It’s Wednesday May 17, 2017



The intelligence behind plans to broaden a U.S. ban on in-flight laptops and tablets to include planes from Europe took center stage on Wednesday as American and European officials met to discuss the looming decision. The White House has defended the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss with Russian officials an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.



National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Tuesday that President Trump's sharing of highly classified intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was "wholly appropriate" in the context of their conversation about cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State. McMaster repeated his assertion that Trump did not expose any intelligence sources or methods. The information came from an ally - reportedly Israel - but divulging it to Russia's top diplomat was "consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he's engaged," McMaster said. Critics from both parties have said Trump's willingness to pass on secrets to a sometimes hostile nation could discourage allies from sharing intelligence information in the future. Trump said he had the right to share the information, and did it to encourage Russia to cooperate in fighting ISIS.



Syria on Tuesday denied a claim by the State Department that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had built a crematorium at an infamous military prison to cover up executions by burning bodies. Syria called the allegations "lies" and "fabrications," likening them to a "new Hollywood plot" to justify a U.S. military intervention in Syria's civil war. The State Department said Monday that it believes the Syrian regime is hanging about 50 detainees per day at the Saydnaya military prison near Damascus.



The New York Times is reporting that President Trump asked then-FBI director James Comey in February to shut down the agency's investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, urging Comey to focus on tracking down people who had leaked information to journalists. Trump told Comey, "I hope you can let this go," according to a memo Comey wrote about the meeting, his associates said. The report fueled suspicions among Trump's critics that he has tried to stifle investigations into possible links between his associates and Russia. The White House denied that Trump had asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, responded by demanding that the FBI provide all "memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings" between Trump and Comey.



French President Emmanuel Macron's first government of 18 Cabinet ministers includes a mix of experienced politicians and newcomers from civil society. Half of the appointees announced Wednesday are men and half are women. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, whom Macron named on Monday, will lead the government, at least until the parliamentary elections scheduled for June. Philippe and Macron chose experienced politicians from the left, the center and the right for the main positions. Socialist Jean-Yves Le Drian was named foreign minister and prominent centrist Francois Bayrou as justice minister. Another centrist, Sylvie Goulard, will lead the Defense Ministry, while Socialist Gerard Collomb will head the Interior Ministry. High-profile conservative Bruno Le Maire was the pick for the Finance Ministry. Other positions were filled by ministers from civil society. Nicolas Hulot, the well-known host of a television show focusing on nature and the environment, was named minister for environment transition.



Transgender Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning says she's uncertain where her life will take her after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for leaking classified government materials to WikiLeaks. Manning said in a statement Wednesday that "whatever is ahead ... is far more important than the past," and that she's "figuring things out right now." The statement was emailed just hours after her release from a military prison in Kansas. Minutes later, she tweeted a photo of her feet in tennis shoes, with the caption: "First steps of freedom!!" Manning, who was known as Bradley Manning before she transitioned in prison, was convicted in 2013 of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations. Former President Barack Obama granted Manning clemency in January before he left the White House.



Two people have died and dozens are injured after tornadoes flattened a mobile home park in Wisconsin and a housing subdivision in Oklahoma during powerful spring storms that battered an area from the South Plains of Texas to the Great Lakes. The storms hit late in the afternoon Tuesday and into the evening, leveling the Prairie Lake Estate Mobile Park near Chetek, Wisconsin. A tornado hit a subdivision on the southern fringe of Elk City, Oklahoma.



The city of New Orleans says it has begun taking down a monument to Gen. P.G.T Beauregard - the third of four Confederate-era monuments to be removed from the city in recent weeks. The announcement comes after the city had already taken down a statue of the Confederacy's only president and a memorial to a white rebellion against a biracial Reconstruction-era government in the city. Mayor Mitch Landrieu first proposed removing the monuments in 2015, and the City Council approved the move that year. But the process was stuck in legal limbo for over a year as supporters fought to keep them up. Supporters say removing the monuments is akin to erasing history. Those calling for their removal say they glorify a shameful part of the city and country's history.



In Mexico federal and state authorities say they have disarmed local police infiltrated by organized crime in the Pacific coast tourist destination of Zihuatanejo. Guerrero state security spokesman Roberto Alvarez says that authorities arrested three police officers on Tuesday tied to organized crime. Authorities also disarmed 42 men who were uniformed and carrying weapons, but weren't accredited police officers. An additional 15 officers who had failed confidence tests were also found to still be armed. Alvarez says that the army and state police will take over public safety duties in the city until the entire police force can be investigated.



German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that if Britain restricts immigration from European Union countries in the future, that will have "its price." Britain and the EU are preparing for negotiations on Britain's departure. Prime Minister Theresa May insists that Britain must leave the bloc's single market in order to control immigration. Merkel said at an event with labor union officials in Berlin on Wednesday that "if the British government says that free movement of people is no longer valid, that will have its price in relations with Britain." She added that "this isn't malicious" but if Britain, for example, says that only 100,000 or 200,000 EU citizens are allowed into the country, "we would have to think about what obstacle we create from the European side to compensate for that."



Ford Motor Co. plans to cut 10 percent of its salaried jobs in North America and Asia Pacific this year in an effort to boost profits. The company says it will offer voluntary early retirement and separation packages to its workers. It expects 1,400 positions to be affected by the end of September. Ford says its European and South American operations have already cut workers and won't be affected. Ford's stock price has fallen nearly 40 percent over the last three years as investors worry that U.S. sales are peaking. Ford is also spending heavily on future technology, like self-driving and fully electric cars.



Two more retired football stars have pledged their brains to research. Two-time Super Bowl champion Leonard Marshall and three-time Pro Bowl selection and former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck say they will donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The announcements were made on Wednesday as part of the second annual Brain Trust conference, which is hosted by the Veterans Administration. Marshall says he already has short-term memory loss and erratic behavior. The former New York Giants defensive lineman is 55. Hasselbeck's father, Don, was a teammate of Marshall's on the Giants and pledged his brain to the foundation back in 2010. More than 1,800 former athletes and military veterans have pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for CTE research. The progressive degenerative brain disease has been linked to repeated head trauma, but cannot be diagnosed while a patient is alive.



What did a South Florida woman do when she lifted the lid on her toilet and found an iguana inside? She closed it again and called 911. Lt. Scott Mullin of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom One unit tells the Miami Herald it's the first time he's found an iguana in a toilet. Mullin says when the call came in Tuesday night, he asked the dispatcher to make sure it was an iguana and not a snake. He says the woman, her daughter and grandchildren were waiting when he arrived at their home in West Kendall, south of Miami. Mullin says the lizard likely came up through the pipes. Mullin used gloves to lift the iguana from the bowl, put it in a box and drove it to a wildlife rescue center.