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  • Maria Butina, the Russian woman who used her interest in gun rights and her connections with members of the Republican Party to try to gain influence in the highest reaches of the U.S. government, reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors Thursday to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to act as a Russian agent in the U.S. Part of that deal includes an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors on other matters, according to court documents released Thursday. Butina, who faces a maximum of five years in prison, entered the plea which acknowledged that she failed to register with the Justice Department as a Russian agent as is required by U.S. law.  Prosecutors allege she tried to make contacts in the US at the direction of both a “Russian official” and at least one other person. Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician, is believed to be that Russian official. Click here to read Butina’s federal plea deal.
  • Kelsey Berreth was last seen on Thanksgiving Day, captured on surveillance video entering a grocery store with what appears to be her 1-year-old daughter in a baby carrier. Weeks later, investigators don't know what happened to the 29-year-old Colorado mother. Her fiance has told police the couple, who did not live together, met sometime on the holiday to exchange their child. After that, police said the only signs of Berreth were text messages from her cellphone. Her disappearance has mystified her family and police leading a multi-state search. 'Kelsey, we just want you home,' her mother, Cheryl Berreth pleaded at a press conference Monday. 'Call us if you can. We won't quit looking.' The woman's fiance, Patrick Frazee, told police she last texted him on Nov. 25, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Her employer, an aviation company, got a text message from Berreth's phone the same day, saying the flight instructor planned to take the following week off. Police later received data indicating Berreth's phone was near Gooding, Idaho, that same day, nearly 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) from her home in Woodland Park, Colorado. A police investigation was opened Dec. 2 after Cheryl Berreth asked for a welfare check of her daughter. The Woodland Park Police Department has classified the disappearance as a missing person case. The department did not immediately respond to a request for an update on the investigation on Thursday. Investigators who went to the woman's home found some cinnamon rolls in Berreth's kitchen and both of her cars still in place outside the home. Woodland Park Police Chief Miles De Young said the company where Berreth worked, Doss Aviation, has accounted for all their planes and police have no reason to believe she used someone else's plane for a flight. In the surveillance video released this week, Berreth is seen entering a Woodland Park grocery store at 12:05 p.m. Her hair is pinned back in a bun, and she is carrying a purse and a baby carrier mostly covered by a blanket. She then pushes a shopping cart into the store, perching the carrier on top. Police have not said what time she and Frazee met to exchange their daughter. The child remains with her father, police said. Frazee's attorney, Jeremy Loew, said in a written statement Wednesday that his client has been interviewed by police and provided investigators with a cheek swab for DNA along with his cell phone. Loew said neither he nor his client will comment further 'as he does not want to impede law enforcement's investigation.' Frazee missed Monday's press conference where Cheryl Berreth made her plea for information about her daughter, but Loew said his client only learned of the event an hour before it began and would have attended with more notice. 'Mr. Frazee hopes and prays for Ms. Berreth's return,' Loew said. 'Mr. Frazee will continue to cooperate with law enforcement and continue to parent the child he shares with Ms. Berreth.' Berreth's family has continued to urge people to share a featuring two smiling photos of the slight woman. 'Kelsey loves her God,' Cheryl Berreth said at the press conference. 'She loves her family and friends and she loves her job. She's reliable, considerate and honest.' According to public records, Kelsey Berreth previously lived in Washington state. In 2016, she moved to Woodland Park, a mountain community of about 7,500 people two hours south of Denver. 'She doesn't run off and someone knows where she is at,' her mother said. ___ Associated Press writers James Anderson and Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.
  • A Southwest flight bound for Dallas returned to Seattle when airline officials realized a human heart was left on board.  >> Read more trending news  The “life-critical cargo shipment” intended for a Seattle, hospital was supposed to be removed from the plane’s previous flight Dec. 9, KTVT reported. “We made the decision to return to Seattle as it was absolutely necessary to deliver the shipment to its destination in the Seattle area as quickly as possible,” a Southwest official told Newsweek. The heart would only be good for medical use within a certain amount of time. It’s believed the heart made it back in time, KTVT reported. However, it is unclear for whom it was intended. Seattle-area hospitals said they were not involved. Organ-procurement organizations in Washington and California said they never use commercial flights for heart transplants. The plane was taken out of service for an unrelated mechanical issue. Passengers were delayed for about five hours, WFAA reported. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says a looming government shutdown would be 'stupid' but might be unavoidable if Democrats refuse to support President Donald Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico. The California Republican said Thursday that even if House Republicans cobble together enough votes to approve the wall, the plan is likely to fail in the Senate. Democrats in that chamber have vowed to block it from receiving the necessary 60 votes. McCarthy said he thinks 'going into a shutdown is stupid,' but he offered no immediate plan ahead of a Dec. 21 deadline. The House adjourned for six days after his remarks. McCarthy's comments put him at odds with Trump, who said this week he'd be 'proud to shut down the government' in the name of border security.
  • President Donald Trump may be spending 16 days at his Palm Beach, Florida, resort over the holidays. >> Read more trending news  The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that according to a temporary flight restriction issued Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday, Trump could be in the area from Dec. 21 to Jan. 6. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is in the West Palm Beach region of the state, the region for which the VIP temporary flight restriction was issued. The alert does not say when Air Force One will arrive or depart from Palm Beach International Airport, according to Palm Beach Post. The Post reported that Trump’s visit would be his longest to the resort since his January 2017 inauguration. 
  • The Boy Scouts of America says it is exploring 'all options' to address serious financial challenges, but is declining to confirm or deny a report that it may seek bankruptcy protection in the face of declining membership and sex-abuse litigation. 'I want to assure you that our daily mission will continue and that there are no imminent actions or immediate decisions expected,' Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh said in a statement issued Wednesday evening. Surbaugh was responding to a Wall Street Journal report that the BSA, founded in 1910, had hired a law firm to assist in a possible Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. He described the report as 'news speculation,' but he acknowledged that the group is 'working with experts to explore all options available' as well as the pressures arising from multiple lawsuits related to past instances of sexual abuse. 'We have a social and moral responsibility to fairly compensate victims who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting, and we also have an obligation to carry out our mission to serve youth, families and local communities through our programs,' Surbaugh said. Other institutions facing multifaceted sexual abuse scandals have sought bankruptcy protection recently. USA Gymnastics took the step last week as it attempts to settle dozens of lawsuits related to abuse by now-imprisoned gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. About 20 Roman Catholic dioceses and other religious orders around the U.S. have previously filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of clergy sexual abuse claims. Surbaugh apologized on behalf of the BSA to those abused during their time in the Boy Scouts. 'We have always taken care of victims — we believe them, we believe in fairly compensating them and we have paid for unlimited counseling, by a provider of their choice, regardless of the amount of time that has passed since an instance of abuse,' he said. 'Throughout our history we have taken proactive steps to help victims heal and prevent future abuse.' In addition to abuse-related litigation, the Boy Scouts have been trying to reverse a decline in membership. The organizations' current youth participation is about 2.3 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past. In a major step toward revitalization, the BSA is moving to open all its programs to girls, but even that has caused problems. Last month, the Girl Scouts of the USA filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the BSA for dropping the word 'boy' from its flagship program in an effort to attract girls. That suit was in response to the BSA's decision to rename its program for 11- to 17-year-olds; it will be called Scouts BSA rather than the Boy Scouts, though the parent organization will remain the Boy Scouts of America. Paul Mones, an Oregon-based lawyer who has handled several sex-abuse lawsuits targeting the BSA, said the organization has assets of more than $1 billion, but has been under increasing pressure from litigation as public awareness of sexual abuse intensifies. Mones was co-counsel in a 2010 sexual abuse case in Portland, Oregon, that led to a nearly $20 million judgment against the BSA on behalf of a man molested by a Scout leader in the 1980s. As a result of that case, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the BSA to release previously confidential files on suspected abusers. ___ Follow David Crary on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CraryAP