WASHINGTON — Former Sen. Dan Coats can formally say goodbye to his brief retirement.


His former Senate colleagues confirmed the Hoosier, 85-12, to be President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence Wednesday afternoon, in one of their last actions before a long St. Patrick’s Day weekend.


Senators voted to limit debate on the Coats nomination earlier Wednesday, 88-11.


Coats said during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Intelligence Committee that moving back to the executive branch was not his plan when he announced his intent to retire from the Senate.


“It has been a long road of public service that has brought me here before you. After 34 years of service in the House, Senate and as U.S. ambassador to Germany, I was ready to make a transition and planned to move on to a new chapter of my lifelong journey back home again in Indiana,” Coats said. “But as I have learned over those 34 years, life doesn’t always work out that way.”


—CQ-Roll Call


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‘Pizzagate’ defendant to plead guilty in tentative deal in DC court


WASHINGTON — The North Carolina man charged with firing an assault rifle inside a Washington restaurant that conspiracy theorists falsely claim harbored a child sex ring is expected to plead guilty in a deal offered by federal prosecutors, lawyers for both sides said Wednesday.


The attorney for Edgar Maddison Welch said the Salisbury, N.C., man had accepted “in principle” a deal that would allow him to avoid a trial in a high-profile case that thrust fake news and internet conspiracy theories into the national spotlight.


Neither Dani Jahn, Welch’s federal public defender, nor Assistant U.S. Attorney Demian Ahn disclosed details of the agreement during Wednesday’s brief proceeding before U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The judge ordered the attorneys to submit final terms to her by Monday and set a March 24 plea bargain hearing date.


Welch has been behind bars since Dec. 4 after he allegedly drove from Salisbury to Washington’s Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant to investigate a bogus conspiracy theory that linked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to an alleged child sex-trafficking ring inside the eatery.


He pleaded not guilty to a federal count of transporting a firearm and ammunition across state lines and to District of Columbia charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during a commission of violence.


—McClatchy Washington Bureau


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Federal probe of Fox News sex harassment payoffs heading to a grand jury


NEW YORK — A federal grand jury will hear testimony on whether Fox News improperly handled financial settlements given to female employees who made sexual harassment claims against the company.


But the future of the investigation of Fox News — spurred by the sexual harassment allegations that led to the departure of its powerful former chairman Roger Ailes — remains unclear.


Whether the case will be pursued vigorously may depend on who is named to replace Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney who launched the investigation.


Bharara was fired Saturday by President Donald Trump. His dismissal followed Trump’s request for the resignation of 46 U.S. attorneys, who are political appointees. Bharara, appointed by President Barack Obama, did not comply with the request.


The move raises the question of whether the office will want to keep the legal heat on Fox in light of Trump’s long friendship with Ailes, who briefly advised him during the presidential campaign after he left the company in July. Fox News has also been the president’s favorite stop for press interviews.


A 21st Century Fox representative referred to its previous statement when the news of the probe came to light last month in a court hearing on the sexual harassment case brought against the company by Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros.


“Neither Fox News nor (21st Century Fox) has received a subpoena, but we have been in communication with the U.S. attorney’s office for months — we have and will continue to cooperate on all inquiries with any interested authorities,” the company said.


The U.S. attorney’s office does not comment on the existence of any ongoing investigation.


—Los Angeles Times


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Death penalty decision in airport shootings suspect’s case could take year or more


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It could take a year or more before prosecutors decide whether or not to seek the federal death penalty for the man accused of killing five people and injuring six others at Fort Lauderdale’s international airport.


During a brief court hearing for Esteban Santiago on Wednesday, prosecutors said that the Washington, D.C.-based panel that advises the attorney general on capital cases wants detailed reports from the defense and prosecutors before making any decision.


In less complicated cases involving a single death and no mental health challenges, that process can take the defense eight months, Santiago’s lawyers told the judge. But they said a year would be a more realistic estimate in such a complicated case, involving multiple deaths, serious mental illness and witnesses who reside in several different states.


Santiago, who turns 27 on Thursday, has been diagnosed by jail doctors with two serious mental health conditions: schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, according to court records. He has been taking medication for about a month.


Santiago has pleaded not guilty to 22 federal charges linked to the Jan. 6 mass shooting.


—Sun Sentinel


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At least 43 killed, more than 100 wounded in 2 Damascus suicide bombings


DAMASCUS, Syria — Two suicide bombings in Damascus targeting a court complex and a restaurant left 43 people dead and 117 wounded Wednesday as Syria’s devastating civil war entered its seventh year.


At least 39 people were killed in the first bombing that hit a court complex in the center of the Syrian capital, a police source told dpa, while four people were killed in the second suicide attack at a restaurant in northwestern Damascus.


“Ninety-two people were wounded in the first blast that rocked the Justice Palace, while 25 others were injured in the restaurant attack in the neighborhood of al-Rabwa,” the police source said.


The Justice Palace, where a bomber blew himself up, houses several courtrooms and the chief prosecutor’s office.


Syrian state news agency SANA said that the bomber, dressed in military uniform, was carrying a gun and a hand grenade.


He was stopped by guards at the gate of the Justice Palace building. When asked to hand over his weapons, he ran toward the entrance of the lobby and blew himself up, SANA reported.


Syrian television broadcast footage from the site, showing pools of blood covering the floor of the lobby.


Residents of the surrounding al-Mezze district said they heard a powerful blast. “The explosion shook our buildings and shortly after we saw black smoke,” one of them told dpa by phone.


The fatalities in the first attack included 24 civilians, said Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.


Later in the day, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt inside a restaurant in northwestern Damascus in the neighborhood of al-Rabwa, SANA reported.


The bomber entered the restaurant after being chased, along with two other suspects, by security forces, a security official told dpa. The two suspects were arrested.


There has been no claim of responsibility for either bombing, the latest in a series of attacks in Damascus.


—dpa


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