Florida men tied to Giuliani, Ukraine probe arrested
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Florida businessmen tied to President Donald Trump's lawyer and the Ukraine impeachment investigation were charged Thursday with federal campaign finance violations.
The charges relate to a $325,000 donation to a group supporting Trump's reelection.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Rudy Giuliani, were arrested Wednesday trying to board an international flight with one-way tickets at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, according to Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
Parnas and Fruman were arrested on a four-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records. The men had key roles in Giuliani's efforts to launch a Ukrainian corruption investigation against Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The indictments mark the first criminal charges related to the Ukraine controversy. While they do not suggest wrongdoing by the president, they raise additional questions about how those close to Trump and Giuliani sought to use their influence.
Turkey presses Syrian assault as thousands flee the fighting
AKCAKALE, Turkey (AP) — Turkey pressed its air and ground assault against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria on Thursday for a second day, pounding the region with airstrikes and an artillery bombardment that raised columns of black smoke in a border town and sent panicked civilians scrambling to get out.
Amid the fierce fighting, residents fled with their belongings loaded into cars, pickup trucks and motorcycle rickshaws, while others escaped on foot. The U.N. refugee agency said tens of thousands were on the move, and aid agencies warned that nearly a half-million people near the border were at risk.
It was a wrenchingly familiar scene for many who had fled the militants of the Islamic State group only a few years ago.
There were casualties on both sides: Turkish officials in two border provinces said mortar fire from Syria killed at least six civilians, including a 9-month-old boy and three girls under 15. On the Syrian side, seven civilians and eight Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began, according to activists in Syria.
The Turkish offensive was launched three days after U.S. President Donald Trump opened the way by pulling American troops from their positions near the border alongside their Kurdish allies.
Envoy to Ukraine was removed after pushback on Giuliani
WASHINGTON (AP) — The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was removed from her post after insisting that Rudy Giuliani's requests to Ukrainian officials for investigations be relayed through official channels, according to a former diplomat who has spoken with her.
The ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, is scheduled to testify before congressional lawmakers on Friday as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Democrats say they expect her to appear despite the White House's position that no administration officials cooperate with the probe.
Yovanovitch was recalled from Kyiv in May as Giuliani — who is Trump's personal attorney and has no official role in the U.S. government — pushed Ukrainian officials to investigate baseless corruption allegations against the Bidens.
In a July 25 call, Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch was "bad news," according to a partial transcript released by the White House.
Neither Giuliani nor Trump have specified their objections. But a former diplomat, recalling a recent conversation with Yovanovich, said she was removed after insisting that a request for Ukrainian officials to join in an investigation be relayed according to long-established protocol.
California utility faces gripes over deliberate blackouts
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even as the winds gusted dangerously as forecast, California's biggest utility faced hostility and second-guessing Thursday for shutting off electricity to millions of people to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires.
Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized Pacific Gas & Electric and ordinary customers complained about the inconveniences caused by the unprecedented blackouts that began Wednesday, with many wondering: Did PG&E go too far in its attempt to ward off more deadly fires? Could the utility have been more targeted in deciding whose electricity was turned off and when?
PG&E, though, suggested it was already seeing the wisdom of its decision borne out as gusts topping 77 mph (122 kph) raked the San Francisco Bay Area amid a bout of dry, windy weather.
"We have found multiple cases of damage or hazards" caused by heavy winds, including fallen branches that came in contact with overhead lines, said Sumeet Singh, a vice president for the utility. "If they were energized, they could've ignited."
Because of the dangerous weather in the forecast, PG&E cut power Wednesday to an estimated 2 million people in an area that spanned the San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country north of San Francisco, the agricultural Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills. By Thursday evening, the weather had calmed and the number of people in the dark was down to about 510,000.
Trump seeks to turn impeachment probe into campaign weapon
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — President Donald Trump was defiant in the face of an impeachment probe Thursday as he sought to convert the threat to his presidency into a weapon on the campaign trail, with biting and unsupported attacks on potential Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
Facing an investigation provoked by his unprecedented call for Ukraine and then China to assist in digging up dirt on his political rivals, Trump continued to lay into Biden and his son Hunter, whom he and his allies have accused, without evidence, of illegally profiting off his father's office.
"The Bidens got rich, and that is substantiated, while America got robbed," Trump said. While the young Biden did have business interest overseas while he father was in office, there is no evidence of misconduct. Trump's adult children have faced congressional scrutiny for their foreign business dealings while their father is serving as president, and Trump still maintains ownership stakes in his family's businesses.
The rally in Minneapolis, the first since Democrats began proceedings two weeks ago to remove him from office, served as a proving ground for the president as he tries to use the impeachment inquiry to energize supporters for his 2020 campaign by casting himself — and his supporters — as victims of Democrats in the Washington swamp.
The performance revealed a defense strategy largely detached from the allegations Trump faces. Trump spent little time defending his attempt to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate the Biden. Instead he cast the impeachment fight in simpler basic terms — a battle between him and the "swamp."
AP FACT CHECK: Trump hypes US economy, minimizes IS threat
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday minimized the ongoing threat of the Islamic State and overstated his economic success, declaring inaccurately that China would have overtaken the U.S. as the world's largest economy if he wasn't president.
Here's a look at his claims at a Minneapolis rally, his first since Democrats opened an impeachment inquiry of Trump's actions as president:
TRUMP: "If our opponent had won that election, you know what would have happened? Right now, China would be the No. 1 economy anywhere in the world. And right now, I can tell you, they're not even close."
THE FACTS: No matter who got elected in 2016 — Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton — China's economy could not have caught up to America's.
Even if the U.S. economy had not grown at all since 2016, China's gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic output — would have had to have surged a fantastical 79% in three years to pull even with America's. That comes to growth of more than 21% a year — something even China's super-charged economy has never approached.
Arrest of Giuliani associates ensnares 'Congressman 1'
WASHINGTON (AP) — Businessmen with ties to Rudy Giuliani lobbied a U.S. congressman in 2018 for help ousting the American ambassador to Ukraine around the same time they committed to raising money for the lawmaker.
An indictment unsealed Thursday identified the lawmaker only as "Congressman 1." But the donations described in the indictment match campaign finance reports for former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who lost his re-election bid in November 2018.
Sessions, who has been weighing a comeback, is not accused of any wrongdoing and denied Thursday that he was aware of what federal prosecutors allege was a coordinated effort to remove Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Still, he now finds himself entangled in the impeachment investigation centered on President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine, as well as Giuliani's relationships in the former Soviet republic.
The indictment was made public Thursday following the arrest of two Florida businessmen with ties to Giuliani. It alleges that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman leveraged a flurry of GOP political donations in a campaign to force Yovanovitch's removal, an effort prosecutors say was aided by laundered foreign money.
Parnas and Fruman's outsized political giving allowed the two relatively unknown entrepreneurs to quickly win access to the highest levels of the Republican Party — including face-to-face meetings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-Lago.
El Paso mass shooting suspect pleads not guilty in 22 deaths
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The 21-year-old man charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, pleaded not guilty Thursday during a brief initial hearing.
Police have said Patrick Crusius of Dallas confessed to the Aug. 3 mass shooting and that he targeted Mexicans. Some two-dozen people survived the attack with injuries, and two of them remain in the hospital, hospital officials said.
Crusius walked into the courtroom wearing a dark suit, white shirt and glasses. He was sworn in, waived the reading of his indictment and pleaded not guilty. The entire hearing lasted less than three minutes.
Around 80 members of the public crammed into the courtroom on the top floor of the El Paso County Courthouse to witness his first appearance. A handful wiped away tears as Crusius pronounced his plea.
Among the crowd was a delegation from the Mexican Consulate. Eight Mexican citizens were killed in the attack and most of the victims had Hispanic last names. Among the dead was a German citizen who lived in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Iran women attend FIFA soccer game for first time in decades
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — They had to sit well apart from the men, and the stadium was practically empty, but thousands of Iranian women in merry jester hats and face paint blew horns and cheered Thursday at the first FIFA soccer match they were allowed to freely attend in decades.
In what many considered a victory in a decades-long fight by women in Iran to attend sporting events, they wrapped themselves in the country's vibrant red, green and white colors and watched with excitement as Iran thrashed Cambodia 14-0 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at Tehran's Azadi, or Freedom, Stadium.
"We are so happy that finally we got the chance to go to the stadium. It's an extraordinary feeling," said Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse who has only known soccer games from television. "At least for me, 22 or 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this."
As one woman shouted from a passing minibus before the match: "We are here finally!"
So far, Iran's hard-line Islamic theocracy is not willing to go as far some women would like. Authorities announced they will allow women to attend only international soccer matches.
Cole, Astros beat Rays 6-1 in ALDS Game 5; Yankees next
HOUSTON (AP) — Gerrit Cole pitched another playoff masterpiece and the Houston Astros jumped to a quick lead, turning back the Tampa Bay Rays 6-1 Thursday night in Game 5 to set up a titanic showdown with the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
After fellow aces Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander were unable to close out the scrappy Rays on the road, Cole made sure Houston moved on. Given a 4-0 cushion in the first inning, he dominated through the eighth in the decisive game of the AL Division Series, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits.
On deck, the heavyweight matchup so many fans wanted to see: Jose Altuve and the 107-win Astros against Aaron Judge and the 103-win Yankees. Game 1 is Saturday night in Houston — the Astros won four of seven meetings this season.
Michael Brantley and Altuve put the finishing touches on this victory, hitting back-to-back home runs in the eighth. The Astros advanced to their third straight ALCS, and are aiming for their second World Series crown in that span.
Houston beat the Yankees in a seven-game ALCS on the way to its first championship in 2017. The Astros also won the 2015 AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.