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Latest from Jay Black

    WSB Sports Director Jay Black blogging live from the UGA Radio Booth at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. So check back often for news and notes during the National Championship Game.  
  • WSB Sports Director Jay Black blogs live from the Rose Bowl, so check back often with news and notes from the UGA Radio Booth. FIRST QUARTER  
  • TAILGATE SHOW: 1 p.m. on News 95.5 & AM-750 WSB KICKOFF: 5 p.m. LOCATION: Rose Bowl Stadium – Pasadena, Ca.  TV: ESPN  2017 RECORDS & SCHEDULE: Georgia (12-1, 8-1 SEC) | Oklahoma (12-1, 8-1 Big XII) LINE: Georgia by 1.5 SERIES HISTORY: First meeting  PLAYOFF NOTES:  The winner faces the winner of the Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Clemson in the National Championship Game in Atlanta on January 8th. This is Georgia’s first appearance in the college football playoff Oklahoma has been in the playoff once, losing to Clemson in 2015. The Sooners played for the national championship four in the BCS era, going 1-3. OU beat FSU to win its last national title in 2000. The Sooners lost in 2003, 2004 and 2008
  • ATLANTA – Two years ago in a building that’s now in ruins, Kirby Smart was the center of the Bulldog universe. While Alabama was getting to set win another SEC Championship, Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator was set to become the next head coach of the University of Georgia. It was the worst kept secret in the state. All that was left was for the Crimson Tide to finish their season, which they did in spectacular fashion. Less than 24 hours after it was over Kirby was to be anointed king of Bulldog Nation. Two years later, Smart has bestowed upon his subject the riches and glory they were dreaming about. The Georgia Bulldogs are SEC Champions. Two years ago, they were TaxSlayer Bowl Championship. I don’t think the latter trophy sits quite as prominently in the case inside the Larry Munson Trophy Room. “I’m so happy,” said Smart, dripping wet from his Gatorade shower, right after the 28-7 win over Auburn became official. “It’s awesome. For the Dawg Nation. For everybody.” It is the unbridled joy that Georgia Bulldogs fans were hoping for – and some expecting – on December 6 th 2015. But the reality sure does feel better than the dream doesn’t it? Yes it’s certainly not uncommon for a coach to walk out of Atlanta with the SEC hardware in his hand. Obviously UGA fans watched Mark Richt do the same thing in 2002. But the SEC of 15 years ago isn’t quite the same as it is now. Take nothing away from Richt, but 2002 Arkansas isn’t winning the SEC West anymore. And that’s been the problem. While this league has been the most dominant it’s ever been, Georgia was left behind. The teams that won the SEC went on to bigger and better things. Alabama won its national championships. Florida got a couple. LSU got theirs. So did the fighting Cam Newtons. Georgia was left with a few division titles, some bowl swag and a fan base wondering how it got left in the dust. Now the Dawgs have caught up and they’ve done it faster than I thought they would. I was clear that I thought Mark Richt deserved the chance to fix what was broken, but I never had any problem with Kirby Smart coming in if Richt didn’t get that opportunity. I am not surprised that he has pulled this off. I am surprised that he’s done it two years after I watched his Alabama defense leave Florida in the same shape the Georgia Dome is now (by the way, if you want to make yourself sad, walk by the implosion site next week). But after that day, it didn’t take his players long to realize that the right guy was leading them. “Yeah, I remember,” said Nick Chubb, with the 2017 SEC Championship hat on his head. “(I was) happy the first day he came and spoke to us. He was busy with Alabama winning the championship, and he came in, and he just looked exhausted. We’re like, man, what’s this man been up to?” Kirby Smart has been a man in a hurry ever since. “The first time he came up to the meeting and then especially like the first practice we had,” said Roquan Smith, the SEC Championship Game MVP. “Just knowing the way he carried himself, high energy, and just the things he says, and he actually backs it up with his actions. He’s an awesome guy.” Awesome is one way to describe it. It has been asked a lot this week if Kirby thought his team was ahead of schedule. He gets annoyed with questions pretty easy, but he’s really sick of this one. “There is no schedule to winning championships,” Smart kept saying over and over again. “There is no schedule. The only thing is what you have and what you do with what you have.” What Kirby Smart had in year one wasn’t much. You can certainly there was more to that team than 8-5, but it was not worthy of winning much more than the Liberty Bowl. After that regular season was over, it was looking like Georgia was going to lose even more. But it didn’t. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy all chose to stay. They obviously knew that something special could happen here. “This is why we came back,” said Sony Michel during the post game celebration. “To be back with my boys. Words can’t explain how I feel.” It doesn’t take a genius to know if those four players don’t come back, this day doesn’t happen. But they did and it has. Chubb has now rushed for more yards than everybody to ever play SEC football save one guy named Herschel. Michel will likely cross 1,000 yards in the bowl game. That duo would become the first at UGA to do that in one season. Carter, Bellamy and Smith have given UGA a linebacking core no one in the country can rival. But they still had to win. And this team still had so many questions marks when the season began. The offensive line wasn’t good enough. The secondary was thin. What about special teams? Then less than a quarter into the season, a freshman backup became the starting quarterback. Kirby Smart was not a happy guy when he found out he might have to play another season with an 18-year-old pulling the strings. That makes this even all the more impressive doesn’t it. Georgia is SEC Champions, doing it the hard way. “This is incredible,” said Fromm, moments after winning the title over Auburn 28-7. “It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog.” No kidding. For the first time since the National Championship season of 1980, Georgia has beaten every team it’s played. No the Dawgs are not unbeaten, but they got Auburn back in the game that matters most. Now for the first time ever, Georgia is going to the College Football Playoff. It could be a trip back to New Orelans or the Dawgs could be going to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 75 years. But that is for tomorrow. Tonight, the red and black flag flies first on the SEC banner. In two years, Kirby Smart has led his alma mater, the University of Georgia, to the SEC title. UGA wanted to become what Alabama is. A team that cracks your head open on defense and pounds it down your throat on offense. And a team that wears rings when it walks out the door. Check, check and check. Georgia is SEC Champions and not a moment too soon.    
  • WSB Sports Director Jay Black blogs live from the UGA Radio Booth at the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Check back often for news, notes and stats during the game. FIRST QUARTER
  • ATLANTA (AP) -- Kirby Smart took the customary drenching with an ear-to-ear smile. He bounced up and down on the sideline with as much exuberance as his players. And when the coach waved his visor to the red-and-black faithful, he knew better than anyone how much this meant after a long, long wait. Rebounding emphatically from a blowout loss at Auburn just three weeks ago, the No. 6 Bulldogs doled out a whipping of their own on Saturday. And what a time for some revenge, with the Southeastern Conference championship and almost surely a trip to the College Football Playoff going to the winner. Roquan Smith gobbled up two crucial turnovers, freshman Jake Fromm threw a pair of touchdown passes and Georgia cruised to a 28-7 victory over the No. 4 Tigers in an SEC title game that was a total reversal of the last meeting between the teams. 'It's great to bring it back to Georgia,' said Smart, who played defensive back for the Bulldogs in the 1990s. 'The Bulldog Nation is certainly starved.' Smart needed only two seasons to return his alma mater to national prominence, though he certainly learned a thing or two about what it took to get there in his previous job as Nick Saban's defensive coordinator at Alabama. 'It's hard to do,' Smart said. 'This one feels the same way.' Georgia (12-1) claimed its first SEC title since 2005. Of course, there's a bigger prize for the taking. The Bulldogs haven't won a national title since 1980, a drought that has only grown more and more irritating to Georgia fans as schools all around them — Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Clemson, Florida State — finished No. 1 in the years since. 'It's been an incredible journey,' said Fromm, who took over as the starter when Jacob Eason was injured in the season opener and never relinquished the job. 'I never thought it would shake out this way.' Auburn (10-3) didn't see it coming, either. The Tigers rolled into Atlanta as the hottest team in the country after impressive wins over Georgia and then-No. 1 Alabama in its last three games. But the Tigers were stymied by their own mistakes, which also included a blocked field goal, and they had no answer for a Georgia team eager to make up for its embarrassing 40-17 defeat on the Plains . 'They flipped the script on us from the last game,' Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and freshman D'Andre Swift provided a much more effective running game , which opened up things for the young quarterback. Fromm completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown to Isaac Nauta in the second quarter and a 6-yarder to Terry Godwin with just over 13 minutes remaining that essentially sealed Georgia's victory. The Bulldogs, who were No. 6 in the latest CFP standings, should move into the top four after their dominating performance. Auburn was ranked second in the CFP poll, only to have its hopes fade away with a lackluster offensive performance. The Tigers were up held to 259 yards after piling up 488 in their Nov. 11 romp. Swift, another impressive Georgia freshman, finished it off with a 64-yard touchdown run through a huge hole. He dashed to the end zone without being touched, sending the Georgia fans into a raucous celebration that figured to go on well into the night. Swift finished with 88 yards, Chubb had 77 and Michel added 45 before he left the game in the third quarter with what is believed to be a minor knee injury. In the last game against the Tigers, Chubb was held to 27 yards and Michel 21 — their lowest outputs of the season. Auburn started out like it was headed for another big win. Jarrett Stidham capped the opening possession with s 6-yard scoring pass to Nate Craig-Myers, and the Tigers pushed into position to extend their lead early in the second quarter. That's when the game suddenly turned. Stidham dropped back to throw, couldn't find anyone open and didn't sense Davin Bellamy coming up behind him. The Georgialinebacker stripped the ball away and Smith fell on it for the Bulldogs at the 16. Georgia drove the other way for the tying score and tacked on the first of two field goals by Rodrigo Blankenship for a 10-7 lead at the half. Auburn wasted another scoring opportunity in the third quarter when Daniel Carlson's 31-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle . Then, trailing 13-7, another turnover on the first play of the fourth quarter finished off the Tigers. Kerryon Johnson, who played despite an ailing right shoulder, was stripped of the ball and Smith scooped it up again at the Auburn 39 , retaining the spiked, Road Warrior-style vest that Georgia awards to players who take the ball away from the other team, the Dawgs' version of the turnover chain. Smith picked up another prize after the game: the MVP award. THE TAKEAWAY Georgia: Smart did a masterful job of motivating the Bulldogs after they were thoroughly outmuscled in the first meeting. 'They just physically whipped us up front,' Malzahn said. Auburn: After being knocked out of the playoff, the Tigers will turn their attention to Malzahn's future. He's been mentioned as a possible candidate at Arkansas. 'I'm happy at Auburn,' he insisted. 'I think the best is yet to come.' OFFENSIVE WOES Johnson, whose status wasn't known until game time, managed just 44 yards on 13 carries. Clearly, he was bothered by his ailing shoulder, but he wasn't the only one who struggled. Stidham, who played brilliantly during a five-game winning streak, was held to 16 of 32 for 145 yards by a Georgia defense that brought heavy pressure all game. He was sacked three times. UP NEXT Georgia: Will likely head to either the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl to play in a semifinal playoff game. Auburn: Could wind up returning to Atlanta on New Year's Day for the Peach Bowl against Central Florida. ___ Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry ___ For more AP college football coverage: www.collegefootball.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_Top25
  • ATLANTA – The last period of practice every Monday all season long was the Tech period. Kirby Smart was making sure what happened last year would not happen again. “Oh my God,” said linebacker Natrez Patrick, when asked about getting ready for the Jackets triple option. “Just those cut blocks and the way you have to grind through practice it’s a struggle.” This coming from the coach who constantly preaches that every game is the same, every opponent is the same. Don’t look forward and don’t look back. But Georgia Tech is a different beast that requires attention paid to no other opponent on the schedule. You can say what you want to about the diminished state of this rivalry, but Smart seemed hell-bent on making sure that the Governor’s Cup was returned to its rightful place. Remember this is the man who lost the last game he played against Georgia Tech and the first game he coached against the Jackets. It is quite a commitment to only pays off one game a season. “The toughest thing preparing for this is knowing you aren’t going to play anything you called this week next week,” said Smart. “So we missed a whole week of developing for a normal offense. But that’s what you do when you play Tech.” That’s also what you do against the in-state rival who tore up your Hedges last year. The game you must win first above all yes. It wasn’t exactly an all-in move, but I’ve talked to people who have been around this program for many decades who had never heard of it before. Wow did it pay off. Georgia 38, Georgia Tech 7. Yes this is not one of Paul Johnson’s best team, but this is one of Georgia’s best defenses and it had a point to make. After hearing about Tech every Monday all season long, UGA made sure the Jackets and their fans weren’t heard from at all. 226 total yards for GT: Season Low 188 rushing yards: Season Low 4.1 yards per carry: Season Low 36 passing yards: Almost a season low (32 vs Clemson) What more do you need to know? This is the preparation equaling the payoff. “This was the most prepared I’ve seen Georgia to play Tech in the Paul Johnson Era,” said UGA color analyst Eric Zeier during the locker room show. Remember, Georgia has a pretty massive game next week and Thanksgiving week can be a bit distracting. But this was total and complete focus on kicking the state’s little brother while it’s down. Paul Johnson is the coach who always has options. Today there were none. “I love playing against the triple option,” said linebacker extraordinaire Roquan Smith. “I embrace it.” He sure looked like it. The All-American candidate (is there any doubt at this point?) might have played his best game in a season with plenty of nominees. Nine tackles, eight of them solo, and three behind the line of scrimmage (career high). He had two of those TFLs early on, announcing to Tech QB TaQuon Marshall that this would not be a fun day. For those in white, it wasn’t. “It was a total team effort,” said Smart. “A total organizational effort.” That is a nod to UGA’s assistants who went far and wide asking questions about how to shut down Johnson’s game and to Georgia’s scout team who had to mimic an offense that few can replicate. “They did a great job of creating a picture of it and everything seem to flow during the game,” said Patrick. “If it was up to me I’d give the Governor’s Cup to the scout team.” The scout team will surely get to touch that Governor’s Cup at some point, but first it goes to the head man. Kirby Smart has his first trophy that matters (unless you count that dumb helmet from the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game last year and the 2016 Liberty Bowl title). It’s one it sure seemed like he wanted in a bad way. “I’m proud of what they’ve done,” said Smart about this victory and his defense. “Now it’s on to bigger and better things.” Yes it is. The SEC Championship game and a spot in the playoff looms. But if those things don’t turn out the way Bulldog Nation wants, at least two things are for certain. 11-1 is much better than 7-5 and beating Georgia Tech is much more fun than not. Georgia runs this state again. Now it must find out if it’s ready to run the SEC. At least Smart won’t have to waste time this Monday on Georgia Tech.
  • WSB sports director Jay Black is blogging live from the UGA Radio Booth at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Check back often for news, notes and stats throughout the game. FIRST QUARTER
  • ATHENS – It’s a picture that if anyone actually sells it will make a killing. The four seniors who stayed, with the postgame hoopla of a 42-13 blowout swirling around them, pulled over to have someone capture the moment. No one would have blamed Nick Chubb and Sony Michel for taking the NFL’s money. Running backs live short lives. College running back is a pretty tough way to earn a scholarship. Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy had to consider if another uncertain season was the best move. Because guys who hit NFL quarterbacks have nice houses too. This was one of the moments they thought was more valuable than turning pro. Those four players standing together for a photograph that will probably be on their walls forever. They don’t have senior days in the league. Tonight was the proper end for the Class of 2017 that very much deserve it. “What a great honor it is for these guys to go out on top,” said coach Kirby Smart. “To do something no Georgia team has done before. Win the SEC East and go undefeated in the East.” It hardly seems like it was four years ago when this class walked into Sanford Stadium for the first time. We were more focused on guys like Gurley, Mason, Wilson and Herrera. But it was that night we saw a few glimpses. There was Aaron Davis, playing as a walk-on because, well there wasn’t many options, getting an interception in his first game against Clemson. He had another interception in his last game. Michel was the best running back in his class. He was the speedster from Florida with the cool name. The backfield was loaded then. But Michel was actually the Dawgs second leading receiver that night. This night, he scored three times. And of course, Chubb. Remember this. And this. This kid had a point to make and we took notice. Now Nick Chubb is a soon-to-be Georgia legend (or maybe he already is, but there’s games to go. “He’s won the hearts over of a fan base that will never leave,” said coach Kirby Smart. “What he’s given to this place through injury and toughness, it’s just tremendous.” It cannot be overstated for Chubb has accomplished here. There is only one back that’s had more yards and more touchdowns than this kid from Cedartown. He’s the clear second best to Herschel Walker and that’s about all anybody can be. “Man you hope that you have many more as good as (Chubb),” said Smart. “But you know these guys don’t come around very often.” With the talent in this backfield, Chubb hasn’t been the workhorse that he had to be when Todd Gurley got busted four years ago. Remember his first starter? 38 carries. That’s still his career high. A week later it was 30 more against Arkansas. Whatever has been needed, Chubb has delivered. With no flash. No style. Just stud. Yeah, Nick probably could be a Heisman contender but that’s not what’s best for this team. And frankly Chubb running the ball for free 30 times a night is not what’s best for him either. So instead he and his buddy Sony split the load (with another freshman chipping in) and everybody is a star “They complement each other so well and they get along so well,” said Smart. “It will be a long time before you coach a pair like that again.” I don’t know any of these players personally. They are college kids and I’m a guy that sticks a microphone in their face. But I don’t think I’ve ever rooted harder for a player on any team that I have for Nick Chubb. I thought his career was over that afternoon in Knoxville three years ago. It was bad. Last year, I thought the old Chubb was never coming back. Knee injuries are no joke. But there’s never been any complaining. Any showboating. Anything that would take attention away from everyone in Red and Black. Tonight, Chubb got his reward. His best performance of the season (151 rushing yards) and two more TDs. Despite the reduced workload, Chubb is over 1,000 yards for the year. The only season he didn’t do, his knee nearly blew up. There’s only one other UGA back that can say that and he goes by one name. It’s a fitting send off for this entire senior class, but man am I going miss watching No. 27 in red. “What a great honor it is for these guys to go out on top,” said Smart. “It’s their leadership that’s led us to this point.” A lot has happened in this football program since that muggy September night against Clemson four years ago. A couple of head coaches, a bunch of coordinators, some bad losses and lots of doubt. Tonight, there is little doubt that this Georgia team is very, very good and can do some special things. So hopefully for these 21 and 22 year old, there will be more pictures to put on their walls with some nice trophies next to them. But at least tonight, they have the moment they have rightfully earned.  
  • WSB sports director Jay Black is blogging live from the UGA Radio Booth at Sanford Stadium. Check back often for news, stats and notes during the game. FIRST QUARTER
  • Jay Black

    Sports Director

    Jay Black is the sports director of News 95.5 and AM-750 WSB and is the statistican for the Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network. He is also the technical director of Atlanta's Morning News with Scott Slade. Jay is a graduate of the University of Georgia.

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  • When most of northwest Georgia was preparing for severe storms, one city had to contend with the idea that snakes are lurking in sewers — or so they thought.  Calhoun mayor Jimmy Palmer said ­the “City of Calhoun, Gordon County GA” Facebook page — where a post about a snakes originated — is fake.  “My wife saw it and actually called me,” Palmer told Channel 2 Action News.  The post, which has been up since 2:27 p.m. Monday, alleges a Calhoun police officer killed the “copperhead as it came out of the sewer in front of the courthouse” and urges residents to avoid the sewers, which may have more snakes. The post has garnered 19,000 reactions and more than 123,000 shares on Facebook — and it still has some panicked.  RELATED: Satirical City of Atlanta page has people riled up again for post about Alabamians “I’ve had comments like ‘Is it safe to walk down the street’ and those things,” Palmer said. “I don’t think the people who put it on there realize the impact.”  The page, which has more than 12,000 followers, has been so believable other law enforcement agencies have tagged the page or shared its posts, Channel 2 reported. Police say it’s been difficult finding the owner since the page is usually taken down before the person is caught. The page was still open just after 8 p.m. Tuesday.  The city attorney plans to send a notice to Facebook notifying them of the fake page. The notice reads in part: “The objection is that this Facebook page impersonates and misrepresents to be the City’s official page by displaying a version of the official municipal seal and describes itself clearly as a “government organization.” Fake city pages are hardly new.  In October 2016, comedian Ben Palmer created a fake city of Atlanta Facebook page, poking fun at the city’s crime and public safety efforts. The city, however, responded to the Facebook page’s use of the trademarked Atlanta City Seal, which was used without proper use. Creative changes were made to the satirical page’s seal to avoid trademark conflicts.  MORE: Comedian’s fake Facebook page pokes fun at city of Atlanta But while the fake city of Atlanta page is still going strong (it has more than 154,000 followers), some are hoping the fake Calhoun page is removed from Facebook.  Calhoun Resident Matt Wiley told Channel 2 he is happy the city is adamant about the page’s removal: “For the sake of the city, that’s not a bad move just to make sure the people are informed. If you start spreading misinformation, panic might ensue, especially if it’s an alligator or a giant snake.”
  • The tempest over President Donald Trump's congratulatory phone call to Vladimir Putin quickly grew on Wednesday into an uproar over White House leaks, sparking an internal investigation and speculation over who might be the next person Trump forces out of the West Wing. The White House, which has suffered frequent leaks — at times of notable severity — said in a statement it would be a 'fireable offense and likely illegal' to leak Trump's briefing papers to the press, after word emerged that the president had been warned in briefing materials not to congratulate the Russian president on his re-election. Trump did so anyway, and on Wednesday he defended the call, saying George W. Bush did not have the 'smarts' to work with Putin, and that Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton 'didn't have the energy or chemistry' with the Russian leader. Aides had included guidance in Trump's talking points for the call to Putin stating: 'DO NOT CONGRATULATE,' a senior administration official said Wednesday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official had not been authorized to discuss internal matters. The document had been accessible only to a select group of staffers, two officials said, and had been drafted by aides to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. They also said there now is an internal probe of the leak but provided no other details. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. The White House is not formally acknowledging the veracity of the presidential guidance first reported by The Washington Post. Trump defended his decision to congratulate Putin in his Wednesday tweets, saying Obama did the same in 2012. 'Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,' Trump said, adding that Russia can 'help solve problems' from North Korea to 'the coming Arms Race.' The White House statement earlier Wednesday about a possible firing was an unusual threat and an indication of the seriousness with which the administration is treating the latest breach. Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly are both angry over the disclosure, officials said, especially because of the small circle of distribution. Trump has told confidants that be believes the leak was meant to embarrass and undermine him, said White House officials and outside advisers familiar with the president's thinking but not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. The president has suggested it was done by 'the deep state,' they said. That's the catchall phrase for career officials and the Washington establishment who, Trump believes, have tried to protect their own grasp on power by sabotaging him. Trump has insisted that maintaining a strong personal relationship with Putin is the United States' best chance of improving ties with Russia and has signaled to allies that he trusts his own instincts in dealing with the Russian president. Other leaks of classified material — including partial transcripts of Trump's calls with foreign leaders — have not garnered specific warnings of termination or criminal action. It was not clear whether this week's document was classified, but it was included with other classified papers. It also was unclear whether Trump, who prefers oral briefings, had read the talking points prepared by his national security team before Tuesday's call. McMaster briefed the president by phone before the conversation while Trump was in the White House residence. The leak further cast doubt on McMaster's longevity in the top foreign policy post. Trump has been moving toward replacing McMaster on the advice of Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, but has not settled on timing or a successor. Trump's call of congratulations to Putin drew bruising criticism from members of his own party even before the revelation that he was advised against it. 'An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,' said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and has pressed the Trump administration to respond aggressively to Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told CNN, 'I wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal.' The call was the latest indicator of Trump's personal reluctance to publicly criticize Putin. The White House said Trump did not raise Russia's meddling in the U.S. elections or its suspected involvement in the recent poisoning of a former spy in Britain in the call with Putin. Trump did discuss the attack against Sergei Skripal Wednesday in a call with French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump also said he and Putin might meet 'in the not too distant future' to discuss the arms race and other matters. He said that during their hoped-for meeting the two men would likely discuss Ukraine, Syria and North Korea. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump's call, noting Obama's similar call and saying, 'We don't get to dictate how other countries operate.' Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called the leak a 'bigger outrage' than Trump's congratulations for Putin. He said on Twitter that 'this ongoing pattern of duplicity holds potential for serious damage to the nation.' Russia has received global condemnation after Britain blamed Moscow for the recent nerve agent attack that sickened Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Russia has denied the accusation. Trump's call came at a period of heightened tension after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election and other 'malicious cyberattacks.' Sanders insisted that the administration has scolded Putin at the appropriate times. ___ Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this story.
  • A 23-year-old suspected of planting deadly bombs that struck fear across Austin was described Wednesday by his uncle as a smart and kind 'computer geek' and a friend said he was an assertive person who would end up being 'kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation.' Neither had any idea what might have motivated Mark Anthony Conditt, who authorities say died after detonating a bomb in his sport utility vehicle as officers moved in for an arrest near Austin. The attacks in the Texas capital and suburban San Antonio killed two people and wounded four others. 'I mean this is coming from nowhere. We just don't know what. I don't know how many ways to say it but everyone is caught off guard by this,' Conditt's uncle, Mike Courtney of Lakewood, Colorado, told The Associated Press. At a news conference Wednesday evening, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said he considers a 25-minute recording on a cellphone found with Conditt a 'confession,' in which Conditt talks in great detail about the differences among the bombs he built. But Manley suggested that there might never be a clear motive, noting where the explosives were placed or addressed seems random. Conditt grew up in Pflugerville, a suburb just northeast of Austin where he was still living just a few miles from his parents' home after moving out. On Wednesday, authorities recovered homemade explosives from inside the residence, which he shared with roommates. Conditt's family said in a statement they had 'no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in.' Conditt was the oldest of four children who were all home-schooled. Jeff Reeb, a neighbor of Conditt's parents in Pflugerville for about 17 years, said he watched Conditt grow up and that he always seemed 'smart' and 'polite.' Reeb, 75, said Conditt and his grandson played together into middle school and that Conditt regularly visited his parents, whom Reeb described as good neighbors. Conditt attended Austin Community College from 2010 to 2012 and was a business administration major, but he did not graduate, according to college spokeswoman Jessica Vess. She said records indicate that no disciplinary actions were made against Conditt. Although he worked for a time at an area manufacturing company, Gov. Greg Abbott told KXAN-TV in Austin that Conditt apparently was unemployed more recently and had no criminal record. Conditt left little discernable trace on social media. Aside from a few photos of him on his family's Facebook pages, he addressed a range of topics in an online blog he created in 2012. Vess said he had created the blog as part of a U.S. government class project. In the blog titled 'Defining my Stance' he gives his opinion on several issues, often in response to commentary by someone else. Conditt wrote that gay marriage should be illegal, argued in favor of the death penalty and gave his thoughts on 'why we might want to consider' eliminating sex offender registries. Of gay marriage, Conditt wrote: 'Homosexuality is not natural. Just look at the male and female bodies. They are obviously designed to couple.' In the 'about me' section of the blog, Conditt wrote that he wasn't 'that politically inclined,' saying he viewed himself as conservative but didn't think he had enough information 'to defend my stance as well as it should be defended.' He said he hoped the class would help him do that. A friend of Conditt described him as smart, opinionated and often intimidating. Jeremiah Jensen, 24, told the Austin American-Statesman that he was close to Conditt in 2012 and 2013. Jensen said they were both home-schooled and he would often go to the Conditt home for lunch after church on Sundays and they attended Bible study and other activities together. 'I have no idea what caused him to make those bombs,' Jensen told the newspaper . He called Conditt a 'deep thinker.' 'When I met Mark, he was really rough around the edges,' Jensen said. 'He was a very assertive person and would ... end up being kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation. A lot of people didn't understand him and where he was coming from. He really just wanted to tell the truth. What I remember about him he would push back on you if you said something without thinking about it.' Jensen said 'the kind of hate that he succumbed to' was not what Conditt believed in during high school. 'I don't know what happened along the way,' Jensen said. Jensen said Conditt had attended regular church services at Austin Stone Community Church but he didn't know if Conditt 'held onto his faith.' A spokesman for the church said no records of past engagement or past involvement by Conditt were found. Congressman Michael McCaul told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the suspect matched the FBI's initial profile suspicion that the bomber was likely a white male. But McCaul said a psychological profile probably won't be known until investigators go through Conditt's writings and social media postings. ___ Warren and Dunklin reported from Dallas. Banda reported from Lakewood, Colorado. Associated Press journalists Shawn Chen in Chicago, and Emily Schmall, Jim Vertuno and Will Weissert in Pflugerville also contributed.
  • Most people who own a smartphone take it wherever they go, a fact of modern life that enabled authorities to hunt down the man suspected in five Texas bombings before he blew himself up Wednesday. The search for the suspect, identified as Mark Anthony Conditt, drew upon technology that connects mobile phones to cellular towers and transmits the device's location. It's similar to the same way that an app installed on your phone can know where you are and, in some cases, even learn more about your favorite places to shop, buy coffee or just hang out. But some of the methods law enforcement officials have used to track people's location through their phones have raised legal issues, even when the target is suspected of committing heinous crimes like Conditt is. That's because their location-tracking techniques cast a wide net that also can capture personal information about innocent bystanders. ___ GETTING THE CELL NUMBER Officials in Texas said they were able to obtain Conditt's phone number. This breakthrough came after he was linked through a license plate number to a red truck spotted on surveillance video at a FedEx store where he is suspected to have dropped off a parcel bomb. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the same phone number showed up at the bomb sites. But he did not elaborate on how investigators obtained the information to reach that conclusion. In the most likely scenario, investigators may have asked telecommunication carriers for historical records of all traffic on certain cell towers on specific dates, said Mike Chapple, associate teaching professor of information technology, analytics and operations at the University of Notre Dame. A warrant usually accompanies requests, known as 'tower dumps,' but not always. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case involving the pulling of 127 days of cellphone information without a warrant to pinpoint the location of a robbery suspect. The question being debated is whether the investigation violated the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches. ___ TRACKING THE PHONE NUMBER Once investigators had Conditt's phone number, they most likely contacted his carrier to track where the device's signal was connecting to towers. But the authorities also may have tried to get an even more precise location by using 'cell-site simulators' that act as fake towers. These simulators, also known as 'StingRays,' broadcast radio signals stronger than legitimate cell towers to force all phones within a targeted area to connect to them. Some simulators can fit in the trunk of a police car that can cruise around a neighborhood in an effort to find a certain phone. But in the process they can also scoop up the locations of other phones, as well as personal data stored on them, said Stephanie Lacambra, a criminal defense staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. 'All bystanders in a certain radius can have their information hoovered up without their consent with some of these investigative techniques,' Lacambra said. ___ AP writer Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this story.
  • The suspected Austin bomber is dead after terrorizing Texas' capital city for three weeks. And in the end the manhunt wasn't cracked by hundreds of phoned-in tips, the big pot of reward money or police pleading to the bomber through TV. One of the largest bombing investigations in the U.S. since the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013 came to an intense close early Wednesday when authorities say they moved in on Mark Anthony Conditt at an interstate hotel. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Conditt blew himself up after running his sport utility vehicle into a ditch. Here is what's known about how authorities finally zeroed in on the suspected bomber after 19 days, two dead victims and more than 1,000 calls of suspicious packages around the city: ___ GETTING THE BOMBER ON CAMERA Conditt had been careful to avoid cameras before entering a FedEx store in southwest Austin this week disguised in a blond wig and gloves, said U.S. House Homeland Security chairman Michael McCaul. The Austin congressman had been briefed by police, the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. McCaul said going into the store was Conditt's 'fatal mistake.' He said authorities previously had leads on a red truck and that the surveillance video from the FedEx store — where Conditt is believed to have dropped off an explosive package destined for an Austin address — allowed investigators to identify him and the truck. Said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, 'I'm not sure how much they narrowed him down to an exact person of who he was before he went into that FedEx store.' ___ TRACKING THE CELLPHONE At the FedEx store, McCaul said investigators got from surveillance the truck license plate that linked the vehicle to Conditt, which in turn gave authorities a cellphone number they could track. McCaul said Conditt had powered down his phone for 'quite some time' but that police closed in when he switched it back on. 'He turned it on, it pinged, and then the chased ensued,' McCaul said. Abbott said police were able to closely monitor Conditt and his movements for about 24 hours before his death. The governor said the phone number was used to tie Conditt to bombing sites around Austin. 'The suspect's cellphone number showed up at each of the bombing sites as well as some key locations that helped them connect him to the crime,' Abbott said. ___ BUYING BOMB-MAKING MATERIALS Authorities say they also tracked down Conditt, a 23-year-old unemployed college dropout, through witness accounts and other purchases, including at a Home Depot where McCaul said the suspect bought nails and other bomb-making materials. Abbott said Conditt's purchases at the Home Depot also included five 'CHILDREN AT PLAY' signs, one of which was used to rig a tripwire that was set off by two men Sunday in a southwest Austin neighborhood. One of them was walking and the other was riding a bike. William Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of the victims and had nails embedded in his legs from Sunday's explosion. The batteries to power the bomb were purchased through the internet, McCaul said. ___ STILL PUTTING TOGETHER A PROFILE The initial bomber profile sketched out by FBI behavioral scientists was that he was most likely a white male, McCaul said. And while that part was right, the congressman said, a full psychological profile won't come together until investigators have time to comb through Conditt's writings and social media posts. Conditt's motive is not clear. But on Wednesday, police discovered a 25-minute video recording on a cellphone found with Conditt, which Manley said he considers a 'confession' to the bombings. Manley said it described the differences among the bombs in great detail. ___ Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber
  • Farmers, electronics retailers and other U.S. businesses are bracing for a backlash as President Donald Trump targets China for stealing American technology or pressuring U.S. companies to hand it over. The administration is expected Thursday to slap trade sanctions on China, perhaps including restrictions on Chinese investment and tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese products. Dozens of industry groups sent a letter last weekend to Trump warning that 'the imposition of sweeping tariffs would trigger a chain reaction of negative consequences for the U.S. economy, provoking retaliation; stifling U.S. agriculture, goods, and services exports; and raising costs for businesses and consumers.' The announcement will mark the end of a seven-month U.S. investigation into the hardball tactics China has used to challenge U.S. supremacy in technology, including dispatching hackers to steal commercial secrets and demanding that U.S. companies hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market. The administration argues that years of negotiations with China have failed to produce results. 'It could be a watershed moment,' said Stephen Ezell, vice president of global innovation policy at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank. 'The Trump administration's decision to go down this path is illustrative that previous strategies have not borne the hoped-for fruit.' Business groups mostly agree that something needs to be done about China's aggressive push in technology — but they worry that China will retaliate by targeting U.S. exports of aircraft, soybeans and other products and start a tit-for-tat trade war of escalating sanctions between the world's two biggest economies. 'The sanctions are a very big deal,' says Mary Lovely, a Syracuse University economist and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. 'The Chinese see them as a major threat and do not want a costly trade war.' The move against China comes just as the United States prepares to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum — sanctions that are meant to hit China for flooding the world with cheap steel and aluminum but will likely fall hardest on U.S. allies like South Korea and Brazil because they ship more of the metals to the United States. Trump campaigned on promises to bring down America's massive trade deficit — $566 billion last year — by rewriting trade agreements and cracking down on what he called abusive commercial practices by U.S. trading partners. But he was slow to turn rhetoric to action. In January, he imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines. Then he unveiled the steel and aluminum tariffs, saying reliance on imported metals jeopardizes U.S. national security. To target China, Trump has dusted off a Cold War weapon for trade disputes: Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, which lets the president unilaterally impose tariffs. It was meant for a world in which large swaths of global commerce were not covered by trade agreements. With the arrival in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, which polices global trade, Section 301 fell largely into disuse. At first it looked like Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were going to get along fine. They enjoyed an amiable summit nearly a year ago at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. But America's longstanding complaints about Chinese economic practices continued to simmer, and it became more and more apparent that the U.S. investigation into China technology policies was going to end in trade sanctions. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang this week urged Washington to act 'rationally' and promised to open China up to more foreign products and investment. 'China has been trying to cool things down for weeks. They have offered concessions,' Lovely says. 'Nothing seems to cool the fire. I fear they will take a hard line now that their efforts have been rebuffed. ... China cannot appear subservient to the U.S.' ___ On Twitter follow Wiseman at https://twitter.com/paulwisemanAP