AP sources: White House aware of Russian bounties in 2019

Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported, according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence.

The assessment was included in at least one of President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings at the time, according to the officials. Then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.

The White House did not respond to questions about Trump or other officials’ awareness of Russia’s provocations in 2019. The White House has said Trump was not — and still has not been — briefed on the intelligence assessments because they have not been fully verified. However, it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials.

Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked by the AP if he had briefed Trump about the matter in 2019. On Sunday, he suggested to NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump was claiming ignorance of Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of a response.

“He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” Bolton said.

China approves contentious Hong Kong national security law

HONG KONG (AP) — China approved a contentious national security law that will allow authorities to crack down on subversive and secessionist activity in Hong Kong, a move many see as Beijing's boldest yet to erase the legal firewall between the semi-autonomous territory and mainland China’s authoritarian Communist Party system.

Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, confirmed to reporters Tuesday that the law had been passed. He said punishments would not include the death penalty, but did not elaborate on further details.

“We hope the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble,” Tam said. “Don’t let Hong Kong be used as a tool to split the country.”

Passage of the law came amid warnings and criticism both in Hong Kong and the international community that it will be used to curb opposition voices in the Asian financial hub. The U.S. has already begun moves to end special trade terms and others dispensations given to Hong Kong after the former British colony was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.

The government has said the legislation is aimed at curbing subversive, secessionist and terrorist activities, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s affairs. It follows months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year that at times descended into violence.

GOP lawmakers urge action after Russia-Afghanistan briefing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Eight Republican lawmakers attended a White House briefing about explosive allegations that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan — intelligence the White House insisted the president himself had not been fully read in on.

Members of Congress in both parties called for additional information and consequences for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, and eight Democrats were to be briefed on the matter Tuesday morning, a day after the Republicans' briefing. Still, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted Trump had not been briefed on the findings because they hadn't been verified.

The White House seemed to be setting an unusually high bar for bringing the information to Trump, since it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of doubt before it is presented to senior government decision-makers. McEnany declined to say why a different standard of confidence in the intelligence applied to briefing lawmakers than bringing the information to the president.

Republicans who were in the briefing Monday expressed alarm about Russia's activities in Afghanistan.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger were in the briefing led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and national security adviser Robert O’Brien. McCaul and Kinzinger said in a statement that lawmakers were told “there is an ongoing review to determine the accuracy of these reports.”

EU to list which citizens can enter; US likely to miss out

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Tuesday is announcing a list of nations whose citizens will be allowed to enter 31 European countries, but most Americans are likely to be refused entry for at least another two weeks due to soaring coronavirus infections in the U.S.

As Europe’s economies reel from the impact of the coronavirus, southern EU countries like Greece, Italy and Spain are desperate to entice back sun-loving visitors and breathe life into their damaged tourism industries.

More than 15 million Americans are estimated to travel to Europe each year, while some 10 million Europeans head across the Atlantic.

Still, many people both inside and outside Europe remain wary of travel in the coronavirus era, given the unpredictability of the pandemic and the possibility of second waves of infection that could affect flights and hotel bookings. Tens of thousands of travelers had a frantic, chaotic scramble in March to get home as the pandemic swept across the world and borders slammed shut.

EU envoys to Brussels have launched a written procedure which would see the list endorsed Tuesday as long as no objections are raised by member countries. The list is expected to contain up to 15 countries that have virus infection rates comparable to those in the EU.

Confederate flag losing prominence 155 years after Civil War

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Long a symbol of pride to some and hatred to others, the Confederate battle flag is losing its place of official prominence 155 years after rebellious Southern states lost a war to perpetuate slavery.

Mississippi's Republican-controlled Legislature voted Sunday to remove the Civil War emblem from the state flag, a move that was both years in the making and notable for its swiftness amid a national debate over racial inequality following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Mississippi's was the last state flag to include the design.

NASCAR, born in the South and still popular in the region, banned the rebel banner from races earlier this month, and some Southern localities have removed memorials and statues dedicated to the Confederate cause. A similar round of Confederate flag and memorial removals was prompted five years ago by the slaying of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. A white supremacist was convicted of the shooting.

Make no mistake: The Confederate flag isn't anywhere close to being gone from the South. Just drive along highways where Sons of Confederate Veterans members have erected gigantic battle flags or stop by Dixie General Store, where Bob Castello makes a living selling hundreds of rebel-themed shirts, hats, car accessories and more in an east Alabama county named for a Confederate officer, Gen. Patrick Cleburne.

“Business is very good right now,” Castello said Monday.

Supreme Court's abortion ruling raises stakes for election

NEW YORK (AP) — Supporters of abortion rights are elated, foes of abortion dismayed and angry, but they agree on one consequence of the Supreme Court’s first major abortion ruling since President Donald Trump took office: The upcoming election is crucial to their cause.

Both sides also say Monday’s ruling is not the last word on state-level abortion restrictions. One abortion rights leader evoked the image of playing whack-a-mole as new cases surface.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down a Louisiana law seeking to require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. For both sides in the abortion debate, it was viewed as a momentous test of the court’s stance following Trump’s appointments of two conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Both justices joined the conservative bloc’s dissent that supported the Louisiana law. But they were outvoted because Chief Justice John Roberts concurred with the court’s four more liberal justices.

The ruling was yet another major decision in which the conservative-leaning court failed to deliver an easy victory to the right in culture war issues during an election year; one ruling protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment, and the other rejected Trump's effort to end protections for young immigrants.

Analysis: Virus surge forces Arizona gov's hand on masks

PHOENIX (AP) — After telling Arizonans that many public places were again being closed amid a surge of coronavirus cases, Gov. Doug Ducey ended a somewhat contentious news conference by imploring people to wear face masks.

“Arm yourself with a mask,” he said Monday after issuing an executive order to shut down bars, night clubs and water parks while pushing back the start of school in the fall. “It’s your best defense against this virus.”

While the Republican governor has never discouraged the use of masks, his full-throated endorsement of them was a big change from a largely lukewarm stance the last few months.

“There are some people that can’t wear masks for whatever reason, shortness of breath or they are asthmatic,” Ducey said June 13 when asked why he wouldn’t mandate the use of them.

The change in tone on masks and a return to restrictions are the latest signs that Ducey, similar to some other Republican governors nationwide, is being forced to set political considerations aside amid surging cases.

Israel undeterred by international opposition to annexation

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears determined to carry out his pledge to begin annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

His vision of redrawing the map of the Holy Land, in line with President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan, has been welcomed by Israel’s religious and nationalist right wing and condemned by the Palestinians and the international community.

But with opponents offering little more than condemnations, there seems little to prevent Netanyahu from embarking on a plan that could permanently alter the Mideast landscape.

Support for Putin wanes in his former Russian stronghold

NIZHNY TAGIL, Russia (AP) — In 2011, the industrial city of Nizhny Tagil was dubbed “Putingrad” for its residents’ fervent support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nine years later, it appears the city 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) east of Moscow no longer lives up to that nickname.

Workers are speaking out against the constitutional changes that would allow Putin to stay in office until 2036 amid growing frustration over their dire living conditions, which have not improved despite all the promises.

“I am against the constitutional changes, most importantly because they are a coronation of the czar, who reigns but does not rule — Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,” says Nikolay Nemytov, a 43-year-old engineer at Russian Railways, a state-run monopoly. He says his monthly salary, the equivalent of $430, is not nearly enough.

Anton Zhuravlyov, a 33-year-old operator at the Nizhny Tagil Iron and Steel Works Plant, or NTMK, agrees with him on the vote.

How risky is flying during the coronavirus pandemic?

How risky is flying during the coronavirus pandemic?

Flying can increase your risk of exposure to infection, but airlines are taking some precautions and you can too.

Air travel means spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which puts you into close contact with other people. As travel slowly recovers, planes are becoming more crowded, which means you will likely sit close to other people, often for hours, which raises your risk.

Once on a plane, most viruses and other germs don’t spread easily because of the way air circulates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Airlines also say they are focusing on sanitizing the hard surfaces that passengers commonly touch.

Some airlines like Alaska, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest are blocking middle seats or limiting capacity. But even if every middle seat is empty you will likely be closer than the recommended distance of 6 feet to another passenger now that planes are getting fuller.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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