Nation and World briefs for July 13

Pence acknowledges ‘tough stuff’ at border detention center

WASHINGTON — Acknowledging “this is tough stuff,” Vice President Mike Pence says he was not surprised by what he saw Friday as he toured a Texas Border Patrol station, where hundreds of men were being kept in cages with no cots amid sweltering heat.

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Pence said later, “I knew we’d see a system that was overwhelmed.”

The vice president visited the McAllen Border Patrol station Friday. When detainees saw reporters arrive, many began shouting, saying they had been there for 40 days or more and they were hungry and wanted to brush their teeth. Agents guarding the cages were wearing face masks.

The press pool covering the vice president was pulled out within 90 seconds.

Pence says he has pushed for more federal spending to deal with the situation.

UK counter-terror police probe leak of ambassador’s cables

LONDON — British police opened a criminal investigation on Friday into the leaking of confidential diplomatic memos that cost the U.K. ambassador in Washington his job.

The probe is being led by the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command because it is responsible for investigating breaches of Britain’s Official Secrets Act

The Mail on Sunday published cables from Ambassador Kim Darroch describing the Trump administration as dysfunctional, clumsy and inept. The president hit back by branding the ambassador a “pompous fool,” and Darroch resigned, saying it had become impossible for him to do his job.

Counterterrorism police chief Neil Basu said Friday that the leak had damaged U.K. international relations and there was “a clear public interest” in prosecuting the perpetrator or perpetrators.

He urged the culprits: “turn yourself in at the earliest opportunity, explain yourself and face the consequences.”

British officials have said they have no evidence hacking was involved in the documents’ release, and that the culprit is likely to be found among U.K. politicians or officials.

The Official Secrets Act bars public servants from making “damaging” disclosures of classified material. Breaching the act carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison, though prosecutions are rare.

After earlier calling Darroch a “very stupid guy,” Trump said Friday that he wished Britain’s soon-to-be-ex envoy well.

“Some people just told me … he actually said very good things about me,” Trump said.

Mueller’s testimony delayed until July 24

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress has been delayed until July 24 under an agreement that gives lawmakers more time to question him.

Mueller had been scheduled to testify July 17 about the findings of his Russia investigation. But lawmakers in both parties complained that the short length of the hearings would not allow enough time for all members to ask questions.

Under the new arrangement, Mueller will testify for an extended period of time — three hours instead of two — before the House Judiciary Committee. He will then testify before the House intelligence committee in a separate hearing. The two committees said in a statement that all members of both committees will be able to question him.

The two committees announced the terms after days of negotiations and questions over whether the testimony would be delayed. In the joint statement, the panels said the longer hearing “will allow the American public to gain further insight into the special counsel’s investigation and the evidence uncovered regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power.”

Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won’t go beyond what’s in his 448-page report. But Democrats have been determined to highlight its contents for Americans who they believe have not read it. They want to extract information from the former special counsel and spotlight what they say are his most damaging findings against Trump.

Trump citizenship plan will face logistical, legal hurdles

WASHINGTON — After failing to get his citizenship question on the census, President Donald Trump now says his fallback plan will provide an even more accurate count — determining the citizenship of 90 percent of the population “or more.” But his plan will likely be limited by logistical hurdles and legal restrictions.

Trump wants to distill a massive trove of data across seven government agencies — and possibly across 50 states. It’s far from clear how such varying systems can be mined, combined and compared.

He directed the Commerce Department, which manages the census, to form a working group.

“The logistical barriers are significant, if not insurmountable,” said Paul Light, a senior fellow of Governance Studies at New York University with a long history of research in government reform. “The federal government does not invest, and hasn’t been investing for a long time, in the kind of data systems and recruitment of experts that this kind of database construction would require.”

Trump says he aims to answer how many people are here illegally, though there already are recent estimates , and possibly use such information to divvy up congressional seats based on citizenship. It’s also a way for Trump to show his base that he’s not backing down (even as he’s had to back down) from a battle over the question on his signature topic, immigration.

Acosta exits; Trump’s big Cabinet turnover keeps growing

WASHINGTON — Adding to the lengthy list of departures from President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he’s stepping down amid the tumult over his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sexually abusing underage girls.

Trump, with Acosta at his side, said Friday he did not ask his secretary to leave and “I hate to see this happen.” The president, who publicly faults the news media almost daily, said Acosta put the blame there, too.

Acosta “informed me this morning that he felt the constant drumbeat of press about a prosecution which took place under his watch more than 12 years ago was bad for the Administration, which he so strongly believes in, and he graciously tendered his resignation,” Trump tweeted later in the day.

Trump said Patrick Pizzella, deputy secretary since April 2018, would succeed Acosta on an acting basis.

Pizzella served in the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. A coalition of civil rights, human rights, labor and other groups opposed his nomination by Trump to the department’s No. 2 slot, citing Pizzella’s record on labor rights.

House approves 9/11 victims bill, sends it to Senate

WASHINGTON — The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill ensuring that a victims compensation fund for the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.

The 402-12 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed the House vote, which comes a month after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized Congress for failing to act. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, told lawmakers at an emotional hearing that they were showing “disrespect” to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their recovery work at the former World Trade Center site in New York City.

Stewart called the sparse attendance at the June 11 hearing “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution.” He later targeted McConnell for slow-walking previous version of the legislation and using it as a political pawn to get other things done.

Stewart said Friday that replenishing the victims fund was “necessary, urgent and morally right.”

Report: FTC approves roughly $5B fine for Facebook

The FTC voted to approve a fine of about $5 billion for Facebook over privacy violations, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The report cited an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

Facebook and the FTC declined to comment. The Journal said the 3-2 vote broke along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition to the settlement.

In most cases the Justice Department’s civil division will review settlements by the FTC, and it is unclear how long the process would take. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the Facebook matter.

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The fine would be the largest the FTC has levied on a tech company. But it won’t make much of a dent for Facebook, which had nearly $56 billion in revenue last year. Facebook has earmarked $3 billion for a potential fine and said in April it was anticipating having to pay up to $5 billion.

The report did not say what else the settlement includes beyond the fine, though it is expected to include limits on how Facebook treats user privacy. Some have called on the FTC to hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally liable for the privacy violations in some way, but based on the party line vote breakdown experts said this is not likely.

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