Tillerson in Moscow: Pushing on Syria where Obama failed
MOSCOW (AP) — The Trump administration veered toward deeper conflict with Russia Tuesday as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow, gambling that an unpredictable new president armed with the willingness to threaten military action gives the U.S. much-needed leverage to end Syria’s carnage.
Yet there were no guarantees Tillerson’s arguments would prove any more successful than the Obama administration’s failed effort to peel Russia away from its Syrian ally. Tillerson’s mission, coming days after 59 Tomahawk missiles struck a Syrian air base, also carries serious risks: If Russia brushes off the warnings, President Donald Trump could be forced into another show of force in Syria or see his credibility wane.
“I hope that what the Russian government concludes is that they have aligned themselves with an unreliable partner in Bashar al-Assad,” Tillerson said before flying to the Russian capital, referring to Syria’s embattled leader.
“The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,” he confidently predicted.
But Tillerson’s claim is one President Barack Obama, too, argued for years, only to see Assad outlast his own term in office. And the Trump administration’s nascent Syria policy seems to be increasingly centering on the same tactic Obama unsuccessfully employed: persuading Russia, Assad’s staunchest ally, to abandon him.
CEO issues new apology as details of passenger’s past emerge
CHICAGO (AP) — After people were horrified by video of a passenger getting dragged off a full United Express flight by airport police, the head of United’s parent company said the airline was reaching out to the man to “resolve this situation.”
Hours later on Monday, his tone turned defensive. He described the man as “disruptive and belligerent.”
By Tuesday afternoon, almost two days after the Sunday evening confrontation in Chicago, CEO Oscar Munoz issued his most contrite apology yet as details emerged about the man seen on cellphone videos recorded by other passengers at O’Hare Airport.
“No one should ever be mistreated this way,” Munoz said.
The passenger was identified as physician David Dao, 69, of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, who was convicted more than a decade ago of felony charges involving his prescribing of drugs and spent years trying to regain his medical license.
North Korea decries US carrier dispatch as parliament meets
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea’s parliament convened Tuesday amid heightened tensions on the divided peninsula, with the United States and South Korea conducting their biggest-ever military exercises and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier heading to the area in a show of American strength.
North Korea vowed a tough response to any military moves that might follow the U.S. decision to send the carrier and its battle group to waters off the Korean Peninsula.
“We will hold the U.S. wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,” a spokesman for its Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The statement followed an assertion by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack carry a message for any nation operating outside of international norms. He didn’t specify North Korea, but the context was clear enough.
“If you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken,” Tillerson told ABC’s “This Week.”
Musician John Warren Geils Jr. dies in Massachusetts at 71
GROTON, Mass. (AP) — Musician John Warren Geils Jr., founder of The J. Geils Band known for such hits as “Love Stinks,” ”Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” has died in his Massachusetts home at 71.
Groton police said officers responded to Geils home around 4 p.m. Tuesday for a well-being check and found him unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“A preliminary investigation indicates that Geils died of natural causes,” police said in a statement.
The J. Geils Band was founded in 1967 in Worcester, Massachusetts, while Geils was studying at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The band released 11 studio albums before breaking up in 1985. They reunited off and on until recent years.
The band had several Top 40 singles in the early 1970s, including a cover song “Lookin’ for a Love” by the family group The Valentinos and “Give It to me.”
Germany: Pregame blasts rock soccer team bus; player injured
DORTMUND, Germany (AP) — Three explosions went off near the team bus of Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s top soccer clubs, as it set off for a Champions League quarterfinal match on Tuesday evening. One of Dortmund’s players was injured.
Police said they were working on the assumption that the blasts were directed at the Dortmund team and caused by “serious explosive devices,” which may have been hidden in a hedge near a car park.
The explosions happened as the team was departing its hotel for a first-leg match against Monaco. The game was called off shortly before kickoff and rescheduled for Wednesday.
A letter claiming responsibility was found near the site of the blasts, prosecutor Sandra Luecke told a late evening news conference. She said investigators are examining the authenticity of what was written in the letter, but wouldn’t reveal more about its contents, citing the ongoing investigation.
The case is being investigated as attempted homicide, Luecke said.
Q&A: Why unseating Assad risks unleashing even more chaos
BEIRUT (AP) — The statement by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the reign of President Bashar Assad’s family “is coming to an end” suggests the U.S. is taking a much more aggressive approach about the Syrian leader.
The remark Tuesday came after a U.S. airstrike in Syria and threats of more punitive action.
Any attempt to unseat Assad faces huge hurdles and risks unleashing chaos. It could also relieve the suffering of nearly 1 million Syrians living under constant siege and bombardment.
Despite six years of civil war, Assad is firmly entrenched in his seat of power, Damascus, largely thanks to powerful allies Russia and Iran who continue to prop up his government politically and militarily.
Taking him out of the equation without a clear transition plan would be a major gamble with consequences that would likely resonate far beyond the Syrian borders and raises the following questions:
Trump taps lawyer involved with Trump U case for federal job
WASHINGTON (AP) — As a top aide to Florida’s attorney general, Carlos G. Muniz helped defend the office’s decision to sit out legal action against Trump University. Now the president is naming him to be the top lawyer in the U.S. Education Department.
President Donald Trump has announced his intent to nominate Muniz to serve as general counsel to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The Senate would then consider the nomination of the Republican lawyer.
Emails reviewed by The Associated Press show that in 2013 Muniz, who served as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s chief of staff for three years, was included in discussions about student complaints alleging fraud with Trump’s namesake real-estate seminars.
Muniz, now in private practice, has also been the lead attorney defending Florida State University in a lawsuit by a former student who said the school failed to investigate after she said she was sexually assaulted by the star quarterback of the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship football team. The player was never charged with a crime by police in Tallahassee, and the state attorney’s office declined to pursue a criminal case against him.
An investigation by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is still underway, presenting a potential conflict of interest if Muniz is confirmed.
Stepfather of suspect in Wisconsin manhunt: Surrender
JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — The estranged stepfather of a Wisconsin man suspected of stealing guns and threatening attacks in an anti-government manifesto sent to the White House on Tuesday urged the fugitive to surrender.
Don McLean said his stepson, Joseph Jakubowski, has never had a good relationship with police and that he and his wife are concerned for his safety.
“We just want him to give up. There’s no good ending to this except him giving up,” McLean, 54, told The Associated Press during an interview Tuesday in which he repeatedly pleaded for his stepson to surrender.
More than 150 state and federal law enforcement officers have been searching for the 32-year-old Jakubowski since April 4, when they believe he took 18 firearms from a gun store in Janesville in southwestern Wisconsin. Law enforcement found Jakubowski’s burnt vehicle nearby and have investigated more than 400 leads in his pursuit.
An image of Jakubowski taken from a surveillance video at a gas station the day he disappeared adorns billboards on Wisconsin’s interstates and on the road into Janesville, a rural city of about 64,000 where houses stand next to plots of farmland about 70 miles (110 kilometers) southwest of Milwaukee. The FBI on Tuesday released an image of Jakubowski that showed how he might look with the hair on his head and face shaved off, saying investigators believe he may have altered his appearance.
House race in heavily GOP Kansas surprisingly competitive
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Democratic civil rights attorney running in the nation’s first congressional election since President Donald Trump’s November victory has made the race surprisingly competitive for a Kansas House seat held by Republicans for more than two decades.
The special election Tuesday between Democrat James Thompson and Republican Ron Estes to fill the seat vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo is being watched across the nation for signs of a backlash against Republicans or waning support from Trump’s supporters.
After entering the fray Monday with a recorded get-out-the-vote call on Estes’ behalf, Trump Tuesday morning tweeted: “Ron Estes is running TODAY for Congress in the Great State of Kansas. A wonderful guy, I need his help on Healthcare & Tax Cuts (Reform).”
Republicans have represented the south-central Kansas district since 1994. The district has been hard hit by the downturn in the agricultural economy and the loss of hundreds of well-paying, blue-collar jobs in aircraft manufacturing plants. The 17-county congressional district includes Wichita, home to Koch Industries, the company led by conservative billionaire political donors Charles and David Koch.
Steve Weems, a 69-year-old retired accountant from Wichita, doesn’t want to see a change in the Republican majority in the House and cast his vote for Estes.
Explosion at Army ammunition plant in Missouri kills 1
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An explosion Tuesday at a sprawling ammunition plant near Kansas City, Missouri, killed one worker and injured four others, the U.S. Army said.
The blast at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, just east of Kansas City, occurred in a building where chemicals are mixed, Army officials. The building has been secured and rendered safe, they said, allowing investigators to begin looking into what caused the explosion.
Other explosions have occurred at the plant, including a 1990 blast that killed one worker and a 1981 explosion that severely burned a worker who later died, according to records. In 2011, six people were injured in a blast there.
The plant has been fined for workplace safety issues at least three times.
All the plant’s nearly 1,800 employees were sent home after Tuesday’s explosion and told to call in before returning to work Wednesday. The four injured workers were evaluated at the scene and declined additional treatment, officials said.