News briefs: Defending the president

Associated Press

Ambassador's book adds pressure for witnesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators faced mounting pressure Monday to summon John Bolton to testify at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial even as Trump's lawyers mostly brushed past extraordinary new allegations from the former national security adviser and focused instead on corruption in Ukraine and historical arguments for acquittal.

Outside the Senate chamber, Republicans grappled with claims in a forthcoming book from Bolton that Trump had wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden. That assertion could undercut a key defense argument — that Trump never tied the suspension of security aid to political investigations.

The revelation clouded White House hopes for a swift end to the impeachment trial, fueling Democratic demands for witnesses and possibly pushing more Republican lawmakers to agree. It also distracted from hours of arguments from Trump's lawyers, who declared anew that no witness has testified to direct knowledge that Trump's delivery of aid was contingent on investigations into Democrats. Bolton appeared poised to say exactly that if called on by the Senate to appear.

"We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information," Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said. "We do not deal with speculation."

Trump is charged with abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine's leader to help investigate Biden at the same time his administration was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid. A second charge accuses Trump of obstructing Congress in its probe.

Kobe helicopter tried to climb to avoid clouds before crash

CALABASAS, Calif. (AP) — The pilot of the helicopter that crashed near Los Angeles, killing former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others, told air traffic controllers in his last radio message that he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer before plunging more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) into a hillside, an accident investigator said.

Radar indicated the helicopter reached a height of 2,300 feet (701 meters) Sunday morning before descending, and the wreckage was found at 1,085 feet (331 meters), Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board said during a news conference Monday afternoon.

NTSB investigators went to the crash site in Calabasas on Monday to collect evidence.

"The debris field is pretty extensive," Homendy said.

"A piece of the tail is down the hill," she said. "The fuselage is on the other side of that hill. And then the main rotor is about 100 yards (91 meters) beyond that."

Gianna Bryant, 13, was going to carry on a basketball legacy

She had next.

Her name was Gianna Maria Onore Bryant. The world, now and forever, knows her as Gigi. Her dad, Kobe Bryant, called her Mambacita. He was Mamba, of course, and she was going to be basketball's female version of him. She was going to play at Connecticut and head to the WNBA. That was the plan.

Over the years, the world watched her grow from a baby in her father's arms, to a small child trying to hold his Finals MVP trophy, to his companion at WNBA, college and NBA games around the country, listening to her father break down play and watching every detail on the court, just as he always did.

"Gigi was really turning into a special player," said Russ Davis, the women's basketball coach at Vanguard University in Southern California and someone who became close with Bryant in recent years. "It's hard to predict her future, but with the way she was improving and the way she understood the game, she was going to have a bright one."

Gigi was 13. She was one of the nine people, her father also among them, on the helicopter that crashed Sunday morning into a hillside in Calabasas, California, as the group made its way to a basketball tournament where she was supposed to be playing. The helicopter burst into flames. All nine — including two of her teammates — died, officials said.

Trial highlights: Bolton takes center stage from afar

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former national security adviser John Bolton took center stage at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial even though he was nowhere near the Capitol.

Bolton's claims in a forthcoming book — that Trump told him he wanted to withhold security aid from Ukraine until it launched investigations into political rival Joe Biden — ramped up pressure on GOP senators to call him to testify.

Trump's legal team has repeatedly insisted there was no linkage, and Trump tweeted on Monday that he never told Bolton such a thing.

Biden's son Hunter also came under scrutiny as Trump's lawyers focused on his high-paying job with a Ukrainian energy company when his father was vice president.

Highlights of Monday's session and what's ahead as senators conduct just the third impeachment trial of a president.

China counts 106 virus deaths as US, others move to evacuate

BEIJING (AP) — Deaths from a new viral disease that is causing mounting global concern rose by 25 to at least 106 in China on Tuesday as the United States and other governments prepared to fly their citizens out of the locked-down city at center of the outbreak.

The total includes the first death in Beijing, the Chinese capital, and 24 more fatalities in Hubei province, where the first illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus occurred in December.

Asian stock markets tumbled for a second day, dragged down by worries about the virus's global economic impact.

The U.S. Consulate in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where authorities cut off most access Jan. 22 in an effort to contain the disease, was preparing to fly its diplomats and some other Americans out of the city. Japan, France, Mongolia and other governments also planned evacuations. 

China's increasingly drastic containment efforts began with the suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. That lockdown has expanded to 17 cities with more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed. 

Trump hosts Israeli leaders who call his peace plan historic

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump hosted Israel's prime minister and his chief rival Monday at the White House on the eve of unveiling a long-awaited Mideast peace plan, expressing confidence that despite adamant Palestinian rejection they would ultimately go along with a blueprint he said was "very good for them."

The Trump proposal is widely expected to be favorable to Israel, with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz speaking in glowing terms about the president and his initiative. But with the Palestinians steadfastly refusing to even speak to Trump, and urging other Arab nations to boycott Tuesday's event, there is great skepticism over the plan's chances of success.

The meetings come just a month before Netanyahu and Gantz are set to face off in national elections for the third time in less than a year, and both were looking to project leadership in their separate meetings with the president.

Trump called his proposal a great "opportunity" but wouldn't discuss further details, noting that its release has long been delayed because of the uncertain political situation in Israel. He refused to answer questions over whether it would include Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, signaling that it was premature for Palestinians to rule it out.

"I think in the end they're going to want it. It's very good for them," he said alongside Netanyahu. "We're going to show a plan. It's been worked on by everybody, and we'll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does, that would be great, and if it doesn't, we can live with it, too. But I think it might have a chance."

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'I'm being raped': Weinstein accuser details alleged assault

NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein accuser Mimi Haleyi testified Monday that weeks after arriving in New York to work for one of his shows, she found herself fighting in vain as the once-revered showbiz honcho pushed her onto a bed and sexually assaulted her, undeterred by her kicks and pleas of, "no, please don't do this, I don't want it."

Haleyi was the first to testify of the two women whose allegations led to Weinstein's New York City criminal case. Sobbing at times, she described how the film producer turned a friendly meeting at his Manhattan apartment in July 2006 into a terrifying ordeal that had her contemplating escape plans as he forcibly performed oral sex on her.

"I was kicking, I was pushing, I was trying to get away from his grip," the former "Project Runway" production assistant testified. "He held me down and kept pushing me down to the bed. Every time I tried to get up he pushed me down."

Haleyi, now 42, told jurors she thought, "I'm being raped," and wondered "If I scream rape, will someone hear me?" She said she told Weinstein she was menstruating in an attempt to deter him, but that didn't stop him.

"I checked out and decided to endure it," she said. "That was the safest thing I could do."

Auschwitz survivors warn of rising anti-Semitism 75 years on

OSWIECIM, Poland (AP) — Survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp prayed and wept as they marked the 75th anniversary of its liberation, returning Monday to the place where they lost entire families and warning about the ominous growth of anti-Semitism and hatred in the world.

"We have with us the last living survivors, the last among those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes," Polish President Andrzej Duda told those at the commemoration, which included the German president as well as Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders.

"The magnitude of the crime perpetrated in this place is terrifying, but we must not look away from it and we must never forget it," Duda said. 

About 200 camp survivors attended, many of them elderly Jews and non-Jews who traveled from Israel, the United States, Australia, Peru, Russia, Slovenia and elsewhere. Many lost parents and grandparents in Auschwitz or other Nazi death camps during World War II, but were joined by children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

They gathered under an enormous, heated tent straddling the train tracks that had transported people to Birkenau, the part of the vast complex where most of the murdered Jews were killed in gas chambers and then cremated. Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet army on Jan. 27, 1945.

NY, feds sue 'Pharma Bro' for 'scheme' to keep drug price up

NEW YORK (AP) — State and federal authorities sued imprisoned entrepreneur Martin Shkreli on Monday over tactics that shielded a profitable drug from competition after a price hike made the so-called "Pharma Bro" infamous.

Shkreli was scorned as the bad-boy face of pharmaceuticals profiteering after he engineered a roughly 4,000% increase in the price of a decades-old medication for a sometimes life-threatening parasitic infection.

Monday's lawsuit, filed by the New York attorney general's office and the Federal Trade Commission, centers on subsequent actions by Shkreli and his former company.

They "held this critical drug hostage from patients and competitors as they illegally sought to maintain their monopoly," Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. 

At least four potential competitors have so far been kept from making cheaper generic versions of the medication, the suit says. 

Nicki Minaj's brother sentenced to 25 years to life

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — The brother of rapper Nicki Minaj was sentenced Monday to 25 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl at his Long Island home.

A judge convicted Jelani Maraj of predatory sexual assault and child endangerment in November 2017. The victim testified during the trial that Maraj repeatedly raped her in 2015 while her mother was at work.

Prosecutors have said DNA evidence recovered from the girl's pajama pants was linked to Maraj. The girl's younger brother also testified at the trial that he witnessed one assault.

Maraj's attorney appealed conviction in 2018, claiming that there was jury misconduct. The judge ruled in October that the defense did not meet the necessary burden of proof.

Maraj said in court Monday that he had an alcohol problem and asked for a "second chance." One of his attorneys said he suffered from health issues including hypertension, gout and anemia and requested the minimum sentence of 10 years to life.

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