AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST


Combative Trump concedes Russia’s role in election hacking

NEW YORK (AP) — In a combative and freewheeling news conference, President-elect Donald Trump said for the first time Wednesday that he accepts Russia was behind the election year hacking of Democrats that roiled the White House race. Looking ahead, he urged Congress to move quickly to replace President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and insisted anew that Mexico will pay the cost of a border wall.

The hour-long spectacle in the marbled lobby of Trump’s Manhattan skyscraper was his first news conference since winning the election in early November, and the famously unconventional politician demonstrated he had not been changed by the weight of his victory.

He defiantly denied reports that Russia had collected compromising personal and financial information about him, lambasting the media for peddling “fake news” and shouting down a journalist from CNN, which reported on the matter. His family and advisers clapped and cheered him on throughout.

Trump’s transition has been shadowed by U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia not only meddled in the election, but did so to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. After spending weeks challenging that idea, Trump finally accepted at least part of the intelligence conclusions.

“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” Trump said, quickly adding that “other countries and other people” also hack U.S. interests. Still, he kept needling the intelligence agencies, saying it would be a “tremendous blot” on their record if officials were leaking information from his classified briefings.

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Newly leaked dossier on Trump circulated in DC for months

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was a bombshell story, emerging on the eve of Donald Trump’s first news conference as president-elect: U.S. intelligence officials had presented Trump with unsubstantiated claims that Russia had amassed compromising personal and financial allegations about him.

The purported Russian efforts were described in a newly released and uncorroborated dossier produced in August. But they had circulated more widely in Washington in October — following early reports and opaque warnings from elected officials that something was afoot involving the Kremlin and Trump.

In October, Mother Jones magazine described how a former Western spy — assigned to look into Trump’s Russian ties for a private American firm — had presented his findings to the FBI in August. Those findings, the magazine said, were produced for political opposition research and said that Russian intelligence had compromised Trump during his visits to Moscow — information that, if true, could be used to blackmail him or undermine his presidency.

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday identified the dossier’s author as Christopher Steele, a director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., whom the Journal said declined repeated requests for interviews through an intermediary. Another Orbis director told the Journal he wouldn’t “confirm or deny” that Orbis had produced the report.

Efforts to reach him by The Associated Press were not immediately successful. There was no answer after hours at Orbis Business Intelligence, at a five-story stone building across from London’s Lower Grosvenor Gardens, about two blocks from Buckingham Palace. There was no listed number for Steele’s address in Wokingham, about 30 miles west of London.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. COMBATIVE TRUMP MEETS PRESS

The freewheeling spectacle in the marbled lobby of Trump’s Manhattan skyscraper is his first news conference since winning the election in early November.

2. HOW PRESIDENT-ELECT IS BREAKING WITH PRECEDENT

Rather than sell off his financial assets, as other presidents have, Trump says his Trump Organization will be run by his adult sons and a longtime company exec while he’s in office.

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Ethics official denounces Trump’s plan for business

NEW YORK (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday he will continue to profit from his global business empire after he enters the White House this month — a precedent-breaking decision that the director of the Office of Government Ethics swiftly condemned as unpatriotic.

At a news conference announcing a much-anticipated plan for dealing with his sprawling company, Trump and his lawyer said the Trump Organization would be run by the president-elect’s adult sons and a longtime company executive, although the president-elect will retain an ownership stake in a trust that holds his business assets.

Sheri Dillon, an attorney with the firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, said the company will pursue new deals in the U.S. but will not enter new foreign arrangements while Trump is in office.

The steps are to assure Americans that he is “not exploiting the office of the presidency for his personal benefit,” she said.

The decision to stop new ventures abroad was one of Trump’s few concessions to ethics experts who have warned that the real estate development and licensing company’s international footprint could expose him to conflicts of interest. They have warned that foreign governments might try to curry favor with him or influence U.S. policy by cutting deals with his company and speeding approval for his projects.

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Texas carries out first US execution of 2017

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Texas on Wednesday put to death an inmate convicted of killing two men over a phony drug deal, the first U.S. execution of 2017.

Christopher Wilkins, 48, was declared dead at 6:29 p.m., 13 minutes after a lethal injection of pentobarbital.

Before the drug was administered, he twice mouthed “I’m sorry,” to two relatives of one of the murder victims as they watched through a window. He gave no final statement.

Wilkins had explained to jurors at his capital murder trial in 2008 how and why he killed his friends in Fort Worth three years earlier, saying he didn’t care if they sentenced him to death.

Wilkins shot Willie Freeman, 40 and Mike Silva, 33, after Freeman and an unidentified drug supplier duped Wilkins into paying $20 for a piece of gravel he thought was crack cocaine, according to court records.

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Trump’s pick for top diplomat takes tough line on Moscow

WASHINGTON (AP) — Barraged by questions about Russia, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state promised a far more muscular approach toward the Kremlin on Wednesday, abandoning much of the president-elect’s emphasis on improving ties between the Cold War foes. Instead, Rex Tillerson suggested the outgoing Obama administration responded too softly to Moscow’s takeover of Ukrainian territory.

The surprising shift in tone by Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil CEO and Russian “Order of Friendship” recipient, reflected the difficulty Trump will have in persuading Democrats and Republicans to broach a broad rapprochement with President Vladimir Putin’s government. Calling Russia a “danger” to the United States, Tillerson said he would keep U.S. sanctions in place and consider new penalties related to Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Although he said he hadn’t read last week’s classified assessment by the U.S. intelligence community, Tillerson said it was a “fair assumption” that Putin would have ordered the operation that purportedly included hacking, propaganda and internet trolls to harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and advance Trump’s. But in a puzzling revelation, Tillerson conceded he hadn’t yet talked with Trump about a Russia policy.

“Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests,” Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He added that Trump’s administration would be committed to the defense of America’s NATO partners, an obligation the president-elect called into question during the campaign if allies failed to meet defense spending pledges.

While his prepared statement reflected some of Trump’s desire for improved ties, Tillerson quickly pivoted under pressure from both sides of the aisle. On Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea region, he said, “That was a taking of territory that was not theirs.”

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Turkey bogged down in Syria as it realigns with Russia

BEIRUT (AP) — Nearly two months into the assault, Turkey has become bogged down in an unexpectedly bloody fight to retake the Islamic State group’s last stronghold in northern Syria. It has been forced to pour in troops, take the lead in the battle from its Syrian allies and reach out to Russia for aerial support.

The fight for al-Bab underscores the precarious path Ankara is treading with its foray in to Syria, aimed against both IS militants and Syrian Kurdish fighters. The assault on the town had already driven a wedge between Turkey and the United States, and now the realignment toward Moscow — which supports the government in Syria’s civil war — further tests Ankara’s alliance both with Washington and with the Syrian opposition.

The battle itself has proven grueling.

Nearly 50 Turkish soldiers have been killed in its Syria operation, most of them since the al-Bab assault began in mid-November — including 14 killed in a single day. The militants have dug in, surrounding the town with trenches, lining streets with land mines and carrying out painful ambushes and car bombings against the besieging forces. Each time Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters have thrust into the city, they’ve been driven out. More than 200 civilians are believed to have been killed since the attack began Nov. 13. Mud and cold rain have only made it more of a slog.

“The battle for al-Bab has been mostly about killing civilians and destroying the city, whether by Daesh or the Turks,” said Mustafa Sultan, a resident of al-Bab and a media activist who has been covering the fight. He used the Arabic acronym for IS.

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Trump says BuzzFeed ‘garbage’ for publishing allegations

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump and his team on Wednesday attacked news organizations that spread unsubstantiated reports about a damaging dossier collected on him by Russia, an incident that illustrates how old rules of journalism are tested in today’s rapidly changing media world.

Trump called BuzzFeed “a pile of garbage” for publishing the allegations and got into a spat with CNN’s Jim Acosta during his first news conference since July. He praised organizations that didn’t follow BuzzFeed’s lead.

The combative news conference, less than two weeks before Trump’s inauguration, was dominated by questions about Russia and the president-elect’s relationship with the intelligence community.

CNN on Tuesday reported that Trump had been briefed by intelligence officials about compromising personal and financial information that Russia had collected on him. The network did not give details about the information, saying the charges had not been verified, but BuzzFeed soon published them. Most reputable news organizations, following up the story, also did not report the details.

Despite those decisions, it took only the single report for the news to spread so rapidly that within hours, one specific, salacious allegation was a top trending topic on Twitter.

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Relatives of slain churchgoers confront gunman for last time

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — One by one, family members of nine slain black parishioners confronted Dylann Roof for the last time Wednesday, shouting at him, offering forgiveness and even offering to visit him in prison as he awaits execution for the slaughter.

The 22-year-old avowed white supremacist refused to meet their gaze and simply stared ahead, his head tilted down slightly as it had been for much of his trial.

“Dylann,” Janet Scott said quietly as she started speaking. “Dylann! DYLANN!” she said, her voice rising. Toward the end of her remarks, she said, “I wish you would look at me, boy.”

Scott, an aunt of 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, the youngest victim killed in the massacre, demanded that Roof look at her as she talked about her nephew’s “great big heart,” which could not be donated because of the police investigation.

The final statements came a day after jurors sentenced an unrepentant Roof to death. The gunman had one final opportunity to ask for mercy but instead told jurors he still “felt like I had to do it.”

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6 VW employees indicted in emissions scandal; VW fined $4.3B

WASHINGTON (AP) — Six high-level Volkswagen employees from Germany were indicted in the U.S. on Wednesday in the VW emissions-cheating scandal, while the company itself agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $4.3 billion — by far the biggest fine ever levied by the government against an automaker.

In announcing the federal charges and the plea bargain, Justice Department prosecutors detailed a large and elaborate scheme inside the German automaker to commit fraud and then cover it up, with at least 40 employees allegedly involved in destroying evidence.

“Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied and they ultimately lied,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.

Prosecutors may have trouble bringing the executives to trial in the U.S. German law generally bars extradition of the country’s citizens except within the European Union. Privately, Justice Department officials expressed little optimism that the five VW executives still at large will be arrested, unless they surrender or travel outside Germany.

Still, the criminal charges are a major breakthrough for a Justice Department that been under pressure to hold individuals accountable for corporate misdeeds ever since the 2008 financial crisis.

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