Kremlin warns of possible flare-up of hostilities in Ukraine
By NATALIYA VASILYEVA, KATE DE PURY and NIKO PRICE
Tuesday, November 27
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin warned Tuesday that Ukraine’s declaration of martial law over Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships might trigger a flare-up in hostilities in eastern Ukraine, while Kiev blamed Russia for parading captured Ukrainian seamen on television.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for Sunday’s confrontation in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The clash has raised the specter of renewing a full-blown conflict in eastern Ukraine and saw Russia strongly criticized at the United Nations by the United States and its allies.
The Ukrainian parliament on Monday adopted a motion by the president to impose martial law for 30 days. That is something Ukraine avoided doing even when Russia annexed its nearby Crimean peninsula in 2014 or sent in clandestine troops and weapons to insurgents in war-torn eastern Ukraine.
On Sunday near Crimea, Russian border guards rammed into and opened fire on three Ukrainian navy vessels traveling from the Black Sea toward a Ukrainian port. The Russians seized the ships and their crews.
Ukraine considers the 24 captured men to be prisoners of war and says some have been seriously injured, while Russia says they are individuals who have violated its border.
The Kremlin reacted strongly to Ukraine’s declaration of martial law, with Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, telling reporters Tuesday that it might trigger a flare-up in hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian troops have been fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014, a conflict that has left over 10,000 dead, but fighting has eased since a truce in 2015.
The martial law formally went into effect on Monday in several parts of Ukraine, including areas bordering territory now held by the separatists.
The Russian intelligence agency FSB claimed the ships had Ukrainian SBU intelligence agents onboard with a mission to mount what they called “provocation” in the Kerch Strait.
The strait is spanned by a new bridge that Russia completed this year — the only land link from the Russian mainland to the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
The SBU on Tuesday confirmed it had officers on the ships but denied any nefarious intentions, saying they were simply fulfilling counterintelligence operations for the Ukrainian navy.
The SBU also demanded that Russia stop using “psychological and physical pressure” on the Ukrainians — an apparent reference to interviews of the crewmembers that Russia released late Monday. The video broadcast by Russian state television showed three separate interviews with Ukrainian seamen, all of whom agreed with Russian claims that they violated its border.
It was not immediately possible to ascertain if the men were talking under duress or had been subject to violence. One of them was clearly reading from a script prepared for them.
Ukraine’s foreign minister told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he has asked the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross to arrange a visit to the Ukrainian prisoners and he’s waiting for a Russian response. He said some of the seamen on the seized ships had been seriously injured in the clash with Russia.
“It’s not a political issue here, because we can have an argument about the legal status, but it’s about simply concentrating on protecting them and helping them,” Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told the AP.
When asked about the Ukrainian seamen broadcasts on Russian TV, Klimkin said “even to put prisoners of war on television is already a crime.”
A court in Crimea on Tuesday ordered that one of the Ukrainians be kept in custody pending a trial. He could be sent to prison for six years if found guilty. Rulings for possible arrest of 11 more Ukrainian seamen are expected later in the day while the court will rule on the remaining 12 on Wednesday.
Ukraine said its vessels were heading to the Sea of Azov in line with international maritime rules, while Russia charged that they had failed to obtain permission to pass through the narrow Kerch Strait.
Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on the phone early Tuesday, and the Russian president expressed a “serious concern” about what the martial law in Ukraine might entail.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday that Berlin has “called on Russia and Ukraine to show the greatest possible restraint” and suggested that Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine could work together to resolve the tensions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was visiting Paris on Tuesday, rejected that offer, saying that he did not see “a need for any kind of mediators.” He spoke after meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who appeared to soften his criticism of Russia’s seizure of the ships.
Shortly after Russian border guards seized the Ukrainian ships off Crimea, France’s Foreign Ministry said “nothing justifies” Russia’s use of force.
But after long talks with Lavrov in Paris, Le Drian blamed the ship standoff on the “high level of militarization” in the region and avoided pointing the finger at Russia.
The United States and the European Union have slapped sanctions on Russian businesses, tycoons and banks for Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Vasilyeva reported from Moscow. Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, Angela Charlton in Paris, Kirsten Grieshaber and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
Read all about the Russia-Ukraine story on The Associated Press website at https://www.apnews.com/Ukraine
Last US Senate race of midterms up for vote in Mississippi
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
Tuesday, November 27
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi voters are deciding the last U.S. Senate race of the midterms, choosing between a white Republican Senate appointee backed by President Donald Trump and a black Democrat who was agriculture secretary when Bill Clinton was in the White House.
History will be made either way: Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, 59, would be the first woman ever elected to Congress from Mississippi, and Democrat Mike Espy, 64, would be the state’s first African-American U.S. senator since Reconstruction.
Voter Elizabeth Gallinghouse, 84, said Tuesday she wanted to be a part of that history by helping to elect the state’s first woman to Capitol Hill.
“We need more women in Congress, and I think we’re slowly getting there,” she said.
Mississippi’s past of racist violence became a dominant theme after a video showed Hyde-Smith praising a supporter in early November by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” She said it was “an exaggerated expression of regard.” More than a week after the video’s release, she said she apologized to “anyone that was offended by my comments,” but also said the remark was used as a “weapon” against her.
Hyde-Smith was seen in another video talking about making voting difficult for “liberal folks,” and a photo circulated of her wearing a replica Confederate military hat during a 2014 visit to Beauvoir, a beachside museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, that was the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis.
Critics said Hyde-Smith’s comments and Confederate regalia showed callous indifference in a state with a 38 percent black population, and some corporate donors, including Walmart, requested refunds on their campaign contributions to her.
Michael King, 71, who was voting Tuesday, said he believed that criticism of Hyde-Smith was purely political, as people were “grabbing something to make her look bad at the last moment.”
“I think the media hyped it up as much as they could,” said King, who said he voted for Hyde-Smith.
Mississippi — which still has the Confederate battle emblem on its state flag — has a history of racially motivated lynchings. The NAACP website says that between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 lynchings in the United States, and that nearly 73 percent of the victims were black. It says Mississippi had 581 lynching during that time, the highest number of any state.
Hyde-Smith was in her second term as Mississippi’s elected agriculture commissioner when Republican Gov. Phil Bryant chose her to temporarily succeed longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired in April amid health concerns. Tuesday’s winner will serve the last two years of Cochran’s six-year term.
Hyde-Smith has campaigned as an unwavering supporter of Trump, who campaigned with her Monday, praising her at a rally in the northeastern Mississippi city of Tupelo for voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“She stood up to the Democrat smear machine,” Trump said.
With the Mississippi election undecided, Republicans hold 52 of the 100 Senate seats.
Mississippi last elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1982, but Espy was trying for the same kind of longshot win that fellow Democrat Doug Jones had nearly a year ago in neighboring Alabama, another conservative Deep South state where Republicans hold most statewide offices.
Espy campaigned as someone who would be able to bridge the partisan divide in Washington. He was endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden, and three Democrats who are potential 2020 presidential candidates — former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey — traveled to Mississippi to campaign for him.
“Why are we still fighting about the color line?” Espy said during a speech Monday night at a predominantly African-American church, noting that it was the 21st century.
“This is a campaign that goes to the color line and it reached across the color line, across the chasm of racial division, across the chasm of racial acrimony,” Espy said.
If white voters outnumber black voters 2-to-1 on Tuesday, Espy would have to win 30 percent or more of white votes, a tough task in a state with possibly the most racially polarized electorate in the country. But if black voters rise to 40 percent of the electorate and Espy wins 9 out of 10, he needs less than a quarter of white votes to squeak out a victory.
“If Espy wins that race, it represents a huge breakthrough for America,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime civil rights activist and former Democratic presidential candidate. “If he loses, it’s a brief statement about Mississippi being unrepentant.”
Meanwhile, federal and state authorities are investigating seven nooses that were found hanging from trees outside the Mississippi Capitol on Monday, along with handwritten signs that referred to the Senate runoff and the state’s history of lynching.
Hyde-Smith campaign hammered Espy for his $750,000 lobbying contract in 2011 with the Cocoa and Coffee Board of the Ivory Coast. She noted that the country’s ex-president, Laurent Gbagbo, is being tried in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
“I don’t know how many Mississippians can really relate to an income that can command a $750,000 check from one person for a lobbying job,” Hyde-Smith, who is a cattle rancher, said during a Nov. 20 debate.
Espy, who is an attorney, said: “I found out later that this guy, the president, was a really bad guy. I resigned the contract.”
Federal registration papers show Espy terminated the contract two weeks before its scheduled end.
Espy resigned the Cabinet post in 1994 amid a special counsel investigation that accused him of improperly accepting gifts. He was tried and acquitted on 30 corruption charges, but the Mississippi Republican Party ran an ad this year that called Espy “too corrupt for the Clintons” and “too liberal for Mississippi.”
Espy said he refused to accept offers of plea deals.
“I put my reputation on the line, went through a trial, went through 70 witnesses against me, went through the special prosecutor who spent $26 million against me and I was found not guilty. Because I was not guilty,” Espy told The Associated Press in October. “In fact, I was so not guilty, I was innocent.”
Associated Press writers Jeff Amy and Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics . Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .
Mueller accuses Manafort of breaking plea agreement by lying
By CHAD DAY
Tuesday, November 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — The special counsel in the Russia investigation is accusing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of violating his plea agreement by repeatedly lying to federal investigators, an extraordinary allegation that could expose him to a lengthier prison sentence — and potentially more criminal charges.
The torpedoing of Manafort’s plea deal, disclosed in a court filing Monday, also results in special counsel Robert Mueller’s team losing a cooperating witness from the top of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign who was present for several key episodes under investigation. That includes a Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer he was told had derogatory information on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The move signals a return to the acrimonious relationship Manafort has had with the special counsel’s office since his indictment last year. Before his plea agreement, Manafort aggressively challenged the special counsel’s legitimacy in court, went through a bitter trial and landed himself in jail after prosecutors discovered he had attempted to tamper with witnesses in his case.
In the latest filing, Mueller’s team said Manafort “committed federal crimes” by lying about “a variety of subject matters” even after he agreed to truthfully cooperate with the investigation. Prosecutors said they will detail the “nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” in writing at a later date to the judge.
Through his attorneys, Manafort denied lying, saying he “believes he provided truthful information” during a series of sessions with Mueller’s investigators. He also disagreed that he breached his plea agreement. Still, both sides now agree they can’t resolve the conflict, and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson should set a date to sentence him.
Manafort, who remains jailed, had been meeting with the special counsel’s office since he pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He cut that deal to head off a second trial after being convicted last summer of eight felony counts related to millions of dollars he hid from the IRS in offshore accounts.
Both cases stemmed from his Ukrainian political work and undisclosed lobbying work he admitted to carrying out in the U.S. in violation of federal law.
As part of his plea agreement, Manafort pledged to “cooperate fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly” with the government “in any and all matters” prosecutors deemed necessary. That included his work on the Trump campaign as well as his Ukrainian political work, which remains under investigation by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Prosecutors there are looking into the conduct of longtime Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig and former Republican congressman and lobbyist Vin Weber to determine whether they violated federal law by failing to register as foreign agents with the Justice Department. None of the men has been charged with any crimes.
As part of his plea deal, Manafort also forfeited many of his rights as well as his ability to withdraw the plea if he broke any of the terms. In return, prosecutors agreed to not bring additional charges against him and to ask a judge for a reduction of his sentence if he provided “substantial assistance.”
But with prosecutors saying he breached the agreement, Manafort now faces serious repercussions such as the possibility of prosecution on additional charges including the 10 felony counts prosecutors dropped when he made the deal.
Manafort already faces up to five years in prison on the two charges in his plea agreement. In his separate Virginia case, Manafort’s potential sentencing under federal guidelines has not yet been calculated, but prosecutors have previously said he could face as much as 10 years in prison on those charges.
He is scheduled to be sentenced in that case in February. His co-defendant, Rick Gates, who spent a longer time on the campaign and worked on the Trump inaugural committee, has not had a sentencing date set yet. He continues to cooperate with Mueller.
Follow Chad Day on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChadSDay
Read the court filing: http://apne.ws/YN2AwkK
Associate of Trump confidant Stone says he’ll reject plea
By CHAD DAY and ERIC TUCKER
Tuesday, November 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — An associate of Trump confidant Roger Stone said Monday that he is rejecting a plea offer in the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
In an email to The Associated Press, Jerome Corsi, a conservative author who has pushed conspiracy theories, said he planned to reject a potential plea deal with prosecutors.
He did not elaborate, but in earlier interviews with other news organizations, he said he had been offered a chance to plead guilty to a single count of lying to investigators. He said he planned to reject that offer because it would force him to admit to willfully lying, which he insisted he did not do.
“They can put me in prison the rest of my life,” Corsi told CNN. “I am not going to sign a lie.”
Mueller’s team has questioned Corsi, a former Washington bureau chief of InfoWars, as prosecutors scrutinize Stone’s possible connections to WikiLeaks.
American intelligence agencies have said Russia was the source of the hacked material released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential election. Those emails included messages from John Podesta, the chairman of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Mueller is trying to determine whether Stone and other associates of President Donald Trump had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans.
ABC News reported that Corsi had provided copies of a draft plea agreement in which he would have admitted to lying about an email about an associate’s “request to get in touch with an organization that he understood to be in possession of stolen emails and other documents pertaining to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Corsi’s lawyer, David Gray, declined to comment, as did Peter Carr, a spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller.
Corsi told the AP last week that he was in plea negotiations with Mueller’s office and had earlier said on his YouTube show that he expected to be indicted for making false statements.
Corsi has said he cooperated with the probe for about two months after he received a subpoena in August. As part of that cooperation, he turned over two computers and a cell phone and provided the FBI access to his email accounts and tweets.
Stone has denied being a conduit for WikiLeaks and has not been charged. He has said he did not have advance knowledge of the source, content or exact timing of the WikiLeaks release.
In an email Monday, Stone said Corsi was being “harassed by the Special Counsel, not for lying, but for refusing to lie.”
He added, “As Dr. Corsi has said I have no knowledge of any contact or Communication with Julian Assange or Wikileaks by Dr. Corsi.”
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.
‘The Rider’ tops Gotham Awards, kicking off awards season
By JAKE COYLE
AP Film Writer
Tuesday, November 27
NEW YORK (AP) — In the first major soiree of Hollywood’s awards season, Chloe Zhao’s elegiac, lyrical Western “The Rider” took best feature film at the 28th annual Gotham Awards.
It was a surprising, but far from baffling conclusion to the Gothams, the New York-based gala for independent film, held Monday night at Cipriani’s Wall Street in downtown Manhattan. The awards were generally spread around, including a pair of prizes for Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age directing debut “Eighth Grade” and Paul Schrader’s impassioned Catholic drama “First Reformed.”
But the night’s final honor went to “The Rider,” the second feature by the Chinese-born Zhao, despite no previous awards on the night and only one other nomination: an audience award nod alongside 14 other films. Some may have forgotten it was eligible. Having first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2017, “The Rider” was nominated by the Gotham’s West Coast corollary, the Independent Film Spirit Awards, in February as one of last year’s best.
Zhao, too, wasn’t in attendance (she is prepping her next film). And few looked more surprised than the producers — Bert Hamelinck and Mollye Asher — who accepted the award. “This is going to be the worst acceptance speech,” stuttered Hamelinck.
Yet “The Rider,” filmed with Lakota cowboys on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, persevered over a few Oscar favorites, including Yorgos Lanthimos’ period romp “The Favourite” and Barry Jenkins’ James Baldwin adaptation “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
“The Favourite” still went home with two honorary awards: an award for its acting ensemble, led by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz; and a tribute to Weisz. Jenkins applauded the choice of “The Rider” with a standing ovation and a retweet of his earlier praise of the film, in which he called it “ravishing, sublime imagery paired with deeply earnest storytelling.”
Unpredictability pervaded the ceremony, especially for the winners, themselves. When the Fred Rogers documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” won the Gothams’ audience award (not typically a category for documentaries but “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” proved a modest summer blockbuster), its director Morgan Neville was stunned, partially since he had already lost best documentary to RaMell Ross’ “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.”
“To say this was a surprise would be an extreme understatement,” Neville said. “Since I didn’t know we were nominated.”
As an Oscar bellwether, the Gothams, presented by the not-for-profit Independent Film Project , are of little value. Their nominees are chosen by small juries of filmmakers and film critics before some of the fall’s films have been seen.
But in the early going, any momentum helps an underdog Oscar campaign, and that seemed especially true of “First Reformed” and “Eighth Grade” — both releases from A24, the indie distributor of “Moonlight” and “Lady Bird.”
“First Reformed” star Ethan Hawke took best actor and its 72-year-old writer-director Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” ”Raging Bull”) won best screenplay.
“Fourteen years. Best attendance. Sunday school,” said Schrader, who chose filmmaking over the seminary but remained gripped by his Calvinist upbringing. “I earned this award.”
Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” starring 15-year-old Elsie Fisher, won for both breakthrough director and breakthrough actor.
“I’m pretty sure this was a glitch in the system or something,” began Fisher, who said she had been considering giving up on acting before Burnham cast her. “Me from two years ago would be really proud of me right now.”
Tributes were also paid to “At Eternity’s Gate” star Willem Dafoe, “22 July” director Paul Greengrass and RadicalMedia founder Jon Kamen. But one of the night’s abiding themes was who wasn’t there. Toni Collette, star of the horror film “Hereditary,” wasn’t on hand to collect her best actress award. And Weisz was the only star of “The Favourite” there for the film’s ensemble award.
Weisz held up cardboard paddles of Colman and Stone’s faces and read statements from each claiming that they were the real standout in Lanthimos’ triangular tale of a power struggle in Queen Anne’s 18th century court.
“Considering that I’m the only one to turn up,” Weisz concluded, “I think I might be the favorite.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP