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

Last Updated Feb 23, 2018 at 11:20 pm EDT

US gymnasts tell AP sport rife with verbal, emotional abuse

They were little girls with dreams of Olympic gold when they started in gymnastics. Now they’re women with lifelong injuries, suffocating anxiety and debilitating eating disorders.

They are the other victims of USA Gymnastics.

Thirteen former U.S. gymnasts and three coaches interviewed by The Associated Press described a win-at-all-cost culture rife with verbal and emotional abuse in which girls were forced to train on broken bones and other injuries. That culture was tacitly endorsed by the sport’s governing body and institutionalized by Bela and Martha Karolyi, the husband-and-wife duo who coached America’s top female gymnasts for three decades.

The gymnasts agreed to speak to AP, some for the first time, after the recent courtroom revelations about USA Gymnastics’ former team doctor, Larry Nassar, who recently was sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting young athletes for years under the guise of medical treatment.

The Karolyis’ oppressive style created a toxic environment in which a predator like Nassar was able to thrive, according to witness statements in Nassar’s criminal case and a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, the Karolyis and others. Girls were afraid to challenge authority, Nassar was able to prey on vulnerable girls and, at the same time, he didn’t challenge the couple’s harsh training methods.


After school shooting, Florida leaders propose new gun laws

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s governor announced plans Friday to put more armed guards in schools and to make it harder for young adults and some with mental illness to buy guns, responding to days of intense lobbying from survivors of last week’s shooting at a Florida high school.

Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his school safety proposals as teachers returned for the first time to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School since the shooting nine days ago that killed 17 people. While criticized by some as not going far enough, the measures were significant in a state that hasn’t passed any type of gun control since Republicans took control of state government in 1999.

The shooting sparked an intense push to restrict access to assault rifles fueled by student activists who swarmed the state capitol demanding concrete gun control measures.

President Donald Trump said repeatedly Friday that he favoured arming teachers to protect students, an idea many educators rejected out of hand.

“I am totally against arming teachers,” Broward schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “They have a challenging job as it is.”


Ex-Trump aide pleads guilty, will co-operate in Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former senior adviser to President Donald Trump’s election campaign pleaded guilty Friday to federal conspiracy and false-statements charges, switching from defendant to co-operating witness in the special counsel’s probe of Trump’s campaign and Russia’s election interference.

The plea by Rick Gates revealed that he will help special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in “any and all matters” as prosecutors continue to probe the 2016 campaign, Russian meddling and Gates’ longtime business associate, one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

With his co-operation, Gates gives Mueller a witness willing to provide information on Manafort about his finances and political consulting work in Ukraine, and also someone who had access at the highest levels of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Gates, 45, of Richmond, Virginia, made the plea at the federal courthouse in Washington. He stood somberly beside his attorney and did not speak during his hearing except to answer routine questions from the judge about whether he understood the rights he was giving up.

He admitted to charges accusing him of conspiring against the U.S. government related to fraud and unregistered foreign lobbying as well as lying to federal authorities in a recent interview. Under the terms of the plea, he is estimated to face between 57 and 71 months behind bars and a possible fine ranging from $20,000 to $200,000. Prosecutors may seek a shortened sentence depending on his co-operation.


Police experts urge intensive training if teachers are armed

The idea of arming teachers to take out a shooter is alarming some law enforcement experts, who say it takes more than just being a good shot at a gun range.

They say it would require specialized and repeated training to teach educators the proper tactics and enable them to conquer their fear and remain calm and clear-thinking in a fast-moving, life-or-death situation.

“Simply putting a gun on the premises and hoping someone’s going to do the right thing with it is baseless,” said Chris Grollnek, a former law enforcement officer who specializes in security issues, especially active shooter situations. “All you’re doing is signing people up for PTSD.”

The idea of arming teachers isn’t new. Some schools around the country already allow educators to bring guns onto school grounds.

But the notion is gaining momentum after the shooting rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last week that left 17 students and adults dead. It turned out the only armed officer on duty at the school stayed outside rather than go in to confront the gunman.


Deaths mounts in Syria as UN weighs cease-fire resolution

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government warplanes carried out a sixth day of airstrikes Friday in the rebel-held suburbs east of Damascus, killing 32 people, activists said, as the death toll from a week of bombardment soared over 400.

At the United Nations, a vote on a Security Council resolution demanding a 30-day humanitarian cease-fire across Syria was delayed until Saturday to try to close a gap over the timing of a halt to fighting.

The new bombings came a day after Syrian army helicopters dropped leaflets over the rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ghouta, urging residents of those suburbs to leave for their own safety and calling on opposition fighters to surrender because they were surrounded by government troops.

Opposition activists reported airstrikes and artillery shelling on a string of towns on the edge of Damascus or eastern Ghouta.

At least 32 people were killed in raids on areas including Hammouriyeh, Zamalka, Douma and al-Marj, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the civil war through a network of activists in Syria.


California parents face new charges in kids’ torture case

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California couple suspected of starving and shackling some of their 13 children pleaded not guilty Friday to new charges of child abuse.

David and Louise Turpin previously entered not-guilty pleas to torture and a raft of other charges and are being held on $12 million bail.

Louise Turpin also pleaded not guilty to a new count of felony assault.

Louise Turpin, dressed in a blouse and blazer, looked intently at more than a dozen reporters in the courtroom. David Turpin, wearing a blazer, tie and black-rimmed glasses, kept his eyes on the judge during the hearing. Both said little except to agree to a May preliminary hearing.

The couple was arrested last month after their 17-year-old daughter escaped from the family’s home in Perris, California, and called 911. Authorities said the home reeked of human waste and evidence of starvation was obvious, with the oldest sibling weighing only 82 pounds.


Trump says arm US teachers; they love kids as others don’t

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump told conservatives Friday that even Second Amendment supporters can get behind steps to fight gun violence in schools, offering a red-meat call for arming teachers and suggesting they would be more likely to protect students than a security guard who “doesn’t love the children.”

Trump said the armed officer who failed to confront the gunman in last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was either a “coward” or “didn’t react properly under pressure.”

“He was not a credit to law enforcement,” Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Trump tailored his talking points Friday to his conservative audience, pushing the idea of arming some teachers who are “gun-adept people” but making no mention of another proposal he’s advanced in recent days that is opposed by the National Rifle Association: increasing the minimum age for buying assault rifles from 18 to 21.

During a later appearance with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in which he again addressed gun violence, Trump declared the United States was “well on our way to solving that horrible problem” — even though the administration has yet to deliver a firm plan to Congress.


Ivanka Trump to push for ‘maximum pressure’ on North Korea

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter toured the 2018 Winter Olympics on Saturday, the morning after telling South Korea’s president that she will use her visit to the Pyeongchang Games to advocate maximum pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.

Ivanka Trump, who is one of her father’s close advisers, is leading the U.S. delegation at this weekend’s closing ceremony for the Pyeongchang Games. Under cloudy skies, she watched her first event Saturday morning — big-air snowboarding.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in highlighted to Trump how the Olympics have served as a vehicle for dialogue between the two Koreas, and said the U.S. and South Korea should make use of the current mood of rapprochement between the Koreas in seeking denuclearization.

At a closed-door meeting before a banquet Friday night at the presidential compound, Moon told Trump that talks on denuclearization and the inter-Korean dialogue must move forward side by side, Moon’s press secretary, Yoon Young-chan, told reporters. Trump responded by pushing for joint efforts by the U.S. and South Korea to apply maximum pressure on North Korea, Yoon said.

The differences in how the U.S. and South Korea hope to achieve denuclearization were also apparent during the banquet. In her remarks, Trump said she was in South Korea to celebrate the Olympics and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a “maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized.”


Caller told FBI Florida shooting suspect ‘going to explode’

WASHINGTON (AP) — A woman close to the man charged with killing 17 people at a Florida high school warned the FBI in chilling detail that he had a growing collection of guns and a temper so uncontrollable she worried about him “getting into a school and just shooting the place up.”

The Associated Press on Friday obtained a transcript of the Jan. 5 tip to the FBI’s call centre. The FBI acknowledged it failed to investigate the tip about 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, but the transcript provides the fullest glimpse yet into the seriousness of the woman’s concerns.

“I know he’s going to explode,” she told the call-taker.

The FBI briefed congressional staff Friday about its failure to act on the alarming tip, as well as why it did not delve into a September 2017 YouTube comment posted by a “Nikolas Cruz” that said, “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI linked the January call to the report of the YouTube comment, but an FBI intake specialist and a supervisor at the call centre took no further action, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s office said Friday.

Google, which owns YouTube, also briefed congressional staffers.


US visa boss insists mission statement isn’t anti-immigrant

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The head of the federal agency that grants citizenship and immigration benefits said Friday that he had a message for anyone who considers his new mission statement anti-immigrant: “A thousand times no.”

Francis Cissna told The Associated Press that he cut reference to the U.S. being a “nation of immigrants” from Citizenship and Immigration Services’ mission statement because a “bureaucratic” document was the wrong platform to say so. He said the country is indisputably a nation of immigrants.

The agency’s mission statement is “not something where you put eternal professions of American values. That sort of thing belongs chiseled in the wall of a monument, not in some bureaucratic mission statement,” he said.

Cissna said he was surprised by criticism after announcing the change Thursday to his 18,000 employees. He said the White House had no involvement.

“This was all inside my head,” he said.