- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Latest on President Barack Obama (all times local):

4:25 p.m.

President Barack Obama is staffing up for his life and work as former president.

Obama has selected White House principal deputy press secretary Eric Schulz to be a senior adviser. Schultz is starting his own public affairs practice but will focus on managing Obama’s transition to ex-president. He’ll work to help Obama defend his legacy, promote his public image and engage with lawmakers, former staffers and political groups.

Obama has hired Justice Department official and former White House spokesman Kevin Lewis to be his spokesman. And first lady Michelle Obama has hired Caroline Adler Morales as her communications director. Morales also held that title for Mrs. Obama in the White House.

Lewis and Morales will work in the Obamas’ personal office.


4 p.m.

President Barack Obama says the American people made him “a better man” during the eight years he served.

Obama is thanking Americans in a letter sent to the White House email list. He says he’s also writing a letter to President-elect Donald Trump that he will leave in the Oval Office.

Obama says he has drawn strength from Americans’ goodness and resilience. He says he’s seen the public’s decency, determination and kindness.

The president says all Americans should “throw ourselves” into the work of citizenship, and not only during election years. He says he’ll be there with them “every step of the way.”

Obama says to remember that America isn’t the project of an individual. He says the most powerful word in U.S. democracy is “we.”


3:45 p.m.

Vice President Joe Biden is saying farewell to leaders from Kosovo, Greece and Cyprus.

Biden spoke to the leaders by phone as he prepared to leave office Friday. The White House says some of the calls came aboard Air Force Two as Biden flew back to Washington from a trip to Ukraine and Switzerland.

Biden told President Hashim Thaci of Kosovo that he hopes Kosovo and Serbia can move past tensions.

He told Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci that he’s willing to keep talking to them after leaving office about reunification talks.

Biden thanked Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for his work on reunification for Cyprus and for promoting a strong partnership between the U.S. and Greece.


3:15 p.m.

President Barack Obama is criticizing Congress for refusing to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying there’s “simply no justification beyond politics” to keep it open.

Obama pledged at the start of his presidency to close the facility in his first year. Lawmakers of both parties blocked the effort.

The president has significantly reduced the number of inmates being held there from several hundred to under 50 in hopes of making a financial case for closing the Bush-era facility. But that argument has not swayed lawmakers who object to moving inmates to U.S. prisons on the mainland.

In a letter to Congress the day before his term ends, Obama tells lawmakers they have put “politics above the ongoing costs to taxpayers” in keeping the prison open.


3:10 p.m.

The White House says President Barack Obama’s final call to a foreign leader was to German Chancellor Angela Merkel (AHN’-geh-lah MEHR’-kuhl).

Obama has described Merkel as the steadiest and most reliable international partner he’s had as president.

The White House says Obama expressed appreciation for their friendship and efforts to deepen relations between the U.S. and Germany, and thanked the chancellor for her leadership.

Officials said they also agreed that close cooperation between Washington and Berlin and the U.S. and Europe is essential to maintaining a sturdy trans-Atlantic bond.

European leaders are anxious about incoming President Donald Trump’s unpredictability and kind words for the Kremlin.

Obama also spoke with Merkel’s husband. First lady Michelle Obama joined the president on the call.


4:45 p.m.

In his last major act as president, Barack Obama is cutting short the sentences of 330 federal inmates convicted of drug crimes.

The move brings Obama’s bid to correct what he’s called a systematic injustice to a climactic close.

Obama has now commuted the sentences of 1,715 people, more than any other president in U.S. history. During his presidency Obama freed 568 inmates serving life sentences.

The final batch of commutations is the most any U.S. president has issued in a single day. It’s the culmination of a second-term effort to remedy consequences of decades of onerous sentencing requirements that Obama’s said put tens of thousands of drug offenders behind bars for too long.

Obama repeatedly called on Congress to act broadly, but lawmakers never did.

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