Obama denies $400M payment to Iran was ransom
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama vigorously denied on Thursday that a $400 million cash payment to Iran was ransom to secure the release of four Americans jailed in Tehran. He defended the transaction as evidence that the nuclear accord with Iran has allowed for progress on other matters.
“This wasn’t some nefarious deal,” Obama said during a news conference at the Pentagon.
The money was delivered to the Iranian government in January, at the same time the nuclear deal was settled and the Americans were released. The payment was part of a decades-old dispute over a failed military equipment deal dating to the 1970s, before the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Obama also answered political questions at the news conference, pushing back at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s suggestions that the November election might be rigged, calling the assertion “ridiculous.” He said his advice to Trump, a candidate he has declared “unfit” for the presidency, was to “go out there and try to win the election.”
Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will soon be receiving classified briefings, giving them access to sensitive information about national security and America’s military posture. Asked whether he was worried about Trump having access to such material, Obama said simply that those who want to be president need to start acting like it.
Clinton wooing a new group of voters: Republicans
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Hoping to capitalize on the criticism battering Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has begun portraying support for her candidacy as a patriotic duty of voters. She’s broadening her message and appealing directly to Republicans to keep him out of the White House.
It’s a twist for a Democratic presidential candidate who has some of the highest unpopularity ratings in history. But aides believe Trump’s controversial campaign and the chaos it’s caused within the Republican Party offers a unique opportunity.
In Ohio recently, Clinton urged Republicans “to pick country over party.” She told several thousand at a union hall in Las Vegas on Thursday, “I want to be the president for all Americans. Democrats, Republicans independents. We’re going to pull America together again.”
Clinton had always planned to speak to a broader audience during the general election campaign, a standard move for presidential candidates after their party conventions. But the state of Trump’s campaign and his decision to stick with his inflammatory primary message has prompted her to intensify her focus across party lines.
Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have begun arguing that Trump poses a unique danger to democracy. That’s an argument they did not make against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or Arizona Sen. John McCain, the past two GOP presidential nominees.
10 Things to Know for Friday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:
1. OBAMA DENIES $400M PAYMENT TO IRAN WAS RANSOM
The money was delivered to the Iranian government in January, at the same time four Americans jailed in Tehran were released.
2. UN BUNGLES RESPONSE TO AFRICA’S YELLOW FEVER OUTBREAK
An AP investigation finds that 1 million doses of yellow fever vaccines vanished in Angola, evidence of mismanagement that recalls the World Health Organization’s slip-ups during the Ebola epidemic.
UN bungles response to Africa’s yellow fever outbreak
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — The World Health Organization and its partners shipped more than 6 million yellow fever vaccines to Angola in February to quash an emerging epidemic, yet when they asked country officials the following month what happened to the vaccines, they discovered that about 1 million doses had mysteriously disappeared.
Of the shipments that did make it to Angola, some vaccines were sent to regions with no yellow fever cases, while others arrived at infected areas without syringes. In neighboring Congo, some vaccines weren’t always kept cold enough to guarantee they would be effective.
This lack of oversight and mismanagement has undermined control of the outbreak in Central Africa, the worst yellow fever epidemic in decades, an Associated Press investigation has found.
There is now a shortage of vaccines so severe that WHO has recommended doses be diluted by 80 percent to stretch the supply, even though there is limited evidence they will be effective in African populations.
“WE HAVE A MAJOR PROBLEM ON OUR HANDS,” UNICEF’s Robert Kezaala wrote in capital letters in a June email to his colleagues at WHO, Doctors Without Borders and other partners.
As Zika fears escalate, lawmakers point fingers from afar
WASHINGTON (AP) — As Zika escalates into a public health crisis and the number of mosquito-transmitted cases grows, Republicans and Democrats are pointing fingers over the failure by Congress to commit federal dollars to fight the virus.
President Barack Obama on Thursday sought to pressure congressional Republicans over the issue, encouraging voters to “call your members of Congress and tell them to do their job.”
“The money that we need to fight Zika is rapidly running out. The situation is getting critical,” Obama said at a news conference.
Yet lawmakers left Washington in mid-July for a seven-week recess without approving any of the $1.9 billion that Obama requested in February to develop a vaccine and control the mosquitoes that carry the virus.
Abortion politics played a central role in the impasse.
Jury: Ex-officer should serve 2 1/2 years for manslaughter
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — A jury recommended 2 1/2 years in prison for a white former police officer convicted of voluntary manslaughter on Thursday in the shooting death of an unarmed black man who had been accused of shoplifting.
The ex-officer, Stephen Rankin, shot 18-year-old William Chapman in the face and chest outside a Wal-Mart store last year after a security guard called police to go after the young man.
No video recorded the actual killing, and testimony conflicted on the details of what happened. But most witnesses said Chapman had his hands up, and prosecutor Stephanie Morales said the officer could have used non-deadly force.
The officer “brought a gun into what is at worst a fist fight,” Morales told the jury, which deliberated for nearly two days before returning its verdict.
Rankin, 36, faced one to 10 years on the manslaughter conviction. Morales asked jurors to give him the maximum, while defense attorney James Broccoletti argued that no amount of jail time would bring Chapman back to life.
Earl downgraded to tropical storm after drenching Belize
BELMOPAN, Belize (AP) — Hurricane Earl deteriorated into a weak tropical storm Thursday as it passed over northern Guatemala en route to southern Mexico.
Overnight, Earl slammed into the coast of the Caribbean nation of Belize with winds of 80 mph (130 kph), leaving the country battered, with some flooding reported.
Earl made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane near Belize City and was moving roughly westward, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. As it crossed northern Guatemala and entered southern Mexico, Earl had sustained winds near 40 mph (65 kph). It was expected to continue weakening to a tropical depression Thursday night.
The National Hurricane Center forecast that the storm would leave 8 to 12 inches (up to 30 centimeters) of rain over parts of Belize, Guatemala and southern Mexico. Isolated areas could receive as much as 18 inches (45 centimeters), causing flooding and mudslides.
Much of Belize was without electricity Thursday morning as residents began assessing the damage. Around the capital, some roofs were torn off, power lines were down and trees were uprooted. The rain continued and there was localized flooding.
Feds indict 46 in mob sweep, including reputed Philly boss
NEW YORK (AP) — Declaring that the Mafia is not just the stuff of movie scripts, federal prosecutors charged nearly four dozen people Thursday with being part of an East Coast crime syndicate, including an old-school mobster in New York and a reputed mob chieftain in Philadelphia who has been pursued by the government for decades.
The indictment, unsealed in New York City, accuses the defendants of a litany of classic mafia crimes, including extortion, loansharking, casino-style gambling, sports gambling, credit card fraud and health care fraud. It said the syndicate operated in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey.
Among those charged was Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, the flamboyant alleged head of the Philadelphia mob who has repeatedly beat murder charges in past cases, but served nearly 12 years in prison for racketeering.
Also named in the indictment was Pasquale “Patsy” Parrello, identified as a longtime member of the Genovese organized crime family and the owner of an Italian restaurant in New York City.
Parrello, 72, pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges at his arraignment in federal court in Manhattan.
IOC approves entry of 271 Russian athletes for Rio Games
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The IOC approved the entry of 271 Russian athletes for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Thursday, meaning 70 percent of the country’s original team will compete after a doping scandal that has dominated the buildup to the games.
Also Thursday, the IOC rule barring Russian athletes with prior doping sanctions from competing in the games was rejected as “unenforceable” by a sports arbitration panel, a decision which could open the door to further appeals and more Russians being entered.
The International Olympic Committee announced the go-ahead for 271 Russian athletes about 24 hours before the opening ceremony of the games. Overall, more than 100 Russians have been excluded, including 67 in track and field.
The IOC recently rejected calls from anti-doping organizations to ban Russia’s entire team following a report by a World Anti-Doping Agency investigator that detailed evidence of state-directed doping and cover-ups.
Instead, the IOC asked international federations to examine individual Russian athletes to determine if they should be eligible for the games. The IOC set up a panel of three executive board members to review the entries and make the final call, taking into account the advice of an independent sports arbitrator.
‘black-ish’ boss: It’s for everyone, so don’t talk diversity
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — ABC’s hit comedy “black-ish” dwells on an African-American family, but Kenya Barris, the show’s creator, says he isn’t interested in profiling who sees it.
“It’s ridiculous: Everything is about black and white,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who’s watching our show. What counts is, they’re watching it.
“I would be so happy when ‘diversity’ is not a word,” he continued on Thursday at the Television Critics Association summer conference during a panel discussion with the show’s producers and all-black cast. “These are amazing, talented actors who are giving it their all. We’re so tired of talking about diversity at every panel. The question of diversity clouds the conversation.”
Even so, Barris disclosed that roughly one-fourth of the audience is black, with much of the rest white-ish.
“Sometimes those questions can skew the conversation in a direction that does not help the conversation,” said Tracee Ellis Ross, who co-stars with Anthony Anderson as the upper-middle-class parents of four youngsters.