Trump advisers waged covert influence campaign
WASHINGTON (AP) — A firm run by Donald Trump's campaign chairman directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine's ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country's pro-Russian government, emails obtained by The Associated Press show. Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law.
The lobbying included attempts to gain positive press coverage of Ukrainian officials in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press. Another goal: undercutting American public sympathy for the imprisoned rival of Ukraine's then-president. At the time, European and American leaders were pressuring Ukraine to free her.
Gates personally directed the work of two prominent Washington lobbying firms in the matter, the emails show. He worked for Manafort's political consulting firm at the time.
Manafort and Gates' activities carry outsized importance, since they have steered Trump's campaign since April. The pair also played a formative role building out Trump's campaign operation after pushing out an early rival. Trump shook up his campaign's organization again this week, but Manafort and Gates retain their titles and much of their influence. The new disclosures about their work come as Trump faces criticism for his friendly overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump said Thursday night that, if elected, he will ask senior officials in his administration not to accept speaking fees, for five years after leaving office, from corporations that lobby "or from any entity tied to a foreign government." He said it was among his efforts to "restore honor to government."
US says $400M to Iran was contingent on release of prisoners
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration said Thursday that a $400 million cash payment to Iran seven months ago was contingent on the release of a group of American prisoners.
It is the first time the U.S. has so clearly linked the two events, which critics have painted as a hostage-ransom arrangement.
State Department spokesman John Kirby repeated the administration's line that the negotiations to return the Iranian money — from a military-equipment deal with the U.S.-backed shah in the 1970s — were conducted separately from the talks to free four U.S. citizens in Iran. But he said the U.S. withheld the delivery of the cash as leverage until Iran permitted the Americans to leave the country.
"We had concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release," Kirby said, citing delays and mutual mistrust between countries that severed diplomatic relations 36 years ago. As a result, he explained, the U.S. "of course sought to retain maximum leverage until after the American citizens were released. That was our top priority."
Both events occurred Jan. 17, fueling suspicions from Republican lawmakers and accusations from GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump of a quid pro quo that undermined America's longstanding opposition to ransom payments.
10 Things to Know for Friday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:
1. TOP TRUMP AIDE TIED TO SECRET LOBBYING CAMPAIGN
A firm run by Trump's campaign chairman orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine's ruling political party, emails obtained by the AP show.
2. AUTHORITIES CONTRADICT US SWIMMERS' STORY
Brazilian police say that Ryan Lochte and three teammates were not robbed in Rio after a night of partying, as they claimed.
Brazilian police say Lochte, US swimmers were not robbed
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian police said Thursday that swimmer Ryan Lochte and three U.S. teammates were not robbed after a night of partying, and the intoxicated athletes instead vandalized a gas station bathroom and were questioned by armed guards before they paid for the damage and left.
The robbery that was or wasn't has become the biggest spectacle outside of the Olympic venues in Rio, casting a shadow over American Olympians in Brazil amid an otherwise remarkable run at the Summer Games. The ordeal was also a blow to Brazilians, who for months endured scrutiny about whether the city could keep athletes and tourists safe given its long history of violence.
"No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed," Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso said during a news conference.
The police account came in direct contrast to claims from Lochte's attorney made earlier in the week. The attorney, Jeff Ostrow, had maintained that the robbery took place and insisted the swimmer had nothing to gain by making the story up. He, as well as Lochte's father and agent, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The swimmers could potentially face punishment — probation, suspension, a fine or expulsion — under USA Swimming's code of conduct, which prohibits dishonesty or fraud. It was not immediately clear if the organization planned to act. It was also not clear if the swimmers would face criminal charges, though police said the athletes could be charged with destruction of property, falsely reporting a crime or both.
In a first, Trump says he regrets painful comments
WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time since declaring his presidential run, Republican Donald Trump offered an extended apology to those who may have been hurt by his caustic comments, saying that he regrets some of what he's said "in the heat of debate."
"Sometimes in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that," the GOP nominee reading from prepared text, said at a rally in Charlotte, N.C. "And believe it or not, I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain."
He added: "Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues." As the crowd cheered, Trump pledged to "always tell you the truth."
The remarks came as Trump makes significant changes to a campaign that has struggled since the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions from self-created distractions. Earlier Thursday, Trump moved to invest nearly $5 million in battleground state advertising to address daunting challenges in the states that will make or break his White House ambitions. He also shook up his campaign in recent days, tapping a combative conservative media executive, Stephen Bannon, to serve as CEO of the campaign.
The New York businessman's campaign reserved television ad space over the coming 10 days in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to Kantar Media's political ad tracker. While Democrat Hillary Clinton has spent more than $75 million on advertising in 10 states since locking up her party's nomination, Trump's new investment marks his first of the general election season.
Image of Aleppo boy shocks world; Russia offers cease-fires
BEIRUT (AP) — The Russian military said Thursday it was ready to back a U.N. call for weekly cease-fires for Syria's contested city of Aleppo, as haunting footage of a young boy's rescue from the aftermath of an airstrike shook global media.
The image of the stunned and weary-looking boy, sitting in an ambulance caked with dust and with blood on his face, captured the horror that has beset the war-torn northern city as photographs of the child were widely shared on social media.
An hour after his rescue, the badly damaged building the boy was in completely collapsed.
A doctor in Aleppo identified the child as 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh. He was brought to the hospital, known as "M10," on Wednesday night, following an airstrike by Russian or government warplanes on the rebel-held neighborhood of Qaterji, said Dr. Osama Abu al-Ezz. The boy suffered head wounds but no brain injury, and was later discharged.
Rescue workers and journalists arrived shortly after the strike and described pulling victims from the rubble.
Baton Rouge's summer of pain: Shootings, unrest, now floods
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Anger. Sorrow. Vengeful glee. Guilt. Terrence Carter has experienced it all during Baton Rouge's summer of pain. And on Thursday, as he walked through the dirty water on the floor of his home, Carter said he was experiencing, of all things, hope.
"A couple of weeks ago, it seems like everybody was pulling apart. Now it's no black and white thing. Everybody's just got to help everybody to come out of this," Carter said.
Baton Rouge, the unassuming Louisiana capital city that is often overshadowed by jazz-loving, hard-partying New Orleans, has endured a string of tragedies this summer: the July 7 shooting death of a black man at the hands of two white police officers, the July 17 ambush killings of three officers by a black man, and now, the rains that have triggered catastrophic flooding.
And yet, amid this latest crisis, Carter and others have seen people pull together — white and black, officers and civilians — in ways that give them hope.
"We had so much division and hate in this city, but it's kind of a cleansing and a washing and God letting us know that all the things that we are fighting over and that are dividing us, that he's in control of everything," Cleve Dunn Jr., a businessman and leader in the black community.
Obama administration to phase out some private prison use
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration announced Thursday it will phase out its use of some private prisons, affecting thousands of federal inmates and immediately sending shares of the two publicly traded prison operators plunging.
In a memo to the Bureau of Prisons, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told it to start reducing "and ultimately ending" the Justice Department's use of private prisons. The announcement follows a recent Justice Department audit that found that the private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run ones.
The Obama administration says the declining federal prison population justifies the decision to eventually close privately run prisons. The federal prison population — now at 193,299 — has been dropping due to changes in federal sentencing policies over the past three years. Private prisons hold about 22,100 of these inmates, or 12 percent of the total population, the Justice Department said.
The policy change does not cover private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which hold up to 34,000 immigrants awaiting deportation.
"Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities," Yates wrote in a memo to the acting director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. As private prison contracts come to an end, the bureau is not to renew the contract or it should at least "substantially" reduce its scope, Yates wrote. She did not specify a timeline for when all federal inmates would be in government-owned facilities.
Naked Donald Trump statues pop up in cities across the US
NEW YORK (AP) — It's Donald Trump like you've never seen him before.
Life-size naked statues of the Republican presidential nominee greeted passers-by in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Cleveland on Thursday. They are the brainchild of an activist collective called INDECLINE, which has spoken out against Trump before.
In a statement, the collective said the hope is that Trump, the former host of "The Apprentice" reality TV series, "is never installed in the most powerful political and military position in the world."
The statues were created by an artist in Cleveland. They are of a stern-faced Trump with his hands folded over a bulging belly. Some parts of male genitalia are visible while others seemingly are missing.
"It is through these sculptures that we leave behind the physical and metaphorical embodiment of the ghastly soul of one of America's most infamous and reviled politicians," INDECLINE said in its statement.
Sweden and Germany both make first Olympic final
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Even Germany and Sweden seem to be surprised they are in the women's Olympic soccer final.
Most figured the World Cup champion U.S. national team would be cruising to its fourth straight gold medal. But the Americans were ousted by Sweden in the quarterfinals.
With the United States out, many figured at host Brazil and national star Marta would be playing for gold. But Sweden knocked off the Brazilians, too, this time in the semifinals.
Germany, meanwhile, avenged a loss to Canada earlier in the games, sending the Canadians to the bronze medal match for the second straight Olympics.
So here they are: an all-European Olympic final for the first time. Germany faces Sweden on Friday at the iconic Maracana Stadium, with both making their debuts in the title match.