Priebus urged FBI to dispute Trump-Russia report

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus made a personal appeal to a top FBI official to dispute reports that multiple senior members of President Trump‘s campaign communicated with Russian agents during the 2016 election, senior White House officials confirmed to ABC News on Friday.

Priebus had reached out to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in an effort to knock down reports of talks between campaign officials and Russia following a New York Times report on the matter last week, officials said.

Priebus only made the request after the FBI had told the White House there were accuracy issues with the Times’ report, according to White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

“When the FBI came to the White House to inform us that the story wasn’t true we asked them if they’d be willing to correct the record,” Spicer told ABC News.

According to one White House official, after McCabe told Priebus the story was false, he said to get back in touch and then immediately told the White House that the bureau shouldn’t “get into calling balls and strikes on everything.”

The New York Times reported earlier this month that U.S. intelligence found through intercepted calls and phone records that Trump campaign members and associates repeatedly had contact with Russian intelligence agents.

CNN and The Associated Press first reported on Priebus’ intervention, which is drawing heavy scrutiny from Democrats who argue that the communications break with precedent that ensures the FBI remains independent from White House influence. A White House official would not comment on whether Priebus’ communication was appropriate, though President Trump in a series of morning tweets appeared to blame the FBI for allowing the story to leak.

The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security “leakers” that have permeated our government for a long time. They can’t even……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2017

find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2017

The FBI has so far declined to comment on the story to ABC News.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., a ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, argued that Priebus’ actions should “concern all Americans, regardless of party.”

“This is deeply troubling because of the inappropriate attempt to influence the FBI and because it may reveal a broader effort by the Trump White House to cover up malfeasance during the campaign,” Conyers Jr. said.

Justice Department reverses Obama guidance on reducing private prisons

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded an Obama-era memo aimed at reducing and ultimately ending the Justice Department‘s use of private prisons.

The memo, penned in August 2016 by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates — who was fired by President Donald Trump last month after she refused to defend his immigration order — suggested that private correctional facilities “compare poorly” to federal facilities, and instructed officials to begin “the process of reducing, and ultimately ending, our use of privately operated prisons.”

Citing declining inmate numbers and an Inspector General’s report showing private institutions experience more security incidents per capita than government-run prisons, Yates directed the Bureau of Prisons to decline to renew private contracts, or “substantially reduce” their scope.

In his letter to the Bureau of Prisons, however, Sessions claimed Yates’ guidance “changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system,” and directed officials to “return to its previous approach.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, just 21,366, or about 12 percent, of the nation’s 189,000-plus federal inmates are housed in privately managed facilities. (Of course, the vast majority of incarcerated persons in the U.S. are held in state facilities, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.) The Justice Department told ABC News the Bureau of Prisons currently has 12 private prison contracts.

ABC News’ Jack Date and Mike Levine contributed to this report.

Authorities investigating whether Kansas triple shooting was a hate crime

Authorities are investigating whether a triple shooting at a Kansas bar, which resulted in one death, was a hate crime.

On Wednesday evening, police responded to a 911 call of shots fired at Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, located about 20 miles southwest of Kansas City, said Olathe Police Chief Steven Menke.

The suspect, Adam W. Purinton, was arrested in the early morning hours on Thursday in Clinton, Missouri and is being held on $2 million bond, said Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe. Purinton had fled the scene of the shooting, according to Menke.

Authorities said the perpetrator of the attack shot Alok Madasani and Srinivas Kuchibhotla, both 32, and 24-year-old Ian Grillot.

All three victims were taken to a local hospital, where Kuchibhotla died, Menke said, adding that authorities have been in contact with all of the victim’s families. The other two victims are in stable condition, Menke said.

Kuchibhotla worked as an engineer at Garmin.

“I am very disturbed by last night’s shooting in Olathe,” read a statement from Kansas Senator Jerry Moran. “I strongly condemn violence of any kind, especially if it is motivated by prejudice and xenophobia.”

I strongly condemn violence of any kind, especially if it is motivated by prejudice & xenophobia?my statement on the tragedy in Olathe: pic.twitter.com/4Nn079Q3Wv

— Jerry Moran (@JerryMoran) February 24, 2017

Grillot said in an interview from his hospital bed that after the shooting started, he took cover until he thought the shooter’s magazine was empty.

“I got up and proceeded to chase him down, try to subdue him,” Grillot said in a video posted online by the University of Kansas Health System. “I got behind him and he turned around and fired a round at me.”

Grillot said he was hit in the hand and the chest, and that a bullet narrowly missed a major artery.

“I was told I was incredibly lucky for what happened to me,” Grillot said. “I could have never walked again or seen my family again.”

Purington has been charged with one count of premeditated murder and two counts of premeditated attempted murder, Howe said. It will be up to Clinton County to decide whether to waive extradition, he added.

Howe would not disclose the type of weapon used in the attack, which he described as a “pretty traumatic event in a very open, public situation.”

It is unclear if Purington has retained a lawyer.

Patrons were watching a basketball game between the University of Kansas and TCU prior to the shooting, which began after 7 p.m., The Associated Press reported.

The FBI is investigating whether the shooting was a bias crime, said Kansas City FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson. Local police will also aid in the investigation into whether the shooting was racially motivated.

Jackson FBI personnel are working the investigation into the shooting “from every angle to “determine that the true facts are.”

Authorities were unable to provide further details in the case, which is still under investigation.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Howe said.

Howe said the community around Olathe bonded together after a similar incident three years ago.

“In these tragic instances, often the community bonds together,” Howe said. “I think we’ll see this again. I’m very proud of this community.”

Kim Jong Nam was exposed to nerve agent: police

Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had been exposed to nerve agent, police in Malaysia said Thursday.

According to the police, a preliminary analysis found VX nerve agent on the face of the victim, who was killed on Feb. 13.

The Centers for Disease Control says VX “is a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent.”

“Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents,” the site adds.

According to The Associated Press, two women suspected of poisoning Kim Jong Nam were trained to deliver toxic substances by putting them on their hands and wiping them on his face.

“We strongly believe it is a planned thing and that they have been trained to do that. This is not just like shooting a movie,” said Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, according to the AP.

As of Tuesday, four people had been arrested, including the two women. At least one claimed she was tricked into participating in the attack, the AP said.

President Trump to address conservatives at CPAC

President Trump made a victorious return to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, where he sought to assure cheering audience members that they now have a top advocate for their policy priorities in the White House.

“All of these years we’ve been together and now you finally have a president, finally,” Trump said.

Trump was notably absent from the annual conservative gathering during his presidential run in 2016 and was skewered by his opponents in the GOP primary for skipping.

“I would have come last year but I was worried that I’d be at that time too controversial,” Trump told the enthusiastic crowd Friday. “We wanted border security. We wanted very, very strong military. We wanted all of the things that we’re going to get, and people considered that controversial, but you didn’t consider it controversial.”

Trump also doubled down on his attacks on the media, repeating his recent assertion that the “fake” news is the “enemy of the people.”

He zeroed in on the use of unnamed sources.

“I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources,” Trump said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there.”

The president’s renewed criticism of the media comes as there are press reports that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus privately asked the FBI to knock down news stories of Trump campaign officials communicating with Russian intelligence agents. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday morning that Priebus only asked FBI officials to go public with information that they had first privately provided to him which cast doubt on the media reports.

Trump didn’t mention in his speech at CPAC that just hours before two top White House officials invited reporters to a “background briefing” in the West Wing where they insisted on anonymity to talk about the White House and FBI communications.

The president seemed at times in his address to want to qualify his attack on the press, saying he’s not against all media.

“I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news,” said Trump. “It’s fake, phony, fake.”

Referring to a tweet he posted a week ago, which said the “fake news media… is the enemy of the American people,” the president said that criticism was itself misrepresented by the press.

“In covering my comments, the dishonest media did not explain that I called the fake news the enemy of the people. The fake news,” said Trump. “They dropped off the word ‘fake.’ And all of a sudden, the story became, the media is the enemy. They take the word ‘fake’ out.”

The president neglected to mention that his tweet named several mainstream media organizations.

Trump’s speech marked his fifth time addressing the annual gathering of right-wing organizers and activists.

The conference hosted by the American Conservative Union began in 1974 and has since grown into a four-day-long event with thousands of attendees. Trump’s appearance Friday marks the fourth visit by a sitting president.

Trump on Friday reminded the audience of what he called his “first major speech” at CPAC in 2011. That year, Trump floated the possibility of a run for the 2012 Republican nomination, a race ultimately won by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“America today is missing quality leadership and foreign countries have quickly realized this,” said Trump in 2011.

“[The] theory of a very successful person running for office is rarely tested because most successful people don’t want to be scrutinized or abused,” he added. “This is the kind of person that the country needs and we need it now.”

Six years later, Trump is the U.S. president and the conference’s main attraction.

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway; his chief strategist, Steve Bannon; White House chief of staff Reince Priebus; and Vice President Mike Pence were a few of the major figures to speak at the conference on Thursday.

Cuba a year from getting new, non-Castro president

If all goes as expected, in exactly one year President Raul Castro will hand responsibility for Cuba’s faltering economy and aging, disaffected population to a little-known, 57-year-old Communist Party official.

It will be the first time since its founding in 1959 that the Cuban state has not been led by a member of the Castro family. First Fidel Castro, then his younger brother Raul, wielded near-absolute power as head of the government and the ruling Cuban Communist Party. As founders of the modern Cuban army, each brandished unquestioned authority as the nation’s top military man.

The end of 85-year-old Raul Castro’s second five-year term will instantly push Cuba’s autocratic, single-party system onto unknown ground.

First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a stocky, laconic engineer by training who began his career as a provincial bureaucrat, is expected to assume only one of Raul Castro’s roles — the presidency. Castro plans to remain first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, a potentially more powerful position, until at least 2021. The Cuban military, meanwhile, became the nation’s top economic power during Raul Castro’s decade as president and its top generals are expected to be less deferential to Diaz-Canel than they were to the Castro brothers.

“We’re entering a new stage, one that requires adaptation. We’re walking on new territory,” retired diplomat and academic Carlos Alzugaray said. “There’s no reason to think this transition can’t be, more or less, positive.”

The change at the top comes amid profound economic and diplomatic uncertainty. In 2016, Cuba saw its first recession in 23 years; Fidel Castro’s death; and the election of Donald Trump, who has promised to reverse President Barack Obama’s opening with the island.

Ordinary Cubans are uncertain about life in a time of unprecedented change, with a basically unknown figure following nearly six decades of the Castros’ leadership.

“Whoever emerges is the same to me, I don’t care,” said Joan Rafael, a 40-year-old entertainer. “We have to see if this all changes. If it changes, I’m fine with whoever it is.”

Cuba calls its system a unique form of democracy that allows citizens to freely express their views and influence government actions within the limits of a single-party system. Critics label it a one-man dictatorship that represses anyone who dares to protest.

The system in reality allows a limited range of expression and action, like complaining to officials about trash collection or bureaucratic inefficiency, while prohibiting any form of political organization or expression outside strict boundaries defined by Castro and his inner circle.

Every 2 ? years, thousands of neighborhoods nationwide select representatives to local boards overseeing municipal affairs. A handful of dissident candidates have been defeated and publicly denounced with the help of block-level government committee charged with enforcing government mandates.

Every five years, a government body selects thousands of the local representatives to run for the National Assembly and those hand-picked candidates then go to a public vote. The roughly 500-member National Assembly then chooses the 30-member Council of State and the president.

The Cuban system theoretically allows any council member to become president, although many believe the outcome is predetermined in favor of Diaz-Canel.

Raul Castro began his second term on Feb. 24, 2013 with the declaration that he would not serve a third. He said in Mexico two years ago that he wouldn’t wait to become a great-grandfather before retiring “because Cubans will get bored of me.”

As Castro’s retirement date approaches, Diaz-Canel has assumed an increasingly high profile with visits to Cuba’s most important allies, including Russia, China and Venezuela. Still, his speeches rarely vary from time-tested Communist dogma, and he frequently punts when questioned about his country’s future, saying he’s not qualified to answer.

“I think he could take on the challenges that Raul leaves him, that is, if he really takes on power,” economist Omar Everleny Perez said.

The low wattage of Diaz-Canel’s recent unsmiling and monotone appearances has surprised longtime observers who remember him as a high-energy, charismatic provincial party official. Many speculate he is trying to avoid the fate of numerous Fidel Castro deputies who built high public profiles, then were sidelined without explanation.

“He was one person when he was a mid-level official and he’s another one now. He’s become completely closed-off and discreet,” said a European diplomat with long experience in Cuba, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the press.

Diaz-Canel doesn’t speak to the non-state media.

In recent appearances on state television, Diaz-Canel has placed particular emphasis on the legacy of Fidel Castro, who died on Nov. 25, 2016.

“We can’t talk about anything in education that doesn’t bear the stamp of Fidel,” the vice president said in a December meeting with teachers and school administrators in eastern Cuba. “He’s a model that we have to support every day if we want it to last.”

Born on April 20, 1960 in the central province of Santa Clara, Diaz-Canel performed two years of obligatory military service after receiving an electrical engineering degree in 1982, then was a professor at the local Central University of Las Villas. An acquaintance from that time described him to The Associated Press as a Beatles fan who wore his hair long, both trends that were viewed poorly and occasionally punished by the Communist authorities at the time.

Diaz-Canel’s sparse official biography says he joined the Young Communists’ Union in 1987 and traveled to Nicaragua, where Cuba supported Sandinista rebels against a U.S.-backed strongman. In 1994, Diaz-Canel was named top party official in Villa Clara, starting his ascent onto the national stage. After serving in the eastern province of Holguin, he was named Minister of Higher Education in 2012 and, later that year, vice president, appearing frequently at Raul Castro’s side but never assuming the spotlight.

“Next to Fidel and Raul, others have appeared a little faded and gray,” said Alzugaray, the former diplomat. “We have to see if once (the Castros) are gone, they take on brighter colors.”

———

Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

Trump list shows 746 travelers ‘detained or processed’ under travel ban, lawyer says

Nearly 750 people were “detained or processed” during the 26-hour period after a Brooklyn judge issued an order blocking part of Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban, according to an attorney representing plaintiffs.

In a letter obtained by ABC News, the government said “this list includes legal permanent residents.”

A different federal judge in New York Tuesday ordered Trump’s administration to produce a list of all people detained as part of his executive order that limited travel and immigration from seven countries and temporarily shut down the U.S. refugee program.

Today, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union told ABC News that the government provided the organization with 746 names of people held or processed from Jan. 28 at 9:37 p.m. —- when the Brooklyn judge halted part of the ban that allowed for deportations -— to Jan. 29 at 11:59 p.m.

The list was ordered to include travelers who arrived with refugee applications, valid visa holders and people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen —- covered by the ban who were legally authorized to enter the U.S.

After Trump issued the order, the administration said that green card holders and others were not subject to the order.

But a Washington state federal court put a nationwide block on Trump’s order on Feb. 3. An appeals court declined to lift the restraining order.

At the time, Trump appeared to downplay the number of people detained as a result of the order’s implementation.

Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage,…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2017

And White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the same day: “Remember we’re talking about a universe of 109 people. There were 325,000 people that came into this country over a 24 hour period from another country. 109 of them were stopped for additional screening.”

Tuesday’s order was delivered as part of a case filed by two Iraqi nationals who were detained at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The restraining order issued in Brooklyn on Jan. 28 expired Tuesday.

Why It’s Healthy to Cry Over TV Shows

Tear-jerking topics are well-trodden territory for television and movies. When beloved characters die, break up or go through hardships, devoted fans often find themselves bawling in front of their screen, commiserating with fellow viewers and surprising themselves at their level of investment in fictional people and plot lines. (The hit NBC series This Is Us is an especially emotional recent example.)

If you’re among the teary-eyed, there’s little cause for alarm. Research shows that becoming attached to television personalities can actually be healthy.

Psychologists call the types of relationships we form with fictional characters parasocial, or one-directional, because we know all about these individuals, but they know nothing about us. “The interesting thing is that our brains aren’t really built to distinguish between whether a relationship is real or fictional,” says Jennifer Barnes, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma. “So these friendships can convey a lot of real-world benefits.” Those can include self-esteem boosts, decreased loneliness and more feelings of belonging, she says.

On the other hand, there’s less research on the psychological consequences that can occur when a parasocial relationship is damaged or comes to an end. “If a writer of a show decides to do something bad to that character, or heaven forbid kill that character off, you’re left with a very real emotional response,” she says. “When you spend an hour every week with a person for an entire television season, they really do become a sort of friend—so it’s totally normal to feel upset over them.”

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Crying over sad television is also a modern example of what philosophers have referred to for thousands of years as the paradox of tragedy. “Sadness is a negative emotion that we don’t enjoy feeling, and tragic fiction makes us sad,” says Barnes. “And yet, somehow we seem to enjoy tragic fiction.”

One theory behind the paradox is that tragic fiction provides catharsis, or a purge of negative emotions. “It gives us something to focus those negative emotions on and get them out of our system.” Other research has shown that people tend to feel better after crying.

Another theory is based on what psychologists call meta-emotions: the feelings that we have about certain feelings. “Although we’re feeling sadness, the meta-emotion we’re feeling might be something like gratitude that we can feel this wide range of emotional experiences,” Barnes says. “We might actually feel glad that we can be empathetic and feel things like this on behalf of someone else, even if they’re not real.”

Barnes’s own research suggests that watching fictional TV dramas improves people’s ability to read the thoughts and feelings of other people, a skill known as emotional intelligence. In a 2015 study, Barnes and her co-author found that people who watched an episode of The Good Wife were better able to correctly identify the emotions being conveyed in photos of human faces, compared to those who watched a non-fiction documentary or no television at all.

That research was modeled after a 2013 study, which found that reading literature could provide similar emotional-intelligence boosts. But these benefits likely depend on exactly what and how you’re reading or watching. “The results might be different for someone who’s really emotionally invested in a show and someone who just flips to the show for the first time,” says Barnes.

Other research suggests that watching meaningful television programs that depict human emotion and compassion makes people kinder and more altruistic toward others who are different from them. “If you become friends with someone whose life experience is different from yours or who is in a different social category, it can help you better understand that group of people,” says Barnes. Even when that’s a fictional friend, she says, it may have some of the same effects.

While there’s nothing wrong with getting emotional about fictional characters, Barnes does have one word of caution: “We should make sure we’re also feeling just as much empathy for real people, including real people we don’t know,” she says. It may sound obvious, but it’s a surprisingly common issue. In her lab, study participants have reported feeling sadder about the theoretical death of a favorite fictional character than the theoretical death of a real-life classmate or coworker.

It is also possible to become too upset about a television show, especially if you have other underlying mental health issues. (This may be especially true if you’re binge watching a show with emotional or dark subject matter.) Sadness about fictional events can be extremely intense, says Barnes, but shouldn’t hang over you for more than an hour or two. “If you’re feeling sad about it several days or weeks afterward and it’s causing real-world distress, that might be a sign that you’re perhaps too invested in what’s going on,” she says.

Otherwise, Barnes gives a green light to the occasional—or even weekly—drama-induced sob fest. “If it’s not causing you personal distress or affecting your ability to live your life, it’s generally not seen as a problem,” she says. And yes, it may even be good for you. “It’s true that feeling things, both good and bad, makes us feel alive.”