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College Baseball Coach Dies in Crash that Killed Bryant

John Altobelli, the longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College, was killed along with his wife and daughter in the helicopter crash Sunday that also took the lives of retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and Bryant’s daughter, Gianna.The 56-year-old Altobelli died along with his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, who was about 13 and played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter, said Altobelli’s younger brother, Tony Altobelli, the sports information director at the school. They were among the nine people aboard the helicopter when it crashed around 10 a.m. Sunday in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.John Altobelli spent 27 seasons as coach at the community college in Costa Mesa, California. The team won a state championship last year and Altobelli was named national coach of the year. He led the team to more than 700 victories and four state titles.Among the players he coached were future major leaguers Jeff McNeil, now with the New York Mets, and Donnie Murphy, who played for six big league teams from 2004-14. McNeil played for Altobelli in 2012 with the Brewster Whitecaps, a summer collegiate team in the Cape Cod League, ESPN reported.”One of my favorite coaches I have ever played for and one of the main reasons I got a chance to play professional baseball,” McNeil tweeted. “Both the baseball and basketball world lost a great one today.”   Orange Coast College announced the creation of a memorial fund for the Altobelli family.  “John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball,” athletic director Jason Kehler said in a statement. “He truly personified what it means to be a baseball coach. The passion that he put into the game, but more importantly his athletes, was second to none – he treated them like family.”The team was scheduled to start its season on Tuesday.”He treated every player like his own son,” Orange Coast first baseman Justin Brodt told the Orange County Register. “He wanted the best for everybody involved. That’s what made him such a successful coach and such a great guy.”

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NYT: Bolton Book Says Trump Held Up Ukraine Aid for Biden Investigation

As U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers continue their case in his impeachment trial, a yet-to-be-published memoir by John Bolton could blow up one of their major defenses.The New York Times reports that the former national security adviser writes Trump personally told him that he is withholding $391 million in military aid to Ukraine until it announces an investigation into Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden for alleged corruption.The newspaper cites several people who have seen the Bolton manuscript as its source.House Democrats contend Trump froze the congressionally-mandated aid to Ukraine, along with a desired White House visit by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on the promise of a probe of Biden and a debunked theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, which interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019.While Trump’s legal team says the president had the authority to hold up aid to Ukraine, the freeze had nothing to do with any investigations. They say the president was concerned about corruption in Ukraine and wanted European nations to pitch in more to help Ukraine fight Russian-backed separatists.Trump’s lawyers say the fact that Ukraine eventually got the money it was promised and that there was no investigation of the Bidens proves there was no quid pro quo between Trump and Ukraine.Democrats say Trump released the aid only because “he got caught” by asking Zelenskiy to do a “favor” by investigating the Bidens during a July telephone call.Bolton has said he is willing to appear as a witness if the Senate votes to allow witnesses and additional evidence. House Democratic impeachment managers say they want to hear from him.WATCH: Related video by VOA’s Arash Arabasadi:Sorry, but your player cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
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“The Senate trial must seek the full truth and Mr. Bolton has vital information to provide,” the managers said in a statement late Sunday. “There is no defensible reason to wait until his book is published when the information he has to offer is critical to the most important decision senators must now make – whether to convict the president of impeachable offenses.”FILE – Then-Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter are pictured at a college basketball game in Washington, Jan. 30, 2010.There has been no response to the Times report so far from the White House.Trump’s defense team will go into its second day of presenting its case to the 100 senators Monday.Trump claimed Sunday that his lawyers “absolutely shredded” Democrats’ case that he should be convicted of impeachment charges and removed from office after their first day of their defense.”The Impeachment Hoax is a massive election interference the likes of which has never been seen before,” he tweeted.Trump attacked the Democrats’ lead prosecutor in the case, Congressman Adam Schiff, as “a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff holds redacted documents as he speaks during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, in the Senate at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 22, 2020.”This is a wrathful and vindictive president; I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Schiff said. “And if you think there is, look at the president’s tweets about me today, saying that I should ‘pay a price.’”White House counsel Pat Cipollone began his defense Saturday during two hours of arguments on the two impeachment charges Trump is facing — that Trump abused his presidency and obstructed congressional efforts to investigate his Ukraine-related actions.Cipollone said Trump’s legal team does not believe that Democrats from the House of Representatives prosecuting the case came “anywhere close to meeting their burden” that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — the U.S. Constitution’s standard for impeachment and removal from office.In this image from video, White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 21, 2020.Now, Cipollone and other Trump defense attorneys have said they will expand on their defense, in part focusing on why they believe there was nothing wrong with Trump’s request last July to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, his son Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and the Ukraine election meddling theory. No evidence has ever surfaced against the Bidens.Over three days last week, seven House Democrats laid out their case that Trump endangered U.S. national security to benefit himself politically by asking for the Biden investigations by Ukraine at the same time he was withholding $391 million in military aid that Kyiv wanted to help fight Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.”The evidence against the president is overwhelming,” Congresswoman Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, told ABC News’ This Week Sunday.Criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, part of Trump’s legal team, told  Fox News Sunday that he will argue that there is not a “legally constitutional” argument that Trump can be impeached. He claimed that the offenses he is accused of have “to be a crime,” a contention disputed by scholars supporting Trump’s impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate. 

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Did Tweets Help Deescalate Recent US-Iran Tensions?

Minutes after Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq earlier this month, its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, came out with a tweet, saying that his country did not seek to escalate with the United States.Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) FILE – Burning debris is seen on a road near Baghdad International Airport following a U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and others, Jan. 3, 2020, in this image obtained via social media.Experts said the Swiss back-channel, coupled with tweets from U.S. and Iranian officials, was a significant factor in ensuring de-escalation following Iran’s attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq.”The private message and the public tweets sent the same thing; they were mutually reinforcing,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.He told VOA that, “We’re living in an era of greater connectivity where every message matters, but also receptivity of every message matters,” adding that recent tweets used by President Trump, for example, “were meant to be read and interpreted by American allies and adversaries alike, domestic and international audiences alike.”Rogan of Wake Forest University agreed.”Tweets also allowed both sides to effectively measure public sentiment for their posted messaging by tracking reactions to the posts in real-time. And, this medium also enabled the public to weigh in on the issue in support of one side or the other, or both, and thereby further served the needs of both countries,” he said.Rogan added that throughout the crisis Twitter was an instant polling mechanism and vehicle for enabling both sides to de-escalate with public support for doing so “while simultaneously allowing ‘official’ news reports to maintain a more strident tone to appeal to a more hawkish audience.”New era  Dlshad Othman, an information technology specialist based in Washington, said that despite President Trump’s excessive use of Twitter in terms of policy-making of delicate issues, with the U.S.-Iran tensions he took his means of communication to a whole different level.”In the recent incident with Iran, Trump took it to another level as his Twitter exchange with the U.S. public and with Iranian officials was instrumental to calm down the tensions,” he told VOA.”I was not expecting preventing a war can be that easy in the age of Twitter, but the speed of communicating leaders to each other, and to the public, prevented the war from happening,” Othman added.FILE – U.S. soldiers assess damage at a site struck by a barrage of Iranian missiles, at Ain al-Asad air base, in Anbar, Iraq, Jan. 13, 2020.Before the advent of Twitter and other social media platforms, experts believe, lack of instant and highly public means of communication contributed to prolonging conflicts and further escalating tensions between nations.”It is entirely possible that 30 years ago you could have had a crisis like this, and if there was no confluence of messages, nonverbal private diplomatic or military posturing or anything else, if those messages were not aligned, that it is likely that you could have had further escalation,” analyst Ben Taleblu said.Iranian trollsWhile some Iranian officials were largely seeking to de-escalate the situation with the U.S., at least publicly, an army of Iranian-backed trolls online were beating the drums of war and pushing for a harsh Iranian response against the U.S.Some experts argue that just as Twitter is imperative in direct communication between leaders in Washington and Tehran, it could also be a damaging tool used by Iran.Mehdi Yahyanejad, director of NetFreedom Pioneers, a nonprofit organization that promotes digital technology in countries with limited internet access, believes that Iran made certain its online propaganda continued even as it was involved indirectly to calm the tensions with the U.S.”Iranian trolls online basically amplified threats made by the Iranian government. They kept calling for a harsh revenge, which was actually their hashtag,” he said.Iran has reportedly employed thousands of online trolls to carry out Tehran’s disinformation campaign in Western countries, including the U.S.”Even hours before the [Iranian missile] attack, some of them knew it was going to happen. So they started tweeting about it, stuff like ‘this is going to be a big revenge’ and so on. They were able to create an immense propaganda around the attack because they wanted to show that it was something really huge,” Yahyanejad told VOA.  He added that Iran has been paying and training online trolls through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ paramilitary Basij force. 

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US Basketball Legend Kobe Bryant Killed in LA Helicopter Crash

The sports world is stunned and in deep mourning after retired U.S. basketball legend Kobe Bryant was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash in the hills outside Los Angeles.The L.A. County sheriff’s department says Bryant was one of five killed when the private helicopter went down in Calabasas, about 65 kilometers northwest of the city.Authorities gave no information on what caused the crash, including if foggy conditions Sunday morning played a part.Bryant was known to use a helicopter from his home to games in Los Angeles to avoid the city’s notoriously bad traffic.This handout photo obtained Jan. 26, 2020, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, shows smoke from a helicopter crash site in Calabasas, California.Bryant, who was 41, has gone down in history as one of the greatest professional basketball players ever to step onto the court. He spent nearly his entire pro career with the Los Angeles Lakers — winning five NBA championships and the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2008. He is the fourth all-time leading scorer. LeBron James passed him for number three on the list just one day earlier. Bryant tweeted his congratulations to James.A native of Philadelphia, Bryant spent much of his youth in Italy where his father played pro basketball after his own career in the NBA.Unlike many NBA stars, Bryant skipped a college career after returning to the U.S. and was drafted straight out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 before being traded to the Lakers.People gather around a makeshift memorial for former NBA and Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant after learning of his death, at LA Live plaza in front of Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, Jan. 26, 2020.Some of Bryant’s accomplishments throughout his 20-year NBA career include becoming the NBA’s youngest all-star in 1998, when he was only 19 years old; an 81-point game in 2006 – the second-highest of all time; and Olympic Gold medals in 2008 and 2012.After announcing his retirement because of injuries, Bryant scored an amazing 60 points in his final pro game in 2016.His 2017 poem in which he bade farewell to the Lakers, “Dear Basketball,” was turned into an animated cartoon. Bryant surprised the audience when he stepped onto the stage to accept the 2018 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.His post NBA career included setting up a charitable foundation and running a summer basketball camp for kids. 

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US Warns Britain Against China’s Huawei 5G Network

U.S. President Donald Trump has warned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “serious consequences” if he allows the Chinese telecom giant Huawei a role in building Britain’s 5G phone network, according to officials on both sides of the Atlantic.The warning follows months of lobbying of Downing Street by top U.S. officials who aim to persuade the British government to shut out the Chinese company on security grounds.Trump told Johnson Friday that giving Huawei, which has ties to Chinese intelligence agencies, the go-ahead will cause a major rift in transatlantic relations and jeopardize intelligence-sharing between Washington and London, according to U.S. officials. They say the decision, expected Tuesday, will also likely impact the prospects for a post-Brexit transatlantic trade deal eagerly sought by Britain to compensate for likely diminished trade with the European Union.U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Saturday dubbed the Huawei deal a threat to “critical” infrastructure. But he indicated that if Downing Street falls into line, the U.S. will “dedicate a lot of resources” to getting a trade deal negotiated and signed by the end of the year.
The Huawei decision is also being watched closely on Capitol Hill.In an unprecedented move, three Republican senators — Tom Cotton, John Cornyn and Marco Rubio — sent a letter to Britain’s National Security Council urging Huawei to be excluded from 5G development. “The company’s actions show a clear record of predatory and problematic behavior,” the senators said, adding it would “in the best interest of the United Kingdom, the US-UK special relationship, and the health and wellbeing of a well-functioning market for 5G technologies to exclude Huawei.”FILE – Signage is seen at the Huawei offices in Reading, Britain, May 2, 2019.US sees Trojan horseFor a year, the Trump administration has been urging Britain to ban the Chinese company from participating in the development of Britain’s fifth-generation wireless network. U.S. officials say there’s a significant risk that the Chinese telecoms giant will act as a Trojan horse for Beijing’s espionage agencies, planting ‘backdoors’ into any equipment supplied to Britain, enabling data to be swept up and intelligence gathered. The U.S. imposed its own trade restrictions on Huawei last year.Huawei vehemently denies that it could be used by Beijing for intelligence purposes, saying that U.S. allegations are “baseless speculation.” The Chinese government says Huawei is a private company and poses no security risk to the West.But Beijing has also made ill-disguised threats, suggesting a decision to ban Huawei could result in Britain being punished when it comes to Chinese trade and investment. Similar warnings have been issued to other Western countries, all of which have been urged by U.S. officials to shun Huawei on security grounds.U.S. lobbying has been especially fierce among members of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing pact — the U.S.-led Anglophone intelligence arrangement linking Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain. Australia and New Zealand, although as yet not Canada, have banned Huawei from any role in developing their 5G networks. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to make a last effort to dissuade Johnson during a visit to London this week.In Germany, the Huawei issue has sparked a major division between Chancellor Angel Merkel, who fears Chinese retaliation if Huawei is excluded, and her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, who are opposed to offering Huawei any 5G role. Merkel’s ministries are also deeply split, with the trade and finance ministers backing Huawei’s involvement and foreign and intelligence officials highly skeptical that the risks are worth it.Both the White House and Downing Street have sought to play down talk of a transatlantic rift. In a bland statement Friday, the White House said Trump and Johnson “discussed important regional and bilateral issues, including working together to ensure the security of our telecommunications networks.”FILE – People attend a Huawei Mate20 smartphone series launch event in London, Britain, Oct. 16, 2018.’Next Chinese virus’A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The prime minister spoke to president Trump. They discussed a range of issues, including cooperation to ensure the security of our telecommunications networks.”But behind the scenes, the lobbying has been furious and the issue risks splitting the British cabinet, with several ministers determined to block Huawei, fearing the damage that could be done to Britain’s so-called special relationship with the U.S.The crescendo of the U.S. anti-Huawei campaign has been mirrored in London as it emerged last week that Johnson appeared set to give Huawei the green light, discounting U.S. alarm and prompting growing unease among his own Conservative lawmakers. Some have likened the political damage Huawei is causing to the coronavirus epidemic threatening to spread to the West, saying it is the “next Chinese virus.”If Johnson does give the go-ahead, it would confirm a ‘provisional’ decision made by his predecessor in Downing Street, Theresa May. Last year, she said Huawei should be allowed to build some so-called ‘non-core’ parts of Britain’s future 5G data network.U.S. intelligence officials and their counterparts at Britain’s GCHQ, the eavesdropping spy agency and the country’s largest intelligence service, say restricting Huawei to the non-core ‘edges’ of the new network would make little difference to the security risk.Johnson has come under pressure from British telecom providers and mobile phone companies, which have already been installing Huawei technology to start setting up the new network. They have warned that Huawei offers more advanced, better integrated and cheaper equipment than its commercial rivals, and banning the company would delay the rollout of 5G, costing the British economy billions of pounds. 

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US to Evacuate ‘Limited’ Number of Americans from Wuhan

Private American citizens living and working in Wuhan are being warned there will not be room for many of them on an evacuation flight being prepared for U.S. consular staff in the epicenter of the Coronavirus epidemic.”The Department of State is making arrangements to relocate its personnel stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan to the United States,” the U.S. Embassy in Beijing wrote on Sunday, adding that the flight will travel directly from Wuhan to San Francisco.”This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus,” a statement said.An American citizen teaching at a university in Wuhan, who asked that her name not be used for fear of Chinese retribution, told VOA that neither the consulate nor the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has yet contacted most American citizens in the city.”Maybe they have reached out to a few privileged individuals, but on the whole, they are not reaching out to average American citizens. We have received almost no support and no help,” the woman told VOA’s Mandarin Service.An announcement on the U.S. Embassy’s website directs citizens to apply for a seat on the plane by contacting American Citizen Services with their passport information.”There are thousands of us Americans in Wuhan,” the American citizen said. “A 747 seats like 250 people, they’re not going to take everyone out. Even if every single person wanted to leave, they would not take all of us,” she said, referring to the Boeing 747 jet that will likely be chartered for the flight.The announcement comes amid travel restrictions around the wider region, but especially in the city of Wuhan. The streets have been largely quiet amid ambiguous regulations on which vehicles can and cannot be on the road, even in urban areas.Some Wuhan residents have reported that early in the outbreak, individuals were arrested and accused of spreading “rumors” about the disease on social media. The American teacher said that in addition to the restrictions on her travel, the disinformation and fear of authority in Wuhan have added to the stress produced by the outbreak.”This is the craziest experience I’ve ever lived through in my entire life. I wish it weren’t happening. It’s it’s a nightmare,” she said.The disease, which has killed 56 people and sickened almost 2,000 around the world, has spread to about 15 countries, including France, Canada and the United States, where a third confirmed case was reported in southern California late Saturday.The World Health Organization said Thursday the potentially deadly virus has not yet developed into a worldwide health emergency.

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Netanyahu Hopes to ‘Make History’ With White House Visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he hopes to “make history” during his upcoming trip to the White House for the expected unveiling of President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan.Addressing his Cabinet shortly before departing for Washington, Netanyahu described the current environment, characterized by close ties with Trump, as a once in a lifetime opportunity for Israel that “we must not miss.”
Trump’s plan is expected to be extremely favorable to Israel.
 “We are in the midst of very dramatic political events, but the peak is still ahead,” he said.
“For three years I have discussed with President Trump and his team our security and national needs — dozens of discussions and hundreds of hours. In all of these talks, I found a receptive ear in the White House for the essential needs of the state of Israel,” he said. “I am going to Washington with a great sense of purposes, great responsibility and great chance, and I am hopeful we can make history.”
The plan’s release has been repeatedly delayed, and it seems to have little chance of success. The Palestinians have already rejected it, accusing Trump of being unfairly biased toward Israel.
In a statement Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry called for “a clear international declaration rejecting the deal of the century” that it said would endanger regional stability.
But the plan could give Netanyahu, who is in the middle of his third re-election campaign in under a year, a lift as he tries to remain in office while fighting criminal charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
Netanyahu has tried to divert attention away from his legal troubles and focus his campaign on his close ties with Trump. His opponent, Benny Gantz, has focused his campaign on Netanyahu’s criminal charges and expected trial.
Gantz announced on Saturday that he would also be going to Washington for a private meeting with Trump. He turned down a joint appearance with Netanyahu at the White House, fearing the prime minister would use it to upstage him.
Instead, Gantz will quickly return to Israel to proceed with his plans in parliament to block a request by Netanyahu to receive immunity from prosecution.

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Trump: US Will not Lift Sanctions to Negotiate with Iran

The United States will not lift sanctions on Iran in order to negotiate, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted late on Saturday, seemingly in response to a Der Spiegel interview with Iran’s foreign minister.”Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran wants to negotiate with The United States, but wants sanctions removed. @FoxNews @OANN No Thanks!” Trump tweeted in English on Saturday and later in Farsi.Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Sunday by tweeting an excerpt from the interview with Der Spiegel published on Friday, where he said Iran is still open to negotiations with America if sanctions are lifted.”@realdonaldtrump is better advised to base his foreign policy comments & decisions on facts, rather than @FoxNews headlines or his Farsi translators,” Zarif said in the tweet with the interview excerpt.Tensions between Iran and the United States have reached the highest levels in decades after the U.S. killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting Iran to fire missiles days later at bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed.Tensions between the two have been increasing steadily since Trump pulled the United States out of Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have driven down Iran’s oil exports and hammered its economy.

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Kim Jong Un a ‘Great Golfer,’ Trump said in 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump poked fun at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s alleged golfing prowess during a private dinner in April 2018, joking that golfing legend Jack Nicklaus is “a beginner” by comparison.Trump also questioned U.S. involvement in the 1950s Korean War, according to a recording of the dinner first published by ABC News.”You know that Kim Jon Ung is a great golfer,” Trump told his dinner guests, mispronouncing the name of the North Korean leader he would meet for the first time in Singapore six weeks later. “He would make Jack Nicklaus look like a beginner.”Trump continued, apparently mocking the cult of personality that North Korean state media have cultivated for the three generations of the ruling Kim family.”Did you ever hear that? He shot an 18,” Trump said amid roars of laughter from the guests, before adding: “It’s actually his father, you know who they said shot an 18.””It’s just one weird deal,” Trump added.The comments came as Trump was shifting his approach toward the young North Korean leader.In 2017, Trump routinely mocked Kim, calling him “Little Rocket Man” and insinuating in a tweet that he was “short and fat.” Trump also threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” and warned he could “totally destroy” the country.But in early 2018, Trump drastically changed course, announcing he would meet Kim face to face. The two men met for the first time that June, signing a vague statement about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The talks have since stalled.At the dinner, which took place on April 30, Trump can be heard telling his guests about the plans for the upcoming Singapore summit.”The North Korea thing is moving along very well. We have a site now. You know, we picked a site. They announce pretty soon. And a location, plus a date,” Trump said. “And he really wants to do something, I tell you. Part of the reason he wants to do two things – I mean maybe the rhetoric and maybe we put sanctions like you wouldn’t believe.”One of the guests can be heard asking whether Trump would consider hosting the meeting at Songdo, a so-called “smart city” just outside Seoul. Trump said he would consider Songdo, but that plans for the Kim summit were already “very far down the line.”The recording was released by a lawyer for Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Parnas was indicted last year on campaign finance-related charges, and released the tape amid Trump’s impeachment.On the tape, Trump calls for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Democrats have pointed to Trump’s firing of Yovanovitch as one of the reasons he should be removed from office.The dinner, which was attended by Trump donors, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.Trump targets South KoreaDuring the dinner, Trump also took aim at South Korea on trade, after one of the dinner guests complained that South Korea was exporting Chinese steel to the United States.”We’re doing a big number for them. Can you believe it?” Trump said, apparently referencing the U.S. military presence in Korea. “I could write a book on that.”After one of the guests mentioned that the U.S. spends “billions of dollars to save [South Korea] from North Korea,” Trump reflected on the history of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.”How we ever got involved in South Korea in the first place, you know, tell me about it. How we ended up in a Korean war,” Trump said as his guests laughed.FILE – A U.S. soldier stands guard in front of their Air F-16 fighter jet at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Jan. 10, 2016.The U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a remnant of the 1950s era Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The Pentagon says the troops are meant to deter North Korea.Trump has long complained that Seoul is not paying enough for the cost of the U.S. military presence.For a second consecutive year, negotiators failed to reach an agreement before the military cost-sharing deal expired on December 31. Officials have said the talks have made progress, but that gaps remain.Trump has at times dismissed the need for U.S. troops in Korea. Asked last month if it was in the U.S. security interest to keep troops in South Korea and the region, Trump said he could go “either way.” 

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US Consulate to Evacuate Staff From Epidemic-Stricken Wuhan

The U.S. Consulate in the epidemic-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan will evacuate its personnel and some private citizens aboard a charter flight Tuesday.A notice Sunday from the embassy in Beijing said there would be limited capacity to transport U.S. citizens on the flight that will proceed directly to San Francisco.It said that in the event there are not enough seats, priority will be given to to individuals “at greater risk from coronavirus,” a new respiratory disease that has sickened 1,975 people and killed 56, almost all in Wuhan.

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US Border Patrol Allows Replanting After Bulldozing Garden

The U.S. Border Patrol, reacting to a breach it discovered in a steel-pole border wall believed to be used by smugglers, gave activists no warning this month when it bulldozed the U.S. side of a cross-border garden on an iconic bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. On Saturday, after a public apology for “the unintentional destruction,” the agency allowed the activists into a highly restricted area to plant sticky monkey-flowers, seaside daisies and other native species in Friendship Park, which was inaugurated by first lady Pat Nixon in 1971 as a symbol of bilateral bonds. The half-acre plaza separating San Diego and Tijuana has hosted cross-border yoga classes, festivals and religious services. The garden’s rebirth is the latest twist in a sometimes adversarial, sometimes conciliatory relationship between security-minded border agents and activists who consider the park a special place to exercise rights to free expression. “It’s hard to reconcile because we have two different agendas, but we’re both in the same place, so we’re trying our best,” said Daniel Watman, a Spanish teacher who spearheads the garden for the volunteer group, Friends of Friendship Park. During an art festival in 2005, David Smith Jr., known as “The Human Cannonball,” flashed his passport, lowered himself into a barrel and was shot over the wall on the nearby beach, landing on a net with U.S. Border Patrol agents nearby. In 2017, professional swimmers crossed the border from the U.S. in the Pacific Ocean and landed on the same beach, where a Mexican official greeted them with stamped passports and schoolchildren cheered. Some events rejectedThe Border Patrol has been less receptive to events that carry an overtly political message or that, in its view, take things too far. In 2017, it rejected the Dresdner Symphony Orchestra’s plans for a cross-border concert named “Tear Down This Wall.” It also nixed a “Let Them Hug” signature campaign to allow “touch time” across the border on weekends. Agents briefly opened a heavy steel gate several times a year but ended the practice after an American man and Mexican woman wed in a cross-border ceremony in 2017. They were furious to learn later that the groom was a convicted drug smuggler whose criminal record prohibited him from entering Mexico. Smugglers allegedly cut an opening in part of a border wall, since repaired, a breach that the U.S. Border Patrol said led to the “unintentional destruction” of a cross-border garden this month in San Diego’s Friendship Park, Jan. 25, 2020.Friends of Friendship Park, which advocates for “unrestricted access to this historic meeting place,” said the garden was created in 2007, shortly before a second barrier created a buffer enforcement zone that the Border Patrol opens to the public on weekends only. People can barely touch fingertips through a steel mesh screen during those weekend encounters. The Border Patrol said in a statement after the garden was bulldozed that it was being used “as cover to hide smuggling activities.” It released photos that showed a padlock on the Mexican side, which smugglers apparently used to keep the roughly 18-inch (46-centimeter) opening to themselves. Walls are often breached. Manny Bayon, president of the National Border Patrol Council union local that represents San Diego-area agents, said some have cut through President Donald Trump’s new wall of high, concrete-filled steel bollards. Smugglers use cordless grinders that cost about $100. Friends of Friendship Park met January 15 with Douglas Harrison, the Border Patrol’s interim San Diego chief, and settled on a plan to resurrect the garden. Harrison said the intent was to trim it, not destroy it. “We take full responsibility, are investigating the event, & look forward to working with [Friends of Friendship Park] on the path forward,” Harrison said on Twitter. CompromiseA compromise called for the garden to be set back 4 feet (1.2 meters) from the wall to give agents better visibility, with minimal planting on the next 4 feet to better facilitate temporary removal when construction crews replace the existing barrier with Trump’s wall. There was a last-minute misunderstanding Saturday when Watman said the group’s willingness to set the garden back came with permission to plant over a larger space, which the agents on duty wouldn’t allow. Watman agreed to shrink his blueprint and take it up later. “Things are always up in the air somewhat,” he said. “There’s a little bit of playing it by ear.” The Border Patrol released a statement Saturday that said it values “the friendships we have built over the years with the community.” “We are confident that this relationship will continue as we move into a new era of the bi-national garden,” it said. 

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US Veterans Group Wants Trump Apology for Brain Injury Comment

A U.S. veterans group is “expecting” an apology from President Donald Trump for his comments that downplayed traumatic brain injuries, an official said. Speaking in Davos on Wednesday, Trump said he did not consider the brain injuries suffered by U.S. service members in Iran’s recent attack on a base in Iraq as serious. But the Veterans of Foreign Wars “expects an apology from the president to our service men and women for his misguided remarks,” William Schmitz, VFW national commander, said in a statement Friday. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. Earlier on Friday the Pentagon said 34 service members had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury following missile strikes by Iran on a base in Iraq, a number higher than the military previously announced. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group with 1.6 million members, said traumatic brain injury (TBI) cannot be taken lightly. “TBI is known to cause depression, memory loss, severe headaches, dizziness and fatigue — all injuries that come with both short- and long-term effects,” the group said. 

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US Veterans Group Wants Trump Apology for Brain Injury Comment

A U.S. veterans group is “expecting” an apology from President Donald Trump for his comments that downplayed traumatic brain injuries, an official said. Speaking in Davos on Wednesday, Trump said he did not consider the brain injuries suffered by U.S. service members in Iran’s recent attack on a base in Iraq as serious. But the Veterans of Foreign Wars “expects an apology from the president to our service men and women for his misguided remarks,” William Schmitz, VFW national commander, said in a statement Friday. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. Earlier on Friday the Pentagon said 34 service members had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury following missile strikes by Iran on a base in Iraq, a number higher than the military previously announced. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group with 1.6 million members, said traumatic brain injury (TBI) cannot be taken lightly. “TBI is known to cause depression, memory loss, severe headaches, dizziness and fatigue — all injuries that come with both short- and long-term effects,” the group said. 

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