News briefs: Intelligence reports Russia backs Trump's reelection

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election campaign to help President Donald Trump get reelected, three officials familiar with the closed-door briefing said Thursday. 

The warning raises questions about the integrity of the presidential campaign and whether Trump's administration is taking the proper steps to combat the kind of interference that the U.S. saw in 2016. 

The officials asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. They said the briefing last week focused on Russia's efforts to influence the 2020 election and sow discord in the American electorate. 

The warning was first reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post. A senior administration official said the news infuriated Trump, who complained that Democrats would use the information against him. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has dismissed the intelligence community's assessment of Russia's 2016 election interference as a conspiracy to undermine his victory.The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting.

One day after the Feb. 13 briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Trump berated the then-director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and he announced this week that Maguire would be replaced by Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist. 

Virus cases balloon in S. Korea as outbreak shifts, spreads

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Schools were shuttered, churches told worshipers to stay away and some mass gatherings were banned as cases of a new virus swelled Friday in South Korea, the newest front in a widening global outbreak.

The country said a total of 204 people were infected with the virus, quadruple the number it had two days earlier, as a crisis centered in China has begun strongly reverberating elsewhere.

The multiplying caseload in South Korea showed the ease with which the illness can spread. Though initial infections were linked to China, new ones have not involved international travel.

"We have entered an emergency phase," Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said in televised comments at the start of a government meeting on the health emergency. "Our efforts until now had been focused on blocking the illness from entering the country. But we will now shift the focus on preventing the illness from spreading further in local communities."

Daegu, a southeastern city of 2.5 million that is the country's fourth largest, emerged as the focus of government efforts to contain the disease known as COVID-19, and Chung promised support to ease a shortage in hospital beds, medical personnel and equipment. Mayor Kwon Young-jin of Daegu has urged residents to stay inside, even wearing masks at home, to stem further infection. 

Stress, rumors, even violence: Virus fear goes viral

TOKYO (AP) — You might have heard that the fear of a new virus from China is spreading faster than the actual virus. 

From earnest officials trying to calm a building panic. From your spouse. From the know-it-all who rattles off the many much more likely ways you're going to die: smoking, car accidents, the flu. 

None of it seems to matter. 

As the number of casesrises — more than 76,000 and counting — fear is advancing like a tsunami. And not just in the areas surrounding the Chinese city of Wuhan, the site of the vast majority of coronavirus infections.

Subway cars in Tokyo and Seoul look more like hospital wards, with armies of masked commuters shooting dirty looks at the slightest cough or sneeze. A restaurant owner in a South Korean Chinatown says visitors have dropped by 90%.

Germany to raise police presence after racist shooting

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's top security official said Friday that authorities will step up the police presence throughout the country and keep a closer watch on mosques and other sites after the racially motivated shootings that killed nine people. 

A 43-year-old German man fatally shot the victims of immigrant backgrounds in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau on Wednesday night before killing his mother and himself. The man, identified as Tobias Rathjen, left a number of rambling texts and videos espousing racist views and claiming to have been under surveillance since birth.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said state-level security officials and security agencies he consulted Thursday agreed to increase the law enforcement presence around the country. Seehofer said there would be more surveillance at "sensitive sites," including mosques, and a high police presence at railway stations, airports and borders.

The attack came amid mounting concern about far-right extremism reflected in earlier attacks and the rise of the anti-migrant party Alternative for Germany, or AfD.

Thousands of people gathered in cities across Germany on Thursday evening to hold vigils for the shooting victims as calls grew for authorities to crack down on far-right extremism.

Iran votes in parliament elections that favor conservatives

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians were voting for a new parliament Friday, with turnout seen as a key measure of support for Iran's leadership as sanctions weigh on the economy and isolate the country diplomatically.

The disqualification of more than 7,000 potential candidates, most of them reformists and moderates, raised the possibility of lower-than-usual turnout.

Iran's leadership and state media urged voter participation, with some framing it as a religious duty. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast his ballot at a mosque near his Tehran office shortly after polls opened at 8 a.m. and urged Iranians to the polls.

"Anyone who cares about Iran's national interests should participate in the election," he said. Earlier in the week, Khamenei said high voter turnout will thwart "plots and plans" by Americans and supporters of Israel against Iran.

"Enemies want to see what the results of the U.S. maximum pressure are," he said, referring to U.S. sanctions and pressure from Washington that have strangled Iran's ability to sell its oil abroad, forcing its economy into recession. 

Bloomberg struggles to respond to politics of #MeToo

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Bloomberg's name last appeared on a ballot a decade before #MeToo transformed cultural mores surrounding sexual harassment and the treatment of women. As he campaigns for the presidency, the 78-year-old billionaire is struggling to adjust. 

The former New York City mayor was caught flat-footed during much of Wednesday night's debate when rival Elizabeth Warren blasted his company's use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment. She sought to portray such agreements as endemic of a broader culture of sexism at the company, Bloomberg LP, when he was CEO.

Bloomberg's response was dismissive. He said those who alleged misconduct "didn't like a joke I told" and argued that non-disclosure agreements were "consensual" deals supported by the women involved. 

The response struck some women as out of touch with how the #MeToo movement has reshaped the conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace — and the use of non-disclosure agreements in particular. Employment lawyer Debra Katz, who represented accuser Christine Blasey Ford in her Senate testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, said Bloomberg's comments "really missed the mark."

"I think Bloomberg's comments were tone-deaf," she said. "In this moment, when we now understand that many NDAs were entered into in coercive manners, it's incumbent upon companies and especially those (led by people) like Bloomberg, who are public figures, to agree to revisit these issues."

Tech boom, suburban growth drive Nevada's Democratic shift

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Twenty years ago, long before Nevada was part of the early presidential selection process, the phone typically rang unanswered at Washoe County Democratic Party headquarters in Reno during mid-term elections.

"We had a small conference room and a tiny reception area, but no staff at all," recalls Chris Wicker, who started a seven-year run as county party chairman in 2002.

"There wasn't any state party focus up here except in presidential years. If you talked to people, they would say `I didn't know there was a Democratic Party in Washoe County," he said.

In the last decade Nevada has undergone a political transformation from Republican outpost to a contested battleground to emerging Democratic hotbed. All but one member of the state's congressional delegation is a Democrat along with all but one of the statewide officer holders. The Democratic swing has been so pronounced that President Donald Trump's campaign views Minnesota — a state that hasn't voted for a GOP presidential candidate since 1972 — as friendlier territory than Nevada. When Democrats caucus here Saturday to pick their preferred nominee for president, there will be 165,000 more total registered Democrats in Nevada than in 2008, the first time the state held its closely watched contest.

Nowhere is the new blue streak clearer than in northern Nevada's Washoe County, a place not long ago considered a GOP stronghold. But as the growing suburbs tucked into the shadow of the Sierra have changed, so has Nevada's political landscape. 

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American women seek more than $66M in damages from US Soccer

Players on the U.S. women's national team are seeking more than $66 million in damages as part of their gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. 

The damages were included in slew of papers filed Thursday night in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ahead of a trial scheduled to start May 5. 

Among the documents filed were the separate collective bargaining agreements of the U.S. men's and women's teams, which had not previously been made public. 

Players on the women's national team sued the federation last March alleging institutionalized gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation between the men's and women's teams.

Each side in the class-action lawsuit asked for a summary judgment in their favor. The estimate of damages, including interest, was provided by Finnie Bevin Cook, an economist from Deiter Consulting Group, which was retained by the suing players.

Trump apparently not a fan of 'Parasite'

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is apparently not a fan of "Parasite," his biggest complaint being that the movie was made in South Korea.

Trump started talking about the Academy Awards during a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday. Parasite was named best picture, becoming the first non-English-language film to get the top honor.

"What the hell was that all about?" Trump said. "We've got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of that, they give them best movie of the year. Was it good? I don't know."

Neon, the U.S. distributor for the subtitled film, shot back on Twitter: "Understandable. He can't read."

The audience booed when Trump mentioned the Academy Awards and then cheered when he said: "Can we get like ''Gone with the Wind' back please? 'Sunset Boulevard,' so many great movies." 

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