Biden opens overseas trip declaring 'United States is back'
MILDENHALL, England (AP) — President Joe Biden opened the first overseas trip of his term Wednesday with a declaration that “the United States is back” as he seeks to reassert the nation on the world stage and steady European allies deeply shaken by his predecessor.
Biden has set the stakes for his eight-day trip in sweeping terms, believing the West must publicly demonstrate it can compete economically with China as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. It is an open repudiation of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who scorned alliances and withdrew from a global climate change agreement that Biden has since rejoined.
The president's first stop was a visit with U.S. troops and their families at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, where he laid out his mission for the trip.
“We’re going to make it clear that the United States is back and democracies are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and issues that matter the most to our future," he said. "That we’re committed to leading with strength, defending our values, and delivering for our people.”
The challenges awaiting Biden overseas were clear as the president and the audience wore masks — a reminder of the pandemic that is still raging around much of the world even as its threat recedes within the United States.
Federal probe: Protest not broken up due to Trump photo op
WASHINGTON (AP) — An internal government investigation has determined that the decision to forcibly clear racial justice protesters from an area in front of the White House last summer was not influenced by then-President Donald Trump's plan to stage a Bible-toting photo opportunity at that spot.
The report released Wednesday by the Interior Department's inspector general concludes that the protesters were cleared by U.S. Park Police last June 1 so that a contractor could get started installing new fencing.
The demonstrators were protesting the death of George Floyd, who died after a then-Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck and pinned him to the ground for about 9 1/2 minutes. A half-hour after the Washington protesters were forced from the area with pepper pellets and flash-bangs, Trump walked across Lafayette Park amid the lingering scent of pepper spray and delivered a short speech while holding a Bible in front of St. John's Church.
Park Police officials had already planned to clear the area and “had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park,” Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt said in a statement accompanying the report.
The report documents Trump's attorney general, William Barr, encouraging commanders shortly before the push to clear the protesters because of Trump, but being dismissed.
Russian court outlaws opposition leader Navalny's groups
MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court on Wednesday night outlawed the organizations founded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by labeling them extremist, the latest move in a campaign to silence dissent and bar Kremlin critics from running for parliament in September.
The Moscow City Court’s ruling, effective immediately, prevents people associated with Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his sprawling regional network from seeking public office. Many of Navalny’s allies had hoped to run for parliamentary seats in the Sept. 19 election.
The ruling, part of a multipronged Kremlin strategy to steamroll the opposition, sends a tough message one week before President Vladimir Putin holds a summit meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva.
The extremism label also carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organizations, anyone who donated to them, and even those who simply shared the groups’ materials.
Navalny, Putin's most ardent political foe, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation that Russian officials reject. In February, Navalny was given a 2 1/2-year prison term for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.
US drops Trump order targeting TikTok, plans its own review
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House dropped Trump-era executive orders intended to ban the popular apps TikTok and WeChat and will conduct its own review aimed at identifying national security risks with software applications tied to China, officials said Wednesday.
A new executive order directs the Commerce Department to undertake what officials describe as an “evidence-based” analysis of transactions involving apps that are manufactured or supplied or controlled by China. Officials are particularly concerned about apps that collect users' personal data or have connections to Chinese military or intelligence activities.
In revoking some of President Donald Trump's blanket-style orders against Chinese tech companies and replacing them with a narrower approach, the Biden administration has not actually weighed in yet on whether TikTok and other apps pose a danger to Americans.
But a senior administration official said Wednesday that the Trump actions weren’t “always implemented in the soundest fashion” and the aim of the review is to set up clear criteria to evaluate specific data security and privacy risks for each app. He said that could lead to a range of potential future actions on an app-by-app basis.
“We want to take a tailored, tough approach here,” he said.
AP Exclusive: State bar investigating Texas attorney general
DALLAS (AP) — The Texas bar association is investigating whether state Attorney General Ken Paxton's failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on bogus claims of fraud amounted to professional misconduct.
The State Bar of Texas initially declined to take up a Democratic Party activist's complaint that Paxton's petitioning of the U.S. Supreme Court to block Joe Biden’s victory was frivolous and unethical. But a tribunal that oversees grievances against lawyers overturned that decision late last month and ordered the bar to look into the accusations against the Republican official.
The investigation is yet another liability for the embattled attorney general, who is facing a years-old criminal case, a separate, newer FBI investigation, and a Republican primary opponent who is seeking to make electoral hay of the various controversies. It also makes Paxton one of the highest profile lawyers to face professional blowback over their roles in Donald Trump's effort to delegitimize his defeat.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office did not respond to requests for comment. Paxton's defense lawyer, Philip Hilder, declined to comment.
Kevin Moran, the 71-year-old president of the Galveston Island Democrats, shared his complaint with The Associated Press along with letters from the State Bar of Texas and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals that confirm the investigation. He said Paxton's efforts to dismiss other states' election results was a wasteful embarrassment for which the attorney general should lose his law license.
Keystone XL pipeline nixed after Biden stands firm on permit
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The sponsor of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline pulled the plug on the contentious project Wednesday after Canadian officials failed to persuade President Joe Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.
Calgary-based TC Energy said it would work with government agencies “to ensure a safe termination of and exit" from the partially built line, which was to transport crude from the oil sand fields of western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.
Construction on the 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) pipeline began last year when former President Donald Trump revived the long-delayed project after it had stalled under the Obama administration. It would have moved up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily, connecting in Nebraska to other pipelines that feed oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Biden canceled the pipeline's border crossing permit in January over longstanding concerns that burning oil sands crude could make climate change worse and harder to reverse.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had objected to the move , raising tensions between the U.S. and Canada. Officials in Alberta, where the line originated, expressed frustration in recent weeks that Trudeau wasn't pushing Biden harder to reinstate the pipeline’s permit.
AP: Louisiana police unit probed over Black driver arrests
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The same Louisiana State Police unit whose troopers stunned, punched and dragged Ronald Greene on video during a deadly 2019 arrest is now under internal investigation by a secret panel over whether its officers are systematically targeting Black motorists for abuse.
The panel, whose existence was confirmed to The Associated Press by four people familiar with it, was set up in response to Greene’s death as well as three other violent stops of Black men: one who was punched, stunned and hoisted to his feet by his hair braids in a body-camera video obtained by the AP, another who was beaten after he was handcuffed, and yet another who was slammed 18 times with a flashlight.
“Every time I told him to stop he’d hit me again,” said Aaron Bowman, whose flashlight pummeling left him with three broken ribs, a broken jaw, a broken wrist and a gash to his head that required six staples to close. “I don’t want to see this happen to nobody — not to my worst enemy.”
The panel began working a few weeks ago to review thousands of body-camera videos over the past two years involving as many as a dozen white troopers, at least four of whom were involved in Greene’s arrest.
The review is focused on Louisiana State Police Troop F, a 66-officer unit that patrols a sprawling territory in the northeastern part of the state and has become notorious in recent years for alleged acts of brutality that have resulted in felony charges against some of its troopers.
Closed cold case murder tied to ousted Tennessee governor
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A former Tennessee governor's administration helped fund a contract murder of a key federal witness decades ago while embroiled in the state's largest political scandal, law enforcement officials announced Wednesday.
The new details revealed for the first time Wednesday have elements that ring of a movie: a trusted ally of union boss Jimmy Hoffa gunned down after testifying about a corrupt governor selling prison pardons and a gunman who donned a wig and blackface to throw authorities off the scent.
Investigators in Hamilton County, which encompasses Chattanooga, have been chipping away at the 42-year-old cold case of Samuel Pettyjohn since they renewed their investigation in 2015. No new charges will be filed because all of the major players involved are now dead, but authorities say closing the case provides closure to one aspect of a complicated piece of Tennessee history.
Pettyjohn, a Chattanooga businessman and close friend of Hoffa, was fatally shot in 1979 in downtown Chattanooga after testifying before a federal grand jury during the early phases of Tennessee's notorious “cash-for-clemency” scandal.
“Essentially, Mr. Pettyjohn cooperated with authorities and knew too much about what was going on locally, as well as the state level, and individuals didn’t like that and so individuals hired someone to murder him,” Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston said. “Here we are some 42 years later.”
Bruised but unbowed, meme stock investors are back for more
NEW YORK (AP) — After feeling the thrill of victory early this year by singlehandedly causing GameStop’s stock to soar — only to get crushed when it quickly crashed back to earth — armies of smaller-pocketed and novice investors are back for more.
These undaunted investors have resuscitated GameStop shares back above $300, up from $40 in February after plunging from a peak of $347. They’re also hauling new stocks onto the bandwagon they say is heading for the moon, including the lesser-known health insurance company Clover Health Investments.
This second wave of leaps for meme stocks are just as staggering — the movie theater chain AMC Entertainment soared to $62 last week from $2 early this year — and once again professional Wall Street is calling the gains illogical. Many of these professionals had predicted the phenomenon of regular, small-fry investors piling into a stock en masse and sending it incredibly higher would fizzle out, particularly after they felt the pain of losing some money.
Instead, the frenzy has endured and shows how powerful these investors remain, at least for now. They’re armed with social media where they can convince others to champion the same stocks. They also have zero-fee trading apps that allow many to buy stock options, which can offer bigger gains at a smaller upfront cost than buying a share of stock, in exchange for potentially bigger percentage losses.
“They’ll do surprising things if given the tools,” said Hossein Azari, CEO of cmorq, a company that helps customers get into cryptocurrencies and advocates for a new world of “decentralized finance.”
Underwood wins at CMT Awards; Gladys Knight, H.E.R. perform
NEW YORK (AP) — Carrie Underwood has another reason to rejoice — she extended her record as the most decorated artist in the history of the CMT Music Awards, thanks to her song “Hallelujah.”
The music video for the singer's hit, a collaboration with John Legend, was named video of the year at Wednesday's show, which aired from Nashville, Tennessee.
Underwood, who now has 23 CMT Awards, thanked her die-hard fans while accepting the honor: “You're the reason we're all here doing what we do, doing what we love (and) making music videos."
She also shouted-out Legend, particularly for sending her the song, which appeared on her first holiday album “My Gift."
“Congratulations on what I think is your first CMT Award. Whoa!" she exclaimed.