Trump talks tougher, now says he warned Putin on meddling
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump spent a second day Wednesday managing the political fallout from his widely criticized meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, shifting stances and mopping up what the White House said were misstatements.
His toughness with the longtime American foe in question, Trump said he told the Russian president face-to-face during Monday’s summit to stay out of America’s elections “and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
That rhetoric marked a turnabout from Trump’s first, upbeat description of his sit-down with Putin. Still, Trump backtracked on whether Russia is currently targeting U.S. elections. When asked the question Wednesday, he answered “no,” a reply that put him sharply at odds with recent public warnings from his own intelligence chief.
Hours later, the White House stepped in to say Trump’s answer wasn’t what it appeared.
The zigzagging laid bare the White House’s search for a path out of trouble that has dogged the administration’s discussions of Russia from the start, but spiraled after Trump’s trip to Helsinki. After days of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, Trump — a politician who celebrates his brash political incorrectness — has appeared more sensitive than usual to outside opprobrium.
White House, State at odds over Putin’s interview proposal
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House and the State Department are at odds over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to allow the U.S. access to Russians accused of election meddling in return for interviews of Americans accused by the Kremlin of unspecified crimes.
Even as the White House said the offer, made by Putin to President Donald Trump at their summit in Helsinki on Monday, was under consideration, the State Department called Russia’s allegations against the Americans “absurd,” suggesting that any questioning of them would not be countenanced by the U.S. The Russian claims against the Americans, including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, relate to allegations of fraud and corruption.
“The overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd: the fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.
McFaul tweeted Wednesday: “I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin. Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”
Nauert noted that a U.S. federal court had already rejected Russia’s charges regarding British businessman and vocal Kremlin critic Bill Browder. She said Russian authorities already know the U.S. position. Browder was a driving force behind a U.S. law targeting Russian officials over human rights abuses.
FBI Director Wray says Russia continues to sow discord in US
ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday that Russia continues to use fake news, propaganda and covert operations to “spin up” Americans on both sides of hot-button issues to sow discord in the United States.
Wray stood behind the intelligence agencies’ assessment that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election, dismissing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that his country was not involved.
“He’s got his view. I can tell you what my view is,” Wray said at the opening event of the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “The intelligence community’s view has not changed. My view has not changed.”
Wray spoke after a day of controversy in Washington over whether President Donald Trump accepts the intelligence agencies’ assessment and whether he believes Moscow is continuing to try to influence American elections or threaten the nation’s infrastructure.
Wray also dismissed Putin’s offer to allow the U.S. access to 12 Russian military intelligence officers who have been indicted on charges of interfering in the election in return for being able to interview Americans the Kremlin has accused of unspecified crimes.
Thai boys recount cave rescue: Voices in dark, then ‘hello’
CHIANG RAI, Thailand (AP) — Trapped in the recesses of a flooded cave, the 12 boys and their soccer coach were trying to dig their way out when they heard voices in the darkness. Their coach quickly told everyone to be quiet.
“We weren’t sure if it was for real,” 14-year-old Adul Samon said. “So we stopped and listened. And it turned out to be true. I was shocked.”
That stunning moment when two British divers found the missing soccer team was recounted by the boys Wednesday at their first news conference since the rescue that riveted the world.
They all looked healthy as they walked out to applause from classmates and reporters in a hall decked out as a miniature soccer field. Dressed in green, white and black uniforms emblazoned with a red wild boar — the nickname of their team — the boys briefly showed off their ball-handling skills before answering questions that were reviewed in advance.
The boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach had come from the hospital where they have been recuperating for more than a week. They hugged their friends before taking seats up front with doctors and members of the Thai navy SEAL unit that rescued them from the Tham Luang cave after more than two weeks inside.
Tale of sex, deception emerges about suspected Russian agent
WASHINGTON (AP) — A 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent was likely in contact with Kremlin operatives while living in the United States, prosecutors said Wednesday, accusing her of using sex and deception to forge influential connections.
The woman, Maria Butina, was photographed by the FBI dining privately with a Russian diplomat suspected of being an intelligence operative in the weeks before the envoy’s departure from the U.S. last March, prosecutors said. She also had contact information for people who investigators believe were employees of Russia’s Federal Security Services, or FSB, the successor intelligence agency to the KGB.
The allegations add to the portrait of a Russian woman who the Justice Department says worked covertly to establish back-channel lines of communication to the Kremlin and infiltrate U.S. political organizations, including the National Rifle Association, and gather intelligence for a senior Russian official to whom she reported.
Prosecutors also alleged she had a personal relationship with an American political operative and offered sex to another person in exchange for a position with a special interest organization.
Court papers do not name the individuals or the special interest group.
Voters won’t decide in November whether to split California
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A measure that would divide California into three parts won’t appear on the November ballot, the state Supreme Court decided Wednesday, marking the latest defeat for a long-shot push to reimagine the nation’s most populous state.
The justices ordered the secretary of state not to put the ballot initiative before voters, saying significant questions have been raised about its validity. The court now will consider a challenge from the Planning and Conservation League, an environmental group that argued splitting up California would drastically change its government structure beyond what can be accomplished through a simple ballot initiative.
“We conclude that the potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election,” the justices wrote in a unanimous ruling.
They said time constraints forced them to rule on the issue immediately.
Venture capitalist Tim Draper, who spent more than $1.7 million on his “Cal 3” initiative, has tried for years to split the state, arguing it has become ungovernable because of its size, wealth disparities and geographic diversity. His last attempt to divide California in six didn’t gather enough signatures to make the ballot in 2016.
Zuckerberg: Holocaust deniers won’t be banned from Facebook
NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says while he finds Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” he doesn’t believe that such content should be banned from Facebook.
Speaking with Recode’s Kara Swisher, Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, said in an interview published Wednesday that he thinks there are things “that different people get wrong.” He added that he doesn’t think they are “intentionally” getting it wrong. At this point, Swisher cut in and said that in the case of Holocaust deniers, it may be intentionally wrong.
The remarks sparked criticism, including from the Anti-Defamation League, which said in a statement that Facebook has a “moral and ethical obligation” not to allow people to disseminate Holocaust denial on its platform.
Zuckerberg said offensive content isn’t necessarily banned unless it is to organize harm or attack someone.
ESPYs host Danica Patrick falls flat in opening monologue
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Danica Patrick’s monologue to open the ESPYs went over like, well, a flat tire at the Indianapolis 500.
The newly retired racecar driver was the first woman to host the annual show honouring the past year’s best athletes and moments on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
Her first joke about Cleveland fell flat. A crack about vertically challenged Astros second baseman Jose Altuve fell, uh, short too, although he managed a slight smile in the audience.
Patrick soldiered on, telling the audience, “We have to mention the elephant in the room. It’s time to talk about the national anthem controversy.”
At that point, a photo of NBA All-Star Game anthem singer Fergie came on screen and Patrick said, “I don’t know what Fergie was thinking either.”
Springsteen surprises audience at Billy Joel concert
NEW YORK (AP) — Bruce Springsteen propped himself on top of Billy Joel’s piano to sing a duet with The Piano Man, who was celebrating a milestone Wednesday night.
Springsteen surprised the audience — who loudly cheered “BRUCE” — at Madison Square Garden when he walked onto the stage. Springsteen rocked his guitar and sang, while Joel worked hard on piano.
Joel’s Wednesday show at MSG marked his 100th at the famed venue. He started performing a monthly residency at the arena in 2014. No artist has performed at the venue more than Joel.
Joel and Springsteen hugged after their two-song performance, and The Boss kissed Joel on his head as he walked offstage.
Dodgers land All-Star shortstop Manny Machado from Orioles
The Los Angeles Dodgers won the Manny Machado sweepstakes, getting the prized All-Star shortstop from the Baltimore Orioles in a trade Wednesday night.
The Orioles received five prospects: outfielder Yusniel Diaz, right-hander Dean Kremer, third baseman Rylan Bannon, righty Zach Pop and third baseman Breyvic Valera.
Machado, a 26-year-old power hitter with extraordinary fielding skills, greatly improves the Dodgers’ chances of reaching the World Series for a second consecutive year. He led Baltimore in batting average (.315), home runs (24) and RBIs (65).
Machado is expected to be introduced in Milwaukee on Friday before the Dodgers open a series against the Brewers.
Machado’s contract expires at the end of the season, and the last-place Orioles decided against negotiating an expensive, multi-year extension because they have too many holes as the team moves into a rebuilding mode.