Washington, Sep 28 (AP/UNB) — In a day like few others in Senate history, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford quietly recounted her "100 percent" certainty Thursday that President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers — and then Brett Kavanaugh defiantly testified he was "100 percent certain" he did no such thing.
That left senators to decide whether the long day of testimony tipped their confirmation votes for or against Trump's nominee in a deeply partisan fight with the future of the high court and possibly control of Congress in the balance.
Showing their own certainty, Republicans quickly scheduled a recommendation vote for Friday morning in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they hold an 11-10 majority. They're hoping for a final Senate roll call next week, seating Kavanaugh on the court shortly after the Oct. start of its new term.
In the committee's packed hearing room for hour upon hour Thursday, both Kavanaugh and Ford said the alleged assault and the storm of controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse — perhaps the only thing they agreed on during their separate testimony marked by a stark contrast of tone and substance.
Ford recounted for the senators and a nationwide TV audience her long-held secret of the alleged assault in a locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory — and Kavanaugh's laughter during the act — was "locked" in her brain, she said. Ford delivered her testimony with deliberate certitude, though admitting gaps in her memory as she choked back tears at some points and said she "believed he was going to rape me."
Hours later, Kavanaugh entered the hearing room fuming. He angrily denied her allegation, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears of his own, particularly when discussing his family. He decried his confirmation opposition as a "national disgrace." He interrupted senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant "whatever."
"You have replaced 'advice and consent' with 'search and destroy,'" he said, referring to the Constitution's charge to senators' duties in confirming high officials.
Democrats pressed the judge to call for an FBI investigation into the claims, but he would say only, "I welcome whatever the committee wants to do."
Republicans are concerned, among other reasons, that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
Trump made his feelings newly clear that he was sticking by his choice. "His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting," he tweeted. "The Senate must vote!"
Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the GOP agenda, locking in the court's majority for years to come. Instead Kavanaugh has seemed in peril and on Thursday he faced the Senate hearing amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions.
The day opened with Ford, now a 51-year-old college professor in California, raising her right hand to swear under oath about the allegations she said she never expected to share publicly until they leaked in the media two weeks ago and reporters started staking out her home and work.
As Anita Hill did more two decades ago when she alleged sexual misconduct by Clarence Thomas, the mom of two testified before a committee with only male senators on the Republican side of the dais.
The psychology professor described what she says was a harrowing assault in the summer of 1982: How an inebriated Kavanaugh and another teen, Mark Judge, locked her in a room at a house party as Kavanaugh was grinding and groping her. She said he put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. Judge has said does not recall the incident.
When the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked Ford how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, "The same way I'm sure I'm talking to you right now." Later, she said her certainty was "100 percent."
Her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford said, was the two boys' laughter.
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter," said Ford, who is a research psychologist, "the uproarious laughter between the two."
Republican strategists were privately hand-wringing after Ford's testimony. The GOP special counsel Rachel Mitchell, a Phoenix sex crimes prosecutor, who Republicans had hired to avoid the optics of their all-male line up questioning Ford, left Republicans disappointed.
Mitchell's attempt to draw out a counter-narrative — mainly that Ford was coordinating with Democrats — was disrupted by the panel's decision to allow alternating five-minute rounds of questions from Democratic senators.
During a lunch break, even typically talkative GOP senators on the panel were without words.
John Kennedy of Louisiana said he had no comment. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he was "just listening."
Then Kavanaugh strode into the committee room, arranged his nameplate, and with anger on his face started to testify with a statement he said he had shown only one other person. Almost immediately he choked up.
"My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed," he said.
He lashed out over the time it took the committee to convene the hearing after Ford's allegations emerged, singling out the Democrats for "unleashing" forces against him. He mocked Ford's allegations — and several others since — that have accused him of sexual impropriety.
Even if senators vote down his confirmation, he said, "you'll never get me to quit."
Kavanaugh, who has two daughters, said one of his girls said they should "pray for the woman" making the allegations against him, referring to Ford. "That's a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old," he said choking up. "We mean no ill will."
The judge repeatedly refused to answer senators' questions about the hard-party atmosphere that has been described from his peer group at Georgetown Prep and Yale, treating them dismissively.
"Sometimes I had too many beers," he acknowledged. "I liked beer. I still like beer. But I never drank beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone. "
When Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pressed if he ever drank so much he blacked out, he replied, "Have you?" After a break in the proceedings, he came back and apologized to Klobuchar. She said her father was an alcoholic.
Behind him in the audience as he testified, his wife, Ashley, sat looking stricken.
Republicans who had been scheduled to vote as soon as Friday at the committee — and early next week in the full Senate — alternated between their own anger and frustration at the allegations and the process.
"You're right to be angry," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, his voice rising in anger, called the hearing the "most unethical sham since I've been in politics."
United Nations, Sep 28 (AP/UNB) — Facing a financial crisis after the United States cut funding, the head of the U.N. agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees says the problem of their well-being will continue to exist whether there's money or not — and especially if it was forced to shut down.
While the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, got some good news Wednesday with new pledges of $118 million, it remains $68 million in the hole this year. And in January it will face the problem of trying to find funding for next year's budget of about $1.2 billion.
"Of course, we worry about it," UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl said. "The key question for next year will be whether these countries that have shown themselves so generous in supporting us this year ... are they prepared to sustain those contributions?"
As Krahenbuhl sat down for an interview with The Associated Press about the agency's future on Thursday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly that UNRWA is critical to millions of his people but U.S. officials "just want to obliterate it altogether."
UNRWA was established after the war surrounding Israel's establishment in 1948 to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes. Today, it provides education, health care and social services to 5.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Krahenbuhl said the sudden U.S. funding cut of $300 million early this year and the Aug. 31 announcement by the Trump administration that it was ending decades of funding for UNRWA were "a matter of deep regret and sincere disappointment" since the U.S. was historically the agency's largest donor, paying nearly 30 percent of its budget.
"But it's a disappointment also because the decision was taken for political reasons," he said. "It's not in relation to our performance, and that makes it very difficult for a humanitarian organization because for political reasons we're related and adjusted to the tensions between the U.S. and the Palestinian leadership."
"It's very important to protect humanitarian funding from these forms of politicization," Krahenbuhl stressed.
In announcing the end to funding, the U.S. called UNRWA an "irredeemably flawed operation." The Trump administration's top Mideast adviser, Jared Kushner, went further in an internal email published by Foreign Policy magazine. He was quoted as calling for a "sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA" and saying the agency "perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn't help peace."
Israel, which praised the end of U.S. funding, accuses UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some Israelis accuse the agency of teaching hatred of Israel in its classrooms and tolerating or assisting Hamas, the militant Islamic group that rules Gaza.
Krahenbuhl rejected all the allegations and touted the quality of UNRWA schools, saying it was a touch-and-go decision to open them for the new school term that started in August.
"The fact that donors came forward — Gulf countries, Asia, Europe, Canada and others, helped us and allowed us to open the school year," he said.
Krahenbuhl said "the most remarkable" funding increases have come from Gulf countries — Qatar increasing its contribution to UNRWA from $1 million to $50 million in March, a figure matched soon after by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He said other countries have also increased contributions including India from $1 million to $5 million as well as China, Japan, Britain, Germany, Sweden and some European Union countries.
At a U.N. event Thursday hosted by UNRWA and Jordan, diplomats said Kuwait pledged $42 million and the European Union pledged 40 million euros to help Palestinian refugees this year.
The Palestinians fear the U.S. is putting pressure on host countries to absorb their refugee populations and eliminate the issue from future peace negotiations. Kushner and Jason Greenblatt are preparing a highly-anticipated peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. President Donald Trump said Wednesday for the first time that the United States supports a two-state solution.
Krahenbuhl reiterated that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly supports a two-state solution and has said there is "no Plan B." He stressed that a peace deal "has to be inclusive of the concerns and aspirations of Palestinian refugees."
The Palestinians also say the attempt to define who is a Palestinian refugee by Israel and the United States is an attempt to get the issue on the negotiating table, just as the Trump administration did with Jerusalem by recognizing it as Israel's capital.
Krahenbuhl said the U.N. General Assembly, where UNRWA's mandate originated, states clearly that refugees and the children, grandchildren and descendants are recognized as refugees. He noted that the U.N. refugee agency has the same definition.
"It is not for an individual member state to modify that or to suddenly suggest unilaterally that there is a change in numbers," he said.
As for those who would like to see UNRWA disappear, Krahenbuhl said: "At the end of the day, whether UNRWA exists or not is not the core question."
That question is: "Is the international community prepared to bring about a political solution that is at the heart of the continued existence of this refugee community 70 years after" the 1948 war?, he asked.
"I'm certain the Palestinian refugees would like nothing more than a horizon that opens and tells them something different can be achieved with an independent state of their own," he said.
United Nations, Sep 28 (AP/UNB) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran on Thursday of keeping a "secret atomic warehouse" just outside its capital, despite the 2015 deal with world powers that was meant to keep it from obtaining nuclear weapons. Hours later, Iran dismissed the allegation.
Holding up a poster-board map of an area near Tehran as he spoke at the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu told world leaders that Iranian officials have been keeping up to 300 tons of nuclear equipment and material in a walled, unremarkable-looking property near a rug-cleaning operation.
Netanyahu's disclosure — which he presented as a big reveal on the international community's biggest stage — came four months after Israel announced the existence of what it said was a "half-ton" of Iranian nuclear documents obtained by Israeli intelligence in the Shourabad neighborhood near Tehran. Israel said the cache proved that Iranian leaders covered up their nuclear weapons program before signing the nuclear agreement. Iran hasn't acknowledged the alleged seizure.
"You have to ask yourself a question: Why did Iran keep a secret atomic archive and a secret atomic warehouse?" Netanyahu asked. "What Iran hides, Israel will find."
Netanyahu didn't specify what the material and equipment was, and it was not immediately clear whether it proved to be a violation of the nuclear deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been monitoring Iran's compliance with the agreement, had no immediate comment.
Netanyahu also said Iranian officials had been clearing some radioactive material out of the site, which sits a short distance from Shourabad, and "spread it around Tehran." He then even suggested that residents of the capital might want to buy Geiger counters.
In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif derided the Israeli presentation as an "arts and craft show" by a country that he said needed to come clean about its own nuclear program.
Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal but has never publicly acknowledged it.
Zarif said there was nothing to the Israeli allegation, Iranian state-run media reported.
"The only purpose of this is to undercut the reality that Israel is the biggest threat to the region," he was quoted as saying. He noted that the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has certified Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal.
The 2015 deal came after years of Western sanctions over Iran's contested atomic program. The West had feared it could be used to build nuclear bombs. Iran long has denied seeking atomic weapons.
Under terms of the deal, Iran is allowed to keep documents and other research. The deal strictly limits how many centrifuges — important equipment for making enriched uranium that can be used in nuclear power plants or in weapons — Iran can use and how large of a low-enriched uranium stockpile the country can keep.
Netanyahu said the warehouse stored "massive amounts of equipment and materiel," and he said Israel shared the information with the IAEA. The Vienna-based agency had no immediate comment.
He noted that Israel had long opposed the multinational agreement with Iran. Israel considers Iran its biggest threat, citing Tehran's calls for Israel's destruction, its support for hostile militant organizations like the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group and Iran's development of long-range missiles.
U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the nuclear deal in May, and his administration has been re-imposing sanctions on Iran. Israel applauded the move, but many other nations lamented it as jeopardizing what they saw as the best chance to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed power.
"Instead of coddling Iran's dictators," other countries should support the sanctions, Netanyahu said to applause. He accused Europe of "appeasement" of Iran, a word that harkens back to criticism of Europe's approach to Nazi Germany before World War II.
Netanyahu is known for his showmanship at the U.N. In 2012, he famously held up a drawing of a cartoon bomb while discussing Iran's nuclear program, saying "a red line should be drawn right here" and drawing it with a marker.
His accusation Thursday about Iran came shortly after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Israel and the U.S. in his own speech, declaring that his people's rights "are not up for bargaining" and that the U.S. was undermining the long-discussed two-state solution. But Netanyahu devoted less attention to the long-running conflict with the Palestinians.
Abbas halted ties with Trump's administration in December after the U.S. recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and Palestinians have said a pending U.S. peace plan will be dead on arrival because of that and other recent U.S. moves that Palestinians see as favoring Israel.
"Jerusalem is not for sale," Abbas said to applause as he began his speech. "The Palestinian people's rights are not up for bargaining."
He said Palestinians would never reject negotiation, but that "it's really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they call the 'deal of the century.'"
"What is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people?" he asked. "What is left as a political solution?"
Netanyahu, in return, said the Palestinians' accusations against his country were hypocritical and unwarranted.
"You condemn Israel's morality?" he asked. "This is not the way to achieve the peace we all want and need and to which Israel remains committed."
The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza has led protests for months along the border with Israel, aiming partly to draw attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.
At least 137 Palestinians, mostly unarmed, have been killed by Israeli fire since the border protests began on March 30. During that time, a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli soldier. Hamas and Israel came close to serious conflict this summer as Gaza militants bombarded southern Israel with mortars and rockets, and Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza.
Israel says it is defending its border against attempts by Hamas, a militant group sworn to its destruction, to infiltrate and carry out attacks. But Israel has faced heavy international criticism over the large number of unarmed protesters who have been killed or wounded.
While meeting with Netanyahu on Wednesday, Trump told reporters he believes that two states — Israel and one for the Palestinians — "works best."
Hours before Netanyahu's scheduled speech, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed indifference to Trump's remarks, saying Israel wants "a safe Jewish state."
Netanyahu had reluctantly accepted the concept of Palestinian statehood but has since backtracked.
Palestinians have been split since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, ousting forces of Abbas, who now governs just parts of the West Bank. Repeated reconciliation attempts have failed, and Abbas warned that further measures could be taken against Hamas if deadlock persists.
The Israeli and Palestinian speeches fell on the same day that members of a U.N. group of 135 developing countries formalized a decision to give the Palestinians the chairmanship in 2019. That stands to boost their aspirations for official statehood but angers Israel.
Palestinians were infuriated, and many Israelis were thrilled, by a series of decisions Trump has made, starting with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The Palestinians also claim the holy city as the capital of an eventual state. Earlier this year, Trump followed up on the recognition by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
His administration has also slashed aid to the Palestinians by hundreds of millions of dollars and ended U.S. support for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees.
Trump and his national security team have defended their position, saying decades of attempts to forge peace have failed.
Other leaders who spoke Thursday included Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, who told leaders he had "spared no effort to ensure that institutions are stable and to make sure we are creating a safe and stable environment conducive to investment and to relaunching growth" in his impoverished Caribbean island country since the U.N. peacekeeping mission there wrapped up in October 2017.
New York, Sep 28 (AP/UNB) — For a few seconds Thursday, Mahathir Mohamad looked his age.
The 93-year-old once and current prime minister of Malaysia wobbled a bit as he clasped the railing, cautiously mounted the four stairs leading to the stage in the bowels of the Asia Society and shuffled over to the podium.
Then Mahathir, called a strongman by his critics so often that he has a joke ready about it, faced the packed auditorium. He smiled broadly and began talking. And the years, maybe even a decade or two, seemed to melt away.
First came the speech: 20 minutes without a single note, relying on the wealth of experience that led one audience member to address him as "the elder statesman of Asia — actually, the elder statesman of the planet."
When Mahathir was done, the moderator, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, seemed stunned. He called it a "bravura performance" from the "patron saint of political comebacks," a man who had been premier for 22 years until he retired in 2003 and had now been yanked — willingly — back into the spotlight.
But the prime minister had only just begun.
Mahathir, attending the U.N. General Assembly this week as Malaysia's leader for the first time in nearly a generation, cracked jokes that drew genuine belly laughs from the capacity audience. He rattled off figures related to debt and spending and demonstrated a fluency with government and international policies that dates back decades.
He converted currencies on the fly. He spoke with ease about the importance of social media in his upset win in May elections that led to the nation's first change of party power since independence from Britain in 1957.
After more than an hour of back and forth with the audience, he looked disappointed that it had ended. His demeanor was that of a man who relished returning to a job he never expected to have again.
Asked about his physical and political stamina, he said: "I don't really know." He acknowledged two heart operations and the occasional cough, "but I have my doctor following me everywhere I go."
All the while, he tapped into a deep vein of knowledge and experience won from being a high-level political player in Asia and the world for the last seven decades.
Though he dodged the occasional thorny topic — a question about gay rights and child marriage in Malaysia, for instance — he deftly handled almost everything thrown at him.
He talked about what it was like for countries other than China and the United States to be caught in the middle of the behemoths' growing trade war (uncomfortable). He spoke of the absolute necessity of free sea passage so that Malaysia can pursue its trading lifeblood, and of the region's disputes with China over control of the South China Sea.
Asked about Chinese President Xi Jinping's hallmark "Belt and Road Initiative" to build ports, highways and other trade-related infrastructure, Mahathir said he had long ago suggested the rail part of it. He'd proposed that Beijing build a railway line with bigger, longer trains from China to the West: "The idea is not new to us."
His remarks were peppered with jokes. The funniest one — "I have been known as a dictator, but I don't think any dictator would have resigned" — was so good he used it twice, and some of the jokes had the feeling of being well-worn campaigning set pieces.
But unlike a lot of politician's attempts at humor, they worked — repeatedly — and he drew energy as his moments in command of the stage passed. A smattering of his quips:
— On what he said was the previous government's slogan, "Cash is King": It's "practically admitting to the world that bribery is OK."
— On U.S. President Donald Trump: "We are still trying to figure out what is it that the president of the United States wants, because sometimes he changes his mind three times a day."
— On whether Malaysia would one day allow dual citizenship: "Well, we think you should make up your mind."
He focused on Malaysia's corruption problem, which he almost entirely blamed on the government that he drove from power in May. Mahathir's designated successor, Anwar Ibrahim, and Mahathir put aside their 20-year-old political feud to help their alliance win those elections.
Mahathir rose again to prime minister amid anger over a massive corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund, which is under investigation in the United States and other countries for allegations of cross-border embezzlement and money laundering. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, 65, has accused Mahathir's government of seeking political vengeance.
When Rudd asked impishly about when the next elections would be, Mahathir seemed almost wistful. He smiled and said, "five years from now."
But this time, the man who has lived through nearly a century hastened to add, he plans to retire for good.
Buenos Aires, Sep 28 (AP/UNB) — The Argentine peso slipped Thursday, a day after the government reached a revised $57.1 billion loan package with the International Monetary Fund that seeks to ease investor concerns over the country's ability to meet its debts amid an economic crisis.
Argentina has been hit by a sharp depreciation of the peso amid double-digit inflation, with the currency losing more than half of its value this year. The peso dipped Thursday, to close at 40.60 per U.S. dollar.
IMF Director Christine Lagarde said Wednesday that the lending institution had agreed to increase Argentina's credit line from $50 billion to $57.1 billion and speed up disbursements to help the country meets its challenges.
Lagarde also said Argentina's central bank agreed as part of the deal to intervene in currency markets only in case of extreme circumstances.
Under the revised agreement, the central bank will abandon inflation targeting and initially intervene only when the currency drops below 34 pesos or rises above 44 pesos per U.S. dollar. The band limits will rise 3 percent each month.
Some economic analysts and investors worry that monetary policy conditions imposed under the deal could cause more volatility to Argentina's weak economy.
Goldman Sachs Economist Alberto Ramos said the central bank "will abandon the current inflation targeting" and will aim for "zero growth of the monetary base" into the middle of next year.
"This will imply a very severe liquidity squeeze and monetary contraction in real terms with obvious adverse implications for activity," Ramos said.
Argentina has been affected by a severe drought that has hit crop yields in the key agricultural sector, and Argentines continue to lose purchasing power to an inflation rate that at about 40 percent annually is one of the highest in the world.
President Mauricio Macri said at a news conference Thursday that there are "tough months ahead" but that he is convinced "this is the only way."
Macri's government has announced new taxes on exports aimed at the government's budget deficit as part of its commitment with the IMF. Argentines staged a nationwide strike this week to protest austerity measures that include layoffs of thousands of state workers and the elimination of subsidies on utility bills and transportation.