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Report: UK government worried about Trump's reaction if Obamas get royal wedding invitation

The British government is urging Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to reconsider inviting former President Barack Obama to their wedding out of fear of how current President Donald Trump might react, according to reports.

>> Read more trending news

“Harry has made it clear he wants the Obamas at the wedding, so it’s causing a lot of nervousness,” The Sun reported, citing a senior government official. “Trump could react very badly if the Obamas get to a royal wedding before he has had a chance to meet the queen.”

The government appears to be concerned that Trump might view an invitation to the Obamas as a snub amid already frosty relations between the United States and the United Kingdom. Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May have had a rocky relationship since the start of the Trump’s presidency, and many fear extending an invitation to Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama might exasperate the issue.

The pair was not invited to Prince William’s 2011 wedding to Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey, but Prince Harry fostered a bond with the Obamas, working closely with them on his annual Invictus Games in Toronto in September. While the trio remain friendly, it looks like it might be up to May to make the call on whether the Obamas will be invited to the royal wedding this spring.

“Conversations are ongoing about and ministers will eventually have to decide,” The Sun reported. “If the PM lays down the law, Harry will just have to suck it up.”

Prince Harry and Markle are expected to wed May 19. The couple has opted to celebrate their nuptials at Windsor Castle, where they spent time together before getting engaged. Once married, the couple plans to live in Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace.

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald pens tribute to John McCain

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzpatrick published an open letter in Sports Illustrated, offering prayers for Sen. John McCain, who is battling brain cancer, CNN reported.

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McCain, 81, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July.

In his letter, Fitzgerald recalls a 2013 visit to Vietnam where he viewed the places where McCain was tortured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. McCain spent six Christmases as a POW, CNN reported

“I saw the very jail cell where he was held as a POW and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be him. I took a photo of myself next to his flight suit, the suit he was wearing when he got shot down,” Fitzgerald wrote. “So powerful. So meaningful. Those images will never leave my mind.”

Fitzgerald wrote that McCain was facing another battle.

“This time it's with cancer, and the treatment he's undergoing is exhausting.” Fitzgerald wrote. “I'll wish him a Merry Christmas today, and I pray he lives another 20 years.

“As soon as my boys are of age, I'll tell them stories about the quality of the man I've gotten to know. I'll tell them: Senator John McCain will be revered and respected for as long as the United States of America has a place in this world, and his legacy will outlive us all.”

Report: Ex-staffer says Blake Farenthold made her work for campaign on public’s dime

A former staffer for U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold told the congressional committee investigating the Texas Republican that the lawmaker made her work on his re-election despite never volunteering for or being paid by the campaign, sources told CNN.

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Congressional rules bar lawmakers from using public resources to benefit their political campaigns. 

The allegations brought by former Farenthold communications director Elizabeth Peace come amid sexual harassment and staff abuse accusations made against Farenthold, whose district includes parts of Bastrop and Caldwell counties. 

>> Related: Blake Farenthold won't seek re-election amid harassment claims

CNN said sources familiar with Peace’s conversation with congressional lawyers said that Peace also claimed that requests for campaign work were sometimes sent directly to her official House email account.

“On more than one occasion, she was asked to perform these duties when she was physically at Farenthold's congressional office on Capitol Hill during regular work hours,” CNN reported

The House Ethics Committee announced late Thursday it would expand its investigation of the retiring Farenthold to include allegations of misuse of official resources for campaign activities and lying to the panel. 

>> Related: House Ethics Committee expands inquiry into U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold

No one from Farenthold’s office responded to CNN’s request for comment and no one immediately responded to the American-Statesman Friday morning for comment on the latest allegations or the growing investigation. 

Farenthold announced last week he would not seek re-election after news organizations exposed that he used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim and former staffers stepped forward with allegations of an abusive work environment. They have told Congressional investigators that Farenthold regularly berated staff, made lewd remarks and would become so enraged he would push items off of his desk and onto the floor. 

However, Farenthold’s decision to withdrawal came after the deadline to remove his name from the 2018 primary ballot, leaving the state Republican Party in a lurch. 

Texas GOP officials sued the Texas secretary of state in federal court to keep Farenthold’s name off the primary ballot — a legal challenge they eventually dropped.

White House Deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn stepping down, reports say

White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn will leave his position early next year in the latest high-profile resignation from the Trump administration in recent weeks, according to multiple reports.

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“Rick loyally served the president for two and a half years and brought tremendous energy to the White House staff,” White House chief of staff John Kelly said in a statement obtained by The Wall Street Journal. “He’s a super guy and it breaks my heart to see him leave, but I look forward to his continued personal friendship and support for the president’s agenda.”

White House officials told the Journal that Dearborn, who oversaw a broad range of White House departments, planned to pursue work in the private sector.

>> Related: Omarosa Manigault Newman ‘physically dragged’ from White House, reports say

An unidentified source familiar with Dearborn’s decision told CNN that “he saw the passage of the sweeping Republican tax bill as his time to leave.” The bill was signed Friday morning by President Donald Trump.

Fox News reported Dearborn was “considered well-liked by the top brass at the White House, including chief of staff John Kelly, who tried to keep him.” Dearborn told the news network his departure felt “bittersweet.” 

He worked as a Senate aide before joining Trump’s administration, according to the Journal. Among other positions, he previously served as chief of staff for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions.

His exit comes amid an anticipated round of Trump administration official departures heading into the new year, according to The Associated Press. Earlier this month, White House officials said deputy national security adviser Dina Powell would be leaving early next year.

John Schnatter stepping down as Papa John's CEO

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter is stepping down from his role as the pizza company’s CEO weeks after criticizing the NFL for its handling of the national anthem protests.

>> Read more trending news

Schnatter had blamed slow pizza sales on the national anthem protests by NFL players, saying in a Nov. 1 earnings call that “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders” and that the protests “should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

His comments cost him $70 million in one day, according to multiple reports. He eventually apologized.

Papa John’s Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie, who will take over for Schnatter, declined to say if the November comments led to the move announced Thursday. Schnatter will still serve as chairman of the board for the company.

>> Related: Papa John's CEO apologizes for comments on NFL anthem protest controversy

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came to Schnatter’s defense, calling him “one of the great Americans” in this country, NBC Sports reported. Jones is a joint owner of 120 Papa John’s restaurants.

Advertisers have threatened to pull their advertising from the NFL in the wake of the politically charged national anthem protests, but none have taken as drastic a move as Papa John’s.

The company last month apologized for Schnatter’s comments in a statement, saying, “The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive. That definitely was not our intention.”

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year to protest police violence against minorities. The protest got mixed reactions, but other NFL players -- and players in other sports -- have since followed Kaepernick’s lead to protest inequality.

President Donald Trump in September suggested that NFL team owners should fire players who refuse to stand during the anthem, telling a crowd in Alabama that “that’s a total disrespect for our heritage.”

The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

House Ethics Committee expands inquiry into U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold

The House Ethics Committee late Thursday announced an expanded investigation into the conduct of U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, going beyond sexual harassment to look at possible improper use of House staff for his congressional campaigns.

>> Read more trending news

The committee will look into whether Farenthold required congressional staffers to work on his campaigns, and whether the disgraced congressman, who said a week ago he will not run for re-election, lied to the panel.

>> Related: Blake Farenthold won't seek re-election amid harassment claims

The bombshell announcement from the Ethics Committee came in a letter from Chairwoman Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and ranking member, Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., saying the committee had unanimously voted to expand the jurisdiction of the inquiry into Farenthold’s activities. The committee announced earlier this month that it was forming an investigative subcommittee to look into the sexual harassment allegations against him.

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Al Franken rips Trump, GOP in final Senate speech

At noon Thursday, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) addressed the Senate for the last time, giving a half-hour resignation speech that touched on everything from voter fraud to climate change but held an overarching message — that the Trump administration is chipping away at the pillars supporting American democracy.

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Over the past few weeks, there has been speculation that Franken might walk back his promise to resign, since he made his initial resignation speech in early December. But in Wednesday’s remarks, the Minnesota lawmaker made it clear that he is indeed packing his bags in Washington and used his final opportunity to outline what he at one point called the “callous and mean-spirited” decisions of the White House.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a dedicated, hard-working staff both in Washington and Minnesota and I have no doubt that they will go on to do great things and serve our nation well” Franken said.

He then turned his focus to everyday Americans saying, “when most people think about politics, they think about arguments … and that’s a big reason why people don’t like politics.

“But since I’m leaving the Senate, I thought I would take a big risk and say a few words in favor of arguments.”

The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member began laying into the Trump administration, and the Republicans’ most recent accomplishment, saying “the values propelling the Republican agenda today are about consolidating political and economic power in the hands of corporations and the very wealthy.” He continued, “Just take the tax bill that Congress passed this week … crafting an enormous giveaway that benefits their wealthy campaign donors … by 2027, 83 percent of the benefits in the Republican tax bill will accrue to the top 1 percent of income earners, that’s people who make more than $912,000 a year — do we really need any other data point?”

He then accused the president of neglecting the “forgotten men and women” that Trump promised to serve in his inaugural address. He also blasted the administration’s efforts to defeat Obamacare, saying “despite (Trump’s) campaign promise that ‘we’re going to have health insurance for everybody’ when his administration attempted to deliver on that promise, Republicans devised and passed a bill that would have resulted in 23 million fewer people having health insurance.”

Franken was harshly critical of the GOP’s stance on climate change, saying “rather than join me and my Democratic colleagues by confronting the challenge of climate change, Republicans have ordered a retreat at the behest of the fossil fuel industry and other private interests.” 

“The president and its allies in Congress have never let science or common sense stand in the way of ideology,” Franken said.

He pointed to an October announcement when the Trump administration tried to pull birth control from health insurance coverage, saying “ensuring that women have access to contraception is vital to the economic security of our families … despite the millions of women who have benefited from the police and despite the science … the Trump administration has eviscerated the policy.”

Franken spent a good portion of his speech attacking Trump’s argument that he won the popular vote, saying “let’s be clear, President Trump lost the popular vote … citing no evidence … no state reported any indication of widespread [voter] fraud. But that didn’t stop the Trump administration from quickly turning the president’s tweets into policy. The White House created a new commission … led by Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach, a right-wing extremist who has made a career of trafficking in the voter fraud myth.”

The senator closed by saying “politics is about the improvement of people’s lives. The American people know that to be true and they fill me with hope for our future.” Franken has set the official date for his resignation as Jan. 2.

Photojournalist, 5 others acquitted in inauguration riot trial

Texas photojournalist Alexei Wood and five others were acquitted of all charges Thursday in a closely-watched trial of protesters accused of rioting, conspiracy and destroying property on Inauguration Day.

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The case was, to many observers, a test of the First Amendment, especially for Wood, who livestreamed the protest and march through 16 city blocks and even taped himself being pepper-sprayed and then arrested.

“There was just elation at the defense table,” said Brett Cohen, Wood’s court-appointed attorney. “I had delight in Wood’s reaction; it made me really happy. I think it’s a valid verdict. My client had no intent to riot.”

The trial began Nov. 15 with the jury beginning deliberations last Friday.

Wood and the other defendants had been facing as many as 50 years in prison.

“(Expletive) them so hard. And you can quote me,” Wood told the American-Statesman.

The District of Columbia jury rejected the prosecution’s argument that the actions of a few breaking windows and destroying property made other protesters nearby complicit as they “re-absorbed” the lawbreakers as part of a large protest of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred on January 20, 2017, during which numerous public and private properties were damaged or destroyed,” said spokesman Bill Miller. “This destruction impacted many who live and work in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby. … We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict. In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant.”

There are nearly 200 more defendants in the case — including another Texas native, journalist Aaron Cantu — scheduled for trials over the next year.

Most of the protesters wore black and covered their faces although Wood, who can be seen in his video, did not. However, prosecutors highlighted Wood’s commentary during the video, which seemed to be shouts of approval and which the government said amounted to encouraging the destruction of property.

Cohen said that when he and other attorneys spoke with the jury privately after the verdicts were announced, several jurors said Wood’s case was the toughest for them to decide.

“It was a tough case and I am thrilled for Alexei who had no intent to commit any crimes,” said Cohen.

Wood lives in San Antonio but packed up his belongings and has been staying in Washington to be in the courtroom during the trial.

UN votes to condemn US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

The U.N. General Assembly voted in favor Thursday of a resolution that implicitly condemned President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite the president's threats to cut funding to countries that oppose his decision.

>> Read more trending news 

>> Related: President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Trump calls for infrastructure investment after deadly Washington train derailment

President Donald Trump called for increased infrastructure spending following a deadly Amtrak train derailment Monday morning near Seattle.

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Amtrak Cascades Train 501 was traveling between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, when it derailed around 7:45 a.m. Monday on an Interstate 5 overpass near DuPont, Washington. At least three people died and more than 70 others were injured.

>> Related: Eagle Scout climbs into trains, helps passengers in train derailment

“The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly,” Trump said Monday morning in a tweet. “Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”

Trump is expected to release a framework for increased infrastructure spending in January, relying on a mix of federal, local and private spending.

The tweet was one of three messages sent Monday by Trump about the train derailment.

“My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident in DuPont, Washington,” Trump wrote in a subsequent tweet. “Thank you to all of our wonderful First Responders who are on the scene. We are currently monitoring here at the White House.”

Officials continue to investigate the cause of Monday’s derailment.

The Associated Press and the Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

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