brexit mandate with new majority

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged Friday to heal Britain’s divisions over Brexit after his gamble on early elections rewarded him with a commanding majority in Parliament and a new mandate to take his country out of the European Union at the end of January.

Johnson’s promise to “get Brexit done” and widespread unease with the leadership style and socialist policies of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn combined to give the ruling Conservative Party 365 seats in the House of Commons, its best performance since party icon Margaret Thatcher’s last victory in 1987. Corbyn’s Labour Party slumped to 203 seats, 59 fewer than it won two years ago, vote totals showed Friday.

From wire sources

The results offer Johnson fresh momentum to push his EU withdrawal agreement through Parliament. Since taking office in July, he had led a minority government. After the House of Commons stalled his Brexit deal at the end of October, he called the election two years ahead of schedule in hopes of winning a clear majority.

“I will put an end to all that nonsense, and we will get Brexit done on time by the January 31 – no ifs, no buts, no maybes,” he said as supporters cheered.

Johnson also offered an olive branch to Britons who want to remain in the EU, saying he will respect their “warm feelings” and build a “new partnership” with the bloc as “friends and sovereign equals.”

How US-China trade deal achieved a little but left out a lot

WASHINGTON — The limited trade deal that the Trump administration and Beijing announced Friday means Americans will avoid a holiday tax increase on imported toys, clothing and smartphones. U.S. farmers can sell more soybeans and pork to China. And American companies should face less pressure to hand over trade secrets to Beijing.

But what the administration gained from the so-called Phase 1 deal that President Donald Trump celebrated falls well short of the demands the president issued when he launched a trade war against Beijing 17 months ago. Further rounds of negotiations will be required to achieve a more significant agreement.

Still, Friday’s preliminary agreement managed to at least defuse a conflict that had put investors on edge and slowed economic growth entering an election year in which Trump plans to campaign, at least in part, on America’s prosperity.

Under the agreement, the Trump administration dropped its plan to impose new tariffs on $160 billion of Chinese imports beginning Sunday — a tax that would have likely led to higher prices on many consumer goods. The administration also agreed to reduce its existing import taxes on about $112 billion in Chinese goods from 15% to 7.5%.

In return, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters, China agreed to buy $40 billion a year in U.S. farm products over two years, even though U.S. agricultural exports to China have never topped $26 billion a year. In addition, Beijing committed to ending a long-standing practice of pressuring companies to hand over their technology as a condition of gaining access to the Chinese market.

State mounts largest crackdown on illegal pot shops in LA

LOS ANGELES — California regulators mounted dozens of raids against illegal marijuana retailers in Los Angeles this week, the largest crackdown to date against the city’s thriving black market, officials announced Friday.

The state has been under pressure from California’s legal industry to do more to stop the underground pot economy, which in Los Angeles and other cities often operates in plain sight. According to some estimates, roughly 75% of sales in the state remain under the table, snatching profits from legal storefronts.

Investigators from the state Bureau of Cannabis Control and the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Cannabis Enforcement Unit served search warrants at 24 unlicensed shops from Tuesday through Thursday. They seized $8.8 million in cannabis products, confiscated nearly 10,000 illegal vape pens and $129,000 in cash, the bureau said.

The crackdown was praised by the United Cannabis Business Association, a Los Angeles-based industry group that has been urging the state to do more to shut down rogue operators.

“For a long time we have been playing a game of whack-a-mole, targeting and shutting down a small handful of illegal shops at a time, only to have them reopen days later in the same location or down the street,” said Jerred Kiloh, who heads the group.

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Cries of abuse in Catholic Church start to be heard in Japan

TOKYO — During Pope Francis’ recent visit to Japan, Harumi Suzuki stood where his motorcade passed by holding a sign that read: “I am a survivor.”

Katsumi Takenaka stood at another spot, on another day, holding up his banner that read, “Catholic child sexual abuse in Japan, too.”

The two are among a handful of people who have gone public as survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Japan, where values of conformity and harmony have resulted in a strong code of silence.

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But as in other parts of the world, from Pennsylvania to Chile, Takenaka and Suzuki are starting to feel less alone as other victims have come forward despite the ostracization they and their family members often face for speaking out.

Their public denunciation is all the more remarkable, given Catholics make up less than 0.5% of Japan’s population. To date, the global abuse scandal has concentrated on heavily Catholic countries, such as Ireland, the U.S. and now, many countries in Latin America.

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