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Trump defends Acosta but will look into Epstein plea deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would be looking “very closely” at Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s handling of a sex trafficking case involving now-jailed billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein. But he also seemed to stand by his Cabinet official, praising Acosta’s performance on the job and saying he felt “very badly” for him.

As for Epstein, Trump — who had once praised the financier as “a terrific guy” — distanced himself from the hedge-fund manager now charged with abusing minors, saying the two had had a falling-out 15 or so years ago. “I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you,” Trump said.

His comments came as a parade of Democratic presidential contenders and party leaders demanded that Acosta, a former federal prosecutor in south Florida, resign or be fired over his role in a secret 2008 plea deal that let Epstein avoid federal prosecution after allegations he molested teenage girls.

Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to new child sex-trafficking charges . Federal prosecutors in New York accuse him of abusing dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s, paying them hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and then molesting them at his homes in Florida and New York. He could face up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Trump repeatedly praised Acosta, calling him a “really great secretary of labor” and “very good” at his job. He suggested it’s not unusual to find past mistakes if you look hard enough.

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H. Ross Perot rose from poverty to self-made billionaire

DALLAS (AP) — H. Ross Perot rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty to become a self-made billionaire who twice ran for president with a mixture of folksy sayings and simple solutions to America’s problems. His 19% of the vote in 1992 stands among the best showings by an independent candidate in the last century.

Perot died of leukemia Tuesday at his home in Dallas surrounded by his family, family spokesman James Fuller said. He was 89.

As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Perot delivered newspapers from the back of a pony. He earned his billions in a more modern way, however. After attending the U.S. Naval Academy and becoming a salesman for IBM, he set out on his own — creating and building Electronic Data Systems Corp., which helped other companies manage their computer networks.

The most famous event in his storied business career didn’t involve sales or earnings. In 1979, Perot financed a private commando raid to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran. The tale was turned into a book and a movie.

“I always thought of him as stepping out of a Norman Rockwell painting and living the American dream,” said Tom Luce, who was a young lawyer when Perot hired him to handle his business and personal legal work. “A newspaper boy, a midshipman, shaking Dwight Eisenhower’s hand at his graduation, and he really built the computer-services industry at EDS.”

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Judge blocks government lawyers from quitting census fight

NEW YORK (AP) — The Justice Department can’t replace nine lawyers so late in the dispute over whether to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census without explaining why they are doing so, a judge said Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, who earlier this year ruled against adding the citizenship question, put the brakes on the government’s plans a day after he was given a three-paragraph notification by the Justice Department along with a prediction that the replacement of lawyers won’t “cause any disruption in this matter.”

“Defendants provide no reasons, let alone ‘satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Furman wrote, noting that the most immediate deadline for government lawyers to submit written arguments in the case is only three days away.

The judge said local rules for federal courts in New York City require that any attorney requesting to leave a case provide satisfactory reasons for withdrawing. The judge must then decide what impact a lawyer’s withdrawal will have on the timing of court proceedings.

He called the Justice Department’s request “patently deficient,” except for two lawyers who have left the department or the civil division which is handling the case.

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Financier in sex abuse case went from math whiz to titan

NEW YORK (AP) — He has rubbed elbows with a prince and flown a former president on his private jet. He amassed a fortune that includes a 100-acre island in the Caribbean and one of the biggest mansions in New York.

He has donated tens of millions of dollars to Harvard and other causes, becoming a darling of professors and scientists — all without a college degree.

Jeffrey Epstein has long been an enigma, his ascent shrouded in mystery. Just how a middle-class Brooklyn math whiz became a Wall Street master of high finance with friends in very high places has been a subject of tabloid speculation for years.

Now, the details of Epstein’s life and his alleged predilections are coming into sharper focus as federal prosecutors in New York pursue sex-trafficking charges accusing the 66-year-old billionaire of recruiting and abusing dozens of underage girls at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, Florida, in the early 2000s.

Epstein, who pleaded not guilty Monday, could get up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

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GOP-led Virginia Legislature abruptly adjourns gun session

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Less than two hours after beginning a special session called in response to a mass shooting, Virginia lawmakers abruptly adjourned Tuesday and postponed any movement on gun laws until after the November election.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam summoned the Republican-led Legislature to the Capitol to address gun violence in the wake of the May 31 attack that killed a dozen people in Virginia Beach. He put forward a package of eight gun-control measures and called for “votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers” in reaction to the massacre.

But not a single vote was cast on the legislation. Republican leaders said the session was premature and politically motivated. They assigned the state’s bipartisan crime commission to study the Virginia Beach shooting and the governor’s proposed legislation.

In reply, angry Democrats said Republicans were beholden to the gun lobby and afraid of passing commonsense laws they know will save lives.

It was a familiar outcome in a stalled debate that plays out yearly in Virginia on an issue that has divided the nation for more than two decades.

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Biden earned more than $15 million after leaving White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, took in more than $15 million since leaving the Obama White House, according to documents released Tuesday, catapulting the Democratic presidential candidate into millionaire status and denting the working-class aura he’s developed over decades.

Long fond of describing himself as “Middle Class Joe” while he took in little more than his government salary, the former vice president stressed his working-class roots from the very beginning of his bid for his party’s 2020 presidential nomination. But federal tax returns and a financial disclosure show that since Biden left public office, his income has surged thanks to a lucrative book deal and constant publicity tours that brought in more than $4 million.

Biden’s disclosure showed that he also made at least $2.7 million in business income as part of his publicity tour and writing and took a $425,000 salary from CelticCapri Corp., the business entity the Bidens used for their post-White House work.

Since leaving the White House, Biden and his wife signed a multibook deal with Flatiron Books valued at $8 million, according to Publishers Weekly. Biden’s first book, an account of his son Beau’s death from cancer, briefly topped bestseller lists in 2017. He and his wife have also worked on two other book projects.

Biden earned $540,000 as a professor and namesake of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. Jill Biden made at least $700,000 in her own speaking engagements, the disclosure shows.

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Fresh from the lab: Startups make meat that avoids slaughter

EMERYVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Uma Valeti slices into a pan-fried chicken cutlet in the kitchen of his startup, Memphis Meats. He sniffs the tender morsel on his fork before taking a bite. He chews slowly, absorbing the taste.

“Our chicken is chicken … you’ve got to taste it to believe it,” Valeti says.

This is no ordinary piece of poultry. No chicken was raised or slaughtered to harvest the meat. It was produced in a laboratory by extracting cells from a chicken and feeding them in a nutrient broth until the cell culture grew into raw meat.

Memphis Meats, based in Emeryville, California, is one of a growing number of startups worldwide that are making cell-based or cultured meat. They want to offer an alternative to traditional meat production that they say is damaging the environment and causing unnecessary harm to animals, but they are far from becoming mainstream and face pushback from livestock producers.

“You are ultimately going to continue the choice of eating meat for many generations to come without putting undue stress on the planet,” said Valeti, a former cardiologist who co-founded Memphis Meats in 2015 after seeing the power of stem cells to treat disease.

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Validity of Obama health care law at issue in appeal hearing

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With health insurance availability, cost and coverage on the line for millions of Americans, a federal appeals court seemed inclined Tuesday to rule that the core provision of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law is unconstitutional.

Two Republican-appointed judges on a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals peppered lawyers defending the law with skeptical questions, appearing to suggest they might hold that when Congress zeroed out a tax imposed by the law in 2017 it rendered unconstitutional the mandate to purchase health insurance.

It was less clear after the arguments whether the judges also would invalidate the entire health care law, as the Trump administration favors.

The hearing marked the latest development in a 2018 lawsuit by 18 Republican-leaning states claiming that the absence of a tax converts the law into an unconstitutional directive to U.S. citizens to buy a product. A lower court judge ruled in December that it did, and that the entire law must fall as a result. That includes popular provisions such as protection for pre-existing conditions.

As Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod questioned the law’s supporters — attorneys for 20 Democratic-leaning states and the House of Representatives — she said the law’s “command” that people buy insurance appeared intact without the tax penalty and she questioned the mandate’s constitutionality. Judge Kurt Engelhardt seemed to agree. And he pointedly suggested that the courts shouldn’t have to work out what parts of the law should or shouldn’t survive.

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AT&T pulls ‘Friends’ from Netflix for its streaming service

NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T is pulling “Friends” from Netflix to beef up its own upcoming streaming service. With new services launching, popular shows are splintering onto several different platforms.

The wireless company, which owns the WarnerMedia entertainment business, also said Tuesday that its service will be called HBO Max. It will launch in spring of 2020. As the name suggests, it will contain HBO content, other video from the Warner Bros. studio — like “Friends” — and new series and movies that are exclusive to the service. AT&T has not announced a price.

As more companies — Comcast, Apple, Disney — unveil their own streaming services, they’re trying to make them more appealing with exclusive shows and deep libraries. Entertainment companies are pulling some of their stuff from Netflix to stock their own services. It’s not clear, of course, how successful those services will be, and they are losing out on licensing revenue by pulling their content. It could also create a confusing and expensive situation for consumers, who have to decide which of all these existing and new video services is worth the cost.

AT&T’s decision follows Comcast’s NBCUniversal saying last month it would keep “The Office,” Netflix’s most popular show, for itself starting in 2021. Its service debuts in 2020. Disney’s upcoming service will be the exclusive streaming home for its big movies.

Netflix for years has been playing up its original shows and movies, but much of its most popular video belongs to other companies. “Friends,” for example, is the second-most watched show on Netflix, according to Nielsen. The company has said it isn’t worried about the increased competition.

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Union wants competitive environment, meaningful free agency

CLEVELAND (AP) — The head of the baseball players’ association has detailed the union’s goals during collective bargaining, listing the restoration of a “competitive environment” and “meaningful free agency” as aims.

Baseball’s labor contracts runs until December 2021, but the sides committed last winter to early talks. Thus far, they met once to discuss the scheduling of future meetings.

Union head Tony Clark says his members want to have “getting players something closer to their value as they are producing it,” a reference to the structure that has players getting close to the minimum until they have nearly three years of major league service time, when they become eligible for salary arbitration.

He also says the union wants the “best players on the field at all times,” a reference to accusations that clubs hold top prospects in the minor leagues to delay their eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency, which requires six years of service.

Clark also has said rebuilding teams that are noncompetitive hurt the industry.