Update on the latest news, sports, business and entertainment:

March 01, 2017 - 10:01 pm


NEW: Justice Dept: Sessions spoke with Russian ambassador in 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign.

The Justice Department said Wednesday night that the two conversations took place last year when Sessions was a senator.

One was an office visit that occurred in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The department says the other occurred in a group setting with other ambassadors following a Heritage Foundation speech.

Revelations of the contact, first reported by The Washington Post, were likely to fuel calls for him to step aside from an ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The White House did not immediately comment.


White House staff told to preserve Russia-related materials

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House counsel's office has instructed the president's aides to preserve materials that could be connected to Russian interference in the 2016 election and related issues.

Three administration officials say a memo was sent to White House staff on Tuesday.

Last week, Senate Democrats asked the White House — as well as law enforcement agencies — to keep all materials involving contacts that Trump's administration, campaign, transition team — or anyone acting on their behalf — had with Russian government officials or their associates. The Senate Intelligence Committee also made a similar request to the White House.

The three administration officials who confirmed that White House staffers were instructed to comply did so on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the counsel's memo publicly.


Republicans no closer together on health care

WASHINGTON (AP) — A day after President Donald Trump appealed for "unity and strength," Republicans appear to be as divided as ever as they try to make good on seven years of promises to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law.

Many lawmakers say Trump's speech hasn't changed that or brought them much closer together. Republican Sen. Bob Corker says Trump gave the kind of guidelines that "most presidents give on issues like this" -- and, Corker added, "it's up to us."

As Republicans cheered and Democrats sat silently last night, Trump declared: "We should help Americans purchase their own coverage, through the use of tax credits and expanded health savings accounts." But, he added, "it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by the government."

Those were comments House GOP leaders interpreted as an embrace of their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a new system built around refundable tax credits.

But conservatives have been rebelling against that plan, denouncing the credits as a costly new entitlement. And they showed no sign of backing down.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz accused the media of "bending over backwards" to interpret Trump's remark as a specific legislative proposal.


Republicans in Pence's Indiana warn of health repeal fallout

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican legislative leaders in Indiana are warning that repealing the Affordable Care Act could unravel a program for poor residents that Vice President Mike Pence implemented as governor.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and GOP Senate leader David Long both say thousands of poor people could lose insurance. Pence touted the state's approach as a conservative blueprint for expanding Medicaid under the federal law.

Pence has been a persistent critic of the law since serving in Congress before he became Indiana governor. But one of his legacy achievements after becoming governor in 2013 was an expansion Medicaid in the state, which overwhelmingly relies on money made available under the Affordable Care Act.

Pence told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday that "we don't want anyone to fall through the cracks."


Trump budget hits Coast Guard ship, project of GOP senator

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's budget would eliminate a $600 million-plus state-of-the-art Coast Guard cutter that's a pet priority of the powerful Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The proposal by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is included in draft documents of the White House budget request. It asks the Department of Homeland Security to cancel its contract with Ingalls Shipbuilding, which is to construct the national security cutter at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The move is a direct slap at Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, who added $640 million to build the ship to a catchall spending bill that passed in December 2015. The ship was not requested by the Coast Guard.


WH says Conway promo of Ivanka line inadvertent

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top White House ethics attorney says counselor Kellyanne Conway "acted inadvertently" and "without nefarious motive" when she promoted Ivanka Trump's fashion line during a television interview at the White House.

Stefan Passantino, deputy counsel to the president on compliance and ethics, wrote in a letter to the Office of Government Ethics that he met with Conway and resolved the matter.

Administration employees are subject to rules that prohibit them from using their official position to endorse products or services. In the Feb. 9 interview, Conway said to "go buy Ivanka's stuff."

Conway was reacting to reports that Nordstrom had dropped the line, which the president believes was a political move. The store says it was a business decision. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have condemned Conway's behavior.


Orlando shooter's wife won't be freed for 2 days

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge in California won't immediately release the widow of the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, putting the order on hold for two days so prosecutors can appeal.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu decided Wednesday that 31-year-old Noor Salman isn't a flight risk or a danger to public safety and should leave jail ahead of trial.

Salman is charged with aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen, and lying to investigators after the June shooting that killed 49 people. She has pleaded not guilty.

The judge says there's no evidence that Salman has connections to the Islamic State group or holds extremist views. Mateen pledged allegiance to several terror organizations during the attack before police shot and killed him.


School led locker room assault investigation

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The investigation into the sexual assault of a disabled black football player by his white teammates at a small-town Idaho high school showed that crucial evidence was collected by school employees, not law enforcement officials.

The case unfolded in the tiny farming village of Dietrich, where John R.K. Howard and two teammates were charged with sodomizing the victim with a clothes hanger in 2015 in the school locker room.

An Associated Press review of 2,000 pages of investigation documents found that school officials did not immediately report the crime. Instead, the superintendent began interviewing suspects and potential witnesses.

The sex assault charge against Howard was later dropped. He was sentenced last week to probation for felony injury to a child. The other two cases are being handled in juvenile court.


Protester names removed from Memphis police list

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The city of Memphis has revised a so-called "security book" and removed the names of more than 40 protesters from a list of people required to have police escorts at City Hall.

City officials released the revised list Wednesday afternoon.

The action came hours after activists pushing for higher wages and union rights at fast food restaurants sued the city, alleging police intimidated protesters and violated their free speech. The federal complaint says police have followed organizers home after meetings and put organizers on a list requiring a police escort when they visit City Hall.

Police Director Michael Rallings told reporters the "security book" created by the police department has been in place at City Hall since 2010. He said it's not politically motivated.


Nielsen: Nearly 48 million watch Trump's address to nation

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump's first major address to the Congress and the nation was seen by an estimated 47.4 million people.

The Nielsen company said Wednesday that Trump's audience couldn't quite match the first such speech by predecessor Barack Obama, who drew an audience of 52.4 million in 2009.

Fox News Channel had the biggest audience for Trump's speech Tuesday night, with 10.8 million viewers. NBC's 9.1 million ranked second, followed in order of popularity by CBS, ABC, CNN, Univision, Fox broadcasting and MSNBC. The moment that drew the most interactions on Twitter came after Trump talked about fallen Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens with his widow looking on.

Similar initial presidential speeches reached 39.8 million for George W. Bush in 2001 and 66.9 million for Bill Clinton in 1993.


Texas Rangers to investigate Baylor handling of sex assaults

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas' top law enforcement agency has opened a preliminary investigation into Baylor University and how it handled reports of sexual and physical assault over several years.

The Texas Rangers confirmed Wednesday they are working with the McLennan County prosecutor's office to "determine if further action is warranted."

A Baylor spokeswoman said the school would cooperate with any investigation.

A group of state lawmakers had called Tuesday for the Rangers to investigate Baylor, which faces several federal lawsuits from women who say the school ignored or mishandled their reports of assault for years.

Baylor officials say an internal investigation found at least 17 women who reported being sexually assaulted by 19 football players in recent years, although one lawsuit puts the number at more than 50 women

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