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


Watchdog to probe Comey’s, FBI’s actions before election

WASHINGTON (AP) — In yet another aftershock from the chaotic presidential campaign, the Justice Department inspector general opened an investigation Thursday into department and FBI actions before the election, including whether FBI Director James Comey followed established policies in the email investigation of Hillary Clinton.

Democrats have blamed Comey’s handling of the inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private email server, and his late-October public letter about the case, in part for her loss to Republican Donald Trump.

Workers are now putting final touches on preparations for next week’s Inauguration Day festivities, and the new probe will not change the election results. But it revives questions of whether the FBI took actions that might have influenced the outcome.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the department’s internal watchdog, will direct the investigation, which comes in response to requests from members of Congress and the public.

Comey said he was pleased about the review and the FBI would cooperate fully with the inspector general.

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Obama ends visa-free path for Cubans who make it to US soil

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama announced Thursday he is ending a longstanding immigration policy that allows any Cuban who makes it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident.

The repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy is effective immediately. The decision follows months of negotiations focused in part on getting Cuba to agree to take back people who had arrived in the U.S.

“Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities,” Obama said in a statement. “By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.”

The Cuban government praised the move. In a statement read on state television, it called the signing of the agreement “an important step in advancing relations” between the U.S. and Cuba that “aims to guarantee normal, safe and ordered migration.”

Obama is using an administrative rule change to end the policy. Donald Trump could undo that rule after becoming president next week. He has criticized Obama’s moves to improve relations with Cuba. But ending a policy that has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to come to the United States without a visa also aligns with Trump’s commitment to tough immigration policies.

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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. WATCHDOG TO PROBE JUSTICE, FBI ACTIONS BEFORE ELECTION

The Justice Department’s inspector general says the investigation will include the department and the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email controversy.

2. OBAMA ENDING ‘WET FOOT, DRY FOOT’

The longstanding immigration policy allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident.

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In tearful farewell, Obama awards Biden the Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON (AP) — At the dusk of both of their political careers, surrounded by teary friends and family, President Barack Obama on Thursday bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Joe Biden, the man he called “the finest vice president we have ever seen.”

The vice president winced in shock as Obama announced he was conferring the nation’s highest civil honor on his right-hand-man for eight years. Biden turned away from the cameras, wiped away some tears, then stood stoically as Obama draped the blue-and-white ribbon around his neck.

“I just hope that the asterisk in history that is attached to my name when they talk about this presidency is that I can say I was part of the journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things for this country,” Biden said.

There were standing ovations — several of them — at what had been billed as a modest farewell ceremony for Biden but evolved into a surprise bestowal of the Medal of Freedom, the last time Obama will present the honor.

“I had no idea,” Biden said of the award, insisting he didn’t deserve it.

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GOP leaders look to early health care bill, details vague

WASHINGTON (AP) — Under mounting pressure from Donald Trump and rank-and-file Republicans, congressional leaders are talking increasingly about chiseling an early bill that dismantles President Barack Obama’s health care law and begins to supplant it with their own vision of how the nation’s $3 trillion-a-year medical system should work.

Yet even as Republicans said they will pursue their paramount 2017 goal aggressively, leaders left plenty of wiggle room Thursday about exactly what they will do. Their caution underscored persistent divisions over how to recraft a law they’ve tried erasing since its 2010 enactment, plus their desire to avoid panicking the 20 million people who’ve gained coverage under Obama’s overhaul or unsettling health insurance markets.

In an interview with conservative radio host Mike Gallagher, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the initial repeal and replace legislation will be “the primary part of our health care policy” and would be followed by other bills. Later, he told reporters at the Capitol that while Republicans will work quickly, “We’re not holding hard deadlines, only because we want to get it right.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the early repeal bill would “begin to make important progress.” He said Republicans “plan to take on the replacement challenge in manageable pieces, with step-by-step reforms.” He set no timetable.

“Repealing and replacing Obamacare is a big challenge. It isn’t going to be easy,” McConnell added.

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CIA nominee agrees Russia tried to interfere in election

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s pick to run the CIA told Congress on Thursday that he accepts the findings in an intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the U.S. election with the goal of helping Trump win, even though the president-elect has been skeptical of some of the report’s conclusions.

“Everything I’ve seen suggests to me that the report has an analytical product that is sound,” said Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican congressman. His comments struck a different tone than those of his future boss, who called the focus on Russia and the election a “political witch hunt” before he was even briefed on the findings.

Trump, for the first time on Wednesday, acknowledged that Russia was behind the computer hacking that targeted Democrats during the 2016 campaign.

As head of the CIA, Pompeo would be responsible for bringing to Trump intelligence assessments the president may find politically unappealing, including additional information on Russia’s interference with the American democratic process. Pompeo promised senators on the intelligence committee that he would do so.

“My obligation as director of CIA is to tell every policy maker the facts as best the intelligence agency has developed them,” Pompeo said. He is currently a member of the House intelligence committee.

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In eastern Mosul, small signs of progress amid the fighting

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Small stalls and carts have sprung up outside the bombed-out buildings in eastern Mosul, selling meat and vegetables, cigarettes and cellphones to the thousands of civilians still living in neighborhoods where the Iraqi military has driven out the Islamic State group.

As the grinding military operation enters its fourth month, about a third of the northern city is under government control. While more than 100,000 people have fled the fighting, many have remained despite no electricity or running water.

Zaid Khaled sells frozen chicken from a stall in the main traffic circle in the Zahour neighborhood. Every morning, he takes a bus to the easternmost edge of Mosul to buy the poultry in a market.

Because there’s no power, he must sell his whole supply each day or lose money.

“Slowly, as people are able to go back to work, life will return to normal, step by step,” he said.

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Suspected airport gunman’s life unraveled over past year

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Esteban Santiago stood alone in the cold one day last month outside Mom & Pop’s liquor store in Anchorage. He was waving his arms and having a terrible argument in the parking lot.

“He’d just be talking to himself … screaming as if he was having a battle with himself,” said Naomi Harden, a clerk at the store, situated across the street from the motel where Santiago lived.

Last week, Santiago got off a one-way flight from Anchorage at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, arriving with a single piece of checked luggage: a Walther 9 mm semi-automatic handgun in a case. He took the gun out in a bathroom, loaded it and opened fire in the baggage claim area, killing five people and wounding six, police say.

After emptying two clips, Santiago lay down on the floor and was arrested, authorities say. He now faces a possible death sentence if convicted. He has yet to enter a plea and is awaiting the assignment of a public defender to his case.

Investigators are trying to establish the motive for the attack.

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Officials: More than 40 percent of California out of drought

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — More than 40 percent of California is out of drought, federal drought-watchers said Thursday at the tail end of powerful storms that sent thousands of people fleeing from flooding rivers in the north, unleashed burbling waterfalls in southern deserts, and doubled the vital snowpack in the Sierra Nevada in little more than a week.

Declaring California as a whole to be past its official three-year drought emergency will be up to Gov. Jerry Brown, who will probably wait until the end of the winter rain and snow season to make that decision.

But for people in northern cities such as Sacramento, where state workers opened flood gates to ease pressure on levees for the first time in a dozen years, releasing a two-mile-wide torrent of excess water from the surging Sacramento River, the call on declaring the dry spell over in Northern California looked much clearer.

“It’s hard to say we have a drought here right now,” said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California at Davis.

Lund spoke as he returned from taking students to see the wrenched-open, century-old flood gates in Sacramento, which got its heaviest rain in 20 years this week.

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CNN at war with Trump over what reporting unleashed

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — A week before the inauguration, CNN is at war with an incoming president, not necessarily for what it reported but for what its reporting unleashed.

For all the noise — accusations of “fake news,” the confrontation between Donald Trump and CNN’s Jim Acosta at a news conference, false claims about what CNN had reported or linked to — that realization emerged toward the end of a remarkable 25-minute televised confrontation between Anderson Cooper and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.

When it reported on Tuesday that national intelligence officials had informed the president-elect that the Russians had collected a dossier on his behavior, CNN did not specifically detail what that behavior was because it couldn’t vouch for its veracity. But it was CNN that gave BuzzFeed the cover to do so, Conway said.

“You got the party started,” she said.

The question is raised: if one person unlocks a box and walks away, is that person responsible when someone else opens the box and removes its unsavory contents?

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