Nation & World

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

US says Iran removed unexploded mine from oil tanker

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. military on Friday released a video it said showed Iran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.

The U.S. Navy rushed to assist the stricken vessels in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Iran, including one that was set ablaze Thursday by an explosion. The ships' operators offered no immediate explanation on who or what caused the damage against the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous. Each was loaded with petroleum products, and the Front Altair burned for hours, sending up a column of thick, black smoke.

Iran has denied being involved in the attack, calling it an "unfounded claim" in the U.S.' "Iranophobic campaign." However, Iran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the "Tanker War," when the U.S. Navy escorted ships through the region.

The black-and-white footage, as well as still photographs released by the U.S. military's Central Command, appeared to show the limpet mine on the Kokuka Courageous.

A Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulled alongside the ship and removed the mine, Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said.

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Sarah Sanders leaving White House job; governor run ahead?

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, whose tenure was marked by a breakdown in regular press briefings and questions about the administration's credibility, as well as her own, will leave her post at the end of the month, President Donald Trump announced Thursday.

Trump said he's encouraging her to run for governor when she returns home to Arkansas, where her father once held the job.

Sanders is one of Trump's closest and most trusted White House aides and one of the few remaining who worked on his campaign, taking on the job of advocating for and defending a president who had his own unconventional ideas about how to conduct the people's business.

At an unrelated White House event, Trump described Sanders as a "warrior" as he called her to the stage. Sanders, appearing emotional, said serving Trump has been "the honor of a lifetime" and pledged to remain one of his "most outspoken and loyal supporters."

Sanders, who is married and has three young children, later told reporters she wanted to spend more time with her family, but did not rule out running for public office.

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Dems announce debate candidates: de Blasio in, Bullock out

The Democratic National Committee announced Thursday that 20 candidates have qualified for the party's first presidential debates later this month.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts were the only major candidates out of the two dozen Democratic hopefuls who failed to meet the polling or grassroots fundraising measures required to get a debate spot. Two lesser-known candidates, former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam, also missed the cutoff.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently had been on the bubble, both made the debate based on polling measures.

The campaign's opening debates , set for June 26-27 in Miami, will offer a prime opportunity for many White House hopefuls to reshape a race defined in recent weeks by former Vice President Joe Biden's domination of national and many early state polls.

An NBC News drawing Friday will divide the large field between the first and second debate night. Party officials have promised to weight the drawing with the intention of ensuring that top tier and lagging candidates are spread roughly evenly over the two nights.

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Federal agency recommends White House aide Conway be fired

WASHINGTON (AP) — Taking unprecedented action, a federal watchdog agency recommended Thursday that President Donald Trump fire one of his most ardent defenders, counselor Kellyanne Conway , for repeatedly violating a law that limits political activity by government workers.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller's office, said in a letter to Trump that Conway has been a "repeat offender" of the Hatch Act by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.

Federal law prohibits employees of the executive branch from using their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are exempt from the Hatch Act, but there are no exceptions for White House employees.

The agency does not have the authority to fire Conway, who was appointed by Trump, so it would be up to the president to follow its recommendation and dismiss one of his most unwavering defenders. Conway is known for her fiery television appearances in support of the president and his policies. She helped him win election in 2016 as his campaign manager.

The recommendation to fire Conway is the first time the watchdog office has recommended the removal of a White House official over Hatch Act violations.

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Man accused in New Zealand mosque killings pleads not guilty

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — The man accused of the New Zealand mosque attacks smirked as his lawyer entered not guilty pleas to terrorism, murder and attempted murder charges Friday before a judge who set his trial for next May.

The courtroom was filled with 80 survivors and family members of the 51 who were slain, while about another 60 watched the hearing on video in an overflow room at the Christchurch High Court. Four cultural advisers and other staff were assigned to help the victims and family members understand the proceedings and the next steps in the case.

A man who addressed the survivors said they had been praying during the holy month of Ramadan and that the Muslim community would help and support each other during the coming weeks and months.

Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian accused of the attacks, appeared at the hearing via video link from a small room at the maximum security prison in Auckland where he's being held. The link was muted and he didn't attempt to speak.

Other than smirking a couple of times, Tarrant showed little emotion during the hearing. When Judge Cameron Mander asked if he could hear and see what was going on in the courtroom, Tarrant nodded. At times he looked around the room and stretched his neck.

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Memphis police appeal for calm after marshals kill black man

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Police appealed for calm Thursday in a tense Memphis neighborhood where a rock-throwing crowd gathered after federal marshals fatally shot a black man who, authorities said, had rammed a police vehicle with a stolen car.

Thirty-six officers suffered minor injuries from flying rocks and bricks in the hours following the death of 20-year-old Brandon Webber, who was killed Wednesday evening after he exited the car holding some type of weapon, authorities said.

Webber had been wanted in a June 3 shooting that happened during a car theft about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Memphis in Hernando, Mississippi. The victim was shot five times and survived. The car was the one used to ram the police vehicle, according to DeSoto County, Mississippi, District Attorney John Champion, who spoke Thursday at a news conference.

Elected officials condemned the violence, and the police chief pleaded for patience while the shooting is investigated. But unanswered questions left many people angry as they recalled other police shootings around the country.

On Thursday evening, dozens — including Webber's father and other friends and relatives — gathered near the house where he was shot.

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Dems assail Trump on being open to foreign election help

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's assertion that he would be open to accepting a foreign power's help in his 2020 campaign ricocheted through Washington on Thursday, with Democrats condemning it as a call for further election interference and Republicans struggling to defend his comments.

Trump seemed to dismiss the threat posed by Russia's interference in the 2016 election, one that led to sweeping indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller, and his incendiary remarks come as congressional investigations into the meddling have quickened.

Asked by ABC News what he would do if Russia or another country offered him dirt on his election opponent, Trump said: "I think I'd want to hear it." He added that he'd have no obligation to call the FBI. "There's nothing wrong with listening."

The Democratic denunciations were swift and overwhelming.

"It's a very sad thing that he doesn't know his right from wrong," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday. "It's an invasion of our democracy. Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the president said."

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Legal fight tougher for congressman as wife pleads guilty

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Indicted six-term GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter has held steadfast to his contention that a corruption case against him is the result of a political witch hunt.

But that argument got tougher Thursday for the former Marine and close ally of President Donald Trump after his wife, who worked as his campaign manager, pleaded guilty to a single corruption count and acknowledged being a co-conspirator with her husband in spending more than $200,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.

Margaret Hunter accepted a plea deal that calls for 59 charges to be dismissed in exchange for her testimony, full cooperation with prosecutors and other concessions. The conspiracy charge to which she pleaded includes all the allegations contained in the 60-count indictment.

"The walls were closing in on him before, now this just makes it more claustrophobic," said Jason Forge, a former federal attorney who prosecuted California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in 2005 for one of the worst bribery scandals to ever bring down a federal lawmaker.

Rep. Hunter "has fewer and fewer options. It's not just his campaign manager. It's his campaign manager and his wife," Forge said.

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Cuba Gooding Jr. pleads not guilty to groping woman at bar

NEW YORK (AP) — Cuba Gooding Jr. turned himself in and was arrested Thursday on charges he groped a woman in an encounter at a New York City night spot that appears to have been caught on video.

The 51-year-old Oscar-winning star of "Jerry Maguire" denies the allegations and pleaded not guilty to forcible touching and sexual abuse charges at a night court arraignment.

He was released on his own recognizance after about six hours in police custody.

Gooding did not discuss his case as he left court, instead offering well wishes to David Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox star hospitalized after he was shot Sunday in the Dominican Republic.

"Get well, Big Papi," Gooding said while passing a phalanx of cameras and reporters in the courthouse lobby.

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Raptors get second chance at first title in Game 6

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Toronto Raptors have a second chance at claiming their first NBA championship.

Game 6 of the NBA Finals will be played Thursday night, the Raptors entering with a 3-2 series lead over the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Golden State is 0-3 at home against Toronto this season, losing all three games by double digits. And this will be the final time that the Warriors play a home game at Oracle Arena, with the team moving to the Chase Center in San Francisco next season.

Golden State fought off elimination with a 106-105 win in Game 5 at Toronto on Monday night.

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