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AP Top News at 1:21 p.m. EST

Trump team challenges intel on Russian election influence
WASHINGTON (AP) - Donald Trump's presidential transition team on Saturday challenged the veracity of U.S. intelligence assessments concluding that Russia was trying to tip the November election to the Republican. A senior U.S. official said the CIA has determined with "high confidence" that Moscow's interference in the presidential race was intended to help Trump. The assessment is based in part on evidence that Russian actors had hacked Republicans as well as Democrats but were only releasing information harmful to Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton, according to the official. The official was not authorized to discuss the private intelligence assessment publicly and insisted on anonymity.


Preparing for White House, Trump to attend Army-Navy game
NEW YORK (AP) - President-elect Donald Trump is partaking in one of the nation's most storied football rivalries, saluting U.S. troops at the annual Army-Navy game on Saturday as he prepares to enter the White House. The future commander-in-chief planned to attend the 117th game between the military academies at West Point and Annapolis, which is being held on relatively neutral ground, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Trump tweeted on Saturday morning that he was going to the game "as a show of support for our Armed Forces." The appearance caps a week of rolling out Cabinet picks, holding "thank you" rallies in North Carolina, Iowa and Michigan, and trying to cement his incoming Senate majority with Saturday's runoff election in Louisiana.


White supremacists? Not exactly, KKK and other groups claim
PELHAM, N.C. (AP) - White supremacy is a label that's too hot to handle even for groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Standing on a muddy dirt road in the dead of night near the North Carolina-Virginia border, masked Ku Klux Klan members claimed Donald Trump's election as president proves whites are taking back America from blacks, immigrants, Jews and other groups they describe as criminals and freeloaders. America was founded by and for whites, they say, and only whites can run a peaceful, productive society. But still, the KKK members insisted in an interview with The Associated Press, they're not white supremacists, a label that is gaining traction in the country since Trump won with the public backing of the Klan, neo-Nazis and other white racists.


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As 114th Congress limped to a close, uncertainty is ahead
WASHINGTON (AP) - The 114th Congress has limped to a close, two years of partisan acrimony punctuated by the occasional burst of bipartisan deal-making in the waning days of Barack Obama's presidency. Ahead is uncertainty, as the GOP prepares to assume monopoly control over Washington for the first time in a decade come January, with Congress' relationship with an untested new president yet to be determined. Thus far, congressional Republicans have been highly deferential to President-elect Donald Trump, even when his pronouncements fly in the face of long-held GOP goals like free trade and limited government. The question hanging over the next Congress will be whether Trump prevails on issues like his call for a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and steep tariffs to prevent outsourcing - or whether congressional Republicans steer him in a direction more in line with traditional GOP beliefs.


Islamic State militants re-enter Syria's historic Palmyra
BEIRUT (AP) - Syrian activists say the Islamic State group has re-entered the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria, nine months after they were expelled by Syrian and Russian forces in a highly publicized campaign. The activist-run Palmyra Coordination Collective reports Saturday that the militants seized the city's military warehouse and its northern and western neighborhoods after taking several government positions, oil fields, and strategic hilltops in the surrounding countryside in a lightning three-day campaign. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the militants reached the city's Tadmor Hospital and its strategically located wheat silos. The militants destroyed several of the city's famed ancient Roman monuments and executed its archaeological director after sweeping into the city in July 2015 and holding it for 11 months.


Governor Joe Piscopo? Comedian eyes run in New Jersey
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) - Joe Piscopo's Frank Sinatra impression, made famous from his days on "Saturday Night Live," has gotten an update. It's no longer "New York, New York," but "NJ, NJ," the actor, standup comic and potential 2017 Republican candidate for governor is now crooning. Piscopo performed the updated song - lyrics included "my New York and Philly blues are melting away" - at a recent charity event for the Boys and Girls Club in New Jersey, where his flirtation with running for governor to succeed incumbent Republican Chris Christie when his term ends in 2018 is out in the open.


Advocates call Alabama execution an 'avoidable disaster'
ATMORE, Ala. (AP) - Defenders of a condemned inmate in Alabama are calling his execution an "avoidable disaster," but the state prison commissioner says there was no visible evidence that he suffered during a lethal injection. Death row inmate Ronald Bert Smith Jr. coughed, and his upper body heaved repeatedly, for the first 13 minutes of the procedure as he was being sedated, and his arms appeared to move slightly after two tests were administered to determine consciousness. Smith's attorneys, who watched the execution said in a Friday statement said the movements show that he "was not anesthetized at any point during the agonizingly long procedure." Alabama's Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn disputes the assessment that Smith was in pain, saying Alabama properly followed a lethal injection protocol that has been upheld by the courts.


Recounts bring Stein publicity that eluded her on the trail
Long before presidential recounts crossed her mind, trash dumping and mercury contamination pushed Jill Stein into politics. Stein, a physician, joined a 1990s movement to shut down or better regulate mercury-polluting incinerators in Massachusetts. She authored papers on child neurological damage and spoke at public gatherings. She testified at hearings as a medical expert. Massachusetts eventually enacted strict limits on mercury emissions, and a few incinerators closed. But Stein had begun to see the system as set up to block change, and when the Green Party recruited her to run for governor in 2002, she took the chance. "I was part of a very frustrated public health initiative, and then the Green Party came to me and said, 'Why don't you run for office?'" Stein said in an October interview with The Associated Press.


Non-OPEC oil producers to cut output 558,000 barrels a day
VIENNA (AP) - OPEC has persuaded 11 non-member oil producers to cut production in an attempt to raise the low prices that have squeezed government finances in resource-dependent countries. Qatari Energy Minister Mohammed bin Saleh al-Sada, OPEC's president, said Saturday that non-members agreed to cut 558,000 barrels per day, less than the 600,000 barrels a day that OPEC had hoped for. Those non-member cuts come on top of an OPEC decision Nov. 30 to reduce member output by 1.2 million barrels a day. Saudi oil minister Khalid Al-Falih called Saturday's deal "historic" and said it would stabilize the market through next year and encourage industry investment.


Former Major League pitcher becomes police officer
ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) - A former Major League Baseball pitcher has hung up his jersey and become a police officer. Anthony Varvaro graduated from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police academy on Friday. He was a relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners from 2010 to 2015. He went 7-9 in six seasons before an arm injury sidelined him for most of 2015. The 32-year-old from New York graduated in a ceremony in Elizabeth along with 79 others. The Port Authority Police Department patrols the New York region's airports, tunnels, bridges and a transit system.