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The Latest News about Government and Politics

    The country's last undecided congressional election was marred by falsified signatures, disappearing documents and blank ballots that were filled in by people hired by the Republican candidate, North Carolina elections officials said. The state elections board could decide as early as Tuesday whether possibly criminal ballot fraud was unfortunate but tolerable, or whether to order a new election in the 9th congressional district. A political operative hired by Republican Mark Harris led 'a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme' in last year's general election in rural Bladen and Robeson counties, which are part of the congressional district, state elections director Kim Strach said Monday. The operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., was called to testify Monday, but his attorney refused to put him on the stand without legal protection against prosecution for events he described. The board refused. The first of what could be a days-long hearing produced Dowless' workers testifying that they sometimes filled in votes on unfinished, unsealed mail-in ballots. But there was scant evidence that Harris knew about it or even benefited. Harris narrowly leads Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial results. But the race wasn't certified in November after rumors of Dowless' operating focusing on mail-in ballots. The elections board is expected to either declare a winner or order a new election after the hearing. Dowless was hired to produce votes for Harris and Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVickers, but his methods last year included paying people to visit potential voters who had received absentee ballots and getting them to hand over those ballots, whether completed or not, Dowless worker Lisa Britt testified. It's illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle a voter's ballot because of the risk that it could be altered before being counted. While Dowless and Harris' main campaign consultant were in constant contact, she didn't have any indication Harris knew about the operation, Britt said. 'I think Mr. Harris was completely clueless as to what was going on,' Britt said. Britt testified she collected about three dozen sometimes unfinished ballots and handed them to Dowless, who kept them at his home and office for days or longer before they were turned in, said Britt, whose mother was formerly married to Dowless. While the congressional and sheriff's races were almost always marked by voters who turned in unsealed ballots, Britt said she would fill in down-ballot local races — favoring Republicans — to prevent local elections board workers from suspecting Dowless' activities. In one case, Britt said she picked up the completed ballot of an elderly black woman. A week later, she was told to return the woman's ballot after a local black empowerment group complained to Dowless that she was a voter they'd recruited. Britt said she could not explain why Dowless still have the ballot in his possession rather than turning it in to the local elections board. Dowless paid local people like Britt $125 for every 50 mail-in ballots they collected in Bladen and Robeson counties and turned in to him, Strach said. The operation's scope allowed Dowless to collect nearly $84,000 in consulting fees over five months leading into last year's general election, said Strach, adding that in addition to reviewing financial and phone records, investigators questioned 142 voters in the south-central North Carolina counties. Four of the five members on the elections board — composed of three Democrats and two Republicans — would need to agree a new election is necessary. If that doesn't happen, McCready's lawyers said state officials should send their findings to the Democrat-dominated U.S. House and let it decide whether Harris should be seated — arguing that the U.S. Constitution gives the House authority over the elections and qualifications of its members. ___ Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio .
  • A Justice Department official says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to leave his position in the middle of next month. The official was not authorized to discuss the move by name and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Monday night. The White House is expected to name a replacement for Rosenstein this week. Rosenstein's departure had been expected with the confirmation of William Barr as attorney general last week. Rosenstein has been on the job for nearly two years. He oversaw special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. Barr now oversees the remaining work in Mueller's investigation into potential coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and decide how much Congress and the public know about its conclusion.
  • President Donald Trump's longtime confidant Roger Stone has apologized to the judge presiding over his criminal case for an Instagram post featuring a photo of her with what appears to be the crosshairs of a gun. Stone and his lawyers filed a notice Monday night saying Stone recognized 'the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted.' Earlier Monday, Stone posted a photo of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson with what appeared to be crosshairs near her head. Stone later said that the picture had been 'misinterpreted' and that any suggestion he intended to threaten Jackson was 'categorically false.' Stone is charged with lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering related to discussions he had during the 2016 election about WikiLeaks. He has denied guilt.
  • Four days after the announcement of a series of executive actions to fund his signature border wall, President Donald Trump’s administration still needs to fill in the details on his plans to shift over $6.6 billion from the Pentagon and Treasury Department into funding border security, as members of Congress continue to wonder if the move will dig into their local military base construction projects. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and their staffs were awaiting guidance on where the Pentagon would look for money in the $3.6 billion sought by the President in his emergency declaration from military construction projects, which was already the subject of new lawsuits. “Congress has not enacted any emergency legislation even remotely related to border wall construction, and thus the President’s reallocation of funds is unlawful,” read a suit filed against the President and Pentagon by several environmental groups. In a letter to the Acting Secretary of Defense, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked for a breakdown of which projects would be put on hold – as under the ‘national emergency’ law used by the President, the Pentagon would make those decisions – not the Congress. Congress approved $10.3 billion for military construction in Fiscal Year 2019 – the $3.6 billion sought by the President would be more than one-third of that amount – which has drawn expressions of concern from lawmakers. As Kaine noted in his letter, the move to shift money from military construction comes at a time when the Pentagon already was having to deal with hurricane damage at two major domestic bases – Camp Lejeune for the Marines in North Carolina, and Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Tyndall was seriously damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018 – and despite support for rebuilding the base, Congress has not yet acted on extra money for the Pentagon – or on broader hurricane relief for those hit in Florida and Georgia. During the partial government shutdown, Democrats in the House approved a bill which had $12.1 billion in disaster aid, both for hurricanes and wildfires – but that bill does not seem to be on the agenda in the U.S. Senate at this point. @DrNealDunnFL2 Dr Dunn, we are hearing here in the Panhandle that Trump is going after Tyndall rebuilding money for his wall. Please don’t let this happen! No Tyndall would be catastrophic to our area. Please help! — Billy Shears (@BillyShears9) February 14, 2019 The Commandant of the Marine Corps said over the weekend that he needs $3.5 billion just for repairs at Camp LeJeune from damage caused by Hurricane Florence in September of 2018 – which is equal to the figure of how much in military construction the President wants to shift into a border wall. Earlier this month, Air Force officials said they planned to spend $3 billion to rebuild Tyndall, which was flattened by Hurricane Michael in October of last year. House Democrats say they plan to hold a hearing as soon as next week to get a better idea on what military construction projects the Pentagon wants to scrap – in order to move money to the wall. Also still unclear is the legal underpinnings for two other moves announced last week by the White House, where the President would move money from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund, as well as money from a Pentagon anti-drug account – into a border wall.
  • California and 15 other states filed a lawsuit Monday against President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra released a statement Monday saying the suit alleges the Trump administration's action violates the Constitution. 'President Trump treats the rule of law with utter contempt,' Becerra said. 'He knows there is no border crisis, he knows his emergency declaration is unwarranted, and he admits that he will likely lose this case in court.' Joining California in filing the lawsuit are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia. All the states involved in the lawsuit have Democratic attorneys general. Trump declared a national emergency to fulfill his promise of completing the wall. The move allows the president to bypass Congress to use money from the Pentagon and other budgets. The states say diversion of military funding to wall-building will hurt their economies and deprive their military bases of needed upgrades. They say taking away funds from counter-drug efforts for the wall will also cause damage. California and New Mexico, the two Mexican border states in the lawsuit, say the wall will harm wildlife. California has repeatedly challenged Trump in court. 'President Trump is manufacturing a crisis and declaring a made-up 'national emergency' in order to seize power and undermine the Constitution,' said California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement. 'This 'emergency' is a national disgrace.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said Monday she's not a democratic socialist, a not-so-veiled distinction setting her apart from New Hampshire voters' favorite 2016 primary candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders, a potential rival for the party's 2020 nomination, has described himself as a democratic socialist, and the Vermont independent didn't abandon the politically fraught label for his previous campaign. During her inaugural trip to New Hampshire as a presidential candidate, Harris was asked by a reporter whether she would have to tilt her politics leftward — in the direction of democratic socialism — to win this state's first-in-the-nation primary. Sanders handily defeated Hillary Clinton when they competed for the state's delegates three years ago. 'The people of New Hampshire will tell me what's required to compete in New Hampshire, but I will tell you I am not a democratic socialist,' Harris, a Democratic senator from California, said in response to the question, posed as she toured Gibson's Bookstore in Concord ahead of a Portsmouth town hall. 'I believe that what voters do want is they want to know that whoever is going to lead, understands that in America today, not everyone has an equal opportunity and access to a path to success, and that has been building up over decades and we've got to correct course,' Harris said. Sanders has yet to announce whether he will pursue the 2020 nomination.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren is planning to unveil a universal child care plan that would guarantee American families access to child care. The Massachusetts Democrat, a 2020 presidential candidate, would use part of the revenue from her proposed tax on the ultra-wealthy to fund her child care plan. A person familiar with the plan outlined it ahead of its release Tuesday on condition of anonymity. Warren's plan would set up a federal program to guarantee child care from birth until children's entry into school. Families with income less than 200 percent of the poverty line would get free access. Other families would pay no more than 7 percent of their income. Her plan would guarantee compensation for child care program workers at rates comparable to public school teachers in their areas.
  • The Latest on President Donald Trump addressing the political crisis in Venezuela (all times local): 7:30 p.m. Venezuela's embattled president, Nicolas Maduro, is rejecting President Donald Trump's call for a new day in Venezuela and comparing the tone of the American president's speech in Miami to that of a Nazi. Trump said Monday that the U.S. stands behind opposition leader Juan Guaido and condemns Maduro and his government's socialist policies. Trump pleaded with Venezuela's military to support Guaido and warned of dire consequences for standing with Maduro. Maduro responded to Trump in comments broadcast on state television. He accused the U.S. president of speaking in an 'almost Nazi style' and lashed out at Trump for thinking he can deliver orders to Venezuela's military. Maduro said, 'Who is the commander of the armed forces, Donald Trump from Miami?' and added, 'They think they're the owners of the country.' ___ 5:20 p.m. President Donald Trump says the United States seeks a peaceful transition of power in Venezuela but 'all options are open.' Trump spoke on Monday in Miami about the monthslong political crisis in Venezuela and the dangers of socialism. The U.S. is supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido (gwy-DOH') as the rightful Venezuelan leader over President Nicolas Maduro. Trump says he is asking every member of the Maduro regime to end this 'nightmare' of poverty and death. He says, 'Let your people go. Set your country free.' The Venezuelan military has largely remained loyal to Maduro. Trump says Guaido's government will not seek retribution against them, but if they continue to support Maduro, they will 'lose everything.' South Florida is home to the largest number of Venezuelans in the United States. ___ 5:10 p.m. President Donald Trump says socialism has ravaged Venezuela to the point that even the world's largest oil reserves cannot keep the lights on in the country. Trump spoke on Monday in Miami about the political crisis in Venezuela and the dangers of socialism. Trump welcomed onto the stage the mother of Oscar Perez, a Venezuelan police officer who flew a helicopter over the capital and launched grenades at the Supreme Court building. He and several comrades died in a gun battle with police after months on the lam. The president says the U.S. is 'profoundly grateful to every dissident and every exile.' He says what happened in Venezuela 'will never happen to us.' Trump says a 'new day is coming in Latin America.' ___ 12:25 p.m. President Donald Trump will seek on Monday to rally support among the largest Venezuelan community in the U.S. for opposition leader Juan Guaido (gwy-DOH'), saying Venezuela's 'current path toward democracy is irreversible.' That's according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who says that Trump will use his Miami speech to express 'strong support' for Guaido and condemn President Nicolas Maduro's government and its socialist policies. As the monthslong political crisis continues, Trump is to make a public case to Venezuela's military to support Guaido's government. The Venezuelan military has largely remained loyal to Maduro. Sanders says Trump would warn the Venezuelan military that the U.S. 'knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world.
  • Protesters around the U.S. spent Presidents Day rallying against President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration as at least a dozen states planned a lawsuit to block Trump's latest ploy to fund his long-promised border wall. 'Trump is the national emergency!' chanted a group of hundreds lined up Monday at the White House fence while Trump was out of town in Florida. Some held up large letters spelling out 'stop power grab.' In downtown Fort Worth, Texas, a small group carried signs with messages including 'no wall! #FakeTrumpEmergency.' California and 15 other states, including Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, filed a lawsuit Monday against President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra released a statement Monday saying the suit alleges the Trump administration's action violates the Constitution. Gov. Jared Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser, both Democrats, said in a statement that the wall project could divert tens of millions of dollars from military construction projects in Colorado. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, decried the president's actions at a peaceful rally attended by a few hundred people outside Los Angeles City Hall. Police kept the crowd separate from a handful of pro-Trump counter-protesters who waved flags and wore red 'Make America Great Again' hats. A large crowd also gathered outside the Federal Building in San Francisco. One demonstrator carried a sign that read: 'Step 1: Declare a national emergency. Step 2: Play golf. Step 3: Watch SNL.' A crowd of more than 100 protesters gathered in frigid weather at the state Capitol in Denver roared with approval when Weiser told them his office was joining the multistate lawsuit, Denverite reported . 'There is zero real-world basis for the emergency declaration, and there will be no wall,' New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said in a statement. Organized by the liberal group MoveOn and others, Monday's demonstrations took the occasion of the Presidents Day holiday to assail Trump's proclamation as undemocratic and anti-immigrant. Kelly Quirk, of the progressive group Soma Action, told a gathering of dozens in Newark, New Jersey, that 'democracy demands' saying 'no more' to Trump. 'There are plenty of real emergencies to invest our tax dollars in,' said Quirk. In New York City, hundreds of people at a Manhattan park chanted 'No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here' as several of them held up letters spelling out, 'IMPEACH.' There were some counter-protesters, including in Washington, where there was a brief scuffle in the crowd. Trump's declaration Friday shifts billions of dollars from military construction to the border. The move came after Congress didn't approve as much as Trump wanted for the wall, which the Republican considers a national security necessity. His emergency proclamation calls the border 'a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics.' Illegal border crossings have declined from a high of 1.6 million in 2000. But 50,000 families are now entering illegally each month, straining the U.S. asylum system and border facilities. Trump's critics have argued he undercut his own rationale for the emergency declaration by saying he 'didn't need to do this' but wanted to get the wall built faster than he otherwise could. In announcing the move, he said he anticipated the legal challenges. 'President Trump declared a national emergency in order to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on his border wall obsession,' Manar Waheed of the American Civil Liberties Union told protesters rallying in a Washington park before heading to the nearby White House fence. The ACLU has announced its intention to sue Trump over the issue. Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the left-leaning Center for Popular Democracy, said the president had undertaken to 'steal money that we desperately need to build a country of our dreams so that he can build a monument to racism along the border.' At one point during the rally, a counter-protester walked through the crowd toting a sign saying 'finish the wall' on one side and 'protect the poor' on the other. Another man snatched his sign from him, sparking a short scuffle. ___ Associated Press writers Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.
  • The Latest on the presidential candidates (all times EST): 11:30 p.m. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar says that she comes at gun safety legislation from the perspective of: 'Would this hurt my Uncle Dick in the deer stand?' Appearing Monday night at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate says her state values the outdoors as well as hunting and fishing. She says banning assault weapons wouldn't hurt her Uncle Dick in the deer stand, nor would background checks. Her voice broke as she recalled the mother of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim describing how her little boy died in the arms of his school aide. Klobuchar says, 'We should join the majority of Americans and actually many gun owners in having the courage to pass common sense gun safety legislation. ___ 11 p.m. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar referenced the late singer Prince in saying that doctors need to change the prescribing habits of opioids in the United States. The Democratic presidential hopeful spoke Monday night at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire. She says her state still hasn't gotten over the 2016 death of Prince, one of Minnesota's most famous residents. He died of an accidental fentanyl overdose. Klobuchar says the U.S. should pay for addiction treatment by taking money from the drug companies who are selling the opioids. She referenced a bill she has co-sponsored along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio that would require all states getting certain federal funding to electronic prescription drug monitoring and share information across state lines. ___ 10 p.m. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says it would be an 'inappropriate' use of the U.S. military to intervene in Venezuela. Visiting a popular bar near the University of Iowa campus, the New York Democrat weighing a 2020 presidential campaign is responding to President Donald Trump's warning to Venezuela's military. Trump said if the military continues to stand with President Nicolas Maduro's government it 'would find no safe harbor' and that 'all options are open.' Critics say Maduro's re-election last year was fraudulent, making his second term illegal. Gillibrand says, 'We should be using diplomatic and political support for the new government and we should consider sanctions against Maduro, but military action is inappropriate in this case.' Trump spoke Monday at a rally in Miami, as the months-long political crisis in Venezuela stretched on. The Venezuelan military has blocked the U.S. from moving tons of humanitarian aid airlifted in recent days to the Colombian border with Venezuela. ___ 8:50 p.m. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is stopping short of agreeing with fellow New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's comments celebrating Amazon's plans to cancel building a second headquarters in the state. A freshman House member, Ocasio-Cortez hailed the cancellation as a day 'dedicated, everyday New Yorkers and their neighbors defeated Amazon's corporate greed.' Weighing a bid for president, Gillibrand visited Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday. She said she thinks Ocasio-Cortez's point is that subsidies given to Amazon were outrageous, not that she didn't want the jobs in New York. Amazon faced opposition from some New York officials who were unhappy with the tax incentives the retailer was promised. Gillibrand told reporters that taxpayers were going to be 'left holding the bag' and that shows the deal was outrageous. ___ 6:20 p.m. Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris has held her first New Hampshire town hall in snowy Portsmouth along the coast. Before the event began, Harris stood on the steps of South Church and addressed a swelling overflow crowd that had been waiting outside in the still-falling snow. She said Monday: 'It's cold. It's snowing. It's beautiful to this Californian.' She promised that those who couldn't fit inside the church would have 'many opportunities' to spend time with her. Inside, Harris fielded a dozen questions from attendees, including whether she would support an effort to change Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day at the federal level. (She would.) Harris didn't mention President Donald Trump by name, but implicit in many of her responses was a rebuke of the administration and the president's policies. She will continue to campaign in New Hampshire on Tuesday. ___ 3:25 p.m. California Sen. Kamala Harris says she won't comment again on the investigation into a reported attack on 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett until an investigation is completed. Speaking to reporters in Concord, New Hampshire, on Monday during her first 2020 presidential campaign trip here, Harris says that 'the facts are still unfolding' and that while she is 'very concerned' about Smollett's initial allegation and that it should be taken seriously, 'there should be an investigation.' She says, 'I think that once the investigation is concluded, then we should all comment, but I'm not going to comment until I know the outcome of that investigation.' Harris previously tweeted that the alleged attack was 'an attempted modern day lynching.' She will hold a town hall later Monday in Portsmouth, her first of the 2020 cycle. ___ 3:15 p.m. Sen. Kamala Harris is letting voters in New Hampshire know that she does not consider herself a democratic socialist. On Monday, the California Democrat stopped by The Common Man restaurant in Concord, greeting patrons and having lunch with Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster. Soon after, she went to Gibson's Bookstore and took questions from shoppers, telling the group: 'I plan on competing in New Hampshire. I plan on spending a lot of time here.' Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a 'democratic socialist' won a commanding victory in New Hampshire in 2016. Asked whether she'd have to lean that way in order to compete here, she said she would not. She says, 'The people of New Hampshire will tell me what's required to compete in New Hampshire, but I will tell you I am not a democratic socialist.' ___ 8 a.m. Several Democratic presidential candidates are closing out the long holiday weekend by campaigning across states key to securing their party's nomination. On Presidents Day, much of the attention turned to New Hampshire, home to the first presidential primary. Three candidates, Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, were making their first visits to the state since launching their 2020 presidential bids. Booker has been in the state for a few days and will wrap up his trip with a house party in Nashua. House parties are a staple of campaigning in the state. Harris planned an afternoon town hall in Portsmouth and will participate in the Politics & Eggs breakfast on Tuesday. Klobuchar will hold a meet-and-greet in Goffstown on Monday before a CNN town hall. Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was back in Iowa, the leadoff caucus state, with plans to meet voters in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, who also is running for president, was campaigning in Iowa as well.

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A University of Central Florida employee suffered burns Monday after a chemical reaction, according to Orange County Fire Rescue officials. Firefighters were called to 3512 Perseus Loop Lane near the Facilities Operations building on UCF's campus around 3 p.m.  The 29-year-old who was the only person in the building at the time, and was transporting the chemicals when a static discharge sparked a fire.  He was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center with burns to his face, arms and chest according to responding firefighters.  A university spokeswoman said the incident happened in a building on campus that is designed to handle chemicals and no students were involved in the incident or ever in any danger.  The worker's name was not released. Mike Jachles with OCFR said he was conscious and alert when he was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center.
  • Four days after the announcement of a series of executive actions to fund his signature border wall, President Donald Trump’s administration still needs to fill in the details on his plans to shift over $6.6 billion from the Pentagon and Treasury Department into funding border security, as members of Congress continue to wonder if the move will dig into their local military base construction projects. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and their staffs were awaiting guidance on where the Pentagon would look for money in the $3.6 billion sought by the President in his emergency declaration from military construction projects, which was already the subject of new lawsuits. “Congress has not enacted any emergency legislation even remotely related to border wall construction, and thus the President’s reallocation of funds is unlawful,” read a suit filed against the President and Pentagon by several environmental groups. In a letter to the Acting Secretary of Defense, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked for a breakdown of which projects would be put on hold – as under the ‘national emergency’ law used by the President, the Pentagon would make those decisions – not the Congress. Congress approved $10.3 billion for military construction in Fiscal Year 2019 – the $3.6 billion sought by the President would be more than one-third of that amount – which has drawn expressions of concern from lawmakers. As Kaine noted in his letter, the move to shift money from military construction comes at a time when the Pentagon already was having to deal with hurricane damage at two major domestic bases – Camp Lejeune for the Marines in North Carolina, and Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Tyndall was seriously damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018 – and despite support for rebuilding the base, Congress has not yet acted on extra money for the Pentagon – or on broader hurricane relief for those hit in Florida and Georgia. During the partial government shutdown, Democrats in the House approved a bill which had $12.1 billion in disaster aid, both for hurricanes and wildfires – but that bill does not seem to be on the agenda in the U.S. Senate at this point. @DrNealDunnFL2 Dr Dunn, we are hearing here in the Panhandle that Trump is going after Tyndall rebuilding money for his wall. Please don’t let this happen! No Tyndall would be catastrophic to our area. Please help! — Billy Shears (@BillyShears9) February 14, 2019 The Commandant of the Marine Corps said over the weekend that he needs $3.5 billion just for repairs at Camp LeJeune from damage caused by Hurricane Florence in September of 2018 – which is equal to the figure of how much in military construction the President wants to shift into a border wall. Earlier this month, Air Force officials said they planned to spend $3 billion to rebuild Tyndall, which was flattened by Hurricane Michael in October of last year. House Democrats say they plan to hold a hearing as soon as next week to get a better idea on what military construction projects the Pentagon wants to scrap – in order to move money to the wall. Also still unclear is the legal underpinnings for two other moves announced last week by the White House, where the President would move money from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund, as well as money from a Pentagon anti-drug account – into a border wall.
  • Following two accidents in recent months, the Orlando Fire Department has announced new roadway safety procedures. The changes include shutting down two additional lanes of traffic on major highways and other roads, as well as placing cones between the crash and the responding unit, and requesting additional backup from the Orlando Police Department following an accident. This will include accidents on major roads such as I-4, State Road 408 and State Road 417. An additional fire suppression unit will also head to the scene, and be angled in a way to alert drivers of an upcoming accident. It comes after an accident Sunday on I-4, when a car slammed into a fire truck, injuring four firefighters and two others. Also, on December 21st, 2018, a vehicle rear ended a fire engine on State Road 408, causing minor injuries to the driver and three Orlando firefighters. The changes are set to take effect immediately. 
  • It's Star Wars movie season once again, and the latest installment in the series has finally finished filming. Director J.J. Abrams made the announcement on Twitter saying: ' It feels impossible, but today(Friday) wrapped photography on Episode IX. There is no adequate way to thank this truly magical crew and cast. I'm forever indebted to you all.'  To celebrate the occasion, he posted a picture of stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac embracing each other on the final day of filming.  Now that the filming is out of the way, the fun part is getting everything else done before the December 20th deadline, when it is released in theaters. So far there has been no official title, trailer, or teaser of any kind, but of course, we can expect that to come out as we get closer.
  • A Minnesota man was arrested last week after DNA from a used napkin he threw away at his daughter’s hockey game matched DNA left at the scene of the brutal 1993 stabbing death of a Minneapolis woman. Jerry Arnold Westrom, 52, of Isanti, is charged with second-degree murder in the slaying of Jeanne Ann Childs, according to the Minneapolis Police Department. The arrest was made Feb. 11 following a years-long renewed investigation by Minneapolis detectives, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s forensic lab, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office investigators and Minneapolis-based FBI agents.  “Our efforts to increase public safety and ensure justice has no timeline. This case is an excellent example of great collaboration between our law enforcement partners,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a news release.  Jill Sanborn, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, said the case “underscores law enforcement’s ability to use every tool at its disposal” to solve crimes.  “We all hope Jeanne’s family can finally find peace as a result of this tenacious effort by officers and agents,” Sanborn said. >> Read more trending news Members of Childs’ family were in the courtroom Friday as Westrom made his first court appearance, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Westrom’s wife, son and daughter were also there, along with about 20 other supporters.  They watched as the well-known businessman’s defense attorney, Steven Meshbesher, successfully argued that his client’s bail should be reduced from $1 million to $500,000.  Meshbesher argued that Westrom, a lifelong resident of Minnesota, was not a flight risk. According to the Star Tribune, he manages an organic farm just outside of Isanti.   “What we’ve got is a very unsolved case and it was charged, in my opinion, prematurely,” Meshbesher said, according to the Star Tribune.  Westrom was released on bond Friday night, according to Hennepin County Jail records.  A violent death The criminal complaint against Westrom, which was obtained by the Star Tribune, outlines Childs’ violent June 13, 1993, death: Minneapolis police officers were called to an apartment Childs allegedly used for prostitution because another tenant in the building saw water coming from the apartment. The officers found Childs dead in her running shower, naked except for a pair of socks.  She had dozens of stab wounds, including several inflicted after she was already dead, the complaint said.  The walls of Childs’ bathroom, bedroom and living room were covered with blood, the Star Tribune reported. Finger, palm and footprints were found at the scene.  It was not immediately clear if any of those prints matched Westrom. Investigators at the time collected Childs’ bedding, a towel, a washcloth and a T-shirt, as well as a bloodstain found on the sink, the newspaper reported.  Childs’ live-in boyfriend was ruled out as a suspect after detectives confirmed he was not in Minnesota at the time of her death.  The case soon went cold, but a Minneapolis detective, encouraged by the advances in DNA technology, renewed the investigation in 2015, the Star Tribune reported. DNA samples from the scene were sent to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a private DNA company.  FBI agents ran the results through an online genealogy website last year, using the same technique California cold case investigators used to secure the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, the alleged Golden State Killer who killed more than a dozen people and raped more than 50 women in the 1970s and 80s.  Since DeAngelo’s arrest, about 50 other cold cases across the U.S. have been solved using public genealogy websites, the Star Tribune reported.  Following the DNA trail The genealogy website used by Minnesota investigators led them to two possible suspects in Childs’ slaying, one of them Westrom. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told the Star Tribune either Westrom or a close family member had apparently submitted DNA to learn more about their family tree. Westrom, who was 27 and single at the time of Childs’ killing, worked in Minneapolis in 1993. He moved about six months after the homicide, the newspaper reported.  Investigators began trailing Westrom in January, seeking an opportunity to surreptitiously obtain a sample of his DNA. At his daughter’s hockey game at a Wisconsin hockey rink, they had their chance. Westrom bought a hot dog from the concession stand, wiping his mouth with a napkin when he was done eating, the Star Tribune reported. Investigators picked up the napkin after he tossed it in the trash. DNA taken from the napkin matched the DNA from the Childs crime scene, Freeman said. Another DNA sample taken from Westrom after his arrest confirmed the match.  The prosecutor said he is confident the case will withstand any legal challenges by the defense.  “When discarding something in the trash, the (U.S.) Supreme Court has said many times, it is fair game,” Freeman said.  Westrom’s attorney told Minnesota Public Radio News that the evidence against his client is thin. He argued that the DNA sample obtained at the crime scene was from semen, not blood. Because Childs was a sex worker, the evidence links him to possible sex, but not the homicide, the defense lawyer said.  “The sperm shows up allegedly matching, but not the blood,” Meshbesher told MPR News. “What we’ve got is not any record of violence, not connecting it to the blood, not to the weapon, because they didn’t find it.” MPR News reported that the criminal complaint alleged that the DNA samples from the crime scene came from Childs’ comforter and the towel.  The Star Tribune reported that investigators have not yet compared Westrom’s DNA to the blood found in Childs’ bathroom. The complaint stated the case remains under investigation.  “They don’t know what the facts are,” Meshbesher told MPR News. “You don’t charge a case before you know what the facts are. You need to do the investigation first.” A sordid arrest history Westrom denied all the allegations against him, the criminal complaint said. He denied recognizing Childs, being in her apartment or having sex with any woman in 1993. Investigators said he told them he had no explanation for how his DNA could have been at the crime scene.  Meshbesher disputed the account of his client’s interview given in the complaint, MPR News reported.  Despite Westrom’s high standing in his community, part of which comes from his involvement in youth sports, he has a record of drunken driving convictions dating back to 1996, court records showed.  He also has two arrests on his record for prostitution-related offenses. A 2012 charge was dismissed, but he was convicted in Stearns County in 2015 of trying to hire a prostitute.  The Star Tribune reported Westrom was snagged in a police sting in which he thought he was soliciting a teenager for sex. His probation for that offense ended in February 2018, the court records showed.  Childs’ mother, Betty Eakman, told the newspaper the story of her troubled daughter, who dropped out of school in the sixth grade and was a repeat runaway as a teen. Eakman said her daughter’s problems seemed to begin following the 1971 shooting death of her stepfather, who was killed by his brother-in-law and business partner.  She said her daughter bounced from place to place in Minneapolis prior to her death. Eakman expressed gratitude for the science that helped solve her daughter’s slaying. “I am so happy they have come out with this new technology so it can help other cases to be solved,” Eakman told the Star Tribune. Childs’ sister, Cindy Kosnitch, credited Eakman with keeping Childs in the minds of investigators.  “This has been very hard on our family, of course, but I have a very determined mom who always kept in contact with Minneapolis police,” Kosnitch told the paper. “She refused to let Jeanie be forgotten and wanted some type of closure, as most parents would.”