State Dept. now in sync with GOP, says it never concluded Libya attack was a protest gone awry
WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department says it never concluded that an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya was simply a protest gone awry, a statement that places the Obama administration's own foreign policy arm in sync with Republicans.
That extraordinary message, appearing to question the administration's initial description of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, came in a department briefing Tuesday — a day before a hearing on diplomatic security in Libya was to be held by the Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The committee's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has accused the State Department of turning aside pleas from its diplomats in Libya to increase security in the months and weeks before Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi. One scheduled witness Wednesday, Eric Nordstrom, is the former chief security officer for U.S. diplomats in Libya who told the committee his pleas for more security were ignored.
Briefing reporters Tuesday ahead of the hearing, department officials were asked about the administration's initial — and since retracted — explanation linking the violence to protests over an American-made anti-Muslim video circulating on the Internet. One official responded, "That was not our conclusion." He called it a question for "others" to answer, without specifying.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, and provided no evidence that might suggest a case of spontaneous violence or angry protests that went too far.
Feds: Boston man arrested at LA airport with weapons, gas mask, other suspicious items in bag
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Why would a man flying from Japan to Boston need to wear a bulletproof vest and travel with a suitcase full of weapons, leg irons, a smoke grenade, a gas mask and a biohazard suit?
That's what federal investigators are trying to figure out despite a lack of cooperation from 28-year-old Yongda Huang Harris, who was arrested during a stopover at Los Angeles International Airport, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Tuesday.
Harris, who was taken into custody at the airport Friday wearing the vest and flame-resistant pants, was not cooperating with federal officials attempting to interview him, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an open investigation.
The official said Harris is not believed to be linked to a terrorist organization, but his motive has not been determined.
Harris has been charged with one count of transporting hazardous materials, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He made a brief court appearance Tuesday, but his arraignment was delayed until Friday and he was ordered held until then.
California man behind anti-Muslim film expected to answer to alleged probation violation
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California man with many aliases who was behind an anti-Muslim film that sparked violence in the Middle East is expected to be asked by a judge Wednesday whether he violated his probation for a 2010 bank fraud conviction.
Federal prosecutors said Mark Basseley Youssef, 55, had eight probation violations, including lying to his probation officer and using aliases. If Youssef denies those allegations, a judge will then likely schedule an evidentiary hearing.
Youssef has been in a federal detention center since Sept. 28 after he was arrested for the probation violations and deemed a flight risk by a magistrate judge.
He went into hiding after a 14-minute trailer for the movie "Innocence of Muslims" was posted on YouTube. Angry protests stoked by the film broke out in Egypt and Libya and violence related to the film has spread, killing dozens. Enraged Muslims demanded punishment for Youssef, and a Pakistani cabinet minister has offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills him.
Federal authorities have said Youssef isn't behind bars because of the film or its content, which portrays Muhammad as a religious fraud, womanizer and pedophile. They said Youssef hasn't been truthful about his identity, using different names after he was convicted in 2010 of bank fraud.
Moscow court considering Pussy Riot's appeal of 2-year prison sentences for anti-Putin protest
MOSCOW (AP) — Three jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot told a Moscow appeals court on Wednesday that they should not be imprisoned for their irreverent protest against President Vladimir Putin, insisting that their impromptu performance inside Moscow's main cathedral was political in nature and not an attack on religion.
Dressed in neon-colored miniskirts and tights, with homemade balaclavas on their heads, the women performed a "punk prayer" asking Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin as he headed into a March election that would hand him a third term. They were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison.
"We didn't mean to offend anyone," said Maria Alekhina, who along with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich spoke in court from inside a glass cage known colloquially as the "aquarium." She said they were protesting Putin and also the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy for openly supporting his rule.
"We went to the cathedral to express our protest against the joining of the political and spiritual elites," Alekhina said.
The case has been condemned in the U.S. and Europe, where it has been seen as an illustration of Putin's intensifying crackdown on dissent after his return to the presidency after four years as prime minister.
Momentum for miles ahead: Push for healthier truckers includes weight-loss challenges, gyms
DALLAS (AP) — In the months after Doug Robinson started driving a truck, he noticed his clothes were increasingly more snug-fitting. He was already overweight but soon realized that spending up to 11 hours behind the wheel, frequently eating fast food and not exercising was a poor combination.
When his employer, U.S. Xpress, took part in a weight-loss challenge sponsored by the Truckload Carriers Association, the 321-pound, 6-foot-1-inch Robinson signed up.
So far, he's about 40 pounds into his goal of dropping 100. His truck's refrigerator is stocked with chicken, tuna and vegetables. And after his day's drive, he walks — either on trails near rest stops or just circling his truck.
"I have asthma, so with the extra weight on there, it isn't good for me," said Robinson, a 30-year-old from Philadelphia. "When I started losing weight, instantly I was breathing better. I was sleeping better at night."
From trucking companies embracing wellness and weight-loss programs to gyms being installed at truck stops, momentum has picked up in recent years to help those who make their living driving big rigs get into shape.
Romney making a renewed push in battleground Ohio as statewide poll shows tighter race
AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney is making a fresh bid for Ohio voters, trying to use post-debate momentum to make up ground in a state that has been a mainstay of GOP presidential candidates and could help President Barack Obama hold onto the White House.
Romney planned events in communities north of Columbus and Dayton on Wednesday, intensifying his efforts in the state after a strong debate performance that has helped him close a deficit against Obama in national polls.
"This economy is not creating the jobs it should. We've got to fix it," Romney said Tuesday in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where he campaigned with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "We're going to do it here in Ohio."
Ohio remained a focus for both campaigns, as Obama and Romney pushed for support on the last day of voter registration before Election Day. Obama returned to the White House following a fundraising trip through California and a stop Tuesday at Ohio State University, where he urged students to cast their ballots early.
"Don't wait. Do not be late. Go vote today," Obama said. "All right, Buckeyes, we need you." His campaign staged buses nearby, ready to ferry students or other supporters to registration centers. Obama was staying off the campaign trail on Wednesday and then heading to Florida on Thursday for events in the nation's largest battleground state.
Sandusky headed to prison, but fallout from sexual abuse scandal persists
BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) — Headed to prison for the rest of his life, Jerry Sandusky leaves behind a trail of human and legal wreckage that could take years to clear away.
Victims face a lifetime of healing. Penn State is laboring under severe NCAA penalties. And at least four civil lawsuits have been filed against a university shamed by scandal, with more likely to come.
If Sandusky felt any remorse or pity for anyone but himself, he didn't show it at his sentencing Tuesday. Instead, speaking in court for the first time since his arrest last November, the former Penn State assistant football coach delivered a disjointed and defiant monologue in which he denied committing "disgusting acts" against children and cast himself as the victim.
Sitting behind him were the actual victims — the young men who testified that Sandusky serially molested them when they were children, using his position of influence and authority to gain their trust and then violate their innocence.
"I am troubled with flashbacks of his naked body, something that will never be erased from my memory," said a victim who was 13 when Sandusky lured him into a Penn State shower and forced him to touch the ex-coach. Another victim told Sandusky he suffered from "deep painful wounds that you caused and had been buried in the garden of my heart for many years."
Luke Bryan leads American Country Awards nominees with 7; Lady A, Zac Brown Band earn 6 apiece
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Luke Bryan just keeps getting hotter.
The rising country music star is the lead nominee for this year's American Country Awards with seven. He beat out established stars like Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum in a field announced early Wednesday.
Lady A and Zac Brown Band are next with six nominations apiece, while Swift and Eric Church took five nods each for the third annual fan-voted awards.
Bryan, Swift, Lady A, Zac Brown Band and Jason Aldean are up for the night's top honor, artist of the year. Bryan also has nominations in the male artist, album, single and video of the year categories.
Dierks Bentley's "Home," Church's "Chief," Lady A's "Own the Night" and Blake Shelton's "Red River Blue" join Bryan's "tailgates & tanlines" on the album of the year list. Hit song "I Don't Want This Night To End" nabbed Bryan single and video of the year nominations.
Crisp's catch backs Anderson, as A's beat Tigers 2-0 to avoid another playoff sweep by Detroit
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Oakland Athletics will play another day in this improbable season full of remarkable rallies.
These A's never count themselves out — down and doubted is their dogma.
Brett Anderson outdueled fellow postseason first-timer Anibal Sanchez and the upstart Athletics showed off stellar defense all over the diamond, avoiding another playoff sweep by Detroit by beating the Tigers 2-0 Tuesday night in their AL division series.
The A's cut their deficit in the best-of-five matchup to 2-1.
Coco Crisp, whose misplay dearly cost Oakland in Game 2, saved a likely home run by Prince Fielder with a leaping catch at the top of the center-field wall in the second inning.
With giddy celebration on Olympic podium, Shields completes triumph over rough circumstances
FLINT, Mich. (AP) — The ferociousness that won Claressa Shields an Olympic gold medal melted away as she climbed on the podium to claim it.
She giggled and grinned as she caressed it, the prettiest thing the 17-year-old boxer ever had. She shimmied and bounced. She belted out the national anthem with gusto. Finally, unable to contain herself any longer, she held the medal high in the air, threw her head back and laughed.
"This gold medal," Shields said, "will make my life a lot better."
Truth is, she can thank herself for that.
"It took a lot for her to get to where she is, because she so easily could have gone in a different direction," said Mickey Rouse, who along with husband Jason Crutchfield, Shields' coach, has taken Shields in.