AP News in Brief at 9:04 p.m. EST

Trump’s criticism of Russia hacking claim could haunt him

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump held firm Monday to his skepticism of the huge intelligence apparatus he’s about to inherit, doubting anew the CIA conclusion that Russia tried to hack its way into tipping the U.S. election his way.

Trump emphasized that he does not accept the conclusion that the Kremlin tried to disrupt the election in his favor, an idea he dismissed as “ridiculous” over the weekend. He also demanded to know why the subject hadn’t been raised before Election Day — which it was, repeatedly.

The focus of reporting by leading news organizations, the issue has been in the headlines since at least June — after hackers broke into computers at the Democratic National Committee, after WikiLeaks began publishing Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman’s hacked emails in October and after the Obama administration publicly blamed Russia’s government, also in October.

“Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking,” Trump tweeted Monday. “Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”

Trump himself had raised questions during a presidential debate in September about whose hackers were responsible, after Clinton blamed Russia. “She keeps saying ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ and maybe it was. It could be Russia, but it could be China, could also be lots of other people,” Trump said then. “It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”


Donald Trump’s avoidance of formal news conference continues

NEW YORK (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump on Monday canceled the only news conference he has scheduled since his election, continuing to communicate with the public via Twitter and carefully curated, one-on-one interviews.

Trump aides said Monday that an announcement planned for Thursday on the future of Trump’s business empire had been rescheduled. Spokesman Sean Spicer said in an email that moving the announcement “ensures the legal team has ample time to ensure the proper protocols are put in place so his sole focus will remain on the country and achieving his ambitious agenda with the help of the world-class cabinet he has built.”

Trump has kept up an active Twitter profile and has done a handful of television interviews, including a lengthy sit-down that aired Sunday on Fox News. But for decades most presidents-elect have held a news conference within days of the election. Those events differ from one-on-one interviews, because the president-elect must field questions from a broader range of journalists.

Trump has also lagged his predecessors in setting up a pool of journalists to provide the public with information about his whereabouts. Last month, he left Trump Tower and went out for dinner without notifying journalists stationed in the lobby. But since then his team has started traveling more regularly with a pool, though the journalists still do not fly on the same plane as Trump.

Every president and president-elect in recent memory has traveled with a pool of journalists when leaving the White House grounds. News organizations take turns serving in the small group, paying their way and sharing the material collected in the pool with the larger press corps. The White House depends on having journalists nearby at all times to relay the president’s first comments on breaking news.


Trump invites trouble if he keeps businesses: ethics experts

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump says he will step away from managing his business empire while he’s in office — but he’s not going to sell it off. If he follows through, he will shatter a presidential precedent on conflicts, and ethics experts say he will open the door to investigations and lawsuits that could hobble his administration.

“My executives will run it with my children,” he said in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday. He added that he will not have “anything to do with management” and won’t “do deals” for his business while he’s president.

That’s “a step in the right direction, but he can’t have people doing deals on his behalf,” said Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush. “He can’t have ownership.”

Indeed, for decades, presidents have sold their stocks and other personal holdings and put the cash into a blind trust overseen by an investment manager. For example, to stay on the right side of ethics, President Jimmy Carter sold his Georgia peanut farm.

That was one business. In one state.


Top GOP leaders back congressional probes of Russia hacking

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress’ top Republicans on Monday endorsed investigations into the CIA’s belief that Russia meddled in last month’s election to help Donald Trump win, suggesting potential battles ahead with the incoming commander in chief over Moscow and U.S. intelligence.

“The Russians are not our friends,” declared Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as GOP leaders steered toward a path contrasting starkly with the president-elect’s belittling dismissal of the spy agency’s assessment and his past praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Senate’s intelligence panel, led by Richard Burr, R-N.C., will conduct a bipartisan inquiry, according to McConnell, who also expressed support for a related probe by the Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Though declining to say whether he believes Russia tried tilting the election toward Trump, McConnell said, “I hope that those who are going to be in positions of responsibility in the new administration share my view” about Moscow.

Shortly afterward, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., released a statement backing an investigation the House Intelligence Committee has already started on cyber threats posed by foreign countries and extremist groups. He called any Russian intervention “especially problematic because under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests.”

Underscoring the possible collisions ahead between Trump and the men leading his party in Congress, McConnell and Ryan struck tones markedly more confrontational toward Russia than he has.


Syria rebels retreat in Aleppo in ‘terrifying’ collapse

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels retreated from former strongholds in eastern Aleppo in a “terrifying” collapse Monday, holding onto a small sliver of territory packed with fighters and thousands of civilians as government troops pressed on with their rapid advance.

The Syrian military said it had gained control of 99 percent of the former opposition enclave in eastern Aleppo, signaling an impending end to the rebels’ four-year hold over parts of the city as the final hours of battle played out.

“The situation is very, very critical,” said Ibrahim al-Haj of the Syrian Civil Defense, volunteer first responders who operate in rebel-held areas. He said he was seeking shelter for himself and his family, fearing clashes or capture by the government.

Retaking Aleppo, which has been divided between rebel- and government-controlled zones since 2012, would be President Bashar Assad’s biggest victory yet in the country’s civil war. But it does not end the conflict: Significant parts of Syria are still outside government control and huge swaths of the country are a devastated waste-land. More than a quarter of a million people have been killed.

On Sunday, the Islamic State group re-occupied the ancient town of Palmyra, taking advantage of the Syrian army and its Russian backers’ preoccupation with the fighting in Aleppo. On Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS fighters were on the verge of imposing a siege on a nearby army base known as T4.


Pro-Kurd party members arrested in wake of Istanbul bombings

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish authorities arrested more than 200 people Monday following suicide bombings near an Istanbul stadium that killed 44 people. The arrests primarily targeted members of a Kurdish political party that already was a focus of a broader government crackdown.

Saturday’s attack, which a radical Kurdish group claimed as an act of revenge for state violence against the ethnic minority in the southeast, was the deadliest to hit Istanbul this year.

Authorities blamed the carnage on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. A shadowy offshoot of the movement, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state, claimed responsibility for the attack on a website that is blocked in Turkey.

“This is definitely a repercussion of the current crackdown on the Kurdish people,” said Cenk Sidar, president of Sidar Global Advisors, a risk advisory group in Washington. “It seems likely (PKK) will go ahead with these high-casualty, low-cost attacks for them, and it is a very dangerous trend in the country.”

Turkey, a NATO member and a partner in the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State group, faces a myriad of internal and external security threats.


Recount efforts end: Trump wins in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania

Presidential election recount efforts came to an end Monday in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with both states certifying Republican Donald Trump as the winner in contests that helped put him over the top in the Electoral College stakes.

Trump’s victory in Wisconsin was reaffirmed following a statewide vote recount that showed him defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 23,000 votes. Meanwhile, a federal judge issued a stinging rejection of a Green Party-backed request to recount paper ballots in Pennsylvania’s presidential election and scan some counties’ election systems for signs of hacking.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein successfully requested and paid for the Wisconsin recount while her attempts for similar statewide recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan were blocked by the courts.

Stein got only about 1 percent of the vote in each of the three states, which Trump narrowly won over Clinton. Stein argued, without evidence, that voting machines in all three states were susceptible to hacking. All three states were crucial to Trump’s victory, having last voted for a Republican for president in the 1980s.

The numbers barely budged in Wisconsin after nearly 3 million votes were recounted. Trump, a billionaire New York real estate mogul, picked up 131 votes and won by 22,748 votes. The final results changed just 0.06 percent.


Suspect in Egypt chapel bombing had 2014 run-in with police

CAIRO (AP) — The young man suspected of blowing himself up inside a Cairo chapel during Sunday Mass, killing at least 25 people, had been arrested and beaten by police two years ago after allegedly taking part in an Islamist demonstration, his lawyer said Monday.

If independently confirmed, Mahmoud Shafiq Mohammed Mustafa would be the latest Egyptian to be radicalized after being subjected to police abuse, a practice that was common for decades and has become rampant after a crackdown on dissent following the military’s 2013 ouster of an Islamist president.

Speaking after a state funeral for the victims, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said the suspect detonated a belt of explosives inside a chapel adjacent to St. Mark’s Cathedral, seat of Egypt’s ancient Coptic Orthodox Church. The over 100-year-old chapel was packed with worshippers.

The dead included more than 20 women and children. Forty-nine others were injured, according to the latest figures from the Health Ministry.

Mahmoud Hassan, one of Musafa’s lawyers, said his client, who was 16 at the time of his arrest, was tortured until he confessed to the possession of weapons and explosions. He also faced charges of membership in an “illegal organization,” Egyptian parlance for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group of which former President Mohammed Morsi was a senior official.


Next on Michelle Obama’s journey: Figuring out next steps

WASHINGTON (AP) — After eight years as first lady, what Michelle Obama does next will be one of the most talked-about questions when the Obamas leave the White House.

She’ll have a variety of options after being a high-profile advocate against childhood obesity, a sought-after talk-show guest, a Democratic power player and a fashion maven.

Just as the first lady’s role is undefined, with each woman molding it to her personality, interests and comfort level, there is no script for what comes after the first lady finishes the job.

The widowed Jacqueline Kennedy remarried and became a New York book editor. Laura Bush continues her advocacy for literacy and women in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton launched her political career with her bid for the U.S. Senate, even before her family left the White House.

Here’s a look at what Mrs. Obama is likely to do, or not do, when at 53 years old she returns to “private” life on Jan. 20.


Surge in drug-affected newborns driven by rural opioid use

CHICAGO (AP) — A surge in U.S infants born with symptoms of withdrawal from heroin or strong prescription painkillers is driven largely by rising drug use among women in rural areas, a new study found.

The problem in urban and rural areas was about the same in 2004 — about 1 in 1,000 births were affected. But by 2013, the rural rate had climbed to almost 8 in 1,000. In urban areas, it reached 5 per 1,000 births.

The rates correspond with women’s use of opioid drugs during pregnancy. This includes use or misuse of oxycodone and other prescription opioid painkillers, and use of illegal narcotics.

Newborns whose mothers use these drugs during pregnancy are at risk for seizures, excessive crying, problems with breathing, sleeping and feeding and other withdrawal symptoms. Treatment sometimes includes methadone and babies may need to be hospitalized for weeks or months.

The study, led by University of Michigan researchers, found that about 21 percent of U.S newborns with withdrawal symptoms in 2013 were from rural counties, up from 13 percent in 2004.