Briefs: Chief Justice John Roberts as the impeachment umpire

Associated Press

Sen. Mitch McConnell: 'We haven't ruled out witnesses'

Chief Justice presided over Bill Clinton's impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (AP) — America's last prolonged look at Chief Justice John Roberts came 14 years ago, when he told senators during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing that judges should be like baseball umpires, impartially calling balls and strikes.

"Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire," Roberts said.

His hair grayer, the 64-year-old Roberts will return to the public eye as he makes the short trip from the Supreme Court to the Senate to preside over President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. He will be in the national spotlight, but will strive to be like that umpire — doing his best to avoid the partisan mire.

"He's going to look the part, he's going to play the part and he's the last person who wants the part," said Carter Phillips, who has argued 88 Supreme Court cases, 43 of them in front of Roberts.

He has a ready model he can follow: Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who never became the center of attention when he presided over President Bill Clinton's Senate trial.

McConnell not ruling out witnesses in impeachment trial

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that he was not ruling out calling witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial — but indicated he was in no hurry to seek new testimony either — as lawmakers remain at an impasse over the form of the trial by the GOP-controlled Senate.

The House voted Wednesday to impeach Trump, who became only the third president in U.S. history to be formally charged with "high crimes and misdemeanors." But the Senate trial may be held up until lawmakers can agree on how to proceed. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is demanding witnesses who refused to appear during House committee hearings, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and former national security adviser John Bolton.

McConnell, who has all-but-promised a swift acquittal of the president, has resisted making any guarantees, and has cautioned Trump against seeking the testimony of witnesses he desires for fear of elongating the trial. Instead, he appears to have secured Republican support for his plans to impose a framework drawn from the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. 

"We haven't ruled out witnesses," McConnell said Monday in an interview with "Fox and Friends." "We've said let's handle this case just like we did with President Clinton. Fair is fair."

That trial featured a 100-0 vote on arrangements that established two weeks of presentations and argument before a partisan tally in which Republicans, who held the majority, called a limited number of witnesses. But Democrats now would need Republican votes to secure witness testimony — and Republicans believe they have the votes to eventually block those requests. 

Boeing ousts its CEO after two deadly 737 Max crashes

NEW YORK (AP) — Boeing ousted CEO Dennis Muilenburg on Monday with no end in sight to the crisis that has engulfed the vaunted American aircraft manufacturer since the crash of two of its 737 Max airliners.

The Boeing board had supported Muilenburg for months despite calls for his resignation from lawmakers and relatives of the passengers killed. When it became clear in recent days that federal regulators would not certify the grounded Max to fly again by year's end as Muilenburg had hoped, the board finally abandoned him.

Board members decided to remove him on a conference call Sunday, according to a person familiar with the events who discussed the private deliberations on condition of anonymity.

The move came after another bad week for Boeing. The aerospace giant had announced it would temporarily halt production of the Max because it wasn't clear when it could deliver the planes. And Boeing's new Starliner space capsule went off course during a bungled, unmanned test flight to the International Space Station.

The company said Muilenburg departed immediately and its current chairman, David Calhoun, will take over as CEO on Jan. 13. 

US awards immigration detention contracts in California

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration awarded billions of dollars in contracts for private companies to operate immigration detention centers in California —- less than two weeks before a new state law takes effect to prohibit them.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in October to ban contracts for for-profit prisons starting Jan. 1. Supporters hoped the law would force U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to look elsewhere after current contracts expire.

A federal website posted long-term awards on Friday worth a combined $6.8 billion for detention facilities in San Diego, Calexico, Adelanto and Bakersfield. The sites will house about 4,000 detainees, with capacity to expand in the future.

ICE said the contracts were not subject to the new state law, deflecting criticism that the timing was meant to circumvent it. 

Paige Hughes, an agency spokeswoman, said ICE believed the new contracts will limit transfers of detainees outside California, where they would be farther from family, friends and legal representatives.

New construction seen at missile-related site in North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A new satellite image of a factory where North Korea makes military equipment used to launch long-range missiles shows the construction of a new structure.

The release of several images from Planet Labs comes amid concern that North Korea could launch a rocket or missile as it seeks concessions in stalled nuclear negotiations with the United States.

North Korea has warned that what "Christmas gift" it gives the U.S. depends on what action Washington takes.

One of the satellite images taken on Dec. 19 shows the completion of a new structure at the March 16 Factory near Pyongyang, where North Korea is believed to be developing and manufacturing vehicles used as mobile launchers for long-range ballistic missiles.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute, said in an email that the construction seemed to be an expansion of the factory, which would be "big news." 

Queen Elizabeth II to admit 'bumpy' year in Christmas speech

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II plans to acknowledge that both Britain and her family have endured a difficult year by saying during her Christmas message that it has been a "bumpy" time. 

The pre-recorded message will be broadcast in Britain and the Commonwealth nations on Christmas Day. It was recorded before the queen's husband, Prince Philip, was hospitalized in London as a precautionary measure.

Excerpts released by Buckingham Palace before the speech show the queen admits difficulties during the course of the year.

Talking about the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, Elizabeth says: "The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference."

She is thought to be referring both to Britain's tortuous path out of the European Union, which led to a lengthy political stalemate broken only earlier this month when voters gave the pro-Brexit Conservative Party a comfortable majority in Parliament, and to the royal family's setbacks.

Prince Philip leaves hospital, joins queen for Christmas

LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip was released from a London hospital Tuesday after being treated for what Buckingham Palace called a "pre-existing condition."

Buckingham Palace said the 98-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II left to join the rest of Britain's royal family for Christmas at the queen's rural retreat in Sandringham in eastern England. 

Live footage showed the prince leaving the hospital on foot and entering a vehicle unaided. He was dressed elegantly with his tie in a Windsor knot and waved to a nurse as he departed the hospital. 

In a statement, the Palace said the prince left hospital after being discharged by his doctor and "is now back at Sandringham." 

Philip had been in the private King Edward VII hospital since Friday. His admittance was said to have been a "precautionary measure." 

Saudis sentence 5 people to death for Khashoggi's killing

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death Monday for the killing of Washington Post columnist and royal family critic Jamal Khashoggi, whose grisly slaying in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul drew international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Three other people were found guilty by Riyadh's criminal court of covering up the crime and were sentenced to a combined 24 years in prison, according to a statement read by the Saudi attorney general's office on state TV. 

In all, 11 people were put on trial in Saudi Arabia over the killing. The names of those found guilty were not disclosed by the government. Executions in the kingdom are carried out by beheading, sometimes in public. All the verdicts can be appealed. 

A small number of diplomats, including from Turkey, as well as members of Khashoggi's family were allowed to attend the nine court sessions, though independent media were barred. 

The trial concluded the killing was not premeditated, according to Shaalan al-Shaalan, a spokesperson from the attorney general's office. That finding is in line with the Saudi government's official explanation, which has been called into question by evidence that a hit team of Saudi agents with tools was sent to dispatch Khashoggi.

It takes a tech village to track Santa on Christmas Eve

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AP) — Depending on which country they're from, the kids may ask about Father Christmas, Papa Noel, Saint Nick or Santa Claus.

But they all want to know one thing: where in the world the jolly old man and his sleigh full of gifts are on Christmas Eve.

For the 64th time, a wildly popular program run by the U.S. and Canadian militaries is providing real-time updates on Santa's progress to millions around the globe.

And this year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command is offering even more high-tech ways for children and parents to follow along.

Operation NORAD Tracks Santa has evolved from a misdirected telephone call in 1955, to a trailer parked outside the command's former lair deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, to NORAD 's modern-day headquarters at Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base.

Going west, migrants wander through Bosnia in Balkan winter

BIHAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia's notorious Vucjak camp may have closed down after an international outcry, but the plight of migrants stranded in the country while trying to reach Western Europe is far from over. 

The tent camp near the northwestern town of Bihac stood on a former landfill and near a mine field, becoming a symbol of migrant suffering as they travel through the Balkans. The camp was flattened earlier this month, its residents transferred to other parts of Bosnia. Yet they are making their way back to Bihac because it is closest the place they want to get to — Bosnia's neighbor, European Union member Croatia.

In Bihac, migrants look for abandoned buildings or factories, or stay in the town's migrant center if they are lucky. They camp among bare walls, waiting for a warm meal from aid groups. 

With the winter settling in, migrants want to hurry toward Croatia before the weather gets even worse. But this is not easy — they have to go over a mountain pass and police often turn them back.

They call it the "Game" — a cat-and-mouse chase with Croatia's border patrols over the mountain tracks. Sometimes migrants try several times before they manage to cross, sometimes it takes weeks, even months.

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