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News Wrap: Mueller’s Russia probe extracts fourth guilty plea

In our news wrap Tuesday, attorney Alex van der Zwaan appeared in court after admitting to lying to investigators over his contacts with former Trump campaign official Rick Gates, who was indicted last year on money laundering and other charges. Also, the long-running war in Syria ramped up again as rebel-held suburbs outside Damascus were hit by government airstrikes and shelling.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump says he's calling for solutions to school shootings, amid new demands for action on guns. He announced today that he's asking for regulations to ban devices like the bump stocks used in last October's Las Vegas massacre. The president spoke at an awards ceremony at the White House, nearly a week after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We must move past cliches and tired debates, and focus on evidence-based solutions and security measures that actually work and that make it easier for men and women of law enforcement to protect our children and to protect our safety.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mr. Trump also said that he will meet with survivors and local officials this week to discuss school safety.

    Meanwhile, some 100 Parkland high school students are making a 400-mile bus trip to the state capitol in Tallahassee. They will lobby lawmakers tomorrow for new gun laws.

    But, today, the Florida Statehouse voted not to consider a ban on assault rifles, as several Parkland survivors looked on.

    In the day's other news- Special counsel Robert Mueller has obtained another guilty plea in his probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Attorney Alex van der Zwaan appeared in federal court in Washington. He admitted to lying about contacts with former Trump campaign official Rick Gates. Gates was indicted last year on money laundering and other charges.

    Meanwhile, President Trump charged again that President Obama wasn't nearly tough enough on Russia.

    The long-running war in Syria flared on two fronts today, and the pace of killing escalated to levels not seen in five years.

    P.J. Tobia has our report.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Rebel-held suburbs outside Damascus echoed today with the sounds of government airstrikes and shelling and would-be rescuers. Civil defense workers, known as White Helmets, raced to pull survivors to safety amid the assault.

    Towns across Eastern Ghouta have come under intense bombardment by President Bashar al-Assad's forces for weeks. The attacks spiked Sunday. War monitors say 250 people have been killed since then. Hundreds more have been hurt.

    The government offensive drew condemnation today from the opposition's chief negotiator to the U.N.'s stalled peace talks. He spoke in Brussels.

  • Nasr Hariri:

    What is happening in Ghouta is a war crime. All international red lines have been crossed by the regime, but yet there's no accountability.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Meanwhile, a new, northern front has opened in the country's seven-year civil war, in the Kurdish region of Afrin. Turkey has been attacking U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters known as the YPG. The Turks say they're linked to militant groups inside Turkey.

    Today, despite Turkish warnings, Syrian state TV showed pro-Assad forces rolling into Afrin to support the Kurds.

    But in Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkish guns had driven them off.

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (through interpreter):

    When artillery fire was carried out by Turkish military, they had to turn back. And this case is closed for now.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Erdogan also said he'd asked Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Assad, to intervene.

    Instead, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the situation can only be resolved through direct talks between Ankara and Damascus.

    American officials strongly oppose the Turkish offensive against the Kurds. The U.S. has been training and arming Kurdish militia fighters against the Islamic State group. U.S. troops are based about 70 miles east of Afrin, near Manbij, and the Turks have threatened to move in that direction.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held intensive talks with Erdogan in Ankara last week in a bid to ease tensions.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm P.J. Tobia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Iran, more than 300 Sufi Muslims have been arrested after overnight clashes that killed five police officers. Police said they were attacked as Sufis rallied in Tehran, demanding the release of detainees. Sufi officials denied it. The Sufis emphasize mystical experiences over traditional Muslim practices. They have been persecuted by Iran's Shiite regime.

    Back in this country, the Department of Health and Human Services proposes to let insurers sell limited health plans that do not comply with Obamacare's mandates. They would offer lower-cost coverage with fewer benefits for up to 12 months. And companies could deny people with preexisting conditions or charge them higher premiums. The proposal is open for public comment for 60 days.

    An outside legal review is now public on NPR's ouster last year of Michael Oreskes as its top news executive for alleged sexual harassment. It finds that there were questions about his behavior even before he was hired and repeatedly during his tenure.

    And, separately, Tavis Smiley is suing PBS for breach of contract, after it stopped distributing his show for alleged sexual misconduct. PBS says the suit is — quote — "meritless."

    The chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools is stepping down, under fire, after a little more than a year on the job. The Washington Post had reported that Antwan Wilson bypassed a lottery system, so that his daughter could transfer to a top high school. The D.C. schools are already embroiled in a scandal for allegedly inflating graduation rates.

    On Wall Street today, the market's winning streak snapped after Wal-Mart reported weak online sales and subpar earnings. That sent the Dow Jones industrial average down 254 points, to close at 24,964. The Nasdaq fell five points, and the S&P 500 slipped 16.

    And at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, a big day for Canada. Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their third career gold medal with a record point total. American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani took home the bronze.

    And the U.S. men's hockey team beat Slovakia 5-1 to get into the quarterfinals.

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