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The Latest News about Government and Politics

    Don McGahn was barely on speaking terms with President Donald Trump when he left the White House last fall. But special counsel Robert Mueller's report reveals the president may owe his former top lawyer a debt of gratitude. McGahn, who sat with Mueller for about 30 hours of interviews, emerged as a central character in Mueller's painstaking investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice and impeded the years-long Russia investigation. In one striking scene, Mueller recounts how Trump called McGahn twice at home and directed him to set Mueller's firing in motion. McGahn recoiled and threatened to resign instead. Mueller concluded that McGahn and others effectively halted Trump's efforts to influence the investigation, prompting some White House officials and outside observers to call him an unsung hero in the effort to protect the president. John Marston, a former Washington, D.C. assistant United States attorney, said McGahn appeared to help Trump 'both in real time with his actions and then as well as being forthcoming.' McGahn's relationship with the president was turbulent. A prominent Washington attorney, he joined Trump's campaign as counsel in 2015 and followed him to the White House, but the two men never developed a close rapport. His departure last fall came as little surprise. Still, it was McGahn who Trump turned to on June 17, 2017, when he wanted to oust Mueller. According to the special counsel report, McGahn responded to the president's request by calling his personal lawyer and his chief of staff, driving to the White House, packing up his belongings and preparing to submit his letter of resignation. He told then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the president had asked him to 'do crazy s---.' Mueller said McGahn feared Trump was setting in motion a series of events 'akin to the Saturday Night Massacre,' the Nixonian effort to rein in the Watergate investigation. William Alden McDaniel, a lawyer who represented targets and witnesses in the Ken Starr investigation, as well a high-ranking officials in the Iran-Contra scandal, said McGahn appeared to be 'one of the few people in the administration to stand up to the president' and that 'takes a certain amount of principle.' Mueller's report shows there were a handful of other aides who rebuffed orders and suggestions from the president, helping save him from the consequences. Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski resisted an effort by Trump to convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself from the investigation and to limit the scope of Mueller's probe. Priebus and McGahn repeatedly resisted Trump efforts to force out Sessions so that Trump could replace him and install a new person to oversee Mueller's work. McGahn also tried in other ways to keep the president in line, advising him that he should not communicate directly with the Department of Justice to avoid the perception or reality of political interference in law enforcement and reminding him that their conversations were not protected by attorney-client privilege. Trump responded by questioning McGahn's tendency to take notes and draft memoranda outlining his advice to the president for the historical record. 'Why do you take notes? Lawyers don't take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes,' Trump said, according to Mueller's report. The special counsel said McGahn responded that he keeps notes 'because he is a 'real lawyer' and explained that notes create a record and are not a bad thing.' Exchanges like those appear to have led Mueller to conclude that McGahn was 'a credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate given the position he held in the White House.' McGahn did not respond to a request for comment Thursday and nearly a dozen friends and former colleagues mostly spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting him, describing him as a private person. They largely characterized McGahn's time in the White House as unhappy and defined by his frequent clashes with the president. 'Don is an experienced lawyer who's dealt with difficult clients in the past,' said Jason Torchinsky, an election law attorney who has known McGhan for 20 years. The White House declined comment. In a campaign and White House staffed largely by novices and bootlickers, McGahn was a rare establishment figure, despite his longer hair and 80s cover band dabbling. He served as commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission and had deep roots with the Republican party, including spending a decade as general counsel of the National Republican Congressional Committee. At the White House, he earned praise from conservatives for helping confirm a series of conservative judges, including, in his final act, shepherding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation. He was also instrumental in fulfilling long-held conservative priorities, including leading the White House's systematic effort to cut government regulations and weaken the power of administrative law judges. __ Follow Miller and Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ZekeJMiller and https://twitter.com/colvinj
  • It's now up to Congress to decide what to do with special counsel Robert Mueller's findings about President Donald Trump. While the special counsel declined to prosecute Trump on obstruction of justice, he did not exonerate him, all but leaving the question to Congress. Mueller's report provides fresh evidence of Trump's interference in the Russia probe, challenging lawmakers to respond. The risks for both parties are clear if they duck the responsibility or prolong an inquiry that, rather than coming to a close, may be just beginning. 'The responsibility now falls to Congress,' said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has the power to launch impeachment proceedings. How far lawmakers will go, though, remains unclear. Republicans are eager to push past what Trump calls the 'witch hunt' that has overshadowed the party and the presidency. And while Democrats say Mueller's findings are far more serious than initially indicated in Attorney General William Barr's four-page summary, they've been hesitant to pursue the ultimate step, impeachment proceedings, despite pressure from the left flank of the party to begin efforts to try to remove the president from office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, traveling Thursday on a congressional trip to Ireland, said in a joint statement with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer only that Mueller's report revealed more than was known about the obstruction question. 'As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding,' they said. Later, in a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi vowed: 'Congress will not be silent.' Biding their time, Democrats are putting the focus on their next investigative steps. Nadler summoned Mueller to testify and the chairman said Thursday he will be issuing subpoenas for the full report. And next week, both the House and Senate are scheduled to hear from Barr, whom Democrats accuse of distorting the report's contents to Trump's benefit. But it's unlikely that the full Mueller report or the public testimony will untangle the dilemma that Democrats face. Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel's appointment in May 2017, and Trump made clear that he viewed the probe as a potential mortal blow — 'the end of my presidency.' The special counsel wrestled with what to do with his findings, unable to charge or exonerate, and sided with the department's guideline that indicting a sitting president would impair the ability of the executive branch to function. 'We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,' the report said. Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the acts described in the report 'whether they are criminal or not, are deeply alarming in the president of the United States. And it's clear that special counsel Mueller wanted the Congress to consider the repercussions and the consequences.' Schiff, the California Democrat, said, 'If the special counsel, as he made clear, had found evidence exonerating the president, he would have said so. He did not. He left that issue to the Congress of the United States.' Republicans sought to portray Democrats as unwilling to let go of the idea that Trump colluded with Russia to swing the election. 'What you're seeing is unprecedented desperation from the left,' tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a top Trump ally. 'There was no collusion. It's over.' Other Republicans were more measured. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is one of the few members of Congress mentioned in the report, told reporters in Kentucky, 'It's too early to start commenting on portions of it.' McConnell was among several people the report said former White House Counsel Don McGahn had reached out to on behalf of the president when Trump was trying to stop then Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself at the start of the Russia probe. In all, the report revealed 10 areas of potential obstruction, from Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey to his attempts to thwart Mueller's investigation. In many cases, the additional details show a president restrained only by aides and others around him. 'If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,' the report says. 'However, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.' Mueller's team hewed to department guidelines. 'We recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President's capacity to govern,' the report said. 'We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.' For Democrats, those pages amount to a green light to finish what Mueller started. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said his reading of the report shows that Trump 'almost certainly obstructed justice' and it was only his staff intervened to prevent certain actions. 'We have a very serious situation on our hands,' he said. 'It's an awesome and solemn responsibility that Congress has now to try to deal with the crisis that's contained in this report.' But what comes next may not be any more conclusive, especially as Democrats say they are unwilling to consider impeachment without bipartisan support from Republicans. The investigations may provide a steady stream of revelations that damage the president while also firing up his supporters to his defense as he gears up for re-election. Or the probes could push Congress farther than many now are willing to go. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday that she takes 'no pleasure in discussions of impeachment. I didn't campaign on it, & rarely discuss it unprompted.' But she said, 'the report squarely puts this on our doorstep.' ___ Associated Press reporters Mary Clare Jalonick, Padmananda Rama, Jennifer Peltz in New York and Dylan Lovan in LaGrange, Kentucky contributed to this report. ___ For complete coverage of the Mueller report, go to https://www.apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
  • President Donald Trump sought the removal of special counsel Robert Mueller, discouraged witnesses from cooperating with prosecutors and prodded aides to mislead the public on his behalf, according to a hugely anticipated report from Mueller that details multiple efforts the president made to curtail a Russia probe he feared would cripple his administration. Trump's attempts to seize control of the investigation, and directions to others on how to influence it, 'were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,' Mueller wrote in a two-volume, 448-page redacted report that made for riveting reading. In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel's appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: 'Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f---ed.' With that, Trump set out to save himself. In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would sooner resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of firings during the Watergate era. Two days later, the president made another attempt to alter the course of the investigation, meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictating a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation 'very unfair' to the president, declare Trump did nothing wrong and say Mueller should limit his probe to 'investigating election meddling for future elections.' The message was never delivered. The report's bottom line largely tracked the findings revealed in Attorney General William Barr's four-page memo released a month ago — no collusion with Russia but no clear verdict on obstruction — but it added new layers of detail about Trump's efforts to thwart the investigation. Looking ahead, both sides were already using the findings to amplify well-rehearsed arguments about Trump's conduct, Republicans casting him as a victim of harassment and Democrats depicting the president as stepping far over the line to derail the investigation. The Justice Department released its redacted version of the report about 90 minutes after Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings at a testy news conference. The nation, Congress and Trump's White House consumed it voraciously online, via compact disc delivered to legislators and in loose-leaf binders distributed to reporters. The release represented a moment of closure nearly two years in the making but also the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare. A defiant Trump pronounced it 'a good day' and tweeted 'Game Over' in a typeface mimicking the 'Game of Thrones' logo. By late afternoon, he was airborne for his Mar-a-Lago private club in Florida with wife Melania for the holiday weekend. Top Republicans in Congress saw vindication, too. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said it was time to move on from Democrats' effort to 'vilify a political opponent.' The California lawmaker said the report failed to deliver the 'imaginary evidence' incriminating Trump that Democrats had sought. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said Republicans should turn the tables and 'investigate the liars who instigated this sham investigation.' But Democrats cried foul over Barr's preemptive press conference and said the report revealed troubling details about Trump's conduct in the White House. In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wrote that 'one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding.' House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler added that the report 'outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct.' He sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel 'no later than May 23' and said he'd be issuing a subpoena for the full special counsel report and the underlying materials. Signaling battles ahead, Nadler earlier called the investigation 'incredibly thorough' work that would preserve evidence for future probes. Barr said he wouldn't object to Mueller testifying. Trump himself was never questioned in person, but the report's appendix includes 12 pages of his written responses to queries from Mueller's team. Mueller deemed Trump's written answers — rife with iterations of 'I don't recall' — to be 'inadequate.' He considered issuing a subpoena to force the president to appear in person but decided against it after weighing the likelihood of a long legal battle. In his written answers, Trump said his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Hillary Clinton's private server was made 'in jest and sarcastically' and said he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems. But Mueller said that within five hours of Trump's comment, Russian military intelligence officers were targeting email accounts connected to Clinton's office. Mueller evaluated nearly a dozen episodes for possible obstruction of justice, and said he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction. The episodes included Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president's directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate. Sessions was so affected by Trump's frequent criticism of him for recusing himself from the investigation that he kept a resignation letter 'with him in his pocket every time he went to the White House,' Mueller said. The president's lawyers have said Trump's conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mueller's team deemed the episodes deserving of scrutiny for potential criminal acts. As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote that the campaign 'expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.' But Mueller said investigators concluded, 'While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.' Workers at a Russian troll farm contacted Trump's campaign, claiming to be political activists for conservative grassroots organizations, and asked for signs and other campaign materials to use at rallies. While volunteers provided some of those materials — and set aside a number of signs — investigators don't believe any Trump campaign officials knew the requests were coming from foreign nationals, Mueller wrote. Mueller wrote that investigators 'did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.' Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, stressed that Mueller didn't think the president's obligations to run the executive branch entitled him to absolute immunity from prosecution. But to find that the president obstructed justice, he said, Mueller would have needed much clearer evidence that the president acted solely with 'corrupt intent.' 'The evidence was sort of muddled,' Blackman said, adding that the president's actions had multiple motivations. The report laid out some of Mueller's reasoning for drawing no conclusion on the question of obstruction. Mueller wrote that he would have exonerated Trump if he could, but he wasn't able to do that given the evidence he uncovered. And he said the Justice Department's standing opinion that a sitting president couldn't be indicted meant he also couldn't recommend Trump be criminally charged, even in secret. Trump's written responses addressed no questions about obstruction of justice, as was part of an agreement with Trump's legal team. He told Mueller he had 'no recollection' of learning in advance about the much-scrutinized Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. He also said he had no recollection of knowledge about emails setting up the meeting that promised dirt on Clinton's Democratic campaign. He broadly denied knowing of any foreign government trying to help his campaign, including the Russian government. He said he was aware of some reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made 'complimentary statements' about him. It wasn't just Trump under the microscope. But Mueller wrote that he believed prosecutors would be unlikely to meet the burden of proof to show that Donald Trump Jr. and other participants in the Trump Tower meeting 'had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful.' Nor did Mueller's probe develop evidence that they knew that foreign contributions to campaigns were illegal or other particulars of federal law. Barr's contention that the report contained only 'limited redactions' applied more to the obstruction of justice section than its look at Russian election meddling. Overall, about 40 percent of the pages contained at least something that was blocked out, mostly to protect ongoing investigations. Barr had said that he would redact grand jury information and material related to investigations, privacy and intelligence. ___ AP writers Zeke Miller, Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro, Dustin Weaver, Deb Riechmann, Susannah George, Michael R. Sisak, Stephen Braun, Jill Colvin, Jonathan Lemire, Darlene Superville, Jessica Gresko, Mark Sherman, Julie Pace and Elizabeth Kennedy contributed to this report. ___ For complete coverage of the Mueller report, go to https://www.apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
  • President Donald Trump and his wife Melania will make a state visit to Japan at the end of May to meet the newly enthroned emperor. Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed his abdicating father, current Emperor Akihito, on May 1. Trump will also hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the May 25-28 visit, and reportedly may attend a sumo match as well. The White House said Friday that Abe will also visit Washington on April 26-27 to talk about North Korean nuclear disarmament, trade and other issues.
  • Scott Pruitt, the scandal-ridden former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, registered as an energy lobbyist in Indiana on Thursday as fossil-fuels interests there are fighting to block the proposed closure of several coal-fired power plants. A lobbying disclosure report for Pruitt provides little insight into precisely what he's doing in Indiana, but several clues point to work on behalf of the coal industry. The disclosure report lists an address for Pruitt in an office tower in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and says he is a self-employed consultant who will be lobbying on issues involving energy and natural resources. Pruitt's sole client is listed as RailPoint Solutions LLC, a Delaware corporation created in January that has no listed street address or website. But Pruitt's form lists the name Heather Tryon as the company's manager. That's also the name of the chief financial officer of Terre Haute-based Sunrise Coal, which operates four coal mines in the state. Tryon's husband, who answered her home phone, said she was not immediately available to comment. Pruitt, who was Oklahoma's attorney general before being tapped as EPA administrator, did not respond to a voice message or an email seeking comment on Thursday evening. His lobbying filing was first reported Thursday by The Indianapolis Star. Two Indiana utilities recently announced plans to shutter nearly all their coal-fired power plants in the state. The Indiana Coal Council has filed appeals with state regulators seeking to block the plant closures. Meanwhile, some Republicans in the state House have been pushing a measure that seeks to put a moratorium on the construction of new gas-fired power plants or wind farms. Although Pruitt's disclosure form lists him as self-employed, state records indicate the paperwork was filed by Christi Heiney, an employee at Bose Public Affairs Group. The Indiana-based lobbying firm represents an array of clients that include energy and electricity companies. Heiney did not respond to a voice message or email Thursday evening. As EPA administrator, Pruitt was a staunch advocate for the continued use of coal and other fossil fuels while often downplaying the potential risks from climate change. He was forced to resign last year amid a wave of ethics scandals, including living in a bargain-priced Capitol Hill condo tied to an energy lobbyist. Following Pruitt's departure, President Donald Trump selected former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to serve as the nation's top environmental official. ___ Follow Associated Press investigative reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck
  • It's now up to Congress to decide what to do with special counsel Robert Mueller's findings about President Donald Trump. While the special counsel declined to prosecute Trump on obstruction of justice, he did not exonerate him, all but leaving the question to Congress. Mueller's report provides fresh evidence of Trump's interference in the Russia probe, challenging lawmakers to respond. The risks for both parties are clear if they duck the responsibility or prolong an inquiry that, rather than coming to a close, may be just beginning. 'The responsibility now falls to Congress,' said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has the power to launch impeachment proceedings. How far lawmakers will go, though, remains unclear. Republicans are eager to push past what Trump calls the 'witch hunt' that has overshadowed the party and the presidency. And while Democrats say Mueller's findings are far more serious than initially indicated in Attorney General William Barr's four-page summary, they've been hesitant to pursue the ultimate step, impeachment proceedings, despite pressure from the left flank of the party to begin efforts to try to remove the president from office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, traveling Thursday on a congressional trip to Ireland, said in a joint statement with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer only that Mueller's report revealed more than was known about the obstruction question. 'As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding,' they said. Later, in a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi vowed: 'Congress will not be silent.' Biding their time, Democrats are putting the focus on their next investigative steps. Nadler summoned Mueller to testify and the chairman said Thursday he will be issuing subpoenas for the full report. And next week, both the House and Senate are scheduled to hear from Barr, whom Democrats accuse of distorting the report's contents to Trump's benefit. But it's unlikely that the full Mueller report or the public testimony will untangle the dilemma that Democrats face. Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel's appointment in May 2017, and Trump made clear that he viewed the probe as a potential mortal blow — 'the end of my presidency.' The special counsel wrestled with what to do with his findings, unable to charge or exonerate, and sided with the department's guideline that indicting a sitting president would impair the ability of the executive branch to function. 'We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,' the report said. Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the acts described in the report 'whether they are criminal or not, are deeply alarming in the president of the United States. And it's clear that special counsel Mueller wanted the Congress to consider the repercussions and the consequences.' Schiff, the California Democrat, said, 'If the special counsel, as he made clear, had found evidence exonerating the president, he would have said so. He did not. He left that issue to the Congress of the United States.' Republicans sought to portray Democrats as unwilling to let go of the idea that Trump colluded with Russia to swing the election. 'What you're seeing is unprecedented desperation from the left,' tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a top Trump ally. 'There was no collusion. It's over.' Other Republicans were more measured. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is one of the few members of Congress mentioned in the report, told reporters in Kentucky, 'It's too early to start commenting on portions of it.' McConnell was among several people the report said former White House Counsel Don McGahn had reached out to on behalf of the president when Trump was trying to stop then Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself at the start of the Russia probe. In all, the report revealed 10 areas of potential obstruction, from Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey to his attempts to thwart Mueller's investigation. In many cases, the additional details show a president restrained only by aides and others around him. 'If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,' the report says. 'However, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.' Mueller's team hewed to department guidelines. 'We recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President's capacity to govern,' the report said. 'We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.' For Democrats, those pages amount to a green light to finish what Mueller started. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said his reading of the report shows that Trump 'almost certainly obstructed justice' and it was only his staff intervened to prevent certain actions. 'We have a very serious situation on our hands,' he said. 'It's an awesome and solemn responsibility that Congress has now to try to deal with the crisis that's contained in this report.' But what comes next may not be any more conclusive, especially as Democrats say they are unwilling to consider impeachment without bipartisan support from Republicans. The investigations may provide a steady stream of revelations that damage the president while also firing up his supporters to his defense as he gears up for re-election. Or the probes could push Congress farther than many now are willing to go. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday that she takes 'no pleasure in discussions of impeachment. I didn't campaign on it, & rarely discuss it unprompted.' But she said, 'the report squarely puts this on our doorstep.' ___ Associated Press reporters Mary Clare Jalonick, Padmananda Rama, Jennifer Peltz in New York and Dylan Lovan in LaGrange, Kentucky contributed to this report. ___ For complete coverage of the Mueller report, go to https://www.apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
  • Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker is announcing backing from a slate of black elected officials in the crucial early voting state of South Carolina. Booker's campaign said Thursday that the New Jersey senator is being endorsed by state Reps. Leola Robinson-Simpson and Annie McDaniel. He's also being supported by Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis, Clarendon County Auditor Patricia Pringle and Manning Mayor Julia Nelson. Booker has already netted the endorsement of state Rep. John King, a former chairman of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. His campaign returns to the state next week, with stops in Richland, Spartanburg, Union, Clarendon, Hampton and Beaufort counties. African American support is critical in South Carolina, where black voters comprise most of the Democratic primary electorate.
  • It may be special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation report , but the spotlight Thursday belonged just as much to the attorney general who made it public. The report had not yet been released when William Barr, by turns testy and defensive, took the Justice Department podium to face questions about the now-concluded probe. He was there not only to detail the main conclusions of Mueller's investigation but also to explain his handling of the report following a reputation-bruising month that has fueled skepticism from Democrats about whether the attorney general is functioning as a Donald Trump loyalist. 'It seems puzzling for someone with a long career at the department,' said Arun Rao, a former federal prosecutor in Maryland who served under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. 'Particularly today, his behavior seems to be more of an advocate for a client rather than representing the department.' At his press conference, Barr stressed about a half-dozen times that Mueller did not find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, a point Trump has seized on to try to claim vindication. He acknowledged that Mueller closely scrutinized the president for obstruction of justice but said he and Rosenstein disagreed with some of Mueller's legal theories. He also praised the White House's cooperation with the investigation and appeared to justify the president's anger over it, saying Trump 'faced an unprecedented situation' and people must bear in mind the context. '(T)here is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks,' Barr said. He gave a terse 'no' when asked by a reporter if he was concerned that it might be improper to hold a news conference before the report was public. He brushed off questions about whether he was protecting the president, saying he wasn't sure what the basis was to say he was being generous to Trump. A Justice Department official familiar with Barr's thinking said Barr simply wanted to confront head-on questions that he knew were lingering, including about the redaction process and interactions about the report between the Justice Department and the White House. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions, said Barr was following through on his commitment at his January confirmation hearing to be as transparent as possible by releasing a lightly redacted version of the Mueller report even though the regulations don't require any such disclosure. Skepticism of Barr's approach to Mueller's investigation mounted last month when he condensed the 448-page report into a four-page summary letter that Democrats said glossed over the special counsel's more damning evidence against Trump. Last week, he echoed Trump's own rhetoric by saying he believed his presidential campaign had been spied on and that he would investigate the origins of the investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. His press conference on Thursday was held without Mueller or members of his team and, critics charged, enabled Barr to place his own spin on the report's main findings before the American public even got a chance to see the document. Those actions have escalated partisan anxiety about Barr's trustworthiness and taken a toll on the standing of a Justice Department veteran who won over some skeptical Democrats with a smooth confirmation hearing at which he pledged independence and transparency. Congressional Democrats have demanded to hear from Mueller himself, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer citing a disconnect Thursday between Mueller's obstruction findings and the way Barr portrayed them. Timothy Flanigan, a former Justice Department colleague of Barr's, said the attorney general's summary of Mueller's report accurately reflected his findings. 'This is not a major hit to Bill Barr's reputation,' Flanigan said. Barr signaled his own skepticism of the investigation even before he took office with an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department last year in which he criticized Mueller's obstruction inquiry. But his appointment nonetheless won bipartisan support, especially coming after the president's selection of Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general who was attacked by Democrats as an unqualified Trump insider. At his confirmation hearing, Barr broke from some Trump talking points and defended Mueller as a longtime friend who'd never involve himself in a 'witch hunt' like the president has maintained. But his tone toward the investigation shifted in recent weeks as he learned more about Mueller's findings. He raised eyebrows at a congressional hearing last week when he said he believed the president's campaign had been spied on, likely a reference to a secret surveillance warrant the FBI obtained to monitor the communications of a former Trump campaign associate. The person familiar with his thinking said Barr, who early in his career worked for the CIA, did not mean the word in a pejorative sense and was referring to intelligence collection activities. He also changed his take on the 'witch hunt' question, saying it was all a matter of perspective and that someone who feels falsely accused of something would inevitably dislike the investigation. Frank Montoya, a former FBI supervisor, said he had given Barr the benefit of the doubt but was concerned by the ways in which Barr's thinking appeared to align with Trump's. 'He can't not know that we're in highly partisan times,' Montoya said of Barr. 'To throw fuel on the fire the way that he does, all that it does is reinforce the idea that Trump is right.' ____ Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP ___ For complete coverage of the Mueller report, go to https://www.apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
  • Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Thursday announced endorsements from seven black lawmakers in the critical early voting state of South Carolina, a show of force in the first place where African American voters feature prominently in next year's primary elections. Sanders' 2020 campaign made the announcement just ahead of a Spartanburg town hall meeting with members of the state's Legislative Black Caucus. The backing represents the biggest number of black lawmakers to back a 2020 hopeful to date in this state, which holds the first primary in the South. The support is part of Sanders' attempt to turn things around in South Carolina, where his 47-point loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016 blunted the momentum generated in opening primary contests and exposed his weakness with black voters. Sensing the coming defeat, Sanders left South Carolina in the days leading up to the state's 2016 vote, campaigning instead in Midwestern states where he hoped to perform better. Sanders, a senator from Vermont, has taken a different approach this time, working to deepen ties with the black voters who comprise most of the Democratic primary electorate in the state and pledging to visit South Carolina much more frequently. Our Revolution, the organizing offshoot of Sanders' 2016 campaign, has an active branch in the state, holding regular meetings and conferences throughout the state. Sanders addressed the group last year. The campaign recently hired a state director and, according to adviser Jeff Weaver, is putting together a 'much stronger team on the ground, much earlier in the process.' Last month, Sanders made his first official 2020 campaign stop in this state, holding a rally at a black church in North Charleston. Attracting a mostly white crowd of more than 1,500 that night, Sanders recounted many of the efforts of his previous presidential campaign, noting that some of his ideas had since been adopted by the Democratic Party and supported by other candidates vying for the party's nomination. On Thursday, the pews of Mount Moriah Baptist Church were filled with a diverse crowd of several hundred as Sanders took to a lectern and addressed his ideas for criminal justice reform, issues that he said disproportionately affect the African American community. 'We understand that we are just denting the surface,' Sanders said, going on to discuss racial discrepancies in arrests for traffic violations and marijuana possession. 'I think a new day is coming.' Applauding Sanders' attention to the needs of the black community, Spartanburg Councilman Michael Brown reminded the crowd of Sanders' participation in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and encouraged him to stay the course in terms of his efforts to reach out to the black voters here. 'Thank you, sir. Keep the conversation going,' Brown said. 'Remain unapologetic in what you have to say because your message is resonating in our community and throughout this land.' The South Carolina lawmakers endorsing Sanders are state Reps. Wendell Gilliard, Cezar McKnight, Krystle Simmons, Ivory Thigpen and Shedron Williams. He's also being backed by state Reps. Terry Alexander and Justin Bamberg, both of whom backed Sanders in 2016 and served as national surrogates for his campaign. ___ Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
  • Across nearly 450 pages, blocks of black interrupt parts of Robert Mueller's careful, dry narrative recounting Russian election meddling and President Donald Trump's fear and ire. Most often, the Justice Department redactions mask a few words or paragraphs. In a few spots, they stretch for an entire page. Attorney General William Barr said the report released Thursday was marred only by 'limited redactions,' but that's true only for the part of the report dealing with possible obstruction by Trump. An Associated Press analysis of the full document shows that nearly two-thirds of the section dealing with Russia's meddling — 139 pages out of 199 —had some form of redaction. By comparison, only 24 out of 182 pages in the obstruction section were at least partially masked, the AP analysis shows. The disparity reflects concerns over disclosing intelligence and ongoing law enforcement matters related to Russian interference in the election and, to a lesser degree, exposing grand jury testimony. The AP analysis showed that nearly 40% of the report's entire 448 pages — including its two main sections, appendixes and even its table of contents — had redactions. The blacked-out passages leave factual holes that force readers to guess Mueller's intent. Even before the report's release, the redactions were at the core of a political battle pitting the Trump administration against skeptical Democratic lawmakers, who have insisted on the release of the full report. They are expected to wage a court fight over it, testing the limits of presidential authority. Barr has promised to provide congressional leaders with a version of the report containing fewer redactions, but it's not clear if this will satisfy Democrats. Barr said his department had to redact material related to grand jury proceedings, ongoing investigations, privacy issues and intelligence, but said the redactions were limited. 'Given the limited nature of the redactions, I believe that the publicly released report will allow every American to understand the results of the special counsel's investigation,' Barr said in a news conference shortly before the redacted report was released. Several blacked-out passages refer to efforts by the Trump campaign to keep apprised of WikiLeaks dumps of emails and other materials related to Hillary and her campaign. The passages refer to now-convicted former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and to other campaign aides and allies. Those references are likely related to the Mueller team's investigation into the activities of long-time Trump ally Roger Stone, who faces charges stemming from conversations he had during the campaign about WikiLeaks Some pages that are almost entirely blacked out appear to mask the Mueller team's narrative concerning efforts by a secretive Russian tech team known as the Internet Research Agency to interfere in the 2016 election on the side of the Trump campaign. In referencing Yevgeniy Prigozhin, an oligarch who funded that group, Justice officials blacked out details about his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin is under indictment, but is not in U.S. custody. 'Harm to Ongoing Matter,' the blacked out section noted. ___ For complete coverage of the Mueller report, go to https://www.apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A Florida man who fled after shooting into a home Wednesday evening grabbed a K-9 by the neck and fought with him before being arrested, the Melbourne Police Department said. >> Read more trending news  Melbourne police said they were called to a home after Philip Spurlock, 23, allegedly shot into the home before driving away on a motorcycle. Investigators said detectives in unmarked vehicles followed Spurlock at a safe distance as he drove at speeds in excess of 80 mph in a zone where the speed limit was 35 mph. Police said Spurlock ditched the motorcycle and ran into the backyard of a home, where he tried to hide behind an air-conditioning unit. Investigators said a K-9 officer closed in on Spurlock, who grabbed the K-9 dog, Brutus, around the neck with both hands and began to fight with him. Police said Spurlock was arrested and taken to Holmes Regional Medical Center to be treated for a dog bite. Spurlock was charged with shooting into an occupied dwelling, reckless driving, resisting arrest without violence and offenses against a police dog. Police said the dog is OK.
  • U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday released a redacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s highly anticipated report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. >> Read more trending news The report was released around 11 a.m., weeks after Mueller completed his investigation. President Donald Trump hailed the report as a victory over his critics. >> Mueller Report: Read the report Barr just released Update 6:45 p.m. EDT April 18: The Justice Department said it will provide Congress with a second version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that has fewer redactions in the coming two weeks. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in a letter to lawmakers Thursday that the Justice Department will make the report available to House and Senate leaders, as well as the top Republicans and Democrats on the judiciary and intelligence committees. Each lawmaker can also have a staff member present. Boyd said the report will be provided in a secure reading room at the Justice Department next week and in a secure room in the Capitol the week of April 29. The unredacted material will include classified information and material involving private citizens who were not charged. It won’t include secret grand jury information. Update 3:45 p.m. EDT April 18: Mueller’s report shows the Russian-based Internet Research Agency worked not only in Trump’s favor but also in favor of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination before losing to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The company’s attempt to boost Sanders’ candidacy first surfaced last year, after authorities charged more than a dozen people and three companies with interfering in the election, The Washington Post reported. According to the newspaper, IRA operators were instructed not to harm Sanders’ reputation. “Main idea: Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary [Clinton] and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them),” Mueller quoted IRA operators as saying. Update 2:55 p.m. EDT April 18: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler said Thursday that he will issue a subpoena to get the full Mueller report and the underlying materials from Barr after the attorney general released a redacted version of the report. “Contrary to public reports, I have not heard from the Department (of Justice) about receiving a less-redacted version of the report,” he said Thursday in a statement. “Because Congress requires this material in order to perform our constitutionally-mandated responsibilities, I will issue a subpoena for the full report and the underlying materials.” Barr is scheduled to testify before the committee May 2. Update 2:25 p.m. EDT April 18: Kellyanne Conway, who serves as counselor to the president, told reporters Thursday that Mueller’s report was inaccurate in its description of Trump’s reaction to the special counsel’s appointment. >> From Cox Media Group's Jamie Dupre: Mueller: Trump obstruction failed because aides refused orders to undermine Russia probe According to Mueller, the president 'slumped back in his chair and said, 'Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm (expletive).’' However, Conway said she was in the room when Trump learned about the appointment and that she “was very surprised to see” Mueller’s report on it, CNN reported. “That was not the reaction of the president that day,” she said. Update 2 p.m. EDT April 18: Vice President Mike Pence said in a statement Thursday that the special counsel’s report showed “no collusion, no obstruction.” “While many Democrats will cling to discredited allegations, the American people can be confident President Trump and I will continue to focus where we always have, on advancing an agenda that’s making our nation stronger, safer and more secure.” Despite the vice president’s claims, Mueller declined to answer the question of whether Trump obstructed justice in his actions related to the Russia probe. “Now that the Special Counsel investigation is completed, the American people have a right to know whether the initial investigation was in keeping with long-standing Justice Department standards -- or even lawful at all,” Pence said. “We must never allow our justice system to be exploited in pursuit of a political agenda.” Update 1:45 p.m. EDT April 18: In a joint statement released Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Barr and Mueller reached conflicting conclusions on the question of whether the president obstructed justice. “The differences are stark between  what Attorney General Barr said on obstruction and what Special Counsel Mueller said on obstruction,” the statement said. “As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding.” In his report, Mueller declined to answer questions surrounding whether Trump obstructed justice in his efforts to tamp down on the Russia probe, which authorities said he saw as a direct challenge to his presidency. Update 1:40 p.m. EDT April 18: In the report released Thursday, Mueller said his team’s investigation was sometimes hampered by the use of applications that “feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records” and the deletion of communications relevant to the probe. “In such cases, the Office (of the Special Counsel) was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts,” the report said. “Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given  these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast a new light)the events described in the report.” Update 1:20 p.m. EDT April 18: Mueller said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted in an interview that her comments to the news media after the firing of former FBI Director James Comey were “not founded on anything.” In response to a reporter’s question about FBI support for Comey after his May 2017 dismissal, Huckabee Sanders said at news briefing that, “We’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.” 'The evidence does not support those claims,' according to the Mueller report. Update 1:15 p.m. EDT April 18: The House Intelligence Committee invited Mueller to testify next month after Barr released a redacted version of his 448-page report Thursday. “To discharge its distinct constitutional and statutory responsibility, the Committee must be kept ‘fully and currently informed’ of the intelligence and counterintelligence findings, evidence, and implications of your investigation,” committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff said in a letter to Mueller dated Thursday. “This requires that the Committee receive comprehensive testimony from you about the investigation’s full scope and areas of inquiry, its findings and underlying evidence, all of the intelligence and counterintelligence information gathered in the course of the investigation.” The House Judiciary Committee has also asked Mueller to testify. In a letter sent Thursday, committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler asked Mueller to appear before the panel by May 23. Update 12:45 p.m. EDT April 18: Brad Parscale, manager of the 2020 Trump presidential campaign, hailed the release of Mueller’s report Thursday and repeated the president’s calls for an investigation into the investigators. “President Trump has been fully and completely exonerated yet again,” Parscale said in a statement. “Now the tables have turned, and it’s time to investigate the liars who instigated this sham investigation into President Trump, motivated by political retribution and based on no evidence whatsoever.” In the report released Thursday, Mueller said the FBI launched an investigation into whether Trump campaign officials were coordinating with the Russian government in July 2016. The investigation came after authorities said then-Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a foreign government that “the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” Update 12:35 p.m. EDT April 18: Mueller said Trump attempted to influence the investigation into Russian election meddling. Mueller said his efforts “were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede his request.” Mueller’s report details instances by several officials, including former FBI Director James Comey, former White House counsel Don McGahn and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, ignoring or refusing Trump’s requests to interfere in the investigation. Update 12:15 p.m. EDT April 18: When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump in May 2017 that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate Russian election meddling, the president 'slumped back in his chair and said, 'Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm (expletive).'  Trump blamed Sessions for the appointment, according to Mueller. 'Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency,' Trump said, according to the report released Thursday. 'It takes years and years and I won't be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.' Speaking Thursday at an event at the White House, Trump said, “this should never happen to another president again.” Update 11:45 a.m. EDT April 18: In the report released Thursday, Mueller said his team considered Trump’s written responses to questions in the Russia probe to be inadequate, but they decided against subpoenaing the president because of the delay such a move would cause to the investigation. Other revelations from the report include: Mueller said Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn in June 2017 to call the acting attorney general and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. Trump previously denounced reports of the call as “fake news.”  Members of Trump’s staff might have saved him from more dire legal consequences by refusing to carry out orders they thought were legally risky, according to The Washington Post.  Mueller made clear in the report that “Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, and the Trump campaign was willing to take” the help, the Post reported. However, investigators were unable to establish that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government. Update 11:30 a.m. EDT April 18: In his report, Mueller shared the reasoning behind his decision not to answer the question of whether the might have president obstructed justice. Mueller’s team scrutinized 10 episodes in which Trump sought to seize control of the Russia probe, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey, his directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.  The president’s lawyers have said Trump’s conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mueller’s team deemed the episodes were deserving of scrutiny to determine whether crimes were committed. Update 11:25 a.m. EDT April 18: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he was “having a good day” following the release of the Mueller report. “This should’ve never happened,” Trump told a crowd gathered at a Wounded Warriors event at the White House, according to CNN. “I say this in front of my friends — this should never happen to another president again. This hoax — it should never happen again.' Trump’s attorneys hailed the report as “a total victory for the president” in a statement released to CNN. “The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning - there was no collusion - there was no obstruction,” the statement said. “This vindication of the President is an important step forward for the country and a strong reminder that this type of abuse must never be permitted to occur again.” >> The Mueller report: What is in it, when will it be released, what will happen next? Update 11 a.m. EDT April 18: Barr has released a redacted version of the Mueller report, which is 448 pages long. >> Mueller report: Read the transcript of William Barr's remarks Update 10:55 a.m. EDT April 18: President Donald Trump was expected to deliver remarks Thursday morning at the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride as lawmakers and the public await the release of Mueller’s report. However, by 10:55 a.m., Trump had yet to appear for the event. Update 10:30 a.m. EDT April 18: In a letter sent Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler asked Mueller to testify before the panel no later than May 23. Nadler released his letter to Mueller minutes after Barr spoke with reporters about the report, which is expected to be released Thursday. Barr told reporters he had “no objection to Bob Mueller testifying.” “It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” Nadler said. Update 10:20 a.m. EDT April 18: Barr said he plans to release a less-redacted version of Mueller’s report to several congressional committees on Thursday “in an effort to accommodate congressional requests” for Mueller’s full report. “These members of Congress will be able to see all of the redacted materials for themselves -- with the limited exception of that which, by law, cannot be shared,” Barr said Thursday morning at a news conference. “I believe that this accommodation, together with my upcoming testimony before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, will satisfy any need Congress has for information regarding the special counsel’s investigation.”    Update 10:05 a.m. EDT April 18: At a news conference Thursday morning, Barr said it will be important to view President Donald Trump’s actions in context. “President Trump faced an unprecedented situation,” Barr said. “As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion.” Barr said the Office of the White House Counsel has reviewed the redacted version of Mueller’s report but that Trump declined to assert privilege over it. Trump took to Twitter after Barr spoke to highlight that there was 'No collusion. No obstruction.' Update 9:50 a.m. EDT April 18: Mueller’s report details two main efforts sponsored by Russian government officials to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, Barr said Thursday morning at a news conference ahead of the report’s release. The report details efforts by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with ties to the Russian government, to “sow social discord among American votes through disinformation and social media operations,” Barr said. It also details efforts by Russian military officials connected to the GRU, “to hack into computers and steal documents and emails from individuals affiliated with the Democratic Party.” “The special counsel found no evidence that any Americans -- including anyone associated with the Trump campaign -- conspired or coordinated with the Russian government or the IRA in carrying out this illegal scheme,” Barr said. Update 9:15 a.m. EDT April 18: President Donald Trump called the Mueller investigation 'The Greatest Political Hoax of all time!' in a series of tweets posted Thursday ahead of the release of the report. >> Mueller report: Trump tweets 'presidential harassment' ahead of redacted report's release “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” he wrote in a subsequent tweet. Trump has frequently criticized the Mueller investigation, framing the probe as a political “witch hunt” aimed at harming his presidency. Original report: Barr is expected to release a redacted version of Mueller’s report to Congress between 11 a.m. and noon Thursday before sharing the report on the special counsel’s website, Cox Media Group’s Jamie Dupree reported. >> From Cox Media Group’s Jamie Dupree: Battle lines clear as D.C. awaits redacted Mueller report Mueller completed his investigation late last month, 22 months after he launched his probe at the direction of the Justice Department. The investigation was frequently lambasted by President Donald Trump as a “witch hunt” aimed at undermining his presidency. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Florida Senator Rick Scott joined CNBC’s “Squawk Box”  Wednesday  to discuss the United States’ trade negotiations with China and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and it's socialist policies.  Senator Scott also discussed why residents are fleeing high-tax states like New York and Massachusetts for better opportunities in low-tax Florida. To see video in APP click here 
  • “You told me to.” Those were the dying words of a North Carolina man who was shot by police as he followed orders to drop the gun he had in his pocket, body camera footage shows. Footage of the March 25 death of Danquirs Napoleon Franklin, 27, was released Friday by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The video was released on the order of Mecklenburg County Superior Judge Donnie Hoover, who was responding to a petition by local media.  >> Read more trending news Prosecutors and the attorney representing Officer Wende Kerl objected to the release. Assistant District Attorney Bill Bunting argued the release could impact the ongoing criminal investigation into the shooting, WSOC in Charlotte reported. Defense attorney Jeremy Smith cited concerns for Kerl’s safety.  Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officials said dispatchers received two 911 calls around 9 a.m. the morning of the shooting, the calls coming within two minutes of one another. The calls came from a Burger King located on Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte.  “The first caller frantically said she needed police quickly because the individual entered the store, walked behind the counter with a gun and was pointing it at an employee,” a police department statement said. “The second caller frantically said she needed police because an individual had approached her vehicle while she was waiting for food in the parking lot of the business and pulled out a gun.” Listen to the 911 call from inside Burger King, courtesy of WSOC.  Kerl and another officer, Larry Deal, responded to the scene, where they saw Franklin squatting next to the open front passenger door of a burgundy Honda Accord parked outside the fast food restaurant.  “A short time later, Officer Kerl perceived an imminent, deadly threat and subsequently fired her department issued firearm two times, striking Mr. Franklin,” police officials said. “He was transported to Atrium Health where he was pronounced deceased a short time later.” Kerl’s own body camera footage shows Franklin never pointed the weapon at anyone during the fatal confrontation. He appeared to be following the officers’ orders to put his weapon on the ground.  The 2-minute, 20-second video begins with footage of Kerl driving up to the Burger King. She does not get out of her car until the midpoint of the recording. Watch the entirety of the body camera footage below. Warning: The footage is graphic and shows Danquirs Franklin’s final moments. Viewer discretion is advised. As soon as she is out of the car, she joins Deal in ordering Franklin to show his hands. Franklin is not yet visible on the camera footage. After screaming for Franklin to let them see his hands several times, Kerl begins to move in front of Deal. “I’m crossing. I’m crossing,” Kerl says, letting Deal know she’s entering his line of fire.  At this point, Kerl is about a car length away from Franklin, who squats by the open car door. Another man sits inside the car.  “Put the gun down now!” Kerl and Deal shout at Franklin, who is approached by a Burger King employee.  “He’s got a gun. He’s got a gun,” Kerl says.  Watch Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney discuss body worn cameras below.  The officers order the female employee to get out of the way. They continue to scream at Franklin, ordering him to drop the weapon.  “I heard you the first (unintelligible) time,” Franklin appears to say calmly.  The gun is still not visible on the body camera footage.  “Put it on the ground!” Kerl shouts one last time. Franklin’s right hand appears to go into his pocket. He pulls out a handgun by its barrel and lowers it to the ground. As soon as the handgun is visible, Kerl fires her service weapon twice into Franklin’s body. He turns his face toward the officer.  “You told me to put it …,” Franklin says, the rest of his words swallowed by the officers’ continued screams for him to drop the gun.  At that point, the weapon can be seen already on the pavement.  A shocked-looking Franklin, grimacing in pain, glances into the car once more before slumping against the open car door.  “Shots fired. Shots fired,” Kerl says into her body-worn radio. Deal can be heard radioing the need for medical assistance as someone screams from somewhere near the restaurant.  Kerl and Deal approach Franklin, who has slumped onto the pavement. They order the man sitting in the car, who tells them he’s the “GM,” or general manager, to put his hands on the dashboard as Kerl picks up Franklin’s gun from near his still body.  That’s when the publicly released footage ends.  Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles urged calm in the community in advance of the release of the police footage, according to WSOC.  “It’s another really sad moment and (a) reminder that the responsibilities of law enforcement are, and will always be, immense,” Mayor Lyles said. “In the blink of an eye, their jobs require an instantaneous decision, and that’s something none of us should take lightly.” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said his department expected there would be protests, but that he expected they would be peaceful. “We expect this to be people voicing their opinion,” Putney said.  When asked about his own reaction to watching the video, he described it as being “like a punch to the gut.” “It’s hard to watch. It’s hard to see. Because a life has been lost,” Putney said, according to WSOC. “I hope you’ll do what we’re doing and pray for Miss Franklin and her family. Pray for our officers, whose lives have been destroyed as well. Come together as a community and be heard. But be lawful.” Peaceful protests did pop up around Charlotte in the aftermath of the video’s release, including one hosted by the NAACP’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch and UNC Charlotte that NAACP officials said was “in memory of Danquirs Franklin and every stolen life.” During that event, Corine Mack, the president of the local NAACP chapter, said that priorities must change.  “I think that Chief Putney is a good and decent human being,” Mack said. “But I also know that one man can’t change the hearts and minds of 1,800 officers. Especially those who’ve been reared in the root of hate in this country. “All cops are not bad cops. But if you’re a solid cop, you are now accountable for that bad cop’s actions. We’re asking for folks to be honest and forthright, to come forward when they see wrong. To speak out when they see wrong. To ensure that the lives that we’re talking about get the same fair treatment as anyone else.” At another protest, Mack told the crowd the video made her “sick to her stomach,” WSOC reported.  “When I saw that video, I wanted to hurt somebody,” Mack said. “If I felt that way, imagine how the family felt.” Franklin’s cousin, James Barnett, spoke to the news station about watching the video.  Up until this point we’ve been silent and only wanted the truth to come out, but we also wanted to see it because it was the last moments of his life,” Barnett said.  Scott MacLatchie, a police attorney with experience in officer-involved shootings, told WSOC a key factor was the amount of time officers gave Franklin prior to firing a gun. He pointed out that it took more than 40 seconds for Franklin to follow the officers’ orders.  “He wasn’t cooperating for a long time,” Franklin said.  Kerl, who has been a police officer in Charlotte since April 1995, was placed on administrative leave while the investigation is conducted. According to police officials, an internal investigation is being done parallel to the criminal investigation into the officer’s actions.  All findings of the criminal investigation will be turned over to the district attorney for review, authorities said. 
  • The City of Edgewood has appointed former City Council President John Dowless as the new Mayor. The decision came in a unanimous vote by City Council at Edgewood City Council’s monthly meeting on April 16th, 2019. Mayor Dowless has served on Edgewood’s City Council since 2011. He will complete the term of the late Mayor Raymond Bagshaw. In a statement, Dowless said, “There are many residents, including Edgewood’s City Council members who are more than qualified and equally passionate about our city. I am humbled by their vote of confidence and will endeavor to make them and the residents of Edgewood proud.” Dowless also mentioned redeveloping Orange Avenue and preserving City Hall and the Police Department as some of his main priorities.

Washington Insider

  • Thursday's release of a 448 page redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections certainly did not end the questions about the investigation, as President Donald Trump labeled it, 'PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!' and Democrats demanded even more answers about what was in the report. First, you can find a link to the report on the website of the Department of Justice. The report is divided into two parts. The first deals with questions of collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia - the Special Counsel found evidence of 'numerous' contacts between them, but not enough to merit charges for any illegal activity. The second part of the report deals with questions about obstruction of justice. In that portion, investigators found that top aides, advisers, and friends of the President routinely ignored his orders to fire people like the Special Counsel and more. Here's more from the fine print of the Mueller report: 1. The first part of the collusion statement used by Barr. The release of the Mueller report allowed a full review of a sentence fragment employed by Attorney General William Barr in his late March letter, which (accurately) said, 'the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. Many reporters had wondered what was in the first part of that statement and why it was not included in Barr's letter. And, starting on page nine, it seemed clear. 'The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,' the Mueller report concluded. Then adding the start of the sentence used by Barr: 'Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benfeit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts...' 2. It wasn't just Comey writing memos after talks with Trump. After getting fired as FBI Director, James Comey made public memos which he had written after various talks with President Trump. It's also been reported that former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe did the same thing. Now the Mueller report shows others did, too. Deputy National Security Director K.T. McFarland saved a contemporaneous memo after a discussion with the President in which the Mr. Trump asked McFarland to 'write an internal email denying that the President had directed Flynn to discuss sanctions' with the Russian Ambassador, when McFarland knew the real answer was that Mr. Trump had done exactly that. Then there were top officials at the National Security Agency, who were so alarmed by a phone call with Mr. Trump - they wrote a memo and put it in an NSA safe - with the deputy NSA chief saying it was 'the most unusual thing he had experienced in 40 years of government service.' 3. Aides, advisers, friends, regularly ignore Trump requests. Whether it was on big items like firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, forcing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or sending messages to top officials, the Mueller report is chock full of examples where the President tells people to do something - and they refuse to do it - worried it's the wrong move. White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to fire Mueller. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus wouldn't tell Sessions he should leave. Corey Lewandowski wouldn't send a message for the President to Sessions, and even tried to get a White House aide to do it - but he also refused. Then there was this tidbit from former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had lunch with President Trump, and was told to send along a message to James Comey. This was the same day that Mr. Trump told Comey - after clearing the Oval Office of other officials - that he wanted the feds to 'let this go' when it came to legal issues for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. 4. Rosenstein threatened to 'tell the truth' on Comey firing. After using a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as a pretext to fire FBI Director James Comey - the White House pressed Rosenstein to further explain why Comey had been fired, 'to put out a statement saying that it was Rosenstein's idea to fire Comey.' Rosenstein said that was a 'false story,' and after President Trump called on the phone to ask the Deputy A.G. to do a press conference about the Comey firing, the report says Rosenstein said he would 'tell the truth that Comey's firing was not his idea.' The Mueller report goes along with testimony released by Republicans in recent weeks which depicted Rosenstein as furious with the White House over the Comey firing, convinced that he was 'used' to get rid of the FBI Director. 5. Sarah Huckabee Sanders comments 'not founded on anything.' After President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May of 2017, the White House repeatedly defended the move by saying that ousting Comey was supported by 'countless members of the FBI,' though the White House produced no evidence to reporters back up that assertion. Fast forward a bit over a year to July of 2018, when Sanders was interviewed by investigators, she admitted there was no truth to her assertion from the podium. 'Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from 'countless members of the FBI' was a 'slip of the tongue,'' the report stated. Asked about a comment in another press interview about how FBI agents had supposedly lost confidence in Comey, 'Sanders acknowledged to investigators that her comments were not founded on anything.' 6. A series of unknown Mueller cases are still active. While Attorney General William Barr told Congress last month that the Mueller report 'does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public,' the details show a slightly different story. At the end of the report, there are lists of cases transferred to other prosecutors, and information on other matters - uncovered by Mueller - but referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. In those two lists, a series of cases were redacted - two cases transferred by Mueller - and 12 other cases in which referrals were made. All of them were redacted for the reason that publicity could damage ongoing investigations, what was officially known as, 'Harm to Ongoing Matter.' Maybe they are cases which have nothing to do with the Russia investigation or with President Trump. But one of the referrals which was not redacted involved Mr. Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Technically, these aren't Mueller cases - but they're also still secret. 7. Mueller discredits Wikileaks claim of Seth Rich DNC leak. Along with Pizzagate, the claim by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that a former DNC staffer was the source of leaked Democratic Party emails was one of the biggest conspiracy theories to emerge from the 2016 campaign. In the report, Mueller's team says file transfer evidence linking Wikileaks to Russian Intelligence lays waste to the claim that Seth Rich had leaked materials to Assange - and may have been murdered as a result. Assange has repeatedly denied any ties to Russian agents, but U.S. Intelligence has long regarded Wikileaks as a 'fence' for Russian Intelligence, and that the two tied themselves together to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. 8. Mueller says witnesses deleted potential evidence. In laying out the evidence put forward in the report, the Special Counsel's office made clear that the Russia probe was hampered because of information which could not be obtained - making it clear that some people under investigation had deleted texts and other electronic communications, 'including some associated with the Trump Campaign.' One example was between former White House aide Steve Bannon and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who were questioned about a secretive meeting in the Seychelles, which involved Russian figures. Bannon and Prince told different stories - but investigators couldn't see their text messages, because they had simply disappeared from their phones, as both men denied deleting the messages. 'Prince's phone contained no text messages prior to March 2017, though provider records indicate that he and Bannon exchanged dozens of messages,' the report stated. 9. Mueller Report redactions - 'lightly redacted' or more? The evening before the release of the report, officials told a variety of news organizations that the report was 'lightly redacted.' One group looked at it and found redactions of over 170 pages, as there were examples where entire pages were blacked out. The very first redactions in the document came in the Table of Contents - and had to do wtih the 'Trump Campaign and the Dissemination of Hacked Materials,' dealing with stolen Democratic Party emails and Wikileaks. Some items were redacted for grand jury information, investigative techniques, harm to ongoing matters, and third person privacy concerns. 10. Trump's answers to Mueller questions. At the end of the Mueller report, you can read the President's answers to a series of written questions posed by the Special Counsel's office, after they were unable to get the President to sit for an interview, in person. Critics of the President noted derisively that there was a theme in many of his answers. 'I don't recall,' or 'I don't remember,' were phrases found. 'I have no recollection,' and 'I do not remember.' 'I do not recall being aware during the campaign' of any contacts with Wikileaks, the President testified. 'I have no recollection' that any foreign government or entity wanted to support the campaign, Mr. Trump said. 'I have no recollection of being told during the campaign that Vladimir Putin' supported my bid for the White House, the President added.