Nation and World briefs for May 14

Source: Prosecutor to examine Russia probe origins

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr has appointed a U.S. attorney to examine the origins of the Russia investigation and determine if intelligence collection involving the Trump campaign was “lawful and appropriate,” a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Monday.

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Barr appointed John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to conduct the inquiry, the person said. The person could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Durham’s appointment comes about a month after Barr told members of Congress he believed “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign in 2016. He later said he didn’t mean anything pejorative and was gathering a team to look into the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Barr provided no details about what “spying” may have taken place but appeared to be alluding to a surveillance warrant the FBI obtained on a former Trump associate, Carter Page, and the FBI’s use of an informant while the bureau was investigating former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

Trump and his supporters have seized on both to accuse the Justice Department and the FBI of unlawfully spying on his campaign.

Felicity Huffman pleads guilty in college admissions scheme

BOSTON — “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty Monday in the college admissions bribery scheme, the biggest name to do so in a scandal that has underscored the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their children into top universities.

The Emmy-winning actress, 56, could face prison time after she admitted to participating in the nationwide scam, in which authorities say parents bribed coaches, rigged entrance exams or both to game the admissions system.

Huffman pleaded guilty in federal court to paying an admissions consultant $15,000 to have a proctor correct her older daughter’s answers on the SAT. She also considered going through with the plan for her younger daughter before ultimately deciding not to, authorities say.

The consultant, Rick Singer, arranged for the cheating by having students obtain permission for extra time on the exams through diagnoses for things like learning disabilities, and then taking the exams at his testing center, prosecutors say.

In court, Huffman explained her daughter had been seeing a neuropsychologist for years and been getting extra time on tests since she was 11 — an apparent attempt to explain that her daughter’s doctor had no part in the scheme.

Victims of clergy abuse to sue Vatican, seek abusers’ names

MINNEAPOLIS — Five men who say they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests when they were minors are planning to sue the Vatican and are demanding the names of thousands of predator priests they claim have been kept secret by the Holy See.

In a Monday news release announcing the lawsuit, Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson said he wants to show that the Vatican tried to cover up actions by top church officials including former St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt. The lawsuit being filed Tuesday seeks the release of 3,400 names of priests who were referred to the Vatican for “credible cases of abuse.” That number was released by the Vatican in 2014.

The lawsuit comes less than a week after Pope Francis issued a groundbreaking new church law requiring all Catholic priests and nuns worldwide to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities. The law is part of a new effort to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable.

But the new law stops short of requiring the crimes to be reported to police, and abuse victims and their advocates say it’s not enough since it essentially tasks discredited bishops who have mishandled abuse for decades with policing their own.

The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit include three brothers who were abused by former priest Curtis Wehmeyer as recently as 2012 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Wehmeyer pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct and child pornography in connection with his contact with two of the boys, who were 12 and 14. The brothers are not named in the press release.

Former US President Jimmy Carter has surgery for broken hip

ATLANTA — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter broke his hip Monday at his south Georgia home when he fell while leaving to go turkey hunting, a spokeswoman for the Carter Center said.

The 94-year-old former president was treated in Americus, Georgia, near his home in Plains, and was recovering comfortably after successful surgery, spokeswoman, Deanna Congileo, said in a statement.

His wife of 73 years, Rosalynn, was with him, Congileo said.

In an indication Carter was in good spirits, Congileo said Carter’s main concern was that he had not reached his limit on turkeys with the shooting season ending this week.

“He hopes the State of Georgia will allow him to roll over the unused limit to next year,” the statement said.

Official: Initial US assessment blames Iran for ship attacks

WASHINGTON — An American military team’s initial assessment is that Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies used explosives Sunday to blow large holes in four ships anchored off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. official said Monday.

The official said each ship has a 5- to 10-foot hole in it, near or just below the water line, and the team’s early belief is that the holes were caused by explosive charges. The team of U.S. military experts was sent to investigate the damages at the request of the UAE, but American officials have not provided any details about what exactly happened or any proof as yet about the possible Iranian involvement in the explosions.

The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Gulf officials have characterized the damage to the tankers as sabotage. Two Saudi oil tankers, a Norwegian-flagged vessel, and a bunkering tanker flagged in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates, all suffered similar damage Sunday.

The U.S. has warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region, and America has moved additional ships and aircraft into the region.

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