GOP Senators Call On Trump To Release Any Comey ‘Tapes’

U.S. lawmakers on Sunday called on President Donald Trump to turn over any tapes of conversations with fired FBI chief James Comey, potentially setting up a showdown with the White House as Democrats considered a boycott of the vote on Comey?s replacement.

In a highly unusual move, Trump last week appeared to suggest on Twitter that he might have tapes of conversations with Comey and warned the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation against talking to the media. Trump and a White House spokesman declined to confirm or deny whether such tapes exist.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the White House must ?clear the air? about whether there are any taped conversations.

?You can?t be cute about tapes. If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over,? Graham told NBC?s ?Meet the Press? program.

Trump sparked a political firestorm when he abruptly fired Comey last week. The FBI has been investigating alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election and possible ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Democrats have accused Trump of attempting to thwart the FBI?s probe and have called for some type of independent inquiry into the matter.

Trump has said he removed Comey because he was not doing a good job and that Comey had lost the support of FBI employees.

Trump tweeted on Friday that ?James Comey better hope that there are no ?tapes? of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!?

If there are recordings, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah told the ?Fox News Sunday? program it was ?inevitable? that they would be subpoenaed and the White House would have to release them.

Lee, who was on Trump?s list of potential replacements for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, also said recording conversations in the White House is ?not necessarily the best idea.?

?SIGH OF RELIEF?

Trump?s threat about tapes has intensified calls from Democrats for an independent probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump must immediately provide Congress with any tapes and warned that destroying existing tapes would violate the law.

Schumer also said Senate Democrats are weighing whether to refuse to vote on a new FBI director until a special prosecutor is named to investigate Trump?s potential ties to Russia.

Russia has denied the claims and the White House says there was no collusion.

?To have that special prosecutor, people would breathe a sigh of relief because then there would be a real independent person overlooking the FBI director,? Schumer told CNN?s ?State of the Union? program.

Trump, who has sought better relations with Russia, has continued to question whether it was behind the hacking of email accounts belonging to Democrats involved in Hillary Clinton?s 2016 presidential campaign.

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told NBC?s ?Meet the Press? program there is no question that ?the Russians were playing around in our electoral processes.?

He defended Trump?s decision to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office last week.

?It?s in the interest of the American people, it?s in the interest of Russia and the rest of the world that we do something to see if we cannot improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world,? Tillerson said.

The Justice Department began interviewing candidates for the FBI director job on Saturday. Some people under consideration include acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, New York Appeals Court Judge Michael Garcia and former Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, according to a White House official.

Meanwhile, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday found that 29 percent of Americans approve of Trump?s decision to fire Comey, while 38 percent disapprove.

If a Senate vote on a new FBI director breaks down along party lines, Democrats would not have the votes to block a nominee because Republicans hold a majority in the chamber.

?The key is getting some of our Republican colleagues to join us,? Schumer said.

Republican leaders in the Senate have rebuffed calls for a special prosecutor, saying it would interfere with ongoing congressional probes.

Graham said there may come a time when a special prosecutor is needed but not now.

?Right now, it is a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation. So you don?t need a special prosecutor,? Graham said on ?Meet the Press.?

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How This State Is Targeting Asian-Americans With Its Abortion Laws

Critics fear a new Arkansas abortion ban will have particularly harmful consequences for the Asian-American community.

Asian-American groups are speaking out against a new Arkansas law that prohibits doctors and other providers from performing an abortion that is sought out based on the predicted sex of the fetus. 

The legislation, which was signed by Governor Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday, was spurred by increased immigration by couples from cultures where sex selective abortion is ?prevalent,? lead sponsor Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) previously explained to Arkansas News. Speaking to the New York Times, he even brought up China as an example.

And that?s not sitting right with the Asian-American community. 

?This ban is based on the false premise that AAPI families prefer sons over daughters and will seek abortions because of that preference,? Aliya Khan, Policy Associate at the National Asian Pacific American Women?s Forum (NAPAWF), told the Huffington Post in an email. ?Despite the fact that this myth has been debunked, … politicians continue to use these awful stereotypes to advance their anti-abortion agenda.?

The text of the act states that prior to performing an abortion, the doctor must ask the patient whether she knows the sex of the unborn child. If she does, the doctor will then inform her that sex selection abortion is prohibited. The physician will also need to get a hold of the woman?s medical records as they?re unable to go forth with the procedure ?until reasonable time and effort is spent to obtain the medical records of the pregnant woman.?

Ultimately, the woman?s pregnancy history would be investigated. 

Doctors who fail to follow the law will face misdemeanor charges, and will be punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. They?ll also risk losing their medical license or having it suspended. 

?I think it protects everyone concerned. It especially protects unborn girls,? Jeff Cox, who?s the head of the Arkansas Family Council and has been pushing for the ban, said according to the Associated Press.

Asian American groups, however, don?t buy this logic. They note that research tells a very different story and the basis of the law is drawn from harmful stereotypes. 

A 2014 University of Chicago Law School study actually showed that foreign-born Chinese, Indians, and Korean Americans, on average, have more female children than white Americans. And as research and policy organization the Guttmacher Institute mentioned, data shows that sex selective abortions don?t regularly occur in the U.S. Moreover, almost 90% of all abortions take place in the first trimester ?before the woman can know the sex of her baby. And implementing such policies haven?t yielded success in ending sex-selective abortions abroad, the Guttmacher Institute noted. 

Both Collins and Cox themselves have mentioned that they haven?t actually heard of any documented sex selective abortion cases in Arkansas.

Still, it?s stories about infanticide and gender-based abortions in China and South Asia that lawmakers have used as evidence for the need for these sex-selective abortion bans, The Washington Post pointed out. 

The spread of misinformation puts women?s reproductive health in the Asian American community at stake, critics say. Just before the bill was signed, Sung Yeon Choimorrow, NAPAWF?s interim executive director, mentioned that the penalties could deter doctors from providing care patients need due to the threat of punishment.  

She explained in a piece for Rewire that the ban ?will turn Asian-American people seeking reproductive health services into suspects and reproductive health-care providers into investigators… It will further stigmatize their patients while creating additional barriers to care.?

Other organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas also explained that the investigation portion of the ban violates women?s right to privacy. The group plans to challenge the legislation. 

?The law of the land is that abortion is legal up to the point of viability,? the group?s executive director, Rita Sklar, said according to The Associated Press. ?Nobody should pry into the mind of the woman who wants the procedure.?

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA?s Karin Wang echoed the sentiment, calling the ban an ?illegitimate attack on a woman?s Constitutional right to privacy in making reproductive choices? in an email to HuffPost. 

Collins, however, seemed to think that looking into a woman?s medical history would pay off, describing concerns over privacy a ?trade-off,? the New York Times reported. 

?You could potentially see a history of recent abortions, and that might be a data point for a doctor,? he said. 

Arkansas follows several other states in introducing sex-selective abortion legislation, including Oklahoma and Arizona. But rather than base these laws off of stereotypes, Khan stressed that these legislators need to be looking to the groups who are actually effected by these bans for answers. 

?These lawmakers are not asking what AAPI women need in order to combat gender inequity here and globally,? she told HuffPost. ?AAPI communities know what we need best in order to support and grow our families???we want equal pay for equal work, health care access, comprehensive immigration reform, and policies that support our gender identities.?

Read more at HuffPost Asian Voices and follow our Facebook page, Brazen Asians.

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Explosion In St. Petersburg Metro System Kills At Least 10 People

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, April 3 (Reuters) – At least 10 people were killed and 50 injured when an explosion tore through a train carriage in the St. Petersburg underground system on Monday, Russian authorities said.

Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying the blast was caused by a bomb filled with shrapnel.

President Vladimir Putin, who was himself in St. Petersburg for a meeting with Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko, said he was considering all possible causes for the blast, including terrorism. He was consulting with security services

Ambulances and fire engines descended on the concrete-and-glass Sennaya Ploshchad metro station. A helicopter hovered overhead as crowds gathered.

Video showed injured people lying bleeding on a platform, some being treated by emergency services and fellow passengers. Others ran away from the platform amid clouds of smoke, some screaming or holding their hands to their faces.

A huge hole was blasted in the side of a carriage with metal wreckage strewn across the platform. Passengers were seen hammering at the windows of one closed carriage.

Russia has been the target of attacks by separatist Islamist Chechen militants in past years. Islamic State, which has drawn recruits from the ranks of Chechen rebels, has also threatened attacks across Russia in retaliation for Russian military intervention in Syria.

Russian airforce and special forces have been backing President Bashar al-Assad in fighting rebel groups and Islamic State fighters now being driven out of their Syrian strongholds.

ALL STATIONS CLOSED

St. Petersburg emergency services at first said that there had been two explosions. But a source in the emergency services later said that there had been only one but that the explosion had occurred in a tunnel between stations.

The blast occurred at 2.40 p.m., well shy of the evening rush hour.

Authorities closed all St. Petersburg metro stations. The Moscow metro said it was taking unspecified additional security measures in case of an attack there.

Russia has been on particular alert against Chechen rebels returning from Syria and wary of any attempts to resume attacks that dogged the country several years ago.

At least 38 people were killed in 2010 when two female suicide bombers detonated bombs on packed Moscow metro trains.

Over 330 people, half of them children, were killed in 2004 when police stormed a school in southern Russia after a hostage taking by Islamist militants. In 2002, 120 hostages were killed when police stormed a Moscow theater to end another hostage taking.

Putin, as prime minister, launched a 1999 campaign to crush a separatist government in the Muslim southern region of Chechnya, and as president continued a hard line in suppressing rebellion.

Warning: The photos below contains graphic images.

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2017 ACM Award Winners Include Maren Morris And Thomas Rhett

Country music?s biggest stars packed the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday for the 2017 Academy of Country Music Awards, and what a night it was! 

Hosts Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley kicked things off before amazing performances and acceptance speeches filled the rest of the evening. 

Here are the night?s big winners: 

*The list will be updated as winners are announced*

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean

Luke Bryan

Florida Georgia Line

Carrie Underwood

Keith Urban

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini

Miranda Lambert

Maren Morris

Kacey Musgraves

Carrie Underwood

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean

Dierks Bentley

Thomas Rhett

Chris Stapleton

Keith Urban

Vocal Duo of the Year

Big & Rich

Brothers Osborne

Dan Shay

Florida Georgia Line

Maddie & Tae

Mitch McConnell: Democrats Would Have Blocked A GOP Supreme Court Nominee Too

WASHINGTON ? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday defended his decision not to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Democrats would have done the same thing if they?d controlled the Senate and a vacancy on the court had opened up during an election year. 

?If the shoe had been on the other foot, they wouldn?t have filled a Republican president?s vacancy,? McConnell said during an interview with NBC?s ?Meet the Press,? when asked if he had any regrets over the matter.

At least 14 Supreme Court justices were confirmed during an election year throughout U.S. history. Most recently, a Senate controlled by Democrats confirmed President Ronald Reagan?s nominee Anthony Kennedy in 1988 ? the final year of Reagan?s presidency. The example is not perfect, however: Kennedy was Reagan?s second choice after Democrats had rejected the nomination of Robert Bork a year earlier.

Several Democrats cited the blockade of Garland, a highly respected judge, in statements regarding the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump?s nominee to the Supreme Court. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who announced this week that she would vote to confirm Gorsuch, said her decision does not ?diminish how disturbed I am by what Republicans did to Judge Garland.?

During a separate interview on ?Fox News Sunday,? McConnell would not say whether Republicans would unilaterally change the Senate rules via what is known as the ?nuclear option? in order to confirm Gorsuch. 

?Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed,? he said. ?The way in which that occurs is in the hands of the Democratic minority.?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday that ?it looks like? Gorsuch would not receive enough votes to overcome a filibuster.

?When a nominee doesn?t get 60 votes, you shouldn?t change the rules ? you should change the nominee,? he said on on NBC?s ?Meet the Press.?

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Zendaya Shows Students Incredible STEM Career Opportunities In The Recording Studio

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Trump Fails To Close Deal On Health Care Repeal

WASHINGTON ? President Donald Trump made a personal pitch for his Affordable Care Act repeal bid Tuesday, promising that Republicans who vote against the bill will face political consequences.

With a House vote on the Republican plan set for Thursday, both more moderate and more conservative lawmakers are raising serious objections and questions about whether the bill can pass.

Trump argued that the party?s future ? and by extension, his legacy ? is on the line. And if members did not fall in line, especially the conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus, Republicans would pay a price.

?If the Freedom Caucus kills this bill, which they could, then they will have voted to continue Obamacare, which, as the president pointed out, in 2018 probably means we would lose the House and the Senate,? said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.).

?This is do or die on Thursday for the Republicans in the midterm election,? Collins said.

Indeed, the legislative stakes are high for a new president who brings with him no experience shepherding major bills through Congress, having never served in government. Both his political capital and much of his remaining domestic legislative agenda rests on passage of this, lawmakers said. Trump seems to recognize that, and his 45-minute pitch to House Republicans came as members on both sides of the Capitol were weighing revisions to make the bill more palatable to all.

But even with these moves and the stakes Trump laid out Tuesday, the president ? at least so far ? appeared to have swayed only a few votes.

?I moved from a lean no to a no,? said Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), a former Trump surrogate who said he is worried undocumented immigrants would take advantage of the GOP plan.

More troubling for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, was that they do not appear to have won over Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.

?They do not have the votes right now,? Meadows said, adding that he doubted his colleagues would get on board if leaders delay the vote.

?I?ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their vote,? Meadows said. ?I?m not giving numbers. There?s still more than enough to make sure that we need to continue the discussion.?

Still, other Republicans were all in with Trump, largely because of the political implications if the GOP fails.

?He said look, if you don?t get behind this, you all ran on repealing Obamacare. It looks like you?d be ripe for a primary if you don?t keep your promise,? said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).

Even that was not sufficient for some of the GOP?s more maverick conservatives.

?I think if we do do this, we lose the majority,? said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.).

Trump singled out Meadows in the closed-door meeting, noting that Meadows was for Trump before Trump was even a candidate, several members said. He also ? apparently jokingly ? told Meadows ?I?m coming after you!? according to Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), who said the line nevertheless got cheers.

?The way the crowd responded was pretty interesting,? Flores said.

Interesting was not the word Meadows used to describe the overall situation, even as he professed to have faith in Trump.

?I certainly still think the president is the best guy to bring this home and close this deal out,? Meadows said. ?Hopefully we?ll be able to do that, but if everyone?s entrenched at this particular point, it?s going to be a very difficult 48 hours.?

Trump was setting up meetings with individual holdouts in the Freedom Caucus, but it was unclear what he could offer them.

Meadows told reporters that Ryan and the other House leaders were no longer negotiating changes.

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Women Leaders Under Attack

Shukria Barakzai campaigns for 2005 parliamentary elections in Kabul, August 22, 2005 (Courtesy Reuters/Zohra Bensemra).

In Afghanistan earlier this week, another female leader came under attack. Shukria Barakzai, an outspoken and high-profile member of Afghanistan’s….http://feeds.cfr.org/~r/icoleman/~3/ZCkxMNoxwfs/
div>Shukria Barakzai campaigns for 2005 parliamentary elections in Kabul, August 22, 2005 (Courtesy Reuters/Zohra Bensemra).

In Afghanistan earlier this week, another female leader came under attack. Shukria Barakzai, an outspoken and high-profile member of Afghanistan’s…