Trump administration reviewing foreign money to US colleges
The U.S. Education Department has opened investigations into foreign funding at Georgetown University and Texas A&M University as part of a broader push to monitor international money flowing to American colleges.
Both universities are being ordered to disclose years of financial records amid concerns they have not fully reported their foreign gifts and contracts to the federal government, according to letters sent to the schools Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press.
The inquiries are part of a broader campaign to scrutinize foreign funding going to universities and to improve reporting by schools, according to a Trump administration official familiar with the effort.
More schools probably will face questioning as federal officials focus on an issue they see as crucial to transparency and national security, according to the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Federal law requires U.S. colleges to report contracts and donations from foreign sources totaling $250,000 or more, but past filings from Georgetown and Texas A&M "may not fully capture" that information, according to the letters.
Tankers struck near Strait of Hormuz; US blames Iran
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. blamed Iran for suspected attacks on two oil tankers Thursday near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, denouncing what it called a campaign of "escalating tensions" in a region crucial to global energy supplies.
The U.S. Navy rushed to assist the stricken vessels in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Iran, including one that was set ablaze. The ships' operators offered no immediate explanation on who or what caused the damage against the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous. Each was loaded with petroleum products, and the Front Altair burned for hours, sending up a column of thick, black smoke.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. assessment of Iran's involvement was based in part on intelligence as well as the expertise needed for the operation. It was also based on recent incidents in the region that the U.S. also blamed on Iran, including the use of limpet mines - designed to be attached magnetically to a ship's hull - to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah and the bombing of an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia by Iranian-backed fighters in May, he said.
"Taken as a whole these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran," Pompeo said. He provided no evidence, gave no specifics about any plans and took no questions.
At the United Nations, the United States asked for closed Security Council consultations on the tanker incidents later Thursday.
Trump says Sarah Sanders to leave White House at end of June
WASHINGTON (AP) — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, whose tenure was marked by a breakdown in regular press briefings and questions about the administration's credibility, as well as her own, will leave her post at the end of the month, President Donald Trump announced Thursday.
Trump, calling Sanders forward at an unrelated event in the East Room, called her "a warrior" and said he was encouraging her to run for governor as she returns home to Arkansas. She is one of Trump's closest and most trusted White House aides and one of the few remaining on staff who worked on his campaign.
Trump announced her impending departure via tweet just before she accompanied him to a White House event on prison reform: "After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas."
He added that "she would be fantastic" as Arkansas governor.
Sanders said serving as press secretary had been "the honor of a lifetime." She pledged to remain "one of the most outspoken and loyal supporters of the president."
Premature baby found in Border Patrol facility in Texas
The teenage girl with pigtail braids was hunched over in a wheelchair and holding a bunched sweatshirt when an immigrant advocate met her at a crowded Border Patrol facility in Texas.
She opened the sweatshirt and the advocate gasped. It was a tiny baby, born premature, being held in detention instead of where she believes she should have been — a hospital neonatal unit.
"You look at this baby and there is no question that this baby should be in a tube with a heart monitor," said Hope Frye, a volunteer with an immigrant advocacy group who travels the country visiting immigration facilities with children to make sure they comply with federal guidelines.
Frye and other advocates say the case highlights the poor conditions immigrants are held in after crossing the border at a time when the government is dealing with an unprecedented number of families and children who are arriving at the border each day.
She says the mother, a 17-year-old from Guatemala, had an emergency cesarean section in Mexico in early May and crossed the border with the baby June 4. She was in a wheelchair in extreme pain when legal advocates found her this week. The girl told advocates she had crossed the border through the Rio Grande River but needed people to carry her, and also needed assistance getting into a Border Patrol car when she was apprehended.
Federal agency recommends White House aide Conway be fired
WASHINGTON (AP) — Taking unprecedented action, a federal watchdog agency recommended Thursday that President Donald Trump fire one of his most ardent defenders, counselor Kellyanne Conway , for repeatedly violating a law that limits political activity by government workers.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller's office, said in a letter to Trump that Conway has been a "repeat offender" of the Hatch Act by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.
Federal law prohibits employees of the executive branch from using their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are exempt from the Hatch Act, but there are no exceptions for White House employees.
The agency does not have the authority to fire Conway, who was appointed by Trump, so it would be up to the president to follow its recommendation and dismiss one of his most unwavering defenders. Conway is known for her fiery television appearances in support of the president and his policies. She helped him win election in 2016 as his campaign manager.
The recommendation to fire Conway is the first time the watchdog office has recommended the removal of a White House official over Hatch Act violations.
Dems assail Trump on being open to foreign election help
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's assertion that he would be open to accepting a foreign power's help in his 2020 campaign ricocheted through Washington on Thursday, with Democrats condemning it as a call for further election interference and Republicans struggling to defend his comments.
Trump seemed to dismiss the threat posed by Russia's interference in the 2016 election, one that led to sweeping indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller, and his incendiary remarks come as congressional investigations into the meddling have quickened.
Asked by ABC News what he would do if Russia or another country offered him dirt on his election opponent, Trump said: "I think I'd want to hear it." He added that he'd have no obligation to call the FBI. "There's nothing wrong with listening."
The Democratic denunciations were swift and overwhelming.
"It's a very sad thing that he doesn't know his right from wrong," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday. "It's an invasion of our democracy. Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the president said."
Prosecutors drop Flint water charges, promise fresh probe
DETROIT (AP) — Prosecutors dropped all criminal charges Thursday against eight people in the Flint water crisis and pledged to start from scratch the investigation into one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in U.S. history.
The stunning decision came more than three years — and millions of dollars — after authorities began examining the roots of the scandal that left Flint's water system tainted with lead. Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who took control of the investigation in January after the election of a new attorney general, said "all available evidence was not pursued" by the previous team of prosecutors.
Officials took possession this week of "millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices, significantly expanding the scope of our investigation," Hammoud and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement.
The efforts "have produced the most comprehensive body of evidence to date related to the Flint water crisis," they said, putting investigators "in the best possible position to find the answers the citizens of Flint deserve."
Hammoud's team recently used search warrants to get state-owned mobile devices of former Gov. Rick Snyder and 66 other people from storage.
Bishops OK anti-abuse steps, but skeptics seek tougher moves
BALTIMORE (AP) — Under intense public pressure, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops approved new steps this week to deal more strongly with the clergy sex-abuse crisis. But activists and others say the moves leave the bishops in charge of policing themselves and potentially keep law enforcement at arm's length.
As their national meeting in Baltimore concluded Thursday, leaders of the U.S. bishops conference stopped short of mandating that lay experts such as lawyers and criminal justice professionals take part in investigating clergy accused of child molestation or other misconduct. They also did not specify a procedure for informing police of abuse allegations that come in over a newly proposed hotline.
"Even the bishops themselves recognize they have lost their credibility in monitoring this dreadful crisis," said Thomas Groome, a professor at Boston College's School of Theology. "Without strong oversight by competent lay people, it won't be seen as credible."
Groome said the bishops should have no hesitation in declaring that credible allegations should be reported to police.
"They're not dealing simply with a sin, they're dealing with a crime," he said. "They do not have the power to forgive crimes."
Experts: Spy used AI-generated face to connect with targets
LONDON (AP) — Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into Washington's political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who's-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.
But Katie Jones doesn't exist, The Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn. And several experts contacted by the AP said Jones' profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.
"I'm convinced that it's a fake face," said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. "It has all the hallmarks."
Experts who reviewed the Jones profile's LinkedIn activity say it's typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies.
"It smells a lot like some sort of state-run operation," said Jonas Parello-Plesner, who serves as program director at the Denmark-based think tank Alliance of Democracies Foundation and was the target several years ago of an espionage operation that began over LinkedIn .
Indicted congressman's wife pleads guilty to corruption
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The wife of U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty Thursday to a single corruption count and agreed to testify against her husband at his trial on charges the couple spent more than $200,000 in campaign funds on trips, dinners, clothes and other personal expenses.
Margaret Hunter served as campaign chair for her husband, and after the couple was indicted last year the Republican congressman from California suggested his wife was to blame for any misuse of funds.
They both pleaded not guilty but she reversed course and withdrew her plea Thursday during a brief federal court hearing.
In a statement read by her attorney after accepting a plea agreement that could send her to prison for up to five years, she said she accepts full responsibility for her actions.
"I am deeply remorseful, and I apologize," she said.