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National Politics

    Under the threat of potentially devastating U.S. tariffs on autos, Japan is ready to roll out the newest phase of its charm offensive targeting President Donald Trump as it welcomes him on a state visit tailor-made to his whims and ego. Offering high honors, golf and the chance to present a 'Trump Cup' at a sumo wrestling championship, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, arguably Trump's closest friend on the world stage, will continue a years-long campaign that so far appears to have spared Japan from far more debilitating U.S. actions. The stakes are high. U.S. tariffs could cripple Japan's auto industry, while North Korea remains a destabilizing threat in the region. But this trip, the first of two Trump is expected to make to Japan in the next six weeks, is more of a social call meant to highlight the alliance between the countries and the friendship between their leaders. 'In the world of Donald Trump, terrible things can happen if you're an ally, but no major blows have landed on Japan,' said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Trump, who departed Washington for Tokyo on Friday, has the honor of being the first head of state invited to meet Emperor Naruhito since he assumed power May 1 after his father stepped down, the first abdication in about two centuries. Naruhito will welcome Trump to the Imperial Palace on Monday for a meeting and banquet in his honor. 'With all the countries of the world, I'm the guest of honor at the biggest event that they've had in over 200 years,' Trump said Thursday. Abe will host Trump on Sunday for a round of golf and take the president to a sumo wrestling match, a sport Trump said he finds 'fascinating.' Trump is eager to present the winner with a U.S.-made trophy. It's all part of a kindness campaign aimed at encouraging Trump to alleviate trade pressures, said Riley Walters, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center, who said the personal relationship between Trump and Abe is probably the best of any two world leaders. Abe made a strategic decision before Trump was elected to focus on Japan's relationship with the U.S. The courtship began when Abe rushed to New York two weeks after the November 2016 election to meet the president-elect at Trump Tower. Last month, Abe and his wife, Akie, celebrated first lady Melania Trump's birthday over a couples' dinner at the White House. Trump plans to return to Japan for a summit of leading rich and developing nations in Osaka in late June. Behind the smiles and personal friendship, however, lurks deep uneasiness over Trump's threat to impose tariffs on Japanese autos and auto parts on national security grounds, a move that would be far more devastating to the Japanese economy than earlier tariffs on steel and aluminum. Trump recently agreed to a six-month delay, enough time to carry Abe past July's Japanese parliamentary elections. 'On the surface, it's all going to be a display of warmth, friendship, hospitality,' said Mireya Solis, a senior fellow at the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies. But, she said, 'there's an undercurrent of awkwardness and concern about what the future might hold. ... We're coming to a decisive moment. This is, I think, the moment of truth.' Also at issue is the lingering threat of North Korea, which has resumed missile testing and recently fired a series of short-range projectiles that U.S. officials, including Trump, have tried to downplay despite an agreement by North Korea to hold off on further testing. 'The moratorium was focused, very focused, on intercontinental missile systems, the ones that threaten the United States,' Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent television interview. That raised alarm bells in Japan, where short-range missiles pose a serious threat. 'That is not an acceptable American position for Japan,' said Green. Japan, which relies on the U.S. for its defense, has also been largely cut out of negotiations with North Korea, even as Kim Jong Un has met with other leaders in the region, including China's Xi Jinping. That leaves Abe to rely on the U.S. as an intermediary, said Sheila Smith, an expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. 'Abe has to rely on Trump to advocate,' she said. Abe recently offered to meet Kim without preconditions in an effort to restore diplomatic ties. With Trump's relations with the leaders of the U.K., Germany, Canada and other allies strained, Abe has worked more than any other leader to try to keep Trump engaged with international institutions, Green said, adding that it is critical for Japan's survival. And while leaders across Europe and elsewhere might take heat for cozying up to Trump, analysts say Japanese voters see Trump more as a curiosity and understand the pragmatic importance of good relations, which they say has paid off for Abe. Indeed, while Trump has rejected Abe's invitations to re-join a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal and keeps the threat of tariffs in place, Trump walked away from his last meeting with Kim without a deal, which some had feared would include a declaration to end the Korean war and a vow to pull U.S. troops from the peninsula. 'I would argue that Abe has been so good at maintaining the relationship that maybe things could be worse,' Walters said. ___ Superville reported from Washington. ___ Follow Superville and Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dsupervilleap and https://twitter.com/colvinj
  • How to pronounce Beto O'Rourke's first name — 'Is it BET-oh or BAY-toe?' — is debated nearly everywhere the 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful goes in Iowa. But Rich Salas doesn't hesitate. 'BET-oh,' the chief diversity officer at Des Moines University says correctly while introducing O'Rourke at a recent gathering of an Asian and Latino political action committee. 'What a really great name.' Salas notes that O'Rourke 'speaks really good Spanish, better than I do,' before leading chants of 'Viva Beto!' It's a rallying cry that may not resonate in Iowa, home to the nation's first presidential nominating contest, but could pay dividends faster than in previous years thanks to a primary calendar that will see the two states with the largest Hispanic populations go to the polls earlier than usual. Hispanics make up just 6% of the population in Iowa, which holds caucuses Feb. 3, and barely half that percentage in New Hampshire, which goes next. But then comes Nevada, where almost 30% of people are Hispanic. And, just 10 days later this cycle, California and Texas — home to 13-plus million eligible Hispanic voters, nearly half of all such voters nationwide, according to the Pew Research Center — vote on 'Super Tuesday.' That means candidates who can win consistent Hispanic support could potentially secure a viable — if narrow — path of survival through the primary's frantic opening weeks, as the 23-candidate field winnows. A total of 4,051 Democratic delegates are up for grabs. Nearly 500 of those will be in California and 260-plus in Texas. Both allocate delegates proportionately, though, meaning even the winners likely have to share their hauls — and potentially providing more lifelines for any candidate who can mobilize Hispanics even if they don't finish first. 'I think it's smart for the candidates to be thinking about how they can become a household name in the Latino community,' said Matt Barreto, co-founder of the Hispanic polling firm Latino Decisions. 'It will keep them alive, and it will make them a national contender, even if they don't do well in Iowa or New Hampshire.' It's a risky strategy since that means betting on an electorate that's disproportionately young and plagued by low voter turnout — and may still mostly be going to the polls late enough that campaigns working hard to woo it may not last that long. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was the lone Hispanic in the 2008 presidential race, made a strong showing in Nevada essential to his bid, only to drop out before he got there — following fourth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. U.S. Census survey data shows that general election Hispanic turnout in 2018 climbed 13-plus percentage points from the last midterms in 2014, to 40.4%, but still trailed whites, who reported voting at 55% rates, and blacks, who reported voting at 51.1%. Still, Barreto noted that the overall number of Hispanics who reported voting has risen in recent cycles and that the turnout percentage has been hurt because so many Hispanics are turning 18 and young people of all backgrounds are less likely to vote. Hispanics, meanwhile, will outpace African Americans to become the electorate's largest nationwide racial minority group for the first time on Election Day 2020 — accounting for more than 13% of eligible voters, according to Pew projections. Not all Hispanics are Democrats, but about two-thirds reported voting for the party during last fall's midterms, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of the 2018 national electorate. 'Over the years, there haven't been that many Latino presidential candidates,' Julian Castro, former San Antonio mayor and Obama administration housing chief and 2020's only Hispanic presidential candidate, said in a phone interview. 'So, there's still this sense of barriers being broken.' Castro has been to Nevada more than any Democratic presidential rival and has announced sweeping plans on issues he says Hispanics most care about, including calls for decriminalizing crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally and universal prekindergarten. O'Rourke, a former congressman, is of Irish decent but speaks fluent Spanish and hails from El Paso, Texas, where more than a quarter of the population are immigrants, most from just across the border in Mexico. Sen. Kamala Harris has a home-state advantage in California and, during a recent town hall in neighboring Nevada, handed out headsets to attendees who wanted to listen to a Spanish translation — along with signs reading 'Kamala Harris for the People' in English and Spanish. She's also named Emmy Ruiz, Hillary Clinton's 2016 state director in Nevada, as a senior adviser, and Julie Chávez Rodriguez, granddaughter of legendary activist Cesar Chávez, is her campaign's co-national political director. Cristóbal Alex, who headed the Latino Victory PAC, is an adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign points to polling showing his rising popularity with Hispanics. It's also enlisted Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan — known for sparring verbally with President Donald Trump in the wake of Hurricane Maria's 2017 devastation of the island. Then there's New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who invited Yulin Cruz to Trump's State of the Union speech. Castro went to Puerto Rico immediately after launching his presidential campaign, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also visited, while O'Rourke and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, have talked about going. The island's 64-delegate Democratic primary is March 8, the Sunday after Super Tuesday. Cristina Tzintzún, executive director of Jolt, a Texas-based group that organizes Hispanics, said candidates won't be able to rely solely on their backgrounds or advisers, saying 'I don't believe in honorary Latinos.' 'People want diversity,' said Tzintzún, a Sanders supporter in the 2016 Democratic primary. 'What matters more is who's offering the bold solutions.' Castro has traveled to Nevada six times since December. He has gone to citizenship classes and attended house parties in historically Hispanic communities like east Las Vegas — including one hosted by an immigrant rights activist who is in the country illegally. 'It's likely that my story, the way I grew up, is going to resonate a lot with a lot of Latinos,' said Castro, whose grandmother was born in Mexico and whose mother was a noted Latino rights activist. 'Because they can see their own story in mine.' O'Rourke is hopeful his background can help him with Hispanics, too. 'I've got to think that, the fact that I live on the U.S.-Mexico border, that a quarter of those with whom I live and represented in Congress were born in another country, that I can tell a pretty powerful, positive story,' O'Rourke told reporters after the event in Des Moines. Of his Spanish, he added, 'I'm going to try and reach people in every place and in every language that I possibly can.' Castro speaks some Spanish while campaigning but admits he isn't fluent — and says that's not the key factor. 'There's often this sense that, the only way to measure whether you're connecting with Latinos is if you're fluent in Spanish or not, which is just completely wrong,' he said. 'It becomes very one-dimensional. And what we've done is we're going after that vote in a much more holistic way.
  • When President Donald Trump visits Japan, he'll be able to point to Tokyo's streets to drive home a sore point in trade relations between the allies: the absence of made-in-USA vehicles. The $70 billion Japanese trade surplus with the U.S. is dwarfed by China's $379 billion surplus, and the trade tensions between Washington and Tokyo are far less contentious than the tariffs war with Beijing. But the disputes between Japan and the U.S. are longstanding and also intractable: the bilateral agreement with Tokyo that Trump has been seeking since pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement two years ago is still far down the road, say analysts and politicians on both sides. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has carefully courted Trump since before he took office and their cordial, golfing-buddy relationship has helped keep relations on an even keel. While Trump has complained repeatedly about the trade imbalance, especially in autos and auto parts — the Hondas and Toyotas on U.S. roads are a daily reminder — friction over Japan's exports has not reached the fever pitch it did in the late 1980s, when angry American auto workers smashed Japanese vehicles. The Trump administration's tough stance on China, including the tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods that recently kicked in, is almost a replay of the 'Japan bashing' of decades ago. To help alleviate tensions, especially over vehicle exports, Japanese automakers have moved much of their production for America to the U.S., investing a cumulative $51 billion and building 24 manufacturing plants, many in areas that have little else to count on to vitalize their economies. Those investments have created some 1.6 million jobs, according to the industry group Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Trade remains unbalanced: In April Japan's exports to the U.S. jumped nearly 10%, while imports of American goods rose 2.3%. Japan's trade surplus surged almost 18% to 723 billion yen ($6.6 billion). Trump sees today's disputes as a continuation of earlier clashes, said Kristin Vekasi, professor of political science at the University of Maine. She says current negotiations are unlikely to lead to any 'miraculous' opening of Japanese markets for American products. Japanese officials have said they would draw the line at concessions made for the sake of joining the TPP, which had been championed by the administration of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama. 'Japan already buys a lot from the United States,' Vekasi said. Japan's imports from the U.S. are dominated by food, chemicals, machinery and devices. Cars, not so much. Detroit-based General Motors Co. sold just 562 Cadillacs, 708 Chevrolets, six Buicks and a handful of its other nameplate brands in Japan in the fiscal year that ended in March. In contrast, Toyota sold 2.3 million of the roughly 5 million vehicles sold in the Japanese market. Experts generally agree the imbalance reflects a lack of Japanese interest, not significant trade barriers. Trade talks cannot dictate consumer tastes. The Trump administration has designated auto imports as a threat to U.S. national security, though the government has delayed a decision on raising tariffs on imported cars for six months. Trump has suggested he will go ahead with the tariffs if U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a trade talks veteran of the Japan-bashing days, doesn't manage to wrest concessions from Japan and the European Union. Apart from autos, Washington is worried that American farm products won't get a fair deal, as Japan forges trade pacts with Australia and Europe. While visiting Japan earlier this month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue donned an apron and took up barbecue tongs, urging Japan to buy more American beef. 'We're saying treat us as a prime customer the way we treated Japanese products for many years,' he said after grilling some beef and pork on a Tokyo shopping mall rooftop. Perdue returned to Washington with a promise from Japan to eliminate restrictions on U.S. beef exports. The move allows all cattle, regardless of age, to enter Japan for the first time since 2003, when Japan imposed limits to guard against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, also known as 'mad cow disease.' The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates exports of U.S. beef and beef product could jump by up to $200 million a year, though they do face stiff competition from Australia and China. Japan still imposes limits on many farm products, seeking to guard its food security and politically important rural constituencies, and Perdue acknowledged that a broader trade deal with Tokyo may take time. After years of being harangued to open their own markets, Japanese officials and business leaders are ardent proponents of freer trade. Usually soft-spoken Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda, who chairs the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, was blunt in expressing outrage over the idea that auto imports pose a security threat worthy of imposing tariffs. 'We are dismayed to hear a message suggesting that our long-time contributions of investment and employment in the United States are not welcomed. As chairman, I am deeply saddened by this decision,' he said earlier this week. 'Any trade restrictive measures would deliver a serious blow to the U.S. auto industry and economy, as it would not only disadvantage U.S. consumers, but also adversely affect the global competitiveness of U.S.-produced vehicles and suppress company investments in the U.S.' ___ Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama On Instagram https://www.instagram.com/yurikageyama/?hl=en
  • President Donald Trump asked the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to resign, leaving yet another vacancy within the Department of Homeland Security. Lee Francis Cissna told staff on Friday that his last day would be June 1, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Associated Press. Cissna leads the agency responsible for legal immigration, including benefits and visas. With his departure, there are more than a dozen vacancies of top leadership positions at the sprawling, 240,000-employee department. Some are being temporarily filled, including secretary and inspector general. Cissna's position, like others, requires Senate confirmation. Cissna had been on the chopping block last month amid a White House-orchestrated bloodbath that led to the resignation of Secretary Kirstjen (KEER'-sten) Nielsen, in part because aides felt he wasn't moving quickly enough to tighten immigration rules and push through complicated regulation changes. But his job was saved, temporarily, after high-ranking Republicans spoke out about his record, particularly Sen. Chuck Grassley , who worked with Cissna for years. And it appeared he was back to business. He told The Associated Press just two weeks ago that his agency was training dozens of U.S. border patrol agents to start screening immigrants arriving on the southwest border for asylum amid a surge in the number of families seeking the protection. Asylum officers conduct initial interviews of immigrants arriving on the border to determine whether they have a credible fear of returning to their countries or should be sent back. Those who pass the interviews are allowed to seek asylum before an immigration judge, but their cases may take years to wind through the backlogged immigration courts. But Trump is dealing with a growing crisis as tens of thousands of Central American migrants cross the border each month, overwhelming the system, and he has been unable to deliver on his signature issue of reduced immigration and tighter border security. Cissna told his staff in the email that he was grateful for their support and service, but offered no information on what was ahead. 'During the past 20 months, every day, I have passionately worked to carry out USCIS' mission to faithfully administer the nation's lawful immigration system,' Cissna wrote to staff. Earlier this week, administration officials said Ken Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of Virginia, would be taking a job at the department, but it wasn't clear what his role would be. A person familiar with the matter said Cuccinelli was being considered for Cissna's job, but it was unclear how that would work because the position requires Senate confirmation. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters within the administration. Cuccinelli's name has been tossed around for months. He had also been considered for a position as an immigration czar, a job possibly housed within the White House, but officials said this week he would not be taking on that role. Cuccinelli has in the past advocated for denying citizenship to the American-born children of parents living in the U.S. illegally, and limiting in-state tuition at public universities only to those who are citizens or legal residents. A message sent to Cuccinelli wasn't immediately returned Friday.
  • A new indictment against Julian Assange could further delay what was already expected to be a protracted battle to get the WikiLeaks founder out of a London jail cell and into a U.S. court, opening the door for his legal team to argue that the Espionage Act charges are political and thus not covered by an extradition treaty between the two countries. U.S. authorities want to extradite Assange to face charges that he directed the publication of a huge trove of secret documents that disclosed the names of people who provided confidential information to American and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange, 47 and originally from Australia, is serving a 50-week sentence in London after being evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in April. He has insisted he will fight extradition. Though the United States and the United Kingdom have a longstanding extradition treaty, one exception is for political offenses. The criteria aren't clearly spelled out, but Assange and his lawyers are likely to use the charges filed Thursday to argue that the Justice Department wants to put him on trial for crimes that are inherently political in that they involve the acquisition and publication of government secrets. 'At least on the face of it, it seems like it would complicate the ability of the United States to extradite Assange from the U.K. because we often think of espionage as one type of political offense,' said Ashley Deeks, a University of Virginia law professor and national security and international law expert. She said she regarded an initial indictment made public last month — charging Assange with a single count of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack a Defense Department computer password — as an attempt to 'thread the needle and allege an underlying offense that did not seem like a political offense.' Whether the new Espionage Act charges fit the traditional definition of espionage, and by extension a political offense, may be murkier. 'The question remains, how will the U.K. decision-makers think about this case,' Deeks said. That view was echoed by Stephen Vladeck, a national security law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. 'I don't think it's an especially meritorious argument that the new charges against Assange would fall within that exception, but it's certainly a more plausible argument than the original indictment,' Vladeck said. 'Now Assange's lawyers can argue with a straight face to a British court that some of what he's being prosecuted for is politically motivated.' Assange's lawyer, Barry Pollack, hinted at that argument after the new indictment was announced Thursday, saying 'the fig leaf that this is merely about alleged computer hacking has been removed.' A senior Justice Department official, who discussed the prosecution with reporters Thursday on the condition of anonymity, wouldn't go into detail on how the new indictment might affect extradition, saying that Assange will have a 'full and fair opportunity to raise all legal objections that he can, and a British judge will rule.' The extradition process was always going to be complicated in this case. Swedish prosecutors have said they are reviving a rape investigation of Assange and will also seek his extradition. It's not clear which country would get Assange first. It will be up to a British court — as well as a senior Cabinet official with final say on extradition matters — to determine which claim takes priority. One factor that may tip in favor of the U.S. is that British authorities tend to have less tolerance for disclosure of national security secrets, Vladeck said. On the other hand, he said, British authorities could also be wary of extraditing a defendant who faces the prospect of a long prison sentence. Assange faced a maximum sentence in the first indictment of five years. Each of the 17 Espionage Act counts he faces in Thursday's indictment carries a maximum 10-year sentence. No matter what happens, Vladeck added, 'Extradition cases, even routine ones, are often so much more about the politics than the law.' ___ Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP
  • Lawyers for President Donald Trump told an appeals court Friday that he's challenging a federal judge's refusal to block congressional subpoenas seeking financial records from two banks that did business with him. The official notice of appeal was filed in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos had ruled earlier this week that Trump and his company were unlikely to succeed in a lawsuit arguing that the demands for records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One were unlawful and unconstitutional. Ramos also concluded that the subpoenas have 'a legitimate legislative purpose.' The ruling came shortly after a federal judge in Washington ruled against Trump in a similar case, finding that the president cannot block a House subpoena for information from a financial services firm that had done accounting work for him and the Trump Organization. The lawyers for the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees say they need access to documents from the banks to investigate possible 'foreign influence in the U.S. political process.' Deutsche Bank has lent Trump's real estate company millions of dollars over the years. The banks took no position in the dispute.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he's hit a fundraising threshold to qualify for the Democratic presidential debates slated to begin next month. Inslee said while appearing at a climate rally in Las Vegas that he learned Friday morning he'd received donations from at least 65,000 people, earning him a spot on stage. The governor has focused his campaign on climate change and says that by meeting the donor threshold, he's ensuring that climate change will be part of the debate among the crowded field of candidates. The Democratic National Committee will allow candidates to reach the stage by either meeting the donor threshold or by receiving at least 1% support in three reputable national or early nominating state polls.
  • A longtime Utah judge has been suspended without pay for six months after making critical comments online and in court about President Donald Trump, including a post bashing his 'inability to govern and political incompetence.' Judge Michael Kwan's posts on Facebook and LinkedIn in 2016-2017 violated the judicial code of conduct and diminished 'the reputation of our entire judiciary,' wrote Utah State Supreme Court Justice John A. Pearce in an opinion posted Wednesday. Kwan's Facebook account was private but could have been shared by friends, Pearce wrote. 'Judge Kwan's behavior denigrates his reputation as an impartial, independent, dignified, and courteous jurist who takes no advantage of the office in which he serves,' Pearce said. Kwan has been a justice court judge in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville since 1998. He deals with misdemeanor cases, violations of ordinances and small claims. He was first appointed by elected city officials to a six-year term and was retained in the position by voters. Kwan argued the suspension was inappropriate and an unlawful attempt to regulate his constitutionally protected speech, Pearce wrote in the opinion. Kwan's attorney, Greg Skordas, said the judge is disappointed with the severity of the suspension but accepted that he would get some reprimand. Like many people after the 2016 election, Kwan felt strongly about the results and said some things 'in haste,' Skordas said. He knows judges are held to a higher standard and must be careful, the lawyer said. 'He certainly regrets making those statements and is committed to not doing anything like that again,' Skordas said. It's unknown what Kwan's political affiliation is because he chooses to keep his voter registration private, an option available to any state voter, said Justin Lee, Utah director of elections. Skordas said he doesn't know Kwan's political party but noted the judge has been reprimanded previously during his career for comments critical of politicians from both major parties. Pearce referred to those past reprimands while justifying the severity of the suspension. Taylorsville city officials agree with the punishment and expect Kwan to return to his position when his suspension ends, city spokeswoman Kim Horiuchi said. Kwan's online posts about Trump started during the 2016 election. On Inauguration Day, he posted: 'Welcome to governing. Will you dig your heels in and spend the next four years undermining our country's reputation and standing in the world? . . . Will you continue to demonstrate your inability to govern and political incompetence?' The next month, he posted: 'Welcome to the beginning of the fascist takeover. . . We need to be diligent in questioning Congressional Republicans if they are going to be the American Reichstag and refuse to stand up for the Constitution.' The ruling suspending Kwan also cited an interaction in court with a defendant in 2017 in which Kwan criticized Trump after the defendant said he would use his tax refund to pay fines. 'You do realize that we have a new president, and you think we are getting any money back?' Kwan said. 'I hope,' the defendant replied. 'You hope?' Kwan said. 'I pray and I cross my fingers,' the defendant said. 'OK. Prayer might be the answer cause he just signed an order to start building the wall and he has no money to do that,' Kwan said. 'But don't worry, there is a tax cut for the wealthy so if you make over $500,000 you're getting a tax cut.' Kwan created a DUI and drug court, which won a governor's award for reducing drug and alcohol abuse and served on the Utah Judicial Council, according to his biography . He is also the president of the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association, which worked to earn their ancestors proper credit during the recent celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad. He is not the first judge to come under scrutiny or be reprimanded for political stances. A federal magistrate judge in San Antonio was suspended from leading citizenship swearing-in ceremonies in 2016 after he told new U.S. citizens that they 'need to go to another country' if they objected to Donald Trump's presidency. That same year, a municipal judge in Akron, Ohio, came under fire after she attended a rally for Trump and stood behind him while holding one of his campaign signs. ___ Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump said Friday that he has been considering pardons for several American military members accused of war crimes, including headline-grabbing cases of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive. Trump, leaving the White House for a trip to Japan, said he was 'looking' at the pardons after being asked about reports that he was considering clemency for the soldiers around the upcoming Memorial Day holiday. 'Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard and long,' the president said. 'You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight, sometimes they get really treated very unfairly.' But, Trump cautioned, 'I haven't done anything yet. I haven't made any decisions.' 'There's two or three of them right now,' the president continued. 'It's a little bit controversial. It's very possible that I'll let the trials go on, and I'll make my decision after the trial.' A number of veterans groups have registered opposition to the possible pardons, including one that could reportedly go to Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL. Gallagher is charged with killing a wounded Islamic State prisoner under his care in Iraq in 2017. Dozens of Republican congressmen have championed Gallagher's cause, claiming he's an innocent war hero being unfairly prosecuted. Trump got him moved from the brig to better confinement in a military hospital with access to his lawyers and family. Prosecutors said Gallagher fatally stabbed a wounded teenage Islamic State fighter, shot two civilians in Iraq and opened fire on crowds. Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to all counts. His lawyers said that he did not murder anyone and that disgruntled SEALs made the accusations because they wanted to get rid of a demanding platoon leader. Several major veterans groups said they had not been consulted by the White House about the possible pardons and were not provided with information they had requested about who was being considered and why. Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, urged Trump to exercise caution and not rush to act before Memorial Day, expressing concern that pardons could be issued before trials were held or fully adjudicated. 'These are not the types of decisions to be rushed and should be made after long and careful consideration,' he said. 'We want to hear from the administration as to their rationale — what additional information they have and why they are taking this course.' The Vietnam Veterans of America said it was opposed to the idea of issuing pardons to those accused or convicted of war crimes, which they believe could sidestep justice. Officials there said they saw no reason for the U.S. to deviate from its norm of abiding by the code of conduct and the Nuremberg principles, as embodied in the Universal Code of Military Justice, for more than 70 years. 'It is mind-blowing that these are the persons this administration is considering for pardons,' said Kristofer Goldsmith, an associate director for policy and chief investigator at Vietnam Veterans of America. A number of influential Trump outside advisers have pushed the president to pardon the soldiers. Others believed to be considered for pardons are Mathew Golsteyn, a former U.S. Army commando being charged with murder for killing a suspected Taliban bombmaker in Afghanistan, and Nicholas Slatten, one of four former Blackwater guards who were found guilty at trial in the fatal shooting of unarmed Iraqi civilians in a crowded Baghdad traffic circle. Prosecutors argued that Slatten, of Sparta, Tennessee, fired the first shots in a massacre that left more than a dozen dead and many others injured. His attorney has said that's not the case and pointed to statements that he says show another member of the Blackwater team initiated the shooting. The case took a long and winding path over the course of a decade. An appeals court in 2017 overturned the first guilty verdict against Slatten, ruling that he should have been tried separately from his three co-defendants. A second trial ended in a mistrial, and he was found guilty of murder last December in a third trial in federal court in Washington. He was sentenced to life in prison. Slatten, who joined Blackwater after leaving the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, has long maintained his innocence. Trump had said in December that he would be 'reviewing' the case against Golsteyn, calling him a 'U.S. Military hero' who could face the death penalty 'from our own government.' The former Green Beret could face the death penalty if convicted. Golsteyn was charged with killing the suspected bombmaker during a 2010 deployment in Afghanistan. Golsteyn was leading a team of Army Special Forces troops at the time and believed that the man was responsible for an explosion that killed two U.S. Marines. The possible pardons were first reported by The New York Times. ___ Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Eric Tucker and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report. ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Yen at http://twitter.com/@hopeyen1
  • A federal judge on Friday blocked President Donald Trump from building key sections of his border wall with money secured under his declaration of a national emergency, delivering what may prove a temporary setback on one of his highest priorities. U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr.'s order prevents work from beginning on two of the highest-priority, Pentagon-funded wall projects — one spanning 46 miles (74 kilometers) in New Mexico and another covering 5 miles (8 kilometers) in Yuma, Arizona. While the order applied only to those first-in-line projects, the judge made clear that he felt the challengers were likely to prevail at trial on their argument that the president was wrongly ignoring Congress' wishes by diverting Defense Department money. 'Congress's 'absolute' control over federal expenditures_even when that control may frustrate the desires of the Executive Branch regarding initiatives it views as important_is not a bug in our constitutional system. It is a feature of that system, and an essential one,' he wrote in his 56-page opinion. It wasn't a total defeat for the administration. Gilliam, an Oakland-based appointee of President Barack Obama, rejected a request by California and 19 other states to prevent the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars in Treasury asset forfeiture funds to wall construction, in part because he felt they were unlikely to prevail on arguments that the administration skirted environmental impact reviews. The delay may be temporary. The question for Gilliam was whether to allow construction with Defense and Treasury funds while the lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the state attorneys general were being considered. The cases still must be heard on their merits. 'This order is a win for our system of checks and balances, the rule of law, and border communities,' said Dror Ladin, an attorney for the ACLU, which represented the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday. The administration faces several lawsuits over the emergency declaration but only one other seeks to block construction during the legal challenge. A judge in Washington, D.C., on Thursday heard arguments on a challenge brought by the U.S. House of Representatives that says the money shifting violates the constitution. The judge was weighing whether the lawmakers even had the ability to sue the president instead of working through political routes to resolve the bitter dispute. At stake is billions of dollars that would allow Trump to make progress in a signature campaign promise heading into his campaign for a second term. Trump declared a national emergency in February after losing a fight with the Democratic-led House that led to a 35-day government shutdown. As a compromise on border and immigration enforcement, Congress set aside $1.375 billion to extend or replace existing barriers in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. Trump grudgingly accepted the money, but then declared the national emergency to siphon money from other government accounts, identifying up to $8.1 billion for wall construction. The funds include $3.6 billion from military construction funds, $2.5 billion from Defense Department counterdrug activities and $600 million from the Treasury Department's asset forfeiture fund. The Defense Department has already transferred the counterdrug money. Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, is expected to decide any day whether to transfer the military construction funds. The president's adversaries say the emergency declaration was an illegal attempt to ignore Congress, which authorized far less wall spending than Trump wanted. The administration said Trump was protecting national security as unprecedented numbers of Central American asylum-seeking families arrive at the U.S. border. The administration has awarded 11 wall contracts for a combined $2.76 billion — including three in the last two months that draw on Defense Department counterdrug money — and is preparing for a flurry of construction that the president is already celebrating at campaign-style rallies. The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced several large contacts with Pentagon funding. Last month, SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas, won a $789 million award to replace 46 miles (74 kilometers) of barrier in New Mexico — the one that Gilliam blocked on Friday. Last week, Southwest Valley Constructors of Albuquerque, New Mexico, won a $646 million award to replace 63 miles (101 kilometers) in the Border Patrol's Tucson, Arizona, sector, which Gilliam did not stop. Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Montana, won a $141.8 million contract to replace 5 miles (8 kilometers) in Yuma that Gilliam blocked and 15 miles (24 kilometers) in El Centro, California, which he did not address. Gilliam's ruling gives a green light — at least for now — for the administration to tap the Treasury funds, which it has said it plans to use to extend barriers in Rio Grande Valley. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat and frequent Trump adversary, didn't comment directly on his defeat but congratulated the ACLU and its clients 'in securing this critical victory for our states and communities.' Trump inherited barriers covering 654 miles (1,046 kilometers), or about one-third of the border with Mexico. Of the 244 miles (390 kilometers) in awarded contracts, more than half is with Pentagon money. All but 14 miles (22 kilometers) awarded so far are to replace existing barriers, not extend coverage. ___ Spagat reported from San Diego.

News

  • Professional gambler James Holzhauer continues to beat the odds on “Jeopardy!” >> Read more trending news  The 34-year-old became the second contestant in the television game show’s history to top $2 million in winnings, earning $74,000 in an episode that aired Friday night to win for the 27th consecutive time, The New York Times reported. Holzhauer is still $455,000 behind all-time earnings champion Ken Jennings, who cashed in with $2,520,700 during a 74-game winning streak in 2004. But Holzhauer is quickly closing in. Holzhauer now has $2,065,535 in total winnings, People reported. Holzhauer, who entered Final Jeopardy with $39,400, wagered $35,000 of it and answered “What is Sun Valley?” after the final clue -- “Astronomy buffs visit Idaho for the USA’s first Dark Sky Reserve. Oddly, part of it is this resort area with a bright name.” >> Blackjack: Pro gambler James Holzhauer wins 21st straight game on ‘Jeopardy!’ Holzhauer uses a method called the “Forrest Bounce,” in which he chooses tiles out of order and goes for the higher cash values early, CNN reported. Holzhauer is averaging $76,500 per episode, the Times reported. At that rate, Holzhauer would top Jennings’s earnings in six more episodes. If Holzhauer matched Jennings’ streak of 74 games and continues his current average of cash won, he would win more than $5,6 million, the newspaper reported. His next game will be aired Monday, CNN reported.
  • In the Book of Genesis, Noah’s ark survived a flood in the Middle East. A replica of the biblical boat was not as lucky, and its owners are suing -- for damages caused by heavy rains in northern Kentucky. >> Read more trending news  The owners of Ark Encounter are suing their five insurance carriers for refusing to cover nearly $1 million in damages after flooding in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on its access road, the Louisville Courier Journal reported. In a 77-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Kentucky, Crosswater Canyon Inc. and the Ark Encounter sued the business’ insurance underwriters, WLWT reported. The ark’s owners are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, the Courier Journal reported. The ark, located in Williamstown, was not damaged.  According to the lawsuit, 'A significant landslide occurred along portions of the slope,” which caused “significant damage” to the road surface, making portions of the road “unsafe and unfit for use.” The road was fixed by engineers at a cost of $1 million, WLEX reported. But when the Ark Encounter asked its insurance underwriters to cover the cost of repairs, they were rebuffed, the television station reported. The Allied World Assurance Co. is named as a defendant, along with three other carriers, according to The Washington Post. Initially, the suit alleges, defendants cited faulty craftsmanship as the reason for the property damage and claimed they were not liable, WLEX reported. After an appeal, the defendants admitted that only a small amount was covered by the policy. The Ark Encounter, built at a cost of $120 million, opened in July 2016 with a zoo, zip lines and a restaurant in addition to the five-story replica of the ark, the Post reported. It was founded by Ken Ham and his ministry, Answers in Genesis, the newspaper reported. Ark Encounter spokeswoman Melany Ethridge distributed a statement that said “the lawsuit speaks for itself,” noting the park remained open. 'You got to get to the boat to be on the boat,' Ethridge told the Courier Journal.
  • Amanda Eller, who went missing more than two weeks ago in Maui has reportedly been found alive according to KHNL in Hawaii. >> Read more trending news The the 35-year-old woman was spotted by a helicopter in a wooded area sources told KHNL. Eller hadn’t been seen since May 8, when she disappeared after a hike in a Maui Forest Reserve, known for its steep and rugged terrain. Her vehicle was found with her cellphone and wallet inside in a parking lot at the reserve. WSOC-TV confirmed the news with Eller's aunt, Lynn Eller Ansley, by phone Friday night. Ansley is one of several relatives who live in North Carolina. Eller’s parents had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to her safe return. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Officers found snakes, alligators and talking birds inside a Marion, Arkansas, home. >> Read more trending news William Hale, 47, is charged with 60 counts of aggravated animal cruelty after investigators found the exotic animals inside his home. One neighbor took pictures of the snakes he saw investigators taking out of the home. WHBQ-TV received a tip yesterday from a source who said the conditions were so unbearable that even the hazmat team could not handle it. He said the birds they found in that home were having full conversations with the investigators. “Tropical birds, I seen a parrot. Actually he had, like, seven of those, different type of birds, and I seen, like, 30 snakes,” Terrence Blackburn, a neighbor, said. “The bulldog was one of the first animals to come out, and there were five of those. I seen a poodle,” Blackburn said. Yellow caution tape surrounds the home. “I seen the alligator, which they had, it was a small baby alligator and I heard it was like nine of them,” Blackburn said. Investigators with the Marion Police Department told WHBQ-TV Animal Control officers responded to the home after complaints about barking dogs. “And you had no idea this was going on, no idea,” Blackburn said. Hale was not home at the time. He did not show up after officers spoke with him over the phone requesting his return. According to officers, that is when they conducted a search warrant and found several exotic animals that were not being properly cared for. “I would let him know that was kind of wrong. You know, we have kids over here, and them are dangerous animals,” Blackburn said. A source gave confirmation that there were several alligators inside that home yesterday.
  • Officials at Muskogee War Memorial Park said the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the National Guard took over the site Friday due to severe flooding. >> Read more trending news The park is home to the USS Batfish, a World War II-era submarine that now serves as a museum. Park staff and volunteers are being used to support emergency officials in managing the scene. Officials said at least one line on the Batfish has broken and they are working to keep it from floating away. Crews are filling the ballast tanks on board the USS Batfish to keep it inside the park's bowl. The National Guard also tied a new line to the boat to add leverage. Those interested in helping support the memorial and any potential repair costs can visit this link for more information.
  • A Walt Disney World employee from Clermont, Florida, was arrested on charges of trying to have sex with an 8-year-old girl. >> Read more trending news Investigators said Frederick Pohl Jr., 40, thought he was chatting with the father of the victim, but he was chatting with an undercover agent. The two arranged to meet at an Orlando hotel Tuesday and that's where Pohl was arrested. Investigators said Pohl was in possession of condoms and a child-sized pink dress. Authorities said Pohl was charged with transferring obscene materials to a minor and attempting to entice a minor. If convicted, Pohl faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison. Disney said Pohl was placed on unpaid leave of absence.