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

March 15, 2017 - 7:38 am

TRUMP

UPDATE: Trump blasts reporter over release of tax form

WASHINGTON (AP) —President Donald Trump is criticizing the reporter who released a portion of Trump's 2005 tax return, casting doubt on the reporter's account of how he obtained the form.

The tax forms were obtained by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, and reported on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" Tuesday. Johnston, who has long reported on tax issues, said he received the documents in the mail, unsolicited.

But in a tweet Wednesday, Trump asked, "Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, "went to his mailbox" and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!"

Trump has refused to release his taxes, saying he is under routine IRS audit.

The returns showed that Trump payed a roughly 25 percent effective tax rate thanks to a tax he has since sought to eliminate.

TRUMP

Trump to take on fuel standards, hold Nashville rally

WASHINGTON (AP) —President Donald Trump is expected to announce today plans to re-examine federal requirements that regulate the fuel efficiency of new cars and trucks.

Trump will make the announcement during a trip to Detroit.

He'll visit the American Center for Mobility, where he'll challenge the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) emissions targets that were a centerpiece of former President Barack Obama's strategy to combat global warming.

TRUMP-TRAVEL BAN-LAWSUITS

Several courts hear travel ban case today

UNDATED (AP) — A day before President Donald Trump's revised travel ban is to take effect, the executive action will be scrutinized in federal courtrooms across the country today.

In Maryland, a federal judge will hear arguments from the ACLU and others who want to stop the new directive.

Hawaii's lawsuit is heading to a U.S. court in Honolulu, while Washington state wants its own hearing before a federal judge in Seattle.

FED

Fed expected to raise interest rates

HONG KONG (AP) — The Federal Reserve wraps up its two-day meeting today. Economists expect that the U.S. central bank will raise interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point.

It would be only the Fed's third rate hike in a decade, and analysts say it's already priced into financial markets.

Higher rates would make the U.S. more attractive and could siphon away capital from emerging markets and weaken their currencies.

HIRING FREEZE-INDEPENDENCE PARK

NEW: Philadelphia's historic sites close amid hiring freeze

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Donald Trump's hiring freeze has led to closures of several historic sites in Philadelphia.

Union representatives tell Philly.com that several sites at Independence National Historic Park have closed. David Fitzpatrick, who is head of union that represents park employees, says the halt in hiring shuttered seven sites, including Declaration House and parts of Benjamin Franklin's home and print shop.

Fitzpatrick also says bathrooms for the park have been closed because the organization cannot hire new workers.

Lauren Hitt, spokeswoman from the Mayor's office, says those staffing changes limit experiences and take educational opportunities from young students.

Fitzpatrick says union members are bracing for further federal budget cuts which may include shrinking federal staff across the country.

TILLERSON-ASIA

North Korea threat looms over US envoy Tillerson's Asia trip

TOKYO (AP) — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on his first trip to Asia, and he's expected to arrive late Wednesday in Tokyo.

Tillerson wants to forge cooperation with Japan, South Korea and China against the nuclear threat from North Korea and demonstrate that "America First" does not mean U.S. diplomatic retreat from the volatile region.

BRITAIN-UNEMPLOYMENT

NEW: UK jobless rate falls to lowest level since 1975

LONDON (AP) — Britain's unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since 1975 as the economy continues to show resilience despite the uncertainty accompanying Britain's upcoming departure from the European Union.

The Office for National Statistics says the unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in the three months through January, from 4.8 percent in the quarter through December.

Earnings growth, however, slowed to 2.3 percent annually from 2.6 percent in December, reinforcing a squeeze on consumers from rising inflation.

Chris Williamson, economist at IHS Markit, says cooling wage growth adds "warning shots that the economy is slowing."

The ONS says a record 4.8 million people are now self-employed, up by 148,000 over the past year, representing 15.1 percent of the total workforce.

SKOREA-POLITICS

South Korea prosecutors to question ousted leader next week

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea says it will hold an election on May 9 to choose a successor for ousted President Park Geun-hye (goon-hay).

The Constitutional Court ruled Friday to formally end Park's presidency over a huge political scandal involving her and a longtime confidante.

By law, South Korea must hold a national vote to find her successor within two months of the ruling.

MALAYSIA-NORTH KOREA

Malaysia: Kim Jong Nam's identity confirmed with child's DNA

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian official says police were able to confirm the identity of Kim Jong Nam, who was killed last month at Kuala Lumpur's airport, using a DNA sample from one of his children.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also said negotiations began this week to resolve a diplomat standoff over the death of Kim, the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader. North Korea has rejected the autopsy finding.

Authorities said Kim was killed Feb. 13 when two women smeared his face with the nerve agent VX in an airport terminal. He was carrying a passport bearing the name Kim Chol. Police said last week they had confirmed he was Kim Jong Nam, but refused to say how.

Zahid said Wednesday authorities obtained DNA from one of Kim's children.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan official: 50 killed in last week's attack on hospital

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan official says the official death toll from last week's militant assault on a Kabul military hospital has risen to 50.

Officials originally set the death toll at 30 for the March 8 attack. But Gen. Helaludin Helal, the deputy defense minister and head of the team investigating the attack and its aftermath, released the new number in a press conference Wednesday.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group. Helal said there were five attackers in total: one suicide bomber who detonated an explosive belt and four gunmen who stormed the building.

Helal said 24 people have been arrested and are under investigation — either for involvement in planning the attack or dereliction of duty in failing to prevent it.

NETHERLANDS-ELECTION

Polls open in Dutch election that is barometer of populism

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Polling booths have opened across the nation in Dutch parliamentary elections, a vote that is being closely watched as a possible indicator of the strength of far-right populism ahead of national elections in France and Germany later this year.

Two-term Prime Minister Mark Rutte's (RUH'-tuhz) right-wing VVD party was leading in polls ahead of Wednesday's vote, with the anti-Islam Party for Freedom of firebrand lawmaker Geert Wilders (gayrt VIHL'-durz) a close second.

Rutte has framed the vote as a choice between continuity and chaos, portraying himself as a safe custodian of this nation of 17 million's economic recovery, while casting Wilders as a far-right radical who would not be prepared to take tough decisions were he to gain office.

SYRIA

Syrian rebels deny they'll attend talks in Kazakhstan

BEIRUT (AP) — Representatives for Syrian rebels are denying reports that today they'll be attending peace talks in Kazakhstan.

Officials from the Kazakh government said earlier that Syria's armed opposition groups would be ending their boycott and attend talks with the Syrian government.

Two rebel officials are dismissing the report. Rebels said earlier this week that they would not be attending the talks because of repeated cease-fire violations by the government.

WINTER WEATHER

Plunging temps could lead to icy conditions following storm

NEW YORK (AP) — Falling temperatures could lead to icy conditions on roads and sidewalks across the Northeast following a late-season storm that plastered the region with sleet and snow.

The powerful nor'easter paralyzed much of the Washington-to-Boston corridor, but fell short of predicted snowfall totals in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

The storm, which followed a stretch of unusually mild weather, dumped 1 to 2 feet in many places, grounded more than 6,000 flights and knocked out power to nearly a quarter-million customers from Virginia northward.

By the time it reached Massachusetts, it had turned into a blizzard, with near hurricane-force winds gusting to over 70 mph along the coast.

Plunging overnight temperatures threatened to turn the snow, sleet and sloppy mix into a slippery mess.

ATTORNEY GENERAL-VIOLENT CRIME

Sessions continues to push new tough-on-crime Justice agenda

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is continuing to push his tough-on-crime agenda, this time to law enforcement officials in Virginia.

Sessions will speak to police and federal officials today in Richmond. He is expected to further underscore his efforts to make fighting street violence a top mission of the Justice Department.

In his first month in office, Sessions has repeatedly cited the need for harsh sentences for the most violent criminals, particularly those who use guns. He has stressed the need to try gun cases in federal court, where they can carry longer sentences in faraway prisons.

But making prosecution of violence a priority is a radical departure for a Justice Department that has focused more on prevention of cyberattacks from foreign criminals, counterterrorism and the threat of homegrown violent extremism.

AGENT-CUBAN SMUGGLING

Jury to decide guilt or innocence in Cuban smuggling case

MIAMI (AP) — A federal jury in Miami begins deliberating today in the trial of a sports agent and a trainer accused of smuggling Cuban baseball players into the United States.

Sports agent Bartolo Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada are charged with conspiracy and alien smuggling.

Prosecutors said the two oversaw a network of boat captains, handlers, document forgers and used phony paperwork to get the players to the U.S. quickly so they could sign lucrative Major League Baseball contracts.

Defense lawyers say the men did nothing illegal.

GERMANY-VOLKSWAGEN

Reports: Audi headquarters searched in emissions probe

BERLIN (AP) — German media report that authorities are searching offices of Audi in connection with an investigation into the luxury automaker's parent company Volkswagen's cheating on diesel emissions tests.

Media (the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and public ARD television) report that Audi offices, including its headquarters, are being searched today.

The raids come in connection with a fraud investigation launched by Munich prosecutors several weeks ago.

Prosecutors could not be reached for comment.

Volkswagen pleaded guilty Friday in the U.S. to a scheme to get around American pollution rules. If a judge agrees to the Justice Department's sentencing recommendation, the scandal will cost the company more than $20 billion in the U.S. alone.

FRANCE-RENAULT-EMISSIONS

Renault denies report of emissions cheating software

PARIS (AP) — Renault (reh-NOH') is denying a report that it equipped its vehicles with software that allows them to cheat on emissions testing.

Today's statement from the French carmaker follows a report in the newspaper Liberation, which claimed to have obtained an investigative document from the Economy Ministry indicating that emissions from the Renault Captur and the Clio IV spewed emissions more than 300 percent higher than the legal limit in real-life conditions.

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