Trump selects Kavanaugh for U.S. Supreme Court pick

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday announced Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, picking a conservative federal appeals court judge who survived a previous tough Senate confirmation battle and helped investigate Democratic former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

In picking the 53-year-old Kavanaugh, Trump aimed to entrench conservative control of the court for years to come with his second lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest judicial body in his first 18 months as president.

Kavanaugh now faces what appears to be another fierce fight for confirmation in the Senate, where Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a slim majority. If confirmed, Kavanaugh would replace long-serving conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27 at age 81.

“Throughout legal circles he’s considered a judge’s judge, a true thought leader among his peers,” Trump, who named conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the court last year, told an applauding audience in the White House East Room.

“He’s a brilliant jurist with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time. And just like Justice Gorsuch, he excelled as a legal clerk for Justice Kennedy,” Trump added, saying his nominee “deserves a swift confirmation and robust bipartisan support.”

Kavanaugh has amassed a solidly conservative judicial record since 2006 on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the same court where three current justices including Chief Justice John Roberts previously served. Some conservative activists have questioned whether he would rule sufficiently aggressively as a justice.

Kavanaugh potentially could serve on the high court for decades. Trump’s other leading candidates for the post were fellow federal appellate judges Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett.

“My judicial philosophy is straightforward: a judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history, and tradition and precedent,” Kavanaugh said during the ceremony in which he underscored his ties to his family and his Roman Catholic faith.

Kavanaugh served as a senior White House official under Republican former President George W. Bush before Bush picked nominated him to the appeals court in 2003. But some Democrats accused him of excessive partisanship and it took three years before the Senate eventually voted to confirm him.

Kavanaugh worked for Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel whose investigation of Clinton helped spur an effort by congressional Republicans in 1998 and 1999 to impeach the Democratic president and remove him from office. Kavanaugh in 2009 changed his tune on the Starr probe, arguing that presidents should be free from civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and investigations while in office.

Trump defeated Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election and has disparaged both Clintons.

Democrats in the past also have pointed to Kavanaugh’s work for Bush during the recount fight in the pivotal state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election, a controversy that was resolved only after the conservative-majority Supreme Court sided with Bush over Democratic candidate Al Gore, settling the election outcome.

Kavanaugh once served as a Supreme Court clerk under Kennedy.

The appointment will not change the ideological breakdown of a court that already has a 5-4 conservative majority, but nevertheless could move the court to the right. Kennedy sometimes joined the liberal justices on key rulings on divisive social issues like abortion and gay rights, a practice his replacement may not duplicate.

Kennedy, 81, announced on June 27 plans to retire after three decades on the court, effective on July 31.

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, though with ailing Senator John McCain battling cancer in his home state of Arizona they currently can muster only 50 votes. Without Republican defections, however, Senate rules leave Democrats with scant options to block confirmation of Trump’s nominee.

‘SUPERB CHOICE’

“President Trump has made a superb choice. Judge Brett Kavanaugh is an impressive nominee who is extremely well qualified to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who earlier in the day accused the “far left” of “scare tactics” to try to thwart the nomination.

A group of Democratic senators from Republican-leaning states – lawmakers who could be pivotal in the confirmation fight – declined Trump’s invitation to attend the White House announcement.

Trump last year appointed Gorsuch, who has already become one of the most conservative justices, after Senate Republicans in 2016 refused to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland to fill a vacancy left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. As a result, Democrats have accused Republicans of stealing a Supreme Court seat. Gorsuch restored the court’s conservative majority.

Democrats are certain to press Trump’s latest nominee on the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, a decision some conservatives – particularly conservative Christians – have long wanted to overturn.

Trump has previously said he wanted “pro-life” justices opposed to abortion rights. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer earlier on Monday said Trump’s nominee should be obligated to make his or her views clear on matters like the Roe ruling.

The new justice can be expected to cast crucial votes on other matters of national importance including gay rights, gun control, the death penalty and voting rights. The court could also be called upon to render judgment on issues of personal significance to Trump and his administration including matters arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia-related investigation and several civil lawsuits pending against Trump.

The timing of the nomination means that Kennedy’s replacement could be confirmed before the start of the Supreme Court’s next term on the first Monday in October.

Parents sue North Korea, saying Warmbier ‘tortured and murdered’

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The parents of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier sued North Korea on Thursday over their son’s death in 2017 following his release from captivity there, according to the lawsuit which said their son was “brutally tortured and murdered.”

The wrongful-death suit was filed in U.S. District Court at a diplomatically delicate time, weeks ahead of an expected meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in also are set to meet on Friday.

“Otto was taken hostage, kept as a prisoner for political purposes, used as a pawn and singled out for exceptionally harsh and brutal treatment by Kim Jong Un,” his father Fred Warmbier said in a statement.

Warmbier, from Wyoming, Ohio, died at age 22 after being imprisoned in North Korea from January 2016 until he was returned to the United States in June 2017 in a coma. He died a few days later, and an Ohio coroner said the cause was lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.

North Korea blamed botulism and ingestion of a sleeping pill and dismissed torture claims. The coroner who examined Warmbier said he found no sign of botulism.

The suit by Fred Warmbier and his wife, Cindy, seeks unspecified damages for personal injury.

“North Korea, which is a rogue regime, took Otto hostage for its own wrongful ends and brutally tortured and murdered him,” the lawsuit said.

A representative of the North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York was not immediately available to comment.

Richard Cullen, a family attorney, declined to comment about the suit beyond Fred Warmbier’s statement.

Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, was traveling in North Korea with a tour group, and was arrested at Pyongyang airport as he was about to leave. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel, North Korea state media said.

The filing says Warmbier falsely confessed to invented charges that he was acting as a spy connected to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary of homeland security, said North Korea had immunity from lawsuits as a sovereign nation but still might be sued because of its U.S. designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“But it’s almost impossible to collect any judgment that might be awarded. So it’s doubtful NK will feel sufficiently threatened by the lawsuit to upset the talks. And after all, he (Kim) can settle claims against NK in any US-NK agreement,” Baker said by email.

Kim is set on Friday to cross the heavily militarized border for the first summit with South Korea, setting the stage for the North Korean leader to meet with Trump in late May or early June.

Just months ago, Trump and Kim traded threats and insults during North Korea’s rapid advances in pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles capable of hitting the United States.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio)

NFL extends Amazon streaming deal for Thursday Night Football

(Reuters) – The National Football League said on Thursday it has extended its deal with Amazon.com Inc to stream Thursday night games during the 2018 and 2019 seasons on Amazon’s Prime Video.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

“The Thursday Night Football games will be made available to the over 100 million Amazon Prime members worldwide in over 200 countries and territories,” the NFL said in a statement.

Amazon and NFL had previously partnered for the broadcast of Thursday Night Football for the 2017 season.

Nearly two million people had logged onto Amazon.com last year for the online retailer’s first livestream of Thursday Night Football.

(Reporting by Anirban Paul in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Comedian Bill Cosby convicted of sexual assault in retrial

By David DeKok

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) – Comedian Bill Cosby was convicted on Thursday on all three counts of drugging and molesting a onetime friend in 2004, a decisive victory for prosecutors in one of the first celebrity sexual-assault trials of the #MeToo era.

Cosby, 80, best known as the lovable father from the 1980s TV hit “The Cosby Show,” faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault of Andrea Constand, who is now 45.

Cosby looked down with a sad expression when the Pennsylvania jury’s verdict was read. Lily Bernard, one of his many accusers, began sobbing. Constand sat stone-faced.

“It’s a victory not just for the 62 of us who have come forward but for all survivors of sexual assault, female and male,” Bernard told reporters, using a high estimate of the number of Cosby’s accusers.

Outside the courtroom, two other Cosby accusers were seen hugging, crying and clapping.

Judge Steven O’Neill ruled that Cosby could remain out of jail on $1 million bail pending sentencing at a later date, and he left the courthouse.

District Attorney Kevin Steele had asked the judge to have Cosby taken into custody immediately, saying he was a flight risk in part because he owned a plane.

“He doesn’t have a plane, you asshole!” Cosby responded.

A former administrator for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, Constand is one of about 50 women who have accused him of sexual assault. All of the other allegations are believed to be too old to be prosecuted. Cosby has said any sexual encounters were consensual.

The unanimous decision by the seven-man, five-woman jury came less than a year after a different jury deadlocked in his first trial on the same charges, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors decided to retry him.

The first trial ended just before a flood of sexual assault and harassment accusations against rich and powerful men in media, entertainment and politics gave rise to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Those high-profile revelations have encouraged women in all walks of life to go public with personal stories of abuse, in some cases after years of silence.

(Reporting by David DeKok; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

At least five hurt as Wisconsin refinery blast: officials

(Reuters) – An explosion at Husky Energy’s refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, injured at least five people while sending smoke billowing into the sky and shaking a building a mile away, officials at the local fire department and a hospital said on Thursday.

Four people were being treated at nearby Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center and a fifth was on the way, said a hospital spokeswoman. She described their injuries as varied, but said she could not offer further details.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities.

“The whole building shook. The lights flickered three times and the whole building shook,” Jim Ronning, owner of Hudy’s Tavern in Superior, located about a mile (1.6 km) from the facility.

Local media had earlier reported 20 people injured.

The company was responding to an incident at the refinery and emergency crews were on site, Husky spokesman Mel Duvall said, adding, “We are aware an individual has been transported to the hospital.”

Roads around the refinery have been blocked and employees evacuated, with several ambulances seen leaving the site, local media reported.

“It shook our store. Everyone was wondering what was going on. You could see the lights flickered, it knocked out one of our computers, it shook the ceiling,” said Tammie Carroll, an employee at Super One Foods in Superior, which is located about 135 miles (217 km) from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Superior school district, on its website, said it had been advised by police there was no need to evacuate.

Husky purchased the 38,000 barrel per day refinery from Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP last year.

Husky shares were down more than 3 percent at C$18.43 on the Toronto Stock Exchange the same day it reported financial results.

(Reporting by Vijaykumar Vedala and Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Scott Malone)

U.S. judge rules seized Trump lawyer documents to be independently reviewed

By Brendan Pierson and Doina Chiacu

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge ruled on Thursday that a court-appointed independent official should be the first to examine documents seized by FBI agents from U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

The agents raided Cohen’s office and home on April 9, an action that infuriated the president. Prosecutors said in a court filing several days later that they have been investigating the lawyer for months, largely over his business dealings rather than his legal work.

The seizure of the documents has led to a legal spat as to who should be allowed to review them.

Lawyers for Cohen and Trump wanted to seek to limit prosecutors’ ability to review the documents, citing attorney-client privilege.

But prosecutors initially said the documents should be reviewed by a “taint team” of lawyers within their own office, who would be walled off from the main prosecution team. Cohen filed a legal action to block them from reviewing the documents, arguing that his lawyers should get a first look. Both sides also said they would be open to an independent ‘special master’ getting a first look.

In the end, the judge opted for the ‘special master.’

“The letters I received from counsel for Mr Cohen and the intervenors has convinced me that this process can go quickly with the special master, assuming everyone works as hard as you have represented you will work,” said U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Johnathan Stempel in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Tom Brown, Frances Kerry and Susan Thomas)

Trump to visit Britain, hold talks with UK’s May July 13

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will travel to Britain in July for a working visit with Prime Minister Theresa May, after months of back-and-forth over when the U.S. president would visit what traditionally has been the United States’ closest ally.

Representatives for the White House and 10 Downing Street said Trump would visit the United Kingdom on July 13 and hold bilateral talks with May but gave no other details.

It was also not immediately clear how long Trump would stay on his visit, which would come more than a year after taking office.

The delay has raised questions about the U.S.-UK relationship, and the working visit signals a more low-key affair than an official state visit.

Trump had planned a trip to London to open a new U.S. embassy there but canceled in January.

Many Britons have vowed to stage protests if Trump visits.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Paul Sandle in London; writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Mattis expects ‘re-energized’ effort against Islamic State in Syria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Thursday that he expected a “re-energized” effort against Islamic State militants in eastern Syria in the coming days.

“You’ll see a re-energized effort against the middle Euphrates River Valley in the days ahead and against the rest of the geographic caliphate,” Mattis told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, referring to territory held by the group.

U.S. airstrikes, troops and U.S.-backed Syrian militias have dealt heavy blows to Islamic State in Syria but the group still holds some areas and is widely expected to revert to guerrilla tactics if the last remnants of its once self-styled “caliphate” are captured.

U.S. officials have said that in recent days they have seen fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria dominated by the Kurdish YPG, returning to the middle Euphrates River Valley to fight against Islamic State.

A Turkish offensive in Afrin against the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara regards as an extension of a Kurdish insurgency at home, led to an “operational pause” in the fight against Islamic State in eastern Syria in March.

Mattis added that he was also expecting increased operations against Islamic State militants on the Iraqi side of the border and France had reinforced the fight against the militant group in Syria with special forces in the past two weeks.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he wants to withdraw American troops from Syria “relatively soon” but not before their mission is completed, adding that negotiations over the crisis there should be part of a larger deal regarding Iran.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Alistair Bell)

New York Times names company veteran Roland Caputo as CFO

(Reuters) – The New York Times Co <NYT.N> on Thursday named Roland Caputo as its next chief financial officer, tapping a company veteran to succeed James Follo whose retirement was announced in October.

Caputo, who has had a 32-year career at the Times, has been serving as interim finance chief since March.

Caputo, 57, has also served as the executive vice president of the newspaper publisher’s print products and services group. [nBw4zGD50a]

(Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)

New CEO declares Volkswagen on right path despite profit hit

By Andreas Cremer

BERLIN (Reuters) – Volkswagen’s <VOWG_p.DE> first-quarter operating profit fell on Thursday, but optimism over its new chief executive, the carmaker’s financial health and lower provisions for the diesel emissions scandal lifted its shares.

Two weeks after elevating brand chief Herbert Diess to group CEO as part of the biggest management shake-up in more than a decade, Europe’s biggest carmaker is shifting the focus to making its operating business more efficient.

“The Volkswagen group is in a robust economic position. The quarterly results confirm that we are on the right path,” Diess said after VW posted group earnings before interest and taxes of 4.21 billion euros ($5.1 billion), a fall of 3.6 percent.

This was below the 4.47 billion euro consensus forecast in a Reuters poll of banks and brokerages.

VW said negative effects of 300 million euros from switching to the IFRS accounting standard contributed to the profit drop, adding that underlying earnings slightly exceeded last year’s 4.37 billion if the changes were excluded.

The group said it set aside no more significant funds between January and March to cover fines, compensation and vehicle refits related to its 2015 emissions scandal, after it raised provisions by another 600 million euros in the fourth quarter to a total of 25.8 billion euros.

“The market is hoping for Diess to push further profitability gains and is taking joy from the fact that Dieselgate risks are abating,” said NordLB analyst Frank Schwope who has a “Buy” recommendation on the stock, in reference to the diesel emissions test cheating scandal which has cost VW about $30 billion in fines and other costs.

Net cash flow, a benchmark for financial health and a buffer against future challenges, increased to 2.4 billion euros from minus 2.6 billion a year earlier, VW said, even excluding 800 million euros in cost outflows for the “Dieselgate” scandal.

“We believe the market needs to wake up to the underlying cash strength of this company,” Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst said.

The scandal has prompted major changes at the German group, which is reorganizing its multiple car brands and carving out truck operations while shouldering billions of investments in battery-powered and self-driving vehicles.

But investors have urged more progress in cutting R&D and material costs as VW keeps grappling with high complexity in products and parts although it has pledged to scale back model variants, platforms and drivetrains.

Quarterly profitability at VW’s core namesake brand slid to 4.4 percent from 4.6 percent a year ago on advance costs for its electric-car offensive and eased to 8.5 percent from 8.7 percent at luxury division Audi <NSUG.DE> amid spending to launch over 20 redesigned and new models this year.

Czech division Skoda, the biggest intra-group beneficiary from VW’s modular production platforms, kept its return on sales at 9.6 percent, only lagging sports car brand Porsche where investment in electric-car assembly brought down the operating margin to 17.3 percent from 18.5 percent.

VW shares were up 2.1 percent to 170.50 euros at 0957 GMT, outperforming Germany’s benchmark DAX <.GDAXI> index.

Despite the quarterly profit drop and second-half risks expected from introducing so-called WLTP lab tests related to car emissions and fuel consumption, VW stuck to its full-year guidance published in February, predicting a return on sales of between 6.5 and 7.5 percent before special items, compared with 7.4 percent in 2017.

Revenue is expected to exceed the 2017 record of 231 billion euros by as much as 5 percent while group deliveries may moderately exceed last year’s 10.7 million vehicles, VW said.

($1 = 0.8207 euros)

(Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Maria Sheahan, Alexander Smith and Adrian Croft)