News briefs: Lakers tribute to Kobe Bryant, lose to Blazers

Associated Press

GOP senators seek to acquit Trump without condoning conduct

WASHINGTON (AP) — There is no question, Sen. Lamar Alexander said, that President Donald Trump actions were "inappropriate" when he asked Ukraine's leader to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.

But not bad enough, he said, to warrant Trump's removal from office, or even to hear from witnesses or other evidence.

That distinction has been embraced by other Republicans as the trial moves toward a near-certain acquittal of the president in the coming days. It's also in line with arguments from Trump's legal team, which after initially asserting that the president did "absolutely nothing wrong" moved toward insisting that Trump had done nothing impeachable — and attacked the trial as a partisan exercise. 

The evolving arguments have allowed Republicans to cite political and historical grounds for acquitting Trump without feeling compelled to condone his behavior, a split-the-difference judgment that avoids a clean break with the president as he stands for reelection.

Alexander, who is retiring from office at the end of the year, was the most vocal, saying he did not need to hear more evidence to conclude that Trump was wrong to ask a foreign leader to investigate a rival.

Trump acquittal now likely Wednesday; Senate nixes witnesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon witnesses for President Donald Trump's impeachment trial late Friday, all but ensuring Trump's acquittal in just the third trial to threaten a president's removal in U.S. history. But senators pushed off final voting on his fate to next Wednesday.

The delay in timing showed the weight of a historic vote bearing down on senators, despite prodding by the president eager to have it all behind him in an election year and ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night. 

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke by phone to lock in the schedule during a tense night at the Capitol as rushed negotiations proceeded on and off the Senate floor. The trial came to a standstill for about an hour. A person unauthorized to discuss the call was granted anonymity to describe it.

The president wanted to arrive for his speech at the Capitol with acquittal secured, but that will not happen. Instead, the trial will resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting is planned for 4 p.m. Wednesday, the day after Trump's speech.

Trump's acquittal is all but certain in the Senate, where his GOP allies hold the majority and there's nowhere near the two-thirds needed for conviction and removal. 

WHO says prepare for local outbreaks; China slams US control

BEIJING (AP) — China's death toll from a new virus rose to 259 on Saturday and a World Health Organization official said other governments need to prepare for"domestic outbreak control" if the disease spreads in their countries. 

Beijing criticized Washington's order barring entry to most foreigners who visited China in the past two weeks. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced similar measures on Saturday, following Japan and Singapore. 

Meanwhile, South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of Wuhan, the city at the center of an area where some 50 million people are prevented from leaving in a sweeping anti-virus effort. The evacuees went into a two-week quarantine. Indonesia also sent a plane. 

The number of confirmed cases in China rose to 11,791, surpassing the number in the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The virus's rapid spread in two months prompted the World Health Organization on Thursday to declare it a global emergency. 

2020 candidates brace for frenzied, final weekend in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential candidates kicked off a final, frenetic weekend of campaigning ahead of the Iowa caucuses, which will begin the battle to take on President Donald Trump in November. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, returned to the campaign trail a day after knocking each other and progressive rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

Sanders, along with Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet, who were stuck in Washington for Trump's impeachment trial, can finally get back to wooing voters after the Senate pushed final voting on the president's fate until Wednesday. 

Warren, a Massachusetts senator, missed her scheduled events but flew to Iowa late Friday night, after impeachment wrapped up for the week, and headed straight to a packed Des Moines brewery to briefly address a cheering crowd before lining up to take "selfies." That came hours after her husband, Bruce Mann, spoke to about 700 supporters in her stead and invited anyone interested to cross the street and have a late-night beer with her. 

Warren also began airing television and online ads arguing she's the most electable candidate in a crowded primary field — capable of uniting the party and defeating Trump while silencing doubts that sexism could prevent a woman from winning the White House.

Jury foreman regrets convicting teen in girl's 2002 death

NEW YORK (AP) — Citing a recent Associated Press investigation, the foreman of the jury that sent a Minnesota teen away for life in the 2002 death of an 11-year-old girl said Friday he regrets voting to convict.

"I do feel badly," jury foreman Joe McLean told the AP. "I feel, for lack of a better word, that we were misled."

"Maybe we should have taken more time," he added. "Maybe we should have said we couldn't decide."

No gun, fingerprints or DNA were ever recovered, and the 2003 trial of Myon Burrell centered on the testimony of one teen rival who offered conflicting stories when identifying the triggerman, who was standing 120 feet away, mostly behind a wall.

McLean said he and other jurors did the best they could with the evidence presented and were unaware of information turned up in the AP review of the case -- in part because his co-defendants were not allowed to take the stand. Both have since said Burrell was not even on the scene. One of them, Ike Tyson, admits to being the shooter.

Now for the hard part: EU-UK trade talks to be complicated

LONDON (AP) — If you thought the drawn-out battle over the U.K.'s departure from the European Union was painful, wait until you see what comes next.

While Britain formally left the EU at 11 p.m. local time Friday, the hard work of building a new economic relationship between the bloc and its ex-member has just begun. There are difficult negotiations ahead as the U.K. goes its own way while trying to preserve links with its biggest trading partner, covering everything from tariffs and product standards to British industry's ability to recruit foreign workers and the EU's access to U.K. fishing grounds.

"There's a massive agenda to be agreed: trade in goods, trade in services, data protection, security cooperation, aviation, road haulage, fishing, you know the list is endless,'' said Jill Rutter, a senior research fellow at U.K. in a Changing Europe, a think tank that studies Britain's relations with the now 27-nation bloc. "It is unprecedented.''

For now, little has changed. The two sides agreed on a transition period that keeps current rules and regulations in effect until Dec. 31. But that gives the U.K. government just 11 months to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal that could decide the prospects of British businesses for decades to come. The EU accounted for 54% of Britain's imports and 43% of its exports in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Industry groups are already lining up to protect their interests.

Trump State of the Union won't be 1st delivered amid turmoil

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two decades ago, President Bill Clinton addressed a nation transfixed by impeachment. He didn't use the I-word once in a State of the Union address that ran on for 78 minutes.

Now, President Donald Trump prepares to address the nation under similar circumstances, with the added pressure of a looming presidential election thrown into the mix. And no one expects him to follow the Clinton model by ignoring the elephant in the room — especially since he now appears likely to be acquitted the day after the speech.

Trump is hardly the first president to deliver a State of the Union address in a time of turmoil. Abraham Lincoln delivered a written report during the Civil War, Richard Nixon spoke while embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Gerald Ford declared "the state of the union is not good." But Clinton's 1999 speech offers the most obvious parallels.

A Republican-controlled House impeached Clinton in December 1998 on grounds that he had lied to a federal grand jury and obstructed justice about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. 

Just hours before Clinton delivered his State of the Union address, White House lawyers opened their defense of the president in his Senate trial. They argued he was innocent of the charges and "must not be removed from office."

Alexa, read me a story: Audio content for kids on the rise

NEW YORK (AP) — Melanie Musson in Belgrade, Montana, does a lot of driving with her four girls. Juggling a broad age range, 1 to 9, she's forever searching for ways to keep them all entertained without relying entirely on video.

While she still adores paper and tablet books for her kids, Musson said: "I think when they hear without seeing, they have to make up visuals in their heads. That's so good. They have to be engaged and get more out of it." 

There are plenty of quality audiobooks, podcasts and music for the young, she noted, but weeding through thousands of selections and jumping from platform to platform is a challenge since audio content has exploded over the last few years. 

Dad blogger Balint Horvath in Zurich agreed after trying to make sense of kid options for his 14-month-old daughter.

"I couldn't find any resource that would organize podcasts according to different criteria. Information without proper searchability is like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Horvath, who works as a productivity coach for research and development teams.

Author Mary Higgins Clark, 'Queen of Suspense,' dead at 92

NEW YORK (AP) — Mary Higgins Clark, the tireless and long-reigning "Queen of Suspense" whose tales of women beating the odds made her one of the world's most popular writers, died Friday at age 92.

Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, announced that she died of natural causes in Naples, Florida. 

"Nobody ever bonded more completely with her readers than Mary did," her longtime editor Michael Korda said in statement. "She understood them as if they were members of her own family. She was always absolutely sure of what they wanted to read — and, perhaps more important, what they didn't want to read — and yet she managed to surprise them with every book."

Widowed in her late 30s with five children, she became a perennial bestseller over the second half of her life, writing or co-writing "A Stranger Is Watching," "Daddy's Little Girl" and more than 50 other favorites. Sales topped 100 million copies and honors came from all over, including a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from France or a Grand Master statuette back home from the Mystery Writers of America. Many of her books, like "A Stranger is Watching" and "Lucky Day," were adapted for movies and television. She also collaborated on several novels with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark.

Mary Higgins Clark specialized in women triumphing over danger, such as the besieged young prosecutor in "Just Take My Heart" or the mother of two and art gallery worker whose second husband is a madman in "A Cry in the Night." Clark's goal as an author was simple, if rarely easy: Keep the readers reading.

Lakers return after Bryant's death, lose 127-119 to Blazers

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant's resonant voice echoed through the darkened Staples Center while images from his life and career flickered on the scoreboard above.

LeBron James' heartfelt pregame speech honoring his friend then left Lakers fans and players alike cheering through tears.

The Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers somehow had to play a basketball game after a wrenching pregame ceremony honoring Bryant and the other eight victims of the helicopter crash just five days earlier.

And Damian Lillard gave a performance that nudged aside the basketball world's collective heartbreak for just a moment.

Lillard scored 48 points and the Trail Blazers beat Los Angeles 127-119 on Friday night in the Lakers' first game since Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash.

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