San Diego, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — As thousands of migrants in a caravan of Central American asylum-seekers converge on the doorstep of the United States, what they won't find are armed American soldiers standing guard.
Instead they will see cranes installing towering panels of metal bars and troops wrapping concertina wire around barriers while military helicopters fly overhead, carrying border patrol agents to and from locations along the U.S.-Mexico border.
That's because U.S. military troops are prohibited from carrying out law enforcement duties.
What's more, the bulk of the troops are in Texas — hundreds of miles away from the caravan that started arriving this week in Tijuana on Mexico's border with California after walking and hitching rides for the past month.
Still, for many migrants the barriers and barbed wire were an imposing show of force.
Angel Ulloa stood on Tijuana's beach where a wall of metal bars more than 20 feet high cut across the sand and plunged into the Pacific. He watched as crews on the U.S. side placed coils of barbed wire on top.
A border patrol agent wearing camouflage and armed with an assault rifle — part of a tactical unit deployed when there is a heightened threat — walked in the sand below where the men worked. A small border patrol boat hovered offshore.
"It's too much security to confront humble people who just want to work," said Ulloa, a 23-year-old electrician from Choloma, Honduras, who joined the caravan to try to make his first trip to the U.S.
Now, he and his two friends were rethinking their plans. They tried to apply for a job at a Wal-Mart in Tijuana but were told they need a Mexican work permit. So they were considering seeking asylum in Mexico but were unsure of giving up their dream of earning dollars.
"We're still checking things out," he said.
On Friday, people walking through one of the world's busiest border crossings into Mexico passed by a pair of Marines on a 20-foot lift installing razor wire above a turnstile.
Nearby Army Sgt. Eric Zeigler stood guard with another soldier. Both were military police officers assigned to protecting the Marines as they work.
The 24-year-old soldier from Pittsburgh spent nine months in Afghanistan. ""It's very different over there, obviously. It's a lot more dangerous," Zeigler said.
He said he was surprised when got his deployment orders sending him to the U.S.-Mexico border.
"But I'm happy to go where I'm needed" he added as a man walked by carrying shopping bags headed to Tijuana.
The U.S. military has deployed 5,800 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
So far, more are not expected, despite President Donald Trump's initial assessment that 10,000 to 15,000 were needed to secure the border against what he has called an "invasion" of migrants. Most in the caravan of several thousand are families, including hundreds of children.
Another 2,100 National Guard troops are have also been deployed since April as part of a separate mission. Like the military troops, they are not allowed to detain illegal crossers. Instead, they have been monitoring cameras and helping to erect barriers.
Of the 5,800 soldiers and Marines, more than 2,800 are in Texas, while about 1,500 are in Arizona and another 1,300 are in California. All U.S. military branches, except the Coast Guard, are barred from performing law enforcement duties.
That means there will be no visible show of armed troops, said Army Maj. Scott McCullough, adding that the mission is to provide support to Customs and Border Protection.
"Soldiers putting up wire on the border and barriers at the ports of entry will be the most visible," he said.
Marines and soldiers share the same duties in California and Arizona. These include erecting tents, setting up showers and arranging meals for troops working on the border, and assigning military police to protect them.
There are no tents or camps being set up to house migrants, McCullough said. Medics are on hand to treat troops and border patrol agents — not migrants — for cuts, bruises and any other problems.
Combat engineers — whose duties on the battlefield include setting up tactical obstacles to prevent the enemy from moving freely — are using their expertise to string wire on border walls and erect temporary fencing, McCullough said.
Construction engineers have been assigned to weld together barriers and move shipping containers to act as walls.
In Laredo, Texas, about 100 soldiers have been installing three layers of razor wire along the Rio Grande, working on the banks during the day and on the bridges at night to minimize the disruption to cross-border traffic.
The current mission is scheduled to end Dec. 15 for now. It's unclear how much it will cost and military leaders have refused to provide an estimate.
Critics have questioned the wisdom of using the military on the border where there is no discernible security threat. Since the Nov. 6 elections, Trump has said little about the matter and no border threat has materialized.
Some border communities fear the barricades will scare off Mexican shoppers. The city council in Nogales, Arizona, slashed a proposed bonus for all employees in half over concerns about how the military's presence would affect its sales tax revenue after the military closed off two lanes at its border crossing.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the deployment during a visit to the Texas border this week, asserting that in some ways it provides good training for war.
Suyapa Reyes, 35, said she was puzzled as to why she would be seen as a threat. Reyes, her mother, 12-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son left Honduras with the caravan on Oct. 13, fleeing violence and poverty in her hometown of Olanchito de Oro.
She does not want to return after coming such a long way but if she cannot get asylum and the border looks too dangerous to cross, she said she'll have no other choice.
"I'm not going to risk my life or safety nor that of my children," she said.
Washington, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said Friday, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel's Russia-Trump investigation.
Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.
That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said the charges and arrest warrant "would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter."
A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday.
Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks.
A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade.
Those include thousands of military and State Department cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia.
Federal special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether any Trump associates had advance knowledge of the stolen emails.
Assange could be an important link for Mueller as he looks to establish exactly how WikiLeaks came to receive the emails, and why its release of the communications — on the same day a highly damaging video of Trump from a decade earlier surfaced publicly — appeared timed to boost his campaign.
Assange, 47, has resided in the Ecuadorian Embassy under a grant of asylum for more than six years to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was accused of sex crimes, or to the United States, whose government he has repeatedly humbled with mass disclosures of classified information.
The Australian was once a welcome guest at the embassy, which takes up part of the ground floor of a stucco-fronted apartment in London's posh Knightsbridge neighborhood. But his relationship with his hosts has soured over the years amid reports of espionage, erratic behavior and diplomatic unease.
Barry Pollack, a Washington lawyer for Assange, said he expected Ecuador to "comply with its obligations" to preserve asylum for him, though he acknowledged a concern that the county could revoke his asylum, expel him from the embassy and extradite him to the U.S.
"The burden should not shift to Mr. Assange to have to defend against criminal charges when what he has been accused of doing is what journalists do every day," Pollack said. "They publish truthful information because the public has a right to know and consider that information and understand what its government and institutions are doing."
The charges came to light in an unrelated court filing from a federal prosecutor in Virginia, who was attempting to keep sealed a separate case involving a man accused of coercing a minor for sex.
The three-page filing contained two references to Assange, including one sentence that said "due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged."
It was not immediately clear why Assange's name was included in the document. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Justice Department's Eastern District of Virginia said, "The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing."
The filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, who posted it on Twitter hours after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange.
The case at issue concerns a defendant named Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, a 29-year-old teacher who has since been indicted in Virginia on charges of enticing a 15-year-old girl to commit sex acts and to produce child pornography. There doesn't appear to be any connection between Assange and Kokayi.
The since-unsealed document, a motion filed in late August asking to keep Kokayi's case secret, mentions Assange in two boilerplate sections, suggesting a copy-and-paste error or that his name was inadvertently left in a template used for the common filings.
The filing suggests prosecutors have reason to believe they will be able to arrest and extradite Assange.
Ecuadorian officials say they have cut off his high-speed internet access and will restore it only if he agrees to stop interfering in the affairs of Ecuador's partners, such as the U.S. and Spain. He is allowed to use the embassy's WiFi, though it is unclear if he doing so. Officials have also imposed a series of other restrictions on Assange's activities and visitors, and ordered him to clean after his cat.
Carlos Poveda, Assange's lawyer in Ecuador, said he suspects Ecuador has been maneuvering to kick Assange out of the embassy through the stricter new living requirements it recently imposed.
He said possible U.S. charges, however, are proof his client remains under threat, and he called on Ecuador's government to uphold Assange's asylum protections. He said Ecuador would be responsible if anything happened to Assange.
With shrinking options — an Ecuadorian lawsuit seeking to reverse the restrictions was recently turned down — WikiLeaks announced in September that former spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic journalist who has long served as one of Assange's lieutenants, would take over as editor-in-chief.
In a brief interview in Reykjavik, Iceland, Hrafnsson called the U.S. news "a very black day for journalism."
Washington, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. official said Friday. The Saudi government has denied the claim.
The conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this week sanctioned 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence agencies' conclusion was unauthorized to speak publicly about it and spoke on condition of anonymity. It was first reported by The Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has said the crown prince had "absolutely" nothing to do with the killing.
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
This week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing.
Among those targeted for sanctions were Mohammed al-Otaibi, the diplomat in charge of the consulate, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince's entourage on trips abroad.
The sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S. and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them.
Also this week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing. The prosecutor's announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi's death and distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom's leadership, primarily the crown prince.
President Donald Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups."
But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
The Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a phone call that the prince's brother, Khalid bin Salman, had with Khashoggi. The newspaper said the prince's brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi he would be safe in going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents he needed to get married.
The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed. But it said he made the call at the direction the crown prince, and the call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington, said that claim was false.
She said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the ambassador met Khashoggi in person once in late September 2017. After that, they communicated via text messages, she said. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on Oct. 26, 2017, she said.
Baeshen said the ambassador did not discuss with Khashoggi "anything related to going to Turkey."
"Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him," she said.
"You are welcome to check the phone records and cell phone content to corroborate this — in which case, you would have to request it from Turkish authorities," Baeshen said, adding that Saudi prosecutors have checked the phone records numerous times to no avail.
The ambassador himself tweeted: "The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim."
Chico, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — With the confirmed death toll at 71 and the list of unaccounted for people more than 1,000, authorities in Northern California on Friday searched for those who perished and those who survived the fiercest of wildfires ahead of a planned visit by President Donald Trump.
The president on Saturday is expected to get a look at the grief and damage caused by the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, and he could face resentment from locals for blaming the inferno on poor forest management in California.
In an interview taped Friday and scheduled for broadcast on "Fox News Sunday," Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, "This should have been all raked out."
Deputies found eight more bodies Friday, bringing the death toll to 71.
The number of people unaccounted for grew from 631 on Thursday night to more than 1,000 on Friday, but Sheriff Kory Honea said the list was dynamic and could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names.
He said the roster probably includes some who fled the blaze and do not realize they've been reported missing.
Some on the list have been confirmed as dead by family and friends on social media. Others have been located and are safe, but authorities haven't gotten around to marking them as found.
Tamara Conry said she should never have been on the list.
"My husband and I are not missing and never were!" Conry wrote Thursday night on Facebook. "We have no family looking for us. ... I called and left a message to take our names off."
Authorities compiled the list by going back to listen to all the dispatch calls they received since the fire started, to make sure they didn't miss anyone.
In last year's catastrophic wildfires in California wine country, Sonoma County authorities at one point listed more than 2,000 people as missing. But they slowly whittled down the number. In the end, 44 people died in several counties.
The wildfire this time all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow on Nov. 8, destroying 9,700 houses and 144 apartment buildings, authorities said.
Firefighters were gaining ground against the blaze, which blackened 222 square miles (575 square kilometers). It was 45 percent contained and posed no immediate threat to populated areas. Crews managed to stop it from spreading toward Oroville, population 19,000.
This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.
But some survivors resent that Trump took to Twitter two days after the disaster to blame the wildfires on poor forest mismanagement. He threatened to withhold federal payments from California.
"If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you're going to be accepted? You're not going to have a parade," Maggie Crowder of Magalia said Thursday outside an informal shelter at a Walmart parking lot in Chico.
But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: "I think by maybe seeing it he's going to be like 'Oh, my goodness,' and it might start opening people's eyes."
In his Fox News interview on the eve of his visit, the president repeated his criticism. Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said, "Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management."
Nick Shawkey, a captain with the state fire agency, said the president's tweet blaming poor forest management was based on a "misunderstanding." The federal government manages 46 percent of land in California.
"The thing he's tweeting about is his property," Shawkey said.
California's outgoing and incoming governors said they would join Trump on Saturday.
Democrats Gov. Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom said they welcomed the president's visit and "now is a time to pull together for the people of California." Brown and Newsom have been vocal critics of Trump.
There were also worries the presidential visit would be disruptive.
"It's already a zoo here and I don't care who the president is. He needs to wait because the traffic's already horrendous," said Charlotte Harkness, whose home in Paradise burned down. "He could just tweet something nice — three words: 'I am sorry,' and that's fine."
More than 450 searchers continued looking for human remains in the ashes.
Around 52,000 people have been driven out and have gone to shelters, motels and the homes of friends and relatives. With winter coming on, many are seeking answers on what assistance will be provided.
At the Chico Mall where the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others set up an assistance center, 68-year-old Richard Wilson sought information about lodging. His wife is nearly bedridden from lupus and fibromyalgia.
"We're having to stay at a Marriott, which is like $100 a night, and we're running out of money," Wilson said as he stood outside in rubber sandals and no socks — the only footwear he had when he fled the flames that destroyed his home.
In Southern California , meanwhile, more residents were being allowed back in their homes near Los Angeles after a blaze torched an area the size of Denver and destroyed more than 600 homes and other structures. The blaze was 69 percent contained, authorities said.
At least three deaths were reported.
Schools across a large swath of the state were closed because of smoke, and San Francisco's world-famous open-air cable cars were pulled off the streets.
Washington, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — A federal judge ordered the Trump administration on Friday to immediately return the White House press credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta, saying Acosta suffered "irreparable harm" from the decision to bar him.
US District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, an appointee of President Donald Trump, announced his decision following a hearing. The judge said Acosta's credentials would be returned immediately and reactivated to allow him access to the White House.
CNN had asked the judge to force the White House to return the credentials that give Acosta, CNN's chief White House correspondent, access to the White House complex for press briefings and other events.
The judge granted CNN's request for a temporary restraining order. A lawsuit that CNN brought against the Trump administration over the issue is continuing.
The White House revoked Acosta's credentials after he and Trump tangled during a press conference last week.
The judge said the government could not say who initially decided to revoke Acosta's hard pass. The White House had spelled out its reasons for revoking his credentials in a tweet from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and in a statement after CNN filed its lawsuit. But the judge said those "belated efforts were hardly sufficient to satisfy due process."
The judge also found that Acosta suffered "irreparable harm," dismissing the government's argument that CNN could simply send other reporters to cover the White House in Acosta's place.
The suit by CNN alleges that Acosta's First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated by suspending his hard pass. While the judge didn't rule on the underlying case, he signaled they were likely to prevail in their claims.
The judge told attorneys to file additional court papers in the case by Monday.
"Let's go back to work!" Acosta said outside the courthouse after the ruling.
Trump has made his dislike of CNN clear since before he took office and continuing into his presidency. He has described the network as "fake news" both on Twitter and in public comments.
At last week's press conference, which followed the midterm elections, Trump was taking questions from reporters and called on Acosta, who asked about Trump's statements about a caravan of migrants making its way to the U.S.-Mexico border. After a terse exchange, Trump told Acosta, "That's enough," several times while calling on another reporter.
Acosta attempted to ask another question about special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and initially declined to give up a hand-held microphone to a White House intern. Trump responded to Acosta by saying he wasn't concerned about the investigation, calling it a "hoax," and then criticized Acosta, calling him a "rude, terrible person."
The White House pulled Acosta's credentials hours later.
The White House explanations for why it seized Acosta's credentials have shifted over the last week.
Sanders initially explained the decision by accusing Acosta of making improper physical contact with the intern seeking to grab the microphone.
But that rationale disappeared after witnesses backed Acosta's account that he was just trying to keep the microphone, and Sanders distributed a doctored video that made it appear Acosta was more aggressive than he actually was. On Tuesday, Sanders accused Acosta of being unprofessional by trying to dominate the questioning at the news conference.