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National Govt & Politics

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed a major overhaul to the way colleges and universities handle sexual misconduct complaints, adding protections for students accused of assault and harassment and narrowing which cases schools would be required to investigate. Her plan would scale back important Obama administration rules while adding mandates that could reshape the school disciplinary systems that schools have developed over the past decade. Under the new plan proposed Friday, colleges would have to investigate complaints only if the alleged incident occurred on campus or in other areas overseen by the school, and only if it was reported to certain officials. By contrast, current rules require colleges to review all student complaints, regardless of their location or how they came to the school's attention. It adds several provisions supported by groups that represent students accused of sexual misconduct. Chief among them, it says accused students must be able to cross-examine their accusers, although it would be done through a representative to avoid personal confrontations. The proposal effectively tells schools how to apply the 1972 law known as Title IX, which bars discrimination based on sex in schools that receive federal money. It applies not only to colleges and universities, but also to elementary and secondary schools. The Education Department says the proposal ensures fairness for students on both sides of accusations, while giving schools flexibility to support victims even if they don't file a formal complaint or request an investigation. 'We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process,' DeVos said in a statement. 'Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.' For years, schools have relied on a series of letters issued by the Obama administration instructing them how to respond to complaints. Missteps could bring federal investigations that often last years, with penalties as high as a total loss of federal funding. Advocacy groups for victims say the Obama rules forced schools to stop sweeping the issue under the rug, while those supporting accused students said it tipped the scales in favor of accusers. Some colleges complained that the rules were too complex and could be overly burdensome. DeVos echoed the rules' critics when she rescinded two guidance letters in September 2017, declaring that 'the era of 'rule by letter'' was over. In its place, she issued the 150-page proposal on Friday, which will go through a 60-day public comment process before it can be finalized. Legal experts say it could dramatically reduce the number of complaints that get investigated by schools. Saunie Schuster, a lawyer who advises a range of colleges, says the vast majority of complaints arise off-campus and would no longer need to be addressed by schools, although colleges could still go beyond minimum requirements. DeVos' plan is also likely to cut down on actions taken by the Education Department, which can penalize schools for failing to uphold Title IX. The proposal raises the bar for proving that failure, saying schools must be 'deliberately indifferent' to be held legally liable. As of Friday, the Education Department said it was investigating 387 Title IX complaints involving sexual harassment or violence at the college level, along with 296 at elementary and secondary schools. Catherine Lhamon, who led the Education Department's civil rights division under Obama and helped develop existing rules, told The Associated Press the new proposal is 'devastating' and would take schools back to a 'a very dark time.' 'It would encourage schools to just stick their heads in the sand,' she said. 'It promises schools that if they follow specific, very minimal steps, then they cannot be found liable for violating Title IX, and it sets an astonishingly low set of expectations.' Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, urged DeVos to scrap the proposal, which he called 'a damaging setback for our efforts to prevent campus sexual harassment and assault.' Other opponents said they fear fewer victims would report assaults under the new rules, and that more would simply drop out of school. But supporters say the proposal does a better job providing equal treatment to all students. They praised rules saying that both sides must be able to review evidence collected by the school, and that both sides would get the same option to bring a lawyer or other adviser to campus hearings. 'I don't think that providing meaningful due process for accused students and taking the claims of victims seriously — and adjudicating them fairly — are inconsistent,' said Samantha Harris, vice president for procedural advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties group in Philadelphia. Families Advocating for Campus Equality, a group that supports accused students, saw the proposal as a victory, especially its requirement that schools weigh cases at a live hearing with cross-examinations. 'You don't want respondents or complainants grilling each other, I don't think that's appropriate,' said Cynthia Garrett, co-president of the group. 'But having an advocate who can do so will go much further toward helping decision makers actually reach accurate results.' Some colleges — including the University of Wisconsin, Yale University and the University of California system — issued statements Friday saying they will remain committed to preventing sexual violence regardless of any changes. Among other changes, the proposal narrows what constitutes sexual harassment. While earlier guidance defined it as 'unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,' the new proposal defines it as unwelcome sexual conduct that's so severe it effectively denies the victim access to the school or its programs. It allows schools to use a higher standard of proof when weighing cases. The Obama guidance told schools to use a 'preponderance of the evidence' standard, meaning the allegation is 'more likely than not' true. The new proposal would allow a 'clear and convincing' standard, meaning the claim is highly probable. Even if victims don't file a formal complaint, the proposal encourages schools to offer a range of measures to help them continue their studies, including counseling, class schedule changes, dorm room reassignments and no-contact orders for those accused of harming them. ___ Online: Education Department: https://tinyurl.com/y7q3dzss ___ Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbinkley
  • Andrew Wheeler, a former congressional aide and lobbyist who has led the Environmental Protection Agency since his scandal-plagued predecessor resigned earlier this year, has gotten President Donald Trump's nod for the permanent job. Wheeler's promotion from acting to permanent EPA chief would keep him as a methodical and effective agent in Trump's mission of rolling back environmental regulations that the administration regards as burdensome to business. Environmental groups quickly voiced their opposition. A veteran on Capitol Hill, Wheeler worked from 1995 to 2009 as a staffer for Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a fervent denier of man-made climate change, and then for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. 'The perfect choice to lead the EPA,' Inhofe tweeted Friday. 'Great pick.' Wheeler later worked as a lobbyist, including for coal giant Murray Energy Corp., which pushed hard at the outset of the Trump administration for coal-friendly policies from the EPA and other agencies. The grandson of a coal miner, Wheeler told staffers in his first days as the agency's acting head this summer that he was proud of his roots in coal country. In the acting role, Wheeler has a reputation as a more open and cordial boss for employees than Pruitt was, and for producing regulatory rewrites more likely to stand up to court challenges. Trump announced his plans for Wheeler almost in passing Friday at a White House ceremony for Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees. Singling out Cabinet members in the audience at the ceremony, Trump got to Wheeler and said, 'acting administrator, who I will tell you is going to be made permanent.' 'He's done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him, EPA, Andrew Wheeler. Where's Andrew?' Trump continued. 'Congratulations, Andrew, great job, great job, thank you very much.' The White House said Trump was signaling his intent to nominate Wheeler. The nomination would require Senate confirmation. Senators approved Wheeler as the agency's deputy administrator in a 53-45 vote last April. Since becoming acting EPA head, Wheeler has advanced proposals that would ease emissions limits for power plants, for cars and for oil and gas facilities, rejecting earlier EPA findings that some of the moves would lead to increased deaths from pollutants. However, Wheeler also has slowed another Pruitt-era rollback that would have allowed trucks rigged with outdated, dirtier-burning engines to stay on the road. 'Compared to Administrator Pruitt, Mr. Wheeler is better,' Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat and one of the most consistent critics of Trump's EPA, said Friday in a statement after Trump's announcement. 'Compared to Administrators Ruckelshaus or Whitman, he's not doing nearly as well,' Carper added. He was referring to William Ruckelshaus, who was appointed by Richard Nixon to head the EPA in 1970 and Christine Todd Whitman, who was appointed to the post in 2001 by George W. Bush. 'If the president intends to nominate Andrew Wheeler to be the administrator of EPA, then Mr. Wheeler must come before our committee so that members can look at his record as acting administrator objectively to see if any improvements have been made at the agency since he took the helm.' The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Environmental groups condemned the announcement. 'In normal times, a zealous fossil fuel apologist and the top official in charge of protecting children's health from pollution would be two separate people with conflicting agendas,' Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. 'But this is the Trump administration, where a former top coal lobbyist could become administrator of the EPA.
  • President Donald Trump says he 'very easily' answered written questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, though he speculated that the questions had been 'tricked up' to try to catch him in a lie. He said he hadn't submitted his answers to investigators yet. 'You have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions,' Trump told reporters Fridat in his latest swipe at the probe into 2016 election interference and possible ties between Moscow and the president's campaign. The president did not say when he would turn over the answers to Mueller, but his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, indicated it could happen next week. The special counsel has signaled a willingness to accept written answers on matters related to collusion with Russia. But Giuliani has said repeatedly the president would not answer Mueller's questions on possible obstruction of justice. During months of back-and-forth negotiations with the special counsel office, Trump's lawyers have repeatedly counseled the president against sitting down for an in-person interview. Trump's written response, though not yet delivered, signals a new phase in the Mueller probe, the year-and-a-half-long investigation that has produced guilty pleas and convictions from several top Trump aides even as the special counsel and the White House have engaged in lengthy negotiations about how — or if — the president would testify. Though he spent hours with his attorneys, Trump insisted: 'My lawyers don't write answers, I write answers.' The president's remarks were fresh evidence of his return to the ominous rhythms of the Russia probe after spending heady weeks enjoying adulation-soaked campaign rallies before the midterm elections. Despite Trump's insistence Friday that he's 'very happy' with how things are going, his frustrations with the ongoing probe have been evident everywhere from his overheated Twitter feed this week to his private grousing that the special counsel may target his family. Adding to his grim outlook has been the barrage of criticism he's getting over his choice for acting attorney general and late-arriving election results that have largely been tipping toward House Democrats. 'The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,' Trump tweeted Thursday as part of a series of morning posts. The investigators don't care 'how many lives they can ruin,' he wrote. A day later, he tried to put a rosier shine on the situation, telling reporters: 'I'm sure it will be just fine.' The president continued to maintain his innocence while launching new broadsides at the probe. He denied being 'agitated' despite his outbursts the day before. After a relative lull in the run-up to the midterms, the Russia probe has returned to the forefront of Washington conversation and cable news chyrons. There has been widespread media coverage of two Trump allies — Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi — who say they expect to be charged. The president has expressed concerns behind closed doors that Mueller is closing in on his inner circle, including potentially his eldest son. For months, Trump has told confidants he fears that Donald Trump Jr., perhaps inadvertently, broke the law by being untruthful with investigators in the aftermath of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, according to one Republican close to the White House. Trump has also complained about efforts in the Senate by his longtime foe, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, to introduce legislation to protect the special counsel, according to the officials and Republicans. Additionally, Trump has told confidants in recent days that he is deeply frustrated by widespread criticism of his choice of Matthew Whitaker for acting attorney general, according to four officials and Republicans close to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity. Whitaker has been a vocal opponent of the special counsel probe. One argument against Whitaker was that he has not been confirmed by Senate. Trump, in turn, contended that the criticism was unfair since Mueller also was not confirmed for his post. The special counsel position does not require confirmation, and the former FBI director was confirmed for that previous job. The president also took note of news coverage of his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, arriving in Washington this week, potentially to meet with Mueller's investigators. Cohen has pleaded guilty to a series of crimes and has said under oath that Trump ordered him to make hush-money payments to cover up an affair. He has undertaken an unlikely public relations tour as he looks to make a deal to reduce his prison sentence. The renewed focus on the looming threat from Mueller comes as Trump settles back into the day-to-day routines of governing after the whirlwind campaign in which he spent weeks in front of adoring rally crowds while whipping up his base with harsh rhetoric about migrants moving through Mexico. He faced criticism from both sides of the aisle for his weekend trip to Paris, during which he scuttled a visit to a World War I ceremony due to bad weather and further strained ties with traditional Western allies. On other topics: — Despite his insistence that Americans no longer have to fear North Korea's nuclear program, news of Pyongyang's persistent weapons program made headlines this week. — And the White House is hurriedly stepping up efforts to prepare for a series of investigations certain to be launched by Democrats once they take control of the House in January. Even as Trump mused in the West Wing about making staffing changes, he pushed back against media coverage of his recent setbacks. 'The White House is running very smoothly and the results for our Nation are obviously very good,' Trump tweeted. 'We are the envy of the world. But anytime I even think about making changes, the FAKE NEWS MEDIA goes crazy, always seeking to make us look as bad as possible! Very dishonest!' ___ Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed reporting. ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Lucey at http://twitter.com/catherine_lucey
  • Democrats won the majority. Now they just need a speaker of the House. The standoff over Nancy Pelosi's bid to regain the gavel intensified Friday as Democrats left Washington for the Thanksgiving holiday, an unsettling finish to an otherwise triumphant week that saw them welcome a historic class of newcomers to Capitol Hill and prepare to take control. Pelosi was certain that she will be speaker once more, reviving her role as the first woman to wield the gavel. But her foes were equally confident they have the votes to stop her. For now, it's a band of disgruntled Democrats, led mostly by men, standing against the sweep of nationally-known Pelosi allies. With a test vote looming in late November, and at least one potential Pelosi challenger stepping forward, Democrats faced the grim prospect of the internal squabble over the Jan. 3 speaker's vote dragging on for weeks, with no clear end game in sight. 'I think chaos is good if it's productive. I think chaos is bad if it is too disruptive and it divides us too much,' said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose leaders were upbeat after meeting with Pelosi this week. 'We don't have a lot of time,' Jayapal said. 'We need to put forward the vision of who we are as a party and what we're fighting for and so that needs to happen very, very quickly.' Pelosi was expected to work the phones from California after meeting privately Friday with newly-elected Democrats who could be crucial to her bid for House speaker. The freshmen entering and exiting Pelosi's stately office off the House floor indicated they were having good meetings with the leader, though few said the talks had changed their minds to vote to support her as speaker. Incoming Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger of Virginia said she had a 'wonderful conversation' about her district's priorities, but 'will not be voting for leader Pelosi.' 'It isn't about her, it's about wanting new leadership,' said Spanberger, a former CIA operative who defeated tea party Republican Rep. Dave Brat in suburban Richmond. 'There isn't anything she could say, because the decision isn't about her.' Another newly-elected Democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, said he had a 'pleasant' meeting, but remains a no on Pelosi as speaker. He is among 17 Democrats who have signed on to a letter opposing her. Van Drew said they discussed his districts and which committees he'd like to serve on. 'I don't feel under pressure,' he said. In a key session, Pelosi also met for 45 minutes with Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a potential rival for the speakership who said the two had 'a very open and frank discussion,' including about 'the feeling in the caucus of people who are feeling left out and left behind.' Fudge said she would probably decide after Thanksgiving break if she will run. 'To her credit, she wanted to know what my concerns were,' Fudge said. 'What she asked me was, basically, how we could get to a point where I'm supportive.' One question for some Democrats is what, exactly, Pelosi means when she says she intends to be a transitional leader, a bridge to a new generation. She has led the party for 15 years. 'We talked about some succession planning,' Fudge said. 'I think it is something our caucus is interested in knowing.' If it was up to most of the Democratic Party, Pelosi would win the speakership in a walk. They see her as a skilled and tested leader prepared to confront President Donald Trump and deliver on priorities. Pelosi, 78, made history when she became the first female speaker of the House in 2007. She assumed the post after Democrats took control of the House in midterm elections during former President George W. Bush's second term. With President Barack Obama, she was pivotal in passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. She appears to be winning the outside game in her bid, amassing endorsements from a who's who of the nation's Democrats. Inside the Capitol she has support from influential lawmakers like Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, and backing from some of the newly-elected freshmen. On Friday, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence joined the list, as did Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was gravely wounded during a mass shooting in her district, and who once voted against Pelosi for speaker. 'There is no one else who we would trust more,' said Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign. The internal debate is spilling out nationally, especially on social media, where Democratic activists are publicly criticizing Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio and others leading the campaign to oust Pelosi. A coalition of liberal groups sounded the alarm against an overthrow being orchestrated by mostly centrist Democrats who want to prevent the San Franciscan from being the face of the party. MoveOn.org noted her work passing the health care law and said 'Dems must reject attempts to defeat her and move caucus to the right.' It's not lost on supporters that a group made up of mostly men is leading the effort to oust her. On the list of 17 names who've signed onto a letter against her, just three are women. 'We shouldn't let a small group of white, moderate men sabotage her. We support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House,' tweeted Indivisible, the group that formed after the 2016 election in opposition to Trump's agenda and has activists nationwide. Pelosi has fended off challenges before, but this one poses perhaps the biggest threat yet. With a narrow Democratic majority, now at 231 seats, she does not have much cushion to secure the 218 votes needed on the floor if all Republicans vote against her, as expected. Some House races remain undecided and the Democratic majority could grow slightly. There is a chance the math could shift in Pelosi's favor if lawmakers are absent or simply vote 'present,' meaning she would need fewer than 218 votes for an absolute majority. ___ Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report. ____ Follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lisamascaro and https://twitter.com/AP_Politics
  • One of the largest outside Democratic groups says ramped-up spending on digital advertising played a key role in midterm battleground races, offering a lesson for potential presidential contenders in 2020. 'You're going to have to have an organization that speaks directly to voters on their phones and their computers,' said Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, which spearheaded the much of the party's digital effort during the recent midterm elections. 'If the presidential candidates do not have that as a central part of their operation, they will not win.' Democrats are trying to draw in new voters who are young, diverse and college educated. But at a time when cord-cutting millennials and their parents alike are spending more time online, the party remains disproportionately committed to TV advertising, strategists say, a dynamic that could complicate those efforts. 'Who is watching broadcast television, who is watching Wheel of Fortune, who is watching Jeopardy? They are older, white and they tend to not be Democratic voters,' said Tim Lim, who worked on the campaigns of former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and is now a fellow at Georgetown's Institute of Politics. 'By focusing so much on broadcast TV ads, we are missing crucial audiences to talk to.' But it's not just about how much is spent online; it's about how that money is spent. While Democrats have been wildly successful at using online advertising to rake in millions in donations and build email contact lists from their base, they've lagged behind Republicans when it comes to winning over new or on-the-fence voters in the digital space, operatives in both parties say. A spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee did not respond to a request for comment. However, there are signs that the party is making improvements. One bright spot for Democrats was Priorities' $6.3 million digital effort that supported Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema's win over GOP Rep. Martha McSally in Arizona, a red state that has shown signs of trending toward Democrats. The goal was driving up overall turnout, with an additional focus on several key demographic groups, including Latinos and whites without a college degree. One set of slickly produced 'social pressure' and motivational ads featured a diverse group of actors making the argument for why voting matters. At the same time, a separate prong of the campaign was aimed at reducing support for a Green Party candidate who later dropped out and endorsed Sinema — a late breaking development that was highlighted in online ads. As evidence the campaign helped, Priorities noted in a memo provided to The Associated Press that turnout was up overall and Sinema performed better than Democrats in the recent past with the groups that were targeted. 'We have definitely closed the gap from the previous cycle, but it doesn't mean we're entirely there yet,' said Cecil, whose group spent roughly $50 million overall on digital advertising during the midterms. While Democrats are behind when it comes to online advertising, an aversion to big spending on digital is not entirely unique to them when compared to the corporate world. While hard numbers are difficult to come by, both parties tend to spend vastly less than is common among corporate advertising clients, where digital spending averages around 40 percent — more than what is normally spent on TV. It's also hard to tell how the parties are spending their online advertising dollars because much of the publicly available data does not differentiate between ads geared toward fundraising and email list building versus ads aimed at winning over voters. Still, there are some broader trends that can be looked at. After being outspent by Republicans on Facebook in 2016, Democratic campaigns and aligned outside groups had outspent Republicans by a more than two to one margin on the platform as of last month, according to Facebook data compiled by Democratic digital advertising firm Bully Pulpit International. 'Facebook is the best platform for lead generation and digital fundraising, which explains why Democrats are using it to channel the outrage of their base into email addresses and donations,' said Michael Duncan, a partner and digital strategist at the Republican firm Calvary LLC. 'But when it comes to persuasion (of undecided voters), video overall — and Google specifically — are better platforms.' That's where Republicans have outspent Democrats. A late onslaught of digital spending by a slew outside progressive groups during the closing weeks of the midterms narrowed Republicans' spending advantage on Google from 1.65-to-one down to 1.18, according to data compiled by Bully Pulpit. But Democrat's online spending figures are also skewed by the candidacy of Beto O'Rourke, a West Texas congressman who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Ted Cruz. O'Rourke shattered records, raising more than $70 million. He spent more than $8 million on Facebook ads and $1.8 million on Google, according to disclosures by both companies. Republicans say they used to be where Democrats are now. Then, after the GOP lost the 2012 presidential race, the Republican National Committee mandated that the party would devote serious resources to digital advertising. Now they sit atop a sophisticated, data-driven digital enterprise that is updated in real time and can micro-target voters based on specific issues. 'We're getting to the point where digital has the scale of television with the targeting of direct mail,' said Duncan, the Republican strategist. 'There are all sorts of ways you can slice and dice a voter file, match it to profiles online and serve ads.' ___ Associated Press writer Jeff Horwitz in Washington contributed to this report.
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel's Russia-Trump investigation. Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website. That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said the charges and arrest warrant 'would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.' A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday. Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks. A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade. Those include thousands of military and State Department cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia. Federal special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether any Trump associates had advance knowledge of the stolen emails. Assange could be an important link for Mueller as he looks to establish exactly how WikiLeaks came to receive the emails, and why its release of the communications — on the same day a highly damaging video of Trump from a decade earlier surfaced publicly — appeared timed to boost his campaign. Assange, 47, has resided in the Ecuadorian Embassy under a grant of asylum for more than six years to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was accused of sex crimes, or to the United States, whose government he has repeatedly humbled with mass disclosures of classified information. The Australian was once a welcome guest at the embassy, which takes up part of the ground floor of a stucco-fronted apartment in London's posh Knightsbridge neighborhood. But his relationship with his hosts has soured over the years amid reports of espionage, erratic behavior and diplomatic unease. Barry Pollack, a Washington lawyer for Assange, said he expected Ecuador to 'comply with its obligations' to preserve asylum for him, though he acknowledged a concern that the county could revoke his asylum, expel him from the embassy and extradite him to the U.S. 'The burden should not shift to Mr. Assange to have to defend against criminal charges when what he has been accused of doing is what journalists do every day,' Pollack said. 'They publish truthful information because the public has a right to know and consider that information and understand what its government and institutions are doing.' The charges came to light in an unrelated court filing from a federal prosecutor in Virginia, who was attempting to keep sealed a separate case involving a man accused of coercing a minor for sex. The three-page filing contained two references to Assange, including one sentence that said 'due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.' It was not immediately clear why Assange's name was included in the document. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Justice Department's Eastern District of Virginia said, 'The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.' The filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, who posted it on Twitter hours after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange. The case at issue concerns a defendant named Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, a 29-year-old teacher who has since been indicted in Virginia on charges of enticing a 15-year-old girl to commit sex acts and to produce child pornography. There doesn't appear to be any connection between Assange and Kokayi. The since-unsealed document, a motion filed in late August asking to keep Kokayi's case secret, mentions Assange in two boilerplate sections, suggesting a copy-and-paste error or that his name was inadvertently left in a template used for the common filings. The filing suggests prosecutors have reason to believe they will be able to arrest and extradite Assange. Ecuadorian officials say they have cut off his high-speed internet access and will restore it only if he agrees to stop interfering in the affairs of Ecuador's partners, such as the U.S. and Spain. He is allowed to use the embassy's WiFi, though it is unclear if he doing so. Officials have also imposed a series of other restrictions on Assange's activities and visitors, and ordered him to clean after his cat. Carlos Poveda, Assange's lawyer in Ecuador, said he suspects Ecuador has been maneuvering to kick Assange out of the embassy through the stricter new living requirements it recently imposed. He said possible U.S. charges, however, are proof his client remains under threat, and he called on Ecuador's government to uphold Assange's asylum protections. He said Ecuador would be responsible if anything happened to Assange. With shrinking options — an Ecuadorian lawsuit seeking to reverse the restrictions was recently turned down — WikiLeaks announced in September that former spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic journalist who has long served as one of Assange's lieutenants, would take over as editor-in-chief. In a brief interview in Reykjavik, Iceland, Hrafnsson called the U.S. news 'a very black day for journalism.' ___ Associated Press writer Raphael Satter in Paris, Chad Day in Washington and Egill Bjarnason in Iceland contributed to this report. Link to court filing: http://apne.ws/Me9YxB9
  • U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. official said. The Saudi government has denied the claim. The conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this week sanctioned 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures. The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence agencies' conclusion was unauthorized to speak publicly about it and spoke Friday on condition of anonymity. The intel conclusion was first reported by The Washington Post. Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has said the crown prince had 'absolutely' nothing to do with the killing. Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents. This week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing. Among those targeted for sanctions were Mohammed al-Otaibi, the diplomat in charge of the consulate, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince's entourage on trips abroad. The sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S. and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them. Also this week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing. The prosecutor's announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi's death and distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom's leadership, primarily the crown prince. President Donald Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said 'the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups.' But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda. The Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a phone call that the prince's brother, Khalid bin Salman, had with Khashoggi. The newspaper said the prince's brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi he would be safe in going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents he needed to get married. The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed. But it said he made the call at the direction the crown prince, and the call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence. Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington, said that claim was false. She said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the ambassador met Khashoggi in person once in late September 2017. After that, they communicated via text messages, she said. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on Oct. 26, 2017, she said. Baeshen said the ambassador did not discuss with Khashoggi 'anything related to going to Turkey.' 'Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him,' she said. 'You are welcome to check the phone records and cell phone content to corroborate this — in which case, you would have to request it from Turkish authorities,' Baeshen said, adding that Saudi prosecutors have checked the phone records numerous times to no avail. The ambassador himself tweeted: 'The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim.
  • The Latest on the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Papua New Guinea (all times local): 2:40 p.m. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has met with the head of Taiwan's delegation to an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. The U.S. doesn't have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, but is obliged by an act of Congress to help with the island's military defense. A U.S. official told the media pool traveling with Pence that the vice-president had a 'pull-aside' meeting with Morris Chang, the octogenarian founder of a Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturing giant. The official didn't give other details. Taiwan is a member of the 21 nation APEC, which is having its annual leaders meeting in Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby. ___ 12 p.m. China's president says the world faces a choice of cooperation or confrontation in a speech to a summit of leaders that is divided by tensions stemming from increased U.S. protectionism. President Xi Jinping expressed support for global free trading system that has underpinned his country's rise to world's second-biggest economy. Xi says, 'The future of mankind hinges on the choices we make.' Leaders of Pacific Rim countries that make up 60 percent of the world economy are meeting in the capital of Papua New Guinea for an annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
  • Over a week after being publicly ridiculed for losing her seat in Congress by President Donald Trump, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) on Friday night was on the verge of pulling off a stunning comeback in her re-election bid, as the continued counting of ballots in her Utah district finally pushed her into the lead by a slender 419 votes. “Hard to see how she relinquishes that now,” said Dave Wasserman, an elections expert who has been forecasting a possible comeback by Love for several days. Still being tabulated are thousands of provisional ballots in Utah and Salt Lake counties, which take time to verify, as Utah and a number of other states slowly push their way through the votes of the November mid-term elections. The jump into first place for Love came as a judge tossed out a lawsuit that she filed – which oddly would have stopped vote counting in Salt Lake County – a move that her opponent said ‘smacks of desperation.’ “Utah voters deserve better than this,” said Democrat Ben McAdams. With the Utah County numbers posting, Rep. Mia Love has taken a 419-vote lead over Ben McAdams. #utpol — #VoteGehrke (@RobertGehrke) November 16, 2018 But the McAdams lead over Love has slowly withered away in recent days, leaving Love favored by many to win re-election. A comeback victory would be filled with irony, especially after the mocking ridicule heaped upon Love and a number of other House Republicans by President Donald Trump, who said the day after the elections that Love and others were defeated because they refused to embrace him. “Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” the President said, almost seeming to enjoy the outcome. “Too bad. Sorry about that Mia.” President Trump lists Republicans who didn't embrace him and lost. 'They did very poorly. I'm not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it.' 'Mia Love gave me no love and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that Mia.' pic.twitter.com/ZV7EKcWjLX — CSPAN (@cspan) November 7, 2018 Two weekends after the elections, a small number of races remained undecided – with some that could stretch until after Thanksgiving: FLORIDA SENATE – With a manual recount finishing up, and Florida’s 67 counties waiting through Saturday to deal with any other stray ballots, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) seems headed for victory over Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). This will give the GOP a big victory, and a 2 seat margin in the U.S. Senate. From a statistical/electoral/historical perspective, Scott's defeat of Nelson is pretty much unmatched in recent political history. Beating a swing state opposition party senator without a hint of scandal in a midterm… It's quite impressive. — (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) November 17, 2018 CALIFORNIA 39 – This is the first of six (or maybe seven) undecided House races. After holding the lead for days, Republican Young Kim has now been swamped by late votes coming from both Orange and Los Angeles counties, and now trails Democrat Gil Cisneros by over 3,000 votes. This should complete what is a total GOP wipeout in Orange County, as Democrats would gain six GOP seats in the Golden State. Congressional districts in Orange County, Calif. in 2016 and in 2018 pic.twitter.com/TWRQ1pPzS4 — Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) November 16, 2018 CALIFORNIA 21 – This seat has already been called by the AP and other news organizations for the Republicans, but as the votes keep coming in, Rep. David Valadao’s lead keeps shrinking, and some wonder if he can hold on. This might be a long shot, but it bears watching. It’s hard to fathom that Democrats could gain a seventh seat in California. We've been watching CA-21 like a hawk for more than a week now, and the chance for Democrat T J Cox to catch up to Valadao has gone from remote but intriguingly possibile to plausible. We're moving this one to our uncalled races tab. https://t.co/FeGWU7SsoE — Daniel Donner (@donnermaps) November 17, 2018 UTAH 4 – As mentioned above, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) now has the lead. This would be a big save for Republicans, who have had very little to cheer about in the past 10 days since the elections. In fact, there has been an almost daily drumbeat of Democratic victories each night since then, as they edge closer to a possible pickup of almost 40 House seats, their largest gains since 1974 after Watergate. BREAKING: As expected, #UT04 GOP Rep. Mia Love (R) has pulled into the lead over Ben McAdams (D) by 419 votes. Hard to see how she relinquishes it now. https://t.co/nfsptUdHiN — Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 16, 2018 NEW YORK 22 – This seat can probably be called for the Democrats by the AP and other organizations, as absentee ballot counts on Friday went clearly for Democrat Anthony Brindisi, leaving Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) behind by over 3,000 votes in this northern New York district. This is not a spot where the GOP should have lost. @Redistrict Brindisi lead in NY22 has surged to more 3000 votes! I see no path to victory for Tenney. She's falling further behind as more ballots are counted, that's a losing combination, a larger deficit, and fewer votes left to count. https://t.co/ae1Ny8Osws — Kevin O'Connell (@Kevtoco) November 17, 2018 NEW YORK 27 – Indicted Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) still leads by over 1,000 votes in this western New York district, with one big cache of absentee ballots and provisionals to count next Tuesday around Buffalo. Democrat Nate McMurray has been winning a majority of absentee ballots in recent days in counties where he lost the Election Day vote, making some wonder if he has a chance to win this race at the last minute next week. This is the equivalent of betting a horse that’s maybe 9-1. It might win. Nate McMurray continues to gain ground in counties that he lost to Rep. Chris Collins in. Biggest test will be Tuesday when the Erie County absentee and affidavit votes will be counted. https://t.co/f5nincKkZx — WGRZ (@WGRZ) November 16, 2018 GEORGIA 7 – While the race for Governor is over, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) has a 419 vote edge in this suburban Atlanta district, with all of the votes counted. Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux announced on Friday afternoon that she would ask for a recount. While a recount doesn’t usually switch the outcome, we have certainly seen in Florida and other states in recent days where there are tabulation errors uncovered – so you can’t say this is in the bag for the GOP – but they are favored. News: We will file for a recount of the 7th district race. With a margin of only 419 votes (0.14%), we want to make sure every vote was counted correctly & fairly. It is crucial that every eligible vote is counted & every voice is heard. #GA07 #GAPol — Carolyn Bourdeaux (@Carolyn4GA7) November 16, 2018 TEXAS 23 – Even though she’s behind by just under 1,000 votes, Cindy Ortiz Jones spent the week in Washington going through freshman orientation, but that may not work out for the Texas Democrat, as Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) seems like he’s in good position in this race, leading by 0.5 percent. Hurd’s people on Friday were declaring victory, but it wasn’t clear if Jones would press for any kind of vote review. Republicans are favored to hold on to this border district, but it was much closer than anyone had predicted. Bexar County has finished counting, leaving only six votes left to count (Kinney & Upton). @WillHurd has won by 928 votes, this race is over #TX23 — Connor Pfeiffer (@ConnorPfeiffer) November 16, 2018 Democrats right now have a net gain of 36 seats – they should win at least two of the undecided races left, and have an outside chance at others. Right now, the new Congress stands at 231 Democrats to 198 Republicans, with six seats undecided. One final note – this extended time of vote counting is totally normal. Reporters follow it every two years, but many partisans think there is something amiss.
  • China's leader Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traded barbs in speeches to a summit of world leaders Saturday, outlining competing visions for global leadership as trade and other tensions between them simmer. Pence said there would be no letup in President Donald Trump's policy of combating China's mercantilist trade policy and intellectual property theft that has erupted into a tit-for-tat tariff war between the two world powers this year. The U.S. has imposed additional tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods and China has retaliated. Pence reiterated Trump administration threats to more than double the penalties. 'The United States though will not change course until China changes its ways,' he said, accusing Beijing of intellectual property theft, unprecedented subsidies for state businesses and 'tremendous' barriers to foreign companies entering its giant market. Pence announced the U.S. would be involved in ally Australia's plan to develop a naval base in Papua New Guinea, where the summit is being held. China has been intensely wooing Papua New Guinea and other Pacific island nations with aid and loans for infrastructure. 'Our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific will prevail,' Pence said. The vice president harshly criticized China's global infrastructure drive, known as the 'Belt and Road Initiative,' calling many of the projects low quality that also saddle developing countries with loans they can't afford. The U.S., a democracy, is a better partner than authoritarian China, he said. 'Know that the United States offers a better option. We don't drown our partners in a sea of debt, we don't coerce, compromise your independence,' Pence said. 'We do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road. When you partner with us, we partner with you and we all prosper.' Xi, who spoke before Pence, anticipated many of the U.S. criticisms in his speech. He said countries are facing a choice of cooperation or confrontation as protectionism and unilateralism spreads. Xi expressed support for the global free trading system that has underpinned his country's rise over the past quarter century to world's second-biggest economy after the U.S. 'The rules made should not be followed or bent as one sees fit and they should not be applied with double standards for selfish agendas,' Xi said. 'Mankind has once again reached a crossroads,' he said. 'Which direction should we choose? Cooperation or confrontation? Openess or closing doors. Win-win progress or a zero sum game?' Responding to a chorus of criticism of China's international infrastructure drive, Xi said it was not a trap or power grab. 'It is not designed to serve any hidden geopolitical agenda, it is not targeted against anyone and it does not exclude anyone. It is not an exclusive club that is closed to non-members nor is it a trap as some people have labeled it,' he said. Leaders of 21 Pacific Rim countries and territories that make up 60 percent of the world economy are meeting in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea for an annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. They are struggling to reach agreement on a joint declaration, particularly whether to push for changes to the World Trade Organization, which sets the rules for trade and can penalise nations that breach them. WTO member nations have been unable to reach agreement on further freeing up trade for years and the organization is in danger of atrophy. Two thirds of its members claim developing nation status that allows them to take advantage of benefits and exemptions to obligations not granted to advanced economies, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The U.S., meanwhile, believes the WTO's abritration body has made decisions beyond its mandate. APEC is also facing questions about its future. Malaysia's 93-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said it will become irrelevant if developing nations continue to be left behind by globalization and free trade. China's territorial claims to most of the South China Sea that borders Southeast Asian nations were also a target in Pence's speech. China has demanded the U.S. stop deploying ships and military aircraft close to its man-made islands in the disputed waters after American and Chinese ships nearly collided near a contested reef in September. But Pence stressed Saturday that the U.S. won't back off. 'We will continue to fly and sail wherever international law allows and our national interest demands. Harassment will only strengthen our resolve. We will not change course,' he said. Washington will continue to support efforts by Southeast Asian nations to negotiate a legally binding 'code of conduct' with China 'that respects the rights of all nations, including the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,' he said.