US envoy to anti-IS coalition quits over Trump’s Syria move

US envoy to anti-IS coalition quits over Trump’s Syria move


Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group, has resigned in protest over President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a U.S. official said, joining Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in an administration exodus of experienced national-security figures.

Only 11 days ago, McGurk had said it would be “reckless” to consider IS defeated and therefore would be unwise to bring American forces home. McGurk decided to speed up his original plan to leave his post in mid-February.

Appointed to the post by President Barack Obama in 2015 and retained by Trump, McGurk said in his resignation letter that the militants were on the run, but not yet defeated, and that the premature pullout of American forces from Syria would create the conditions that gave rise to IS. He also cited gains in accelerating the campaign against IS, but that the work was not yet done.

His letter, submitted Friday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was described to The Associated Press on Saturday by an official familiar with its contents. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter before the letter was released and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Oklahoma quickly becoming medical marijuana hotbed


The rollout of statewide medical and recreational marijuana programs typically is a grindingly slow process that can take years. Not so in Oklahoma, which moved with lightning speed once voters approved medical cannabis in June.

The ballot question received 57 percent support and established one of the nation’s most liberal medical pot laws in one of the most conservative states. Six months later, the cannabis industry is booming.

Farmers and entrepreneurs are racing to start commercial grow operations, and the state is issuing licenses to new patients, growers and dispensary operators at a frantic pace. Retail outlets opened just four months after legalization.

By contrast, voters in North Dakota, Ohio and neighboring Arkansas approved medical pot in 2016 but have yet to see sales begin amid legal wrangling and legislative meddling.

Gatwick Airport reopens; drone suspects questioned


London’s Gatwick Airport was plagued by long lines and flight delays Saturday but no new drone sightings, allowing British officials to hope the worse was over after two people were arrested in connection with the drone invasion that had shut down the country’s second-busiest airport.

Check-in lines at Gatwick stretched the length of the departures hall as harried travelers tried to make good on Christmas plans upended by three days of extended shutdowns caused by drones being spotted over the airfield.

The persistent drone crisis at Gatwick, 30 miles south of London, has had a ripple effect throughout the international air travel system since Wednesday night, when the first drone was spotted.

A Gatwick spokesman said Saturday that “things are going in the right direction” and should be back to normal by the end of the weekend after a horrendous few days that saw tens of thousands of travelers stranded or delayed.

Sussex police released few details about the two suspects arrested late Friday in the worst drone-inflicted travel chaos to hit Britain.

Melania Trump’s red topiary trees a hit at Christmas parties


Melania Trump’s cranberry topiary trees may have left some of her critics seeing red, but they turned out to be a Christmas hit – one of several new ideas the Trumps introduced this holiday season.

In a four-week stretch of 21 holiday parties, the president also did fewer official photo ops and largely froze out the media. But in time-honored tradition, though, politicos still used the celebrations to squeeze in last-minute deal-making.

Many of the soirees unfolded under the threat of a partial government shutdown that took effect Saturday.

A stalemate with Congress over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border forced the president to delay his plan to shift the merrymaking to his Florida estate Friday. He remained in Washington while his wife and son, Barron, flew to Palm Beach without him.

Mrs. Trump’s decision to place more than 40 red trees on a green carpet along the East Wing colonnade turned out to be quite the attraction: Pedestrian traffic jams formed as guests clamored to be photographed in front of the unusual holiday landscape .

A Grinch steals thousands of dollars of Christmas trees


A Grinch has hit a Vermont tree farm, stealing thousands of dollars of Christmas trees.

The Caledonian Record reports that thieves cut the lock on a chained gate last month in Barton, drove onto the lot, and stole brush and 18 to 20 trees worth an estimated $300 each. Greg Dowd, the owner of the property, says they also stole a game camera that was being used for surveillance.

Dowd says the 20-foot trees that have been pruned for years were supposed to be sold to municipalities and churches in the future. He expects the thieves cut them up to use for wreaths.

Dowd is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Body of woman, 25, discovered by staff at Cleveland hotel


Police say they have found a woman dead at a Cleveland hotel and are investigating.

The identity of the 25-year-old black female was not immediately released.

Authorities said her body was discovered around noon Saturday by cleaning staff at the hotel in on Euclid Avenue. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The cause and manner of death had not been determined. Homicide investigators were on the scene.

Ex-corrections officer charged with sex assault of inmate


A former corrections officer accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate has been indicted on sexual-battery charges.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said Friday that 23-year-old Franco Villella, of Troy, faces two counts in the Dec. 11 assault of a woman who was in custody at the county jail.

Witnesses told the grand jury that Villella escorted the woman down a hallway to a restroom, where he forced her to submit to sexual conduct.

Heck said inmates “have the right to be safe, especially from the corrections staff.” He said Villella took advantage of his position and authority.

His arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 3.

Associated Press