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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

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Uvalde school police chief on leave after mass shooting

DALLAS (AP) — The Uvalde school district’s police chief was put on leave Wednesday following allegations that he erred in his response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell said that he put schools police Chief Pete Arredondo on administrative leave because the facts of what happened remain unclear. In a statement, Harrell did not address Arredondo's actions as on-site commander during the attack but said he didn't know when details of federal, state and local investigations into the law enforcement response to the slayings would be revealed.

“From the beginning of this horrible event, I shared that the district would wait until the investigation was complete before making personnel decisions,” Harrell said. “Because of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective on this date.”

A spokesperson for the Uvalde school district, Anne Marie Espinoza, declined to say whether Arredondo would continue to be paid while on leave.

Another officer will assume the embattled chief’s duties, Harrell said.


Biden calls for 3-month suspension of gas and diesel taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday called on Congress to suspend federal gasoline and diesel taxes for three months — an election-year move meant to ease financial pressures that was greeted with doubts by many lawmakers.

The Democratic president also called on states to suspend their own gas taxes or provide similar relief, and he delivered a public critique of the energy industry for prioritizing profits over production. It would take action by lawmakers in Washington and in statehouses across the country to actually bring relief to consumers.

“It doesn’t reduce all the pain but it will be a big help," Biden said, using the bully pulpit when his administration believes it has run out of direct levers to address soaring gas prices. "I’m doing my part. I want Congress, states and industry to do their part as well.”

At issue is the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax on gas and the 24.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax on diesel fuel. If the gas savings were fully passed along to consumers, people would save roughly 3.6% at the pump when prices are averaging about $5 a gallon nationwide.

Biden's push faces uphill odds in Congress, which must act in order to suspend the tax, and where many lawmakers, including some in his own party, have expressed reservations. Even many economists view the idea of a gas tax holiday with skepticism.


Powell: Fed aims to avoid recession but says it's possible

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell sought Wednesday to reassure the public that the Fed will raise interest rates high and fast enough to quell inflation, without tightening credit so much as to throttle the economy and cause a recession.

Testifying to the Senate Banking Committee, Powell faced skeptical questions from members of both parties about the Fed's ability to tame inflation, which has surged to the top of Americans' concerns as congressional elections near.

Democrats wondered whether the Fed’s accelerated rate hikes will succeed in curbing inflation or might instead just tip the economy into a downturn. Several Republicans charged that the Powell Fed had moved too slowly to begin raising rates and now must speed up its hikes.

Powell acknowledged that a recession is possible as the Fed pushes borrowing costs steadily higher.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” he said in response to a question from Sen. John Tester, a Democrat from Montana. "It’s not our intended outcome, but it’s certainly a possibility.”


Afghanistan quake kills 1,000 people, deadliest in decades

GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) — A powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes and killing at least 1,000 people. The disaster posed a new test for Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers and relief agencies already struggling with the country’s multiple humanitarian crises.

The quake was Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, and officials said the toll could rise. An estimated 1,500 others were reported injured, the state-run news agency said.

The disaster inflicted by the 6.1-magnitude quake heaps more misery on a country where millions face increasing hunger and poverty and the health system has been crumbling since the Taliban retook power nearly 10 months ago amid the U.S. and NATO withdrawal. The takeover led to a cutoff of vital international financing, and most of the world has shunned the Taliban government.

In a rare move, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, who almost never appears in public, pleaded with the international community and humanitarian organizations “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort."

Residents in the remote area near the Pakistani border searched for victims dead or alive by digging with their bare hands through the rubble, according to footage shown by the Bakhtar news agency. It was not immediately clear if heavy rescue equipment was being sent, or if it could even reach the area.


Ghastly shootings, political forces align to prompt gun deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The country has long endured a numbing succession of mass shootings at schools, places of worship and public gathering places. None forced Congress to react with significant legislation — until now.

Last month, a white shooter was accused of racist motives in the killings of 10 Black people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Another gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The slayings of shoppers and school children just 10 days apart — innocents engaged in every day activities — helped prompt a visceral public demand for Congress to do something, lawmakers of both parties say. Bargainers produced a bipartisan gun violence bill that the Senate is moving toward approving later this week, with House action expected sometime afterward.

Here's a look at the confluence of factors that helped to produce a compromise.

REPUBLICAN MOTIVATION


Jan. 6 hearings: What we’ve learned, and what’s next

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection heard from election workers and state officials on Tuesday as they described President Donald Trump’s pressure to overturn his 2020 election defeat. On Thursday, the nine-member panel will hear from former Justice Department officials who refused Trump’s entreaties to declare the election “corrupt.”

The committee’s fourth and fifth hearings, held this week, are part of an effort to show how Trump’s pressure eventually shifted to Congress, where his false declarations of widespread election fraud led directly to the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters violently breached the Capitol and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

In July, the panel will hold at least two more hearings that are expected to focus on the far-right domestic extremists who attacked the Capitol and what Trump was doing inside the White House as the violence unfolded.

TRUMP’S PRESSURE ON STATES

State officials testified at Tuesday's hearing about the extraordinary pressure they faced from Trump after the election to try and invalidate Biden’s win.


Ukraine expects EU-wide support for candidacy to join bloc

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Ukrainian official overseeing the country’s push to join the European Union said Wednesday that she’s “100%” certain all 27 EU nations will approve Ukraine's EU candidacy during a summit this week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed similar optimism, calling it a “crucial moment” for Ukraine. Ukraine’s membership bid is the top order of business for EU leaders meeting in Brussels.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna said the decision could come as soon as Thursday, when the leaders' summit starts.

Stefanishyna said the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark had been skeptical about starting accession talks with Ukraine while it is fighting Russia’s invasion but are now supportive. Asked how confident she was that Ukraine would be accepted as an EU candidate, she said: “The day before the summit starts, I can say 100%.”

The EU’s executive arm threw its weight behind Ukraine’s candidacy last week. Stefanishyna described the European Commission's endorsement as “a game-changer” that had taken the ground out from under “the legs of those most hesitating."


Andrew Gillum, once a Florida governor candidate, indicted

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Andrew Gillum, the 2018 Democratic nominee for Florida governor, has been indicted on 21 federal charges including conspiracy and wire fraud for funneling donations through third parties back to himself for personal use, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida said Gillum, 42, is also charged with making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for claiming he didn’t receive or ask for anything from two undercover agents posing as developers. The undercover agents offered gifts and money in exchange for support for projects.

Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, 53 and the owner of a communications company, is a codefendant on the wire fraud charges for funneling money to Gillum in the form of paychecks, U.S. Attorney Jason R. Coody said in a statement.

Prosecutors said the pair “conspired to commit wire fraud, by unlawfully soliciting and obtaining funds from various entities and individuals through false and fraudulent promises and representations that the funds would be used for a legitimate purpose.”

Gillum, in a statement released through his lawyers, denied the charges.


Good dog! Westminster dog show gets set to pick a winner

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — The top dog gets crowned at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Wednesday night, with a field that includes a French bulldog with an NFL connection, a bloodhound, an English setter, a German shepherd, a Maltese, a Samoyed and a Lakeland terrier.

Out of more than 3,000 dogs entered, just seven will make it far enough to vie for the best in show prize at the most prestigious U.S. dog show. Usually held in winter at New York City's Madison Square Garden, the show moved to the suburban Lyndhurst estate last year and this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Each finalist represents a different canine “group,” or type, such as hounds or terriers.

Westminster is often described as the Super Bowl of U.S. dog shows, and Winston the French bulldog aims to make it so for co-owner Morgan Fox, a defensive lineman who was just signed by the Los Angeles Chargers and has played for the Los Angeles Rams and the Carolina Panthers.

Fox said he was “ecstatic” when Winston made the finals.


Congress alleges 'shadow' probe by Commanders owner Snyder

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder conducted a “shadow investigation” that sought to discredit former employees making accusations of workplace sexual harassment, hired private investigators to intimidate witnesses, and used an overseas lawsuit as a pretext to obtain phone records and emails, according to a document released by a House committee Wednesday.

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the Commanders' workplace culture following accusations of pervasive sexual harassment by team executives of women employees. It released the memo ahead of a hearing Wednesday in Washington that featured testimony from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, appearing remotely from New York.

Snyder was invited to testify but declined, citing overseas business commitments and concerns about due process. The committee chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., announced during the hearing that she plans to issue a subpoena to compel a deposition from Snyder next week.

The 29-page memo alleges Snyder tried to discredit the people accusing him and other team executives of misconduct and also tried to influence an investigation of the team conducted for the NFL by attorney Beth Wilkinson's firm.

Snyder's attorneys presented the NFL with a 100-slide PowerPoint presentation including “private text messages, emails, phone logs and call transcripts, and social media posts from nearly 50 individuals who Mr. Snyder apparently believed were involved in a conspiracy to disparage him,” the committee said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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