Friday morning news: July 6, 2018

Scott Pruitt out at EPA » Scott Pruitt is out at the EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency administrator stepped down Thursday after a tenure marred by multiple ethics investigations.

Pruitt found himself at the center of a long list of controversies. Some accused the administrator of exorbitant spending, citing expenses like building a $43,000 soundproof booth for making private phone calls. He has also faced questions over blurring the lines between personal and government expenses.

Some EPA staffers also accused him of making employees handle his personal chores, like picking up his dry cleaning and helping his wife find a job.

Testifying before a House panel back in April, Pruitt said the complaints were baseless and politically motivated.

PRUITT: Facts are facts and fiction is fiction. And a lie doesn’t become truth just because it appears in the front page of a newspaper. Much of what has been targeted toward me or my team has been half truths or, at best, stories that have been so twisted they do not resemble reality.

Pruitt stepped down amid 14 federal ethics inquiries into his actions at the EPA.

President Trump said in a tweet Thursday that Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler will assume the acting administrator position on Monday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in North Korea » Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is back in North Korea today, for the first time since last month’s summit in Singapore. He’ll meet with Kim Jong Un and his top aides as they continue negotiating the teardown of the country’s nuclear weapons program. WORLD Radio’s Kristen Flavin has more.

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Secretary Pompeo’s visit comes amid reports that U.S. intelligence shows Pyongyang is secretly ramping up its nuclear program. Those reports suggest that while North Korea has halted nuclear testing, it continues to build infrastructure for its nuclear and missile programs.

Analysts note that Kim Jong Un didn’t agree to much of anything concrete in Singapore and his regime now appears to be pushing to see what it can get away with.

Pompeo’s tasks will be:

To get a full accounting of North Korea’s nuclear assets, and nail down details of exactly what the regime is willing to give up and how that will be verified.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the U.S. has not softened its stance on North Korea and remains committed to “complete denuclearization.”

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kristen Flavin.

Trump narrows SCOTUS field » President Trump continues to narrow down his shortlist for a Supreme Court nomination. The president is reportedly now focusing on six possible nominees—three in particular—Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Raymond Kethledge. All three are federal circuit court judges.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring at the end of this month. The White House says the president will announce his choice to replace Kennedy on Monday.

Wildfire takes unexpected turn » Firefighters continue to battle more than 60 large blazes in the drought-stricken west.

In Colorado, the Lake Christine fire, about three hours west of Denver, took an unexpected turn Thursday, forcing sudden evacuations around the town of Basalt. One resident said he had to leave everything behind.  

SUAREZ: I’m scared because I no have a chance to take anything. The police, they say, I’m sorry but you need to leave. 

And in southern Colorado, officials have described the Spring Creek blaze as a “tsunami of fire.”  It has now engulfed more than a hundred-thousand acres, making it the third largest wildfire in the state’s history. It’s damaged or destroyed more than 250 homes so far.

California and Utah also continue to battle massive wildfires. And the weather remains a problem. Parts of those states, as well as New Mexico and Utah are experiencing extreme drought conditions.

Boat carrying Chinese tourists capsizes, dozens missing » Nearly 50 people are missing after a boat capsized off the coast of Thailand Thursday. WORLD Radio’s Anna Johansen has that story.

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: The vessel was on its way back to the coast of Phuket carrying dozens of Chinese tourists when strong waves and heavy winds toppled the boat. Rescuers saved 48 passengers, but another 49 remain missing.

Local fishermen are aiding the Thai navy and police in the search. At least one passenger has been confirmed dead.

A yacht carrying dozens of European tourists also capsized, but officials say all of its passengers reached land safely.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Anna Johansen.

British couple may have been poisoned by Russian nerve agent » Investigators in the UK are still working to answer questions surrounding the mysterious poisoning of a British couple.

But officials now believe that Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were exposed to the same Russian-made nerve agent used in the March attack on a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard told reporters:

PRITCHARD: It is unbelievable that we are here today to talk about another Novichok nerve agent incident that has happened across our county.  We like our communities and the wider public are shocked that a major incident of a similar nature has unfolded in Wiltshire. 

Rowley and Sturgess were found unconscious on Saturday in Amesbury, just 8 miles from Salisbury where the Skripals were attacked.

But UK Health Minister Jeremy Hunt says while investigators believe Rowley and Sturgess were also exposed to the Novichok nerve agent, they don’t think anyone targeted the couple.

HUNT: I think this is just what looks like a very, very unfortunate, hopefully not tragic, after effect of that earlier incident. 

But officials aren’t yet sure exactly how the couple came in contact with the nerve agent. Police have cordoned multiple sites the two visited before they became ill. The couple remains in critical condition.

I’m Kent Covington. Straight ahead: Culture Friday. This is The World and Everything in It.

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) In this May 16, 2018, file photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt appears before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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