Live Coverage

Today's News: Dec. 13, 2016

Assad claims victory in Aleppo, Trump picks Zinke for Interior Department, and more from the United States and around the world.

Abdalrhman Ismail / Reuters

—The Syrian government has regained full control of Aleppo and all military actions have concluded. More here

—President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Representative Ryan Zinke, a Montana Republican, to head to the Interior Department. More here

—Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law Tuesday a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. More here

—Alan Thicke, the actor best known for his role as the father on Growing Pains, died Thursday. Read more

—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


This live blog has concluded

Remembering Alan Thicke

Richard Shotwell / AP

Alan Thicke, the actor best known for his role as the father on Growing Pains, died Thursday. He was 69. Born in Ontario, Canada, Thicke started his career in Canadian television as a writer, producer, and theme song composer. In 1985, he was cast as Jason Seaver in ABC’s Growing Pains, and continued in that role for seven years. In 2013, he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame, among the more than 160 Canadians honored in Toronto. Throughout his career, he appeared in nearly four dozen television shows, including on the Netflix reboot Fuller House. His son, Robin Thicke, is a music artist who gained worldwide notoriety in 2013 for his single “Blurred Lines.” TMZ first reported Thicke’s death. He reportedly had a heart attack while playing hockey.

Tennessee Wildfires Caused $500 Million in Damage


The wildfires that consumed parts of eastern Tennessee in recent weeks caused $500 million in damage, local officials said Tuesday. In a press conference, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters outlined the damage caused near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, including the 14 deaths, the evacuation of 14,000 people, and damage to 2,400 structures. The wildfire was initially started on November 28, spreading violently because of dry conditions, a heavy volume of leaves, and strong winds. The situation was made worse was a breakdown of communication between officials because of damage to local cellphone towers, not allowing the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to act quickly. The fires near Gatlinburg were eventually put out, but not before extensive damage and a partial closure of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Last week, two teenage boys were arrested and charged with arson for their role in the fire. It was unclear how the wildfires were exactly started.

Trump Taps Ryan Zinke for Interior Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Representative Ryan Zinke, a Montana Republican, to head to the Interior Department. Zinke is a first-term congressman, an active sportsman, and decorated combat veteran. As my colleague Russell Berman reports, Zinke beat Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, a Washington Republican and favorite for the post. Zinke has long advocated for increasing the public’s access to federal lands. As a conservative, he has also opposed environment regulation. Read more about his nomination here

Gambia's Ruling Party Deepens Crisis by Calling for Fresh Elections

Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh, left, receives a delegation of West African leaders. (Reuters)

Gambia’s ruling party challenged the December 1 election result in the country’s Supreme Court on Tuesday in court, further drawing out the political crisis. Yahya Jammeh, who ruled with a strong grip for 22 years before being defeated earlier this month, said Friday he refused to accept the election results that saw his main challenger, Adama Barrow, winning. As a group of West African leaders arrived in Gambia to help mediate the situation, Gambian troops sealed off and seized the country’s election commission headquarters. The delegation included presidents from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana, who said it will take time to mediate the situation. If the legal challenge by Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, is successful, Barrow’s victory could be overturned and spark fresh elections.

Ohio Governor Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban Into Law

Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters

Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law Tuesday a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill, called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, was one of two abortion measures passed by Ohio lawmakers last week. The second, dubbed the “Heartbeat Bill” for its aim to restrict women from seeking abortions after the first fetal heartbeat could be detected (which can happen as early as six weeks into the pregnancy), was vetoed. Neither bill made exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Though Kasich has long voiced his support for restricting abortion access, the governor expressed concern about the constitutionality of the Heartbeat Bill, noting in his veto message that “similar legislation enacted in two other states has twice been unconstitutional by federal judges, and the Supreme Court declined to review those decisions. … Therefore, this veto is in the public interest.”

The Man Who Says He Planned to Kill Trump Gets One Year in Prison

David Becker / Reuters

A Las Vegas Judge sentenced the British man who grabbed an officer’s gun at a Donald Trump rally in the city to a year in prison on Tuesday. Michael Sandford, who was arrested in June, had pleaded guilty to charges of illegal weapons possession and disorderly conduct. Sandford overstayed his visa and was living out of a car in California at the time. He told federal agents he’d driven to Las Vegas with the intention of killing Trump, even saying he’d practiced shooting the day before at a gun range. At the rally in front of the Treasure Island casino, he approached a policeman and asked for an autograph. Then he grabbed at the officer’s gun, but was unsuccessful. Sandford faced up to 20 years, and the judge’s light sentence seems to reflect assertions by Sandford’s lawyers, as well has his family, that he suffers from several physical and mental-health problems, including autism and severe depression. In court Tuesday, Judge James Mahan told Sandford: “You have a medical problem. You should not be ashamed or embarrassed about it. You need medication.”

'Pizzagate' Shooter Is Charged With a Federal Crime

Jose Luis Magana / AP

The North Carolina man accused of firing an assault rifle in a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant while self-investigating an internet conspiracy—now known as “pizzagate”—will face federal charges. Edgar Welch appeared in D.C. Superior Court Tuesday, where he was accused of “interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit an offense … .” Prosecutors dropped the local gun-possession charge, and the case will now move to U.S. District Court. Earlier this month, Welch became the violent manifestation of concerns about of fake news spreading fear this election cycle. He is accused of bringing an assault rifle into the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop, firing, then pointing the rifle at an employee. He’d come, he’d tell investigators, to look into theories that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex-trafficking ring out of the restaurant. No one was hurt, but the incident has scared many people in the neighborhood, and prompted business owners there to form a coalition called Neighbors Organizing for Power and Equality. On Monday, the group invited Vice President-elect Mike Pence for a slice of pizza at the restaurant, so they can “bring an end to this madness through the simple act of breaking bread with your neighbors … .”

Assad Has Full Control of Aleppo; Evacuation Deal Approved

People carry their belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo on December 13, 2016. (Abdalrhman Ismail / Reuters)

Updated on December 13 at 2:12 p.m. EST

The Syrian government has regained full control of Aleppo and all military actions have concluded, the Russian government said Tuesday. The announcement came shortly after Syrian rebels and Russian officials confirmed an agreement to evacuate those remaining in the last rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo. Yasser al-Youssef, a spokesman for the Nour el-Din el-Zinki rebel group, told Agence France-Presse the agreement, coordinated by Russia and Turkey, would allow for the evacuation of civilians out of eastern Aleppo “within hours,” followed by the remaining rebel fighters. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s United Nations envoy, also confirmed the agreement. The deal comes amid reports of heightened violence in four neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo, where the UN estimates at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, have been killed by Syrian government forces. The Syrian government has denied the claim.

Alexei Navalny, Longtime Critic of Putin, Announces His Bid for the Presidency

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Alexei Navalny, the leader of Russia’s opposition and one of the most well-known anti-corruption advocates, announced Tuesday he would run for president in 2018. The news was widely expected, but the formal announcement came with little interest from state-owned Russian news agencies, which are widely regarded to be pro-Kremlin. Navalny is a lawyer who heads the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which has been hyper critical of President Vladimir Putin’s regime. Navalny has no political background, but he gained national attention during the anti-Putin demonstrations in 2011, and has published many critical reports about corrupt Russian politicians. He has also been criticized for his ties to Russian nationalists and his remarks about the country’s minorities.  Whether he’ll be allowed to run, however, is in doubt. He has been charged with fraud, though he has called it a political attack. In November, Russia’s supreme court overturned Navalny’s convictions after the European Court of Human Rights ruled his rights had been violated. If he is re-convicted, he will most likely be banned from the election. Putin has not officially said he’ll run for a fourth term, but it’s highly likely.

Qatar Replaces Controversial Migrant-Worker Program

Migrant laborers work at a construction site in Doha, Qatar, on March 26. (Naseem Zeitoon / Reuters)

Qatar put into effect Tuesday a new law replacing its migrant-work sponsorship, or “kafala,” system with new measures to grant greater freedoms and protection to the country’s multimillion-person migrant workforce. Under the kafala system, migrants working in Qatar were faced with costly recruitment fees (ranging between $500 and $4,300), poor living conditions, delayed salaries, and the inability to leave the country or change jobs without the permission of their employers—practices Amnesty International described as exploitative in a March report. The new system, the Qatari government says, will guarantee workers’ freedom of movement, abolish the requirement that workers seek their employers approval before changing jobs (though only if they’ve completed a five-year service period), and prohibit employers from withholding workers’ passports. Migrants will still be required to obtain exit permits to leave the country. Amnesty International condemned the changes Tuesday as “meager,” adding: “This new law may get rid of the word ‘sponsorship,’ but it leaves the same basic system intact.”

An Oil Spill Near the Dakota Access Pipeline Leaked 176,000 Gallons

An oil spill on the Yellowstone River in 2011 (Jim Urquhart / AP)

An oil pipeline in North Dakota spilled more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a hillside and a tributary of the Little Missouri River, state officials said Monday. The leak is about 150 miles west of Cannon Ball, where protesters successfully fought the construction of the North Dakota Access Pipeline. The spill began earlier this month, in a segment of the Belle Fourche Pipeline near Belfied, North Dakota. The company that owns the pipeline, True Companies, did not detect the leak, and state officials said Monday the company’s electronic-monitoring equipment failed. Instead, a private landowner discovered the spill after it had already dumped more than 46,000 gallons onto a hillside, and 130,000 gallons into the river, contaminating the water for up to six miles. Crews are working to clean up the spill, but since the pipelines burst the river has frozen over so it may take until the spring until all the crude is cleaned. True Companies has a history of oil spills in the region, with three reported since 2006, including one that leaked 30,000 gallons into the Yellowstone River. This pipeline was built in the 1980s and carried 1,000 barrels of oil each day.

Carnage in the 'Last Hellish Corner' of Aleppo

A man carries a child with an IV drip as he flees deeper into a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria, on December 12.  (Abdalrhman Ismail / Reuters)

The UN says it has received reports from multiple reliable sources that Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, in four different neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. “Civilians have paid a brutal price during this conflict, and we are filled with the deepest foreboding for those who remain in this last hellish corner of opposition-held eastern Aleppo,” Rupert Colville, the UN human-rights spokesman, said in Geneva. The killings occurred in Bustan al-Qasr, al-Ferdous, al-Kallaseh, and al-Saleheen neighborhoods, he said. The rebels are on the brink of defeat in eastern Aleppo, their last major stronghold. Assad’s forces now control 90 percent of the area, according to conservative estimates, pushing the rebels to the brink of defeat. Human-rights groups say the Syrian troops are committing atrocities on civilians and rebels; the Syrian government denies the charge. The absence of international monitors makes the assessments difficult to gauge, but accounts on social media present a bleak picture.   

Trump Makes It Official: It's Rex Tillerson

Rex Tillerson’s nomination is likely to be scrutinized in the Senate. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters)

President-elect Donald Trump ended days of speculation and nominated Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil CEO, to be his secretary of state. Tillerson, a longtime Exxon executive, has no political or diplomatic experience, but he is known to be close to Russia, where President Vladimir Putin awarded him the Order of Friendship, an award given to foreign nationals who work to improve relations with Russia. That closeness is likely to come up for scrutiny in the Senate, which must confirm Tillerson’s nomination, in light of allegations that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election. Indeed, as my colleague Matt Vasilogambros noted last night, Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, even called Tillerson a “friend of Vladimir.”