Chaotic scene as Republicans disrupt impeachment deposition

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans briefly brought the Democrat-led impeachment investigation to a halt Wednesday when around two dozen GOP House members stormed into a closed-door deposition with a Defense Department official. Democrats said the move compromised national security because some of the Republicans brought electronic devices into a secure room.

The GOP maneuver delayed a deposition with Laura Cooper, a senior Defense Department official who oversees Ukraine policy, until midafternoon. The interview began roughly five hours behind schedule, after a security check by Capitol officials.

As a series of diplomats have been interviewed in the probe, several of them detailing President Donald Trump's efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate a political rival, many Republicans have been silent on the president's behavior. But they have been outspoken about their disdain for Democrats and the impeachment process, saying it is unfair even though they have been in the room questioning witnesses and hearing the testimony.

"The members have just had it, and they want to be able to see and represent their constituents and find out what's going on," said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform panel. That committee is one of three leading the investigation, and its members are allowed into the closed-door hearings.

Cooper was answering questions from lawmakers and staffers in response to a subpoena, an official working on the impeachment inquiry said. She was explaining to lawmakers the process of distributing military aid and being asked whether the appropriate steps were followed on Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the interview.

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Ukrainian leader felt Trump pressure before taking office

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — More than two months before the phone call that launched the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Ukraine's newly elected leader was already worried about pressure from the U.S. president to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy gathered a small group of advisers on May 7 in Kyiv for a meeting that was supposed to be about his nation's energy needs. Instead, the group spent most of the three-hour discussion talking about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for a probe and how to avoid becoming entangled in the American elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the meeting.

They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, which has roiled U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

The meeting came before Zelenskiy was inaugurated but about two weeks after Trump called to offer his congratulations on the night of the Ukrainian leader's April 21 election.

The full details of what the two leaders discussed in that Easter Sunday phone call have never been publicly disclosed, and it is not clear whether Trump explicitly asked for an investigation of the Bidens.

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Bureaucratic thriller: Diplomat kept notes, tells his story

WASHINGTON (AP) — A secret cable. A disembodied voice. A coded threat.

William Taylor, a career diplomat, went behind closed doors in the basement of the Capitol on Tuesday and told a tale that added up to the ultimate oxymoron — a 10-hour bureaucratic thriller.

His plot devices were not cloak and dagger, but memos, text messages — and detailed notes.

His testimony was laden with precision — names, dates, places, policy statements and diplomatic nuance, not typically the stuff of intrigue. But from the moment Taylor revealed that his wife and his mentor had given him conflicting advice on whether he should even get involved, the drama began to unfold.

Their counsel split like this: Wife: no way. Mentor: do it.

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Syria's Assad gets a prize with US withdrawal, Russia deal

BEIRUT (AP) — Once again, Syrian President Bashar Assad has snapped up a prize from world powers that have been maneuvering in his country's multifront wars. Without firing a shot, his forces are returning to towns and villages in northeastern Syria where they haven't set foot for years.

Assad was handed one victory first by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from northeastern Syria, analysts said. Then he got another from a deal struck between Turkey and Russia, Damascus' ally.

Abandoned by U.S. forces and staring down the barrel of a Turkish invasion, Kurdish fighters had no option but to turn to Assad's government and to Russia for protection from their No. 1 enemy.

For once, the interests of Damascus, Moscow and Ankara came into alignment. Turkey decided it was better having Assad's forces along the border, being helped by Russia, than to have the frontier populated by Kurdish-led fighters, whom it considers to be terrorists.

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin that allows Syrian troops to move back into a large part of the territory and ensure Kurdish fighters stay out.

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Grim find: 39 dead in one of UK's worst trafficking cases

GRAYS, England (AP) — Authorities found 39 people dead in a truck in an industrial park in England on Wednesday and arrested the driver on suspicion of murder in one of Britain's worst human-smuggling tragedies.

Police were reconstructing the final journey of the victims as they tried to piece together where they were from and how they came to be in England.

"To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil," said Jackie Doyle-Price, a member of Parliament who represents the area where the truck was found. "The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

The truck and the trailer with the people inside apparently took separate circuitous journeys before ending up on the grounds of the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of London on the River Thames.

British police said they believe the container went from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, England, where it arrived early Wednesday. Police believe the tractor traveled from Northern Ireland to Dublin, where it took a ferry to Holyhead in Wales before picking up the trailer at the dockside in England.

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Former AP civil rights reporter Kathryn Johnson dies

Kathryn Johnson, a trailblazing reporter for The Associated Press whose intrepid coverage of the civil rights movement and other major stories led to a string of legendary scoops, died Wednesday. She was 93.

Her niece, Rebecca Winters, said Johnson died Wednesday morning in Atlanta. Johnson was the only journalist allowed inside Martin Luther King Jr.'s home the day he was assassinated. When Gov. George Wallace blocked black students from entering the University of Alabama, she sneaked in to cover his confrontation with federal officials. She scored exclusive interviews with 2nd Lt. William L. Calley Jr. before he was convicted of his role in the My Lai massacre.

"I was never ambitious, really, anxious to make money ...," she told an interviewer for an AP oral history project in 2007. Johnson said she didn't want to be bored and added, "in most of my career, I really wasn't."

That career spanned a half-century, from the era of reporters racing each other to pay phones to the birth of 24-hour cable television news.

She began covering King when he was a little-known Baptist preacher from Atlanta. She had also written about his wife, Coretta, who was a talented singer.

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California utility sets another blackout amid fire fears

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The state's largest utility said it will go ahead with widespread blackouts affecting nearly half a million people starting Wednesday as dangerous fire weather returns to California.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said it would begin precautionary power shutoffs in the afternoon affecting nearly 180,000 homes and businesses in portions of 17 counties, mostly in the Sierra foothills and north of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The outages will last about 48 hours, the utility said.

Meanwhile, Southern California Edison said it could cut power Thursday to more than 308,000 customers in seven counties, and San Diego Gas & Electric was warning of power shutoffs to about 24,000 customers.

The utilities say they're concerned that winds forecast to top 60 mph (97 kph) could throw branches and debris into power lines or topple them, sparking wildfires.

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Google claims breakthrough in blazingly fast computing

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google announced Wednesday it has achieved a breakthrough in quantum computing, saying it has developed an experimental processor that took just minutes to complete a calculation that would take the world's best supercomputer thousands of years.

The feat could open the door someday to machines so blazingly fast that they could revolutionize such tasks as finding new medicines, developing vastly smarter artificial intelligence systems and, most ominously, cracking the encryption that protects some of the world's most closely guarded secrets.

Such practical uses are still probably decades away, scientists said. But the latest findings, published in the scientific journal Nature, show that "quantum speedup is achievable in a real-world system and is not precluded by any hidden physical laws," the researchers wrote.

Big tech companies including Microsoft, IBM and Intel are avidly pursuing quantum computing, a new and somewhat bewildering technology for vastly sped-up information processing.

While conventional computing relies on bits, or pieces of data that bear either a one or zero, quantum computing employs quantum bits, or qubits, that contain values of one and zero simultaneously.

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Zuckerberg defends Facebook's currency plans before Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg endured hours of prickly questioning from lawmakers Wednesday as he defended the company's new globally ambitious project to create a digital currency while also dealing with widening scrutiny from U.S. regulators.

Representatives also grilled Zuckerberg on Facebook's track record on civil rights, hate speech, privacy and misinformation — not surprising given the litany of scandals Facebook has been dealing with over the past two years.

The House Financial Services Committee's immediate focus was Facebook's plans for the currency, to be called Libra. Zuckerberg took pains to reassure lawmakers that his company won't move forward with Libra without explicit approval from all U.S. financial regulators.

Still, many members of the panel appeared unconvinced.

Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who chairs the panel, said the Libra project and the digital wallet that would be used with it, Calibra, "raise many concerns relating to privacy, trading risks, discrimination ... national security, monetary policy and the stability of the global financial system."

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In Scorsese and Coppola, Marvel meets formidable foes

NEW YORK (AP) — It's not exactly the stuff of "Stop the presses!" that some of the greatest filmmakers in the world have misgivings about the rise of the superhero film and its outsized place in our film culture.

And yet recent critical comments by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have been greeted like entreaties to a prizefight, a battle royale. "In this corner, the box-office champion of the wooooorld, Marvel 'The Incredible Hulk' Studios! And in this corner, the 76-year-old maker of anguished Catholic epics and crime-movie classics, Martin 'The-Raging-Bull' Scorsese!"

Plenty of rumbling has followed since Scorsese, in a magazine interview earlier this month, suggested Marvel movies aren't cinema but "something else" — theme park rides uninterested in "trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being." Coppola doubled down over the weekend, telling journalists in France, gathered to see him accept the Prix Lumiere, that Scorsese was not only right but that he didn't go far enough. Marvel films, he said, are "despicable."

"He's right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration," said Coppola.

Countless Marvel fans, like 19th century gentlemen whose honor had been offended, took up the cause on social media as if challenged to a duel. They were backed up by some of the premiere makers of Marvel movies, too, including "Guardians of the Galaxy" director James Gunn, "Avengers" director Joss Whedon and "Thor: Ragnarok" helmer Taika Waititi. Waititi wryly took the debate at face value, noting matter-of-factly, "It's at the movies. It's in cinemas."