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Mexico, Canada and others may be exempted from US tariffs

WASHINGTON — The White House said Wednesday that Mexico, Canada and other countries may be spared from President Donald Trump’s planned steel and aluminum tariffs under national security “carve-outs,” a move that could soften the blow amid threats of retaliation by trading partners and dire economic warnings from lawmakers and business groups.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the exemptions would be made on a “case by case” and “country by country” basis, a reversal from the policy articulated by the White House just days ago that there would be no exemptions from Trump’s plan.

The announcement came as congressional Republicans and business groups braced for the impact of expected tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, appearing resigned to additional protectionist trade actions as Trump signaled upcoming economic battles with China.

The looming departure of White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has opposed the promised tariffs, set off anxiety among business leaders and investors worried about a potential trade war.

The White House said Trump was expected to make a final announcement by the end of the week and officials were working to include language in the tariffs that would give Trump the flexibility to approve exemptions for certain countries.

“He’s already indicated a degree of flexibility, I think a very sensible, very balanced degree of flexibility,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC. “We’re not trying to blow up the world.”

Trump signaled other trade actions could be in the works. In a tweet, he said the “U.S. is acting swiftly on Intellectual Property theft.” A White House official said Trump was referencing an ongoing investigation of China in which the U.S. trade representative is studying whether Chinese intellectual property rules are “unreasonable or discriminatory” to American business.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said an announcement on the findings of the report — and possible retaliatory actions — was expected within the next three weeks.

Petr David Josek, Associated Press 

Two critically endangered black rhinoceroses play in the snow Wednesday in a zoo in Dvur Kralove, Czech Republic.

Porn actress sues to end silence on alleged Trump affair

LOS ANGELES — An adult film actress who has said she had sex with Donald Trump filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement and "set the record straight," her lawyer said Wednesday.

Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday. She alleges that the agreement she signed days before the 2016 presidential election, which prevented her from discussing the alleged sexual encounters, is "null and void and of no consequence" because Trump didn't personally sign it.

Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said on morning news shows Wednesday that she wants "to set the record straight." He said on NBC there was "no question" Trump knew about the agreement, though he did not offer any proof.

Avenatti said Daniels wasn't looking to profit from her story. But he told CBS: "I don't know whether she's going to ultimately seek payment or not."

Asked about Avenatti's claims Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "We've addressed our feelings on that situation, and I don't have anything else to add."

Clifford alleges that she began an "intimate relationship" with Trump in 2006 and that it continued "well into the year 2007," according to the lawsuit. She said the relationship included encounters in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and Beverly Hills, California. Trump married his current wife, Melania Trump, in 2005.

Clifford claims she had sex with Trump once and then carried on a subsequent yearslong platonic relationship.

Previously, through a lawyer, Clifford denied the two had an affair, but Avenatti said Wednesday that was to meet the terms of the nondisclosure agreement. Trump's attorney Michael Cohen has denied there was ever an affair.

Cohen has said he paid the porn actress $130,000 out of his own pocket as part of the agreement. He has also said that "neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly."

The lawsuit charges that the Oct. 28, 2016, "hush agreement" is legally invalid because it was only signed by Clifford and Cohen. The agreement refers to Trump as David Dennison and Clifford as Peggy Peterson, but an attached exhibit details their true identities.

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump has "made very well clear that none of these allegations are true."

"The president has denied the allegations against him and again this case has already been won in arbitration," Sanders said.

Sanders declined to elaborate and referred additional questions to Cohen, who did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday.

An arbitrator in California issued a temporary restraining order last week that barred Clifford from disclosing any confidential information tied to the nondisclosure agreement or details about the arbitration hearing, according to a copy of the order that was obtained by NBC News.

Clifford's lawsuit alleges that Cohen had "surreptitiously initiated a bogus arbitration proceeding" against Clifford and within the last week used an "improper and procedurally defective arbitration proceeding hidden from public view."

The suit also charges that Trump and Cohen "aggressively sought to silence Ms. Clifford as part of an effort to avoid her telling the truth, thus helping to ensure he won the Presidential Election."

"To be clear, the attempts to intimidate Ms. Clifford into silence and 'shut her up' in order to 'protect Mr. Trump' continue unabated," the lawsuit said. Clifford alleges that as recently as last week, Trump's attorney tried to initiate an arbitration proceeding against her.

New anti-harassment proposal introduced in state Senate

ALBANY — There's a new proposal to overhaul government sexual harassment policies in New York state.

The Senate's Republican majority announced the measure Tuesday. Sponsored by Republican Sen. Catharine Young, the legislation would create a new, uniform policy prohibiting harassment at all levels of state and local government. A newly formed independent office would be tasked with investigating complaints.

The proposal would also prohibit confidential harassment settlements — unless the victim asks that their name be kept private — and allow government to recoup the cost of settlements between victims and a state employee.

Young's proposal would also make changes when it comes to private companies by prohibiting employment contracts that mandate arbitration of sexual harassment claims.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill as early as next week.