Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Ukraine’s Zelenskiy pressured by Trump months before call

Desmond Butler and Michael Biesecker, global investigations reporters in Washington, wanted to fill out the timeline of the diplomatic scandal at the heart of House impeachment inquiry. While Biesecker worked sources in Washington, Butler traveled to Ukraine to meet with associates of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and with other sources developed over years of investigating wrongdoing in the former Soviet Union.

What they learned moved the needle on a complex narrative — associates of the Ukrainian leader said that pressure from the Trump White House started much earlier than was known previously, dating from shortly after Zelenskiy’s election in April, and before he took office as president. 

The scoop was the latest in a series of breaking stories and exclusives by the pair that have defined coverage of the impeachment investigation and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s role in it.

For meticulous work that led to a major scoop and widened the horizons of the ongoing Ukraine-Trump story, Butler and Biesecker share AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 30, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: Chinese researcher claims first gene-edited babies

When a source told AP’s chief medical reporter Marilynn Marchione that a Chinese researcher had edited the DNA of several human embryos and implanted two into a woman, their conversation launched an aggressive but delicate reporting effort by AP journalists in the U.S. and China. That reporting led to the AP’s exclusive coverage of one of the most important and controversial claims in medical and science history. It was nothing less than an attempt to alter the trajectory of human heredity.

Science writer Christina Larson, videographer Emily Wang, researcher Fu Ting and photographer Mark Schiefelbein set out to interview the researcher and his colleagues in Shenzhen and Beijing, while Marchione and videographer Kathy Young worked the story from the U.S.

He's claim raised a laundry list of concerns. After talking with current and former colleagues and outside scientists, it became clear that his claim, while unverifiable, was plausible. AP knew it would be worthwhile reporting the claim, because the claim itself would be major scientific news. And it was – AP's exclusive on He's claim of the world’s first gene-edited babies made headlines worldwide.

The response from readers, customers and other scientists was immediate and intense. The inventors of the gene-editing technology He used condemned the claim. U.S. and Chinese universities that He was affiliated with launched investigations, and more than 100 Chinese scientists called for a ban on work of this kind in China.

AP’s reporting was credited or linked to by at least 44 media outlets and generated numerous downloads. At more than half a million page views it was by far the most read story on APNews for the week.

For responsibly breaking a story in all formats of a major scientific claim while exploring the ethical quandaries that He’s research has raised, Marchione, Larson, Wang, Young, Ting and Schiefelbein earn AP's Best of the Week.

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June 29, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Kobach sought pardon for VP of a corporate donor

Topeka correspondent John Hanna had been hearing hints for weeks that there might be something in Kris Kobach’s record that could cause trouble for the Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor.

At first, it was just that: hints. The suggestions were so vague that Hanna set off to review the nationally known Republican’s statements, but Hanna, whose reporting sense is informed by 30 years of statehouse reporting, found nothing.

So he kept digging. Eventually a source suggested there might be something to do with a pardon, and Hanna filed a records request.

The governor’s office released a copy of its file on a pardon request for Ryan Bader, the vice president of TriStar Arms, a firearms importer. Bader had faced an aggravated robbery charge over a 2009 incident but agreed to a plea bargain and received a light sentence. Now he wanted a pardon so that he could buy a gun again and get the licenses needed to take over the family business.

Bader’s attorney for the pardon request? Kobach. The records showed Kobach did not provide a key police affidavit that was later released by the office of GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer – whom Kobach is challenging. But there was more. Campaign finance records showed that TriStar had donated at least $7,000 to Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. The company also helped sponsor a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr.

Hanna’s APNewsBreak was well used, including a post on the homepage of a member that is usually hesitant to showcase work done outside its newsroom. It also became a topic of a gubernatorial debate, with Kobach defending the pardon request.

For smart digging and use of public records that helped drive the news agenda and political conversation, Hanna wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 14, 2018

Best of the States

Lobbyists – including House speaker’s brother – influence Florida’s payments to victims

In Florida, the Legislature has to approve court awards – beyond a capped amount – for lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by a state or local agency.

So when Florida Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout began hearing about a surge in payouts to victims and families harmed by government actions, he began digging into public and legislative records. What he found confirmed the influence of lobbyists, and of one lobbyist in particular: the House speaker’s brother.

Fineout found that claims lobbied by the speaker’s brother had a substantial rate of success. Of the $37.5 million in claims bills approved over the past two years, nearly half was awarded to victims represented by Michael Corcoran, brother of Florida’s House speaker.

One state lawmaker, a candidate for attorney general, said the process needs fixing, and said that Florida should have a codified, egalitarian process for awarding payments, one that doesn’t rely on who has the best lobbyist.

Fineout's story received extensive play, including a rare banner headline atop A1 in the state's largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The Sun-Sentinel newspaper said in an editorial that “Florida owes thanks to Gary Fineout ... for shedding light on a dark side of Florida government.”

For work that South News Director Ravi Nessman called a “perfect example of the kind of tough, accountability reporting that we prize so much from our statehouses,” Fineout wins this week's Best of the States award.

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May 04, 2018

Best of the States

FOIA reveal: Governor shields ally and agency in alleged harassment case

When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired a longtime friend and political ally last month, she said it was due to “credible” sexual harassment allegations. But her staff said no other information would be available about the behavior of Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison.

Statehouse reporter Barbara Rodriguez and Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley knew there was more to the story, but after filing FOIA requests, the governor's office told them there were no such records, prompting a rare case where reporting the denial would be newsworthy: that there was no evidence, correspondence or investigation into the allegations before Jamison was terminated.

Hours after that story moved, the governor’s office acknowledged they had made a mistake. There was a written detailed complaint against Jamison, but the office insisted it was exempt from FOIA.

Rodriguez and Foley didn’t stop there. They appealed the denial, leading the governor’s office to reverse course again and release the document, which immediately caused a firestorm.

It showed that Jamison had allegedly been harassing female subordinates for years, and that senior officials in the agency were aware of his behavior but apparently didn’t report it – which led to calls for an independent investigation. The governor initially rejected those calls but as pressure built, she announced she had hired a prominent outside lawyer to conduct such an investigation.

For aggressive reporting that shed light on accusations of sexual misconduct by a public official – including the lack of transparency surrounding the charges – the pair shares this week's Best of the States award.

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April 27, 2018

Best of the Week

Fast and furious: AP is hours ahead with sought-after Comey memos

The moment James Comey let slip that he had written “contemporaneous notes” detailing his dealings with President Donald Trump, those memos became the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The memos quickly became fodder for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as it related to possible collusion with the Trump campaign – and in particular, whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Prosecutors perused them, members of Congress demanded them and the public speculated about them.

In the end, The Associated Press got them.

Thanks to the resourceful reporting of the Washington bureau’s Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day, Tom LoBianco and Eric Tucker, the AP was the first news organization to publish the contents of those 15 pages of notes, hours ahead of the competition. And that major scoop is the Beat of the Week.

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April 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP's 50-state analysis: State legislatures lack public records of sexual misconduct claims

As the #MeToo movement spread to state capitols, AP statehouse reporters filed uniform FOIA requests with every legislature seeking information about past sexual misconduct cases and payouts to victims. The coordinated effort, overseen by State Government Team reporter David Lieb, produced some interesting numbers: roughly 70 complaints and nearly $3 million in sexual harassment settlements over the past decade.

But the real story was the information that wasn’t released.

In fact, a majority of states would not disclose records related to sexual misconduct among lawmakers. The most common response was that they had received no such complaints over the past decade, did not keep a record of any such complaints or were not legally bound to disclose the records. But Lieb's research revealed that even states with documented cases of lawmaker sexual harassment were not releasing records about those allegations – and potentially others.

Lieb worked with data editor Meghan Hoyer to organize and analyze the responses from our statehouse reporters in every state. The resulting spreadsheet was distributed to AP bureaus and customers weeks ahead of publication to allow for localizations. AP reporters in 19 states did just that, producing sidebars that in many cases landed on A1.

The mainbar and the state-by-state list of accused lawmakers received wide interest on the APNews app. The story also landed on at least 20 front pages.

For their 50-state accountability project on a topic that continues to rattle state capitols, Lieb and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 13, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: EPA's Pruitt spent millions on security, travel

Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lavish spending and deep concerns about security had put his future in the Trump Cabinet in jeopardy. But what was the cost to taxpayers?

AP beat reporter Michael Biesecker, whose aggressive coverage of Pruitt began more than a year ago when Trump nominated him for the EPA post, began working sources still at the agency and those who had left in search of the answer. His findings – that Pruitt spent about a whopping $3 million on security in the first year – win the Beat of the Week award.

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March 22, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: Kushner organization routinely filed false NYC housing documents

It started with a tip about tenants being harassed at a cluster of New York apartment buildings owned by Jared Kushner's family.

Bernard Condon, a New York-based business writer, began reporting the story last year, visiting buildings and interviewing the tenants, some of whom told similar stories of being subjected to loud construction at all hours, dust, rodents, lead paint in the air and heat suddenly shut off in the winter. Then, some were approached with offers of money to get them to move so the company could install higher-paying tenants.

But the tip did not truly develop until a tenant advocate source told Condon that Kushner Cos. had filed false paperwork for two buildings elsewhere in the city that made it easier to harass tenants during construction. Further, the organization had filed paperwork saying it had zero rent-regulated tenants in buildings throughout the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

If the Kushner Cos. had disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter city oversight, including possibly unscheduled "sweeps" on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants.

For dogged reporting that exposed the falsehoods of a company led by the president's son-in-law and trusted adviser, Condon earns the Beat of the Week.

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March 16, 2018

Best of the Week

Draining the swamp? AP reporters find at least 37 Trump administration officials with ethics waivers

It was a major catchphrase of Donald Trump’s campaign: He would “drain the swamp” in Washington.

But once Trump took office, Washington’s Michael Biesecker wasn’t seeing it. Government officials, it appeared, were working on issues they lobbied for on behalf of private clients. He set out to track the administration’s hiring and measure it against Trump’s pledge.

It did not measure up.

Biesecker and colleagues Juliet Linderman and Richard Lardner found that at least 37 appointees across the government had been granted ethics waivers, allowing them to regulate the very industries in which they had worked. For plumbing the depths of the swamp, their story is Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Lawmaker accused of meeting with prostitute used taxpayer money for hotel

Allegations that a lawmaker had been trysting with a prostitute while the Utah Legislature was in session rocked the state’s politics. The former lawmaker who had previously pushed for stricter laws cracking down on prostitution went into hiding. His attorney refused comment. The House speaker washed his hands of the scandal, and the prostitute was no longer talking, having sold the story to the tabloid site dailymail.com.

Political reporter Michelle Price needed another way into the story, so she started asking questions around the capitol.

She made a key discovery while looking at the screen grabs of the texts in the tabloid story: The dates lined up with the legislative session. She knew the lawmaker from southern Utah didn’t commute to the Legislature and would be staying in hotels while in Salt Lake City.

She started asking tougher questions. Was taxpayer money used to reimburse the lawmaker for hotel rooms where he met the prostitute? Now she had the attention of officials in state government.

Finally came the APNewsBreak: Price exclusively reported that the lawmaker used taxpayer money to book at least two hotel rooms he is accused of using to meet with the prostitute.

For determination and a commitment to exploring all angles even when the main characters weren’t talking, Price wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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July 20, 2017

Best of the Week

AP first to identify, interview Russian-American lobbyist at Trump Jr. meeting

The sensational news about a campaign-season meeting involving a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump’s inner circle – including his son, Donald Trump Jr. – developed over six days, with details and accounts changing almost by the hour. Reports trickled out that another man also was at the meeting to represent Russian interests.

With all major news organizations in hot pursuit, Washington’s Desmond Butler was the first to nail the identity of the lobbyist in question and also to nab the first on-the-record interview with him. For tenacious source work, Butler wins Beat of the Week.

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July 14, 2017

Best of the Week

​AP investigation: Children suffered as Vatican hospital chased profits

The approach to Vatican Correspondent Nicole Winfield came from a member of a task force that had investigated care at Italy’s foremost pediatric facility, known as “the pope’s hospital.” The contact feared that serious concerns raised by the task force hadn’t been addressed two years later.

That tip, in late 2015, set the AP on a 20-month investigation of the Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) Pediatric Hospital. Winfield teamed up with London-based Medical Writer Maria Cheng to reveal a dark chapter in the facility's history. They found that children sometimes paid the price as administrators tried to make the money-losing enterprise turn a profit, and Vatican officials took pains to keep the concerns quiet.

Their work earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 24, 2017

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: Placing a value – $24 billion – on 'golden visas'

They’re called “golden visas” – legal permission for non-citizens to reside in the U.S. or other countries in exchange for investment. But how much are such investments worth, and who is making them?

These were questions that AP’s Nomaan Merchant set out to answer, encouraged by Greater China news director Gillian Wong.

After months of searching out data from 20-plus countries, analyzing it and interviewing investors, Merchant could report that more than 100,000 Chinese have poured $24 billion in the last decade into "golden visa" programs across the world, and notably in the U.S. – an exclusive AP analysis that earns the Beat of the Week.

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