ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

foggy-day
58°
Partly Cloudy
H 69° L 48°
  • foggy-day
    58°
    Current Conditions
    Partly Cloudy. H 69° L 48°
  • cloudy-day
    67°
    Afternoon
    Partly Cloudy. H 69° L 48°
  • clear-night
    62°
    Evening
    Clear. H 69° L 48°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest newscast

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

The Latest News about Government and Politics

    The family of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody is disputing an account from U.S. officials who said she had not been given food or water for days. In a statement released by lawyers, the parents of Jakelin Caal said the girl had been given food and water and appeared to be in good health as she traveled through Mexico with her father, 29-year-old Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz. The family added that Jakelin had not been traveling through the desert for days before she was taken into custody. Tekandi Paniagua, the Guatemalan consul in Del Rio, Texas, told The Associated Press that he spoke with the Jakelin's father. The consul said Nery Caal told him the group they were traveling with was dropped off in Mexico about a 90-minute walk from the border. Border Patrol officials did not immediately respond to the family's comments. The family's statement was released Saturday during a news conference in El Paso, Texas, at an immigrant shelter where Jakelin's father is staying. Her family did not attend and has asked for privacy. Jakelin and her father were seeking asylum in the U.S. and were among a large group of migrants arrested Dec. 6 near a remote border crossing in New Mexico. Hours later they were placed on a bus to the nearest Border Patrol station, but Jakelin began vomiting and eventually stopped breathing. She later died at a Texas hospital. Border Patrol officials on Friday said agents did everything they could to save the girl but that she had not had food or water for days. They added that an initial screening showed no evidence of health problems, and that her father had signed a form indicating she was in good health. But the family took issue with that form, which was in English, a language her father doesn't speak or read. He communicated with border agents in Spanish but he primarily speaks the Mayan Q'eqchi' language. 'It is unacceptable for any government agency to have persons in custody sign documents in a language that they clearly do not understand,' the statement said. Jakelin's family is urging authorities to conduct an 'objective and thorough' investigation into the death and to determine whether officials met standards for the arrest and custody of children. A cause of death has not yet been released. A private prayer service was held in Texas on Friday so her father could see Jakelin's body before it is taken to Guatemala, said Ruben Garcia, director of the Annunciation House shelter where her father is staying. 'All of us were moved by the depth of his faith and his trust that God's hand is in all of this,' Garcia said. Family members in Guatemala said Caal decided to migrate with his favorite child to earn money he could send back home. Jakelin's mother and three siblings remained in San Antonio Secortez, a village of about 420 inhabitants.
  • President Donald Trump made an unannounced visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday for a holiday commemoration. In a steady rain, Trump visited the cemetery during an annual event in which holiday wreaths are laid to honor the sacrifices made by veterans and their families. The president's trip to Arlington came about a month after he received criticism for not visiting the national cemetery on Veterans Day. And that, in turn, came after a visit to a World War I cemetery in France was scuttled due to poor weather. The president on Saturday listened to a tour guide as they walked through the rows of white tombstones. Trump told reporters that he supported a plan to expand the cemetery so it could continue to hold burials for decades to come.
  • When a wildfire burned across Big Sur two years ago and threatened hundreds of homes scattered on the scenic hills, thousands of firefighters responded with overwhelming force, attacking flames from the air and ground. In the first week, the blaze destroyed 57 homes and killed a bulldozer operator, then moved into remote wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest. Yet for nearly three more months the attack barely let up. The Soberanes Fire burned its way into the record books, costing $262 million as the most expensive wildland firefight in U.S. history in what a new report calls an 'extreme example of excessive, unaccountable, budget-busting suppression spending.' The report by Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology criticizes fire managers for not adapting their approach to the changing nature of the blaze. The nonprofit group, which gets funding from the Leonard DiCaprio Foundation and other environmental organizations, advocates ending 'warfare on wildfires' by ecologically managing them. The report suggests the Forest Service response was the result of a 'use it or lose it' attitude to spend its entire budget, which had been boosted by $700 million because of a destructive 2015 fire season. The agency managed to spend nearly all its 2016 money in a less-active fire season on about half the amount of land that burned the year before. 'They just kept going crazy on it,' report author Timothy Ingalsbee said. 'It wasn't demand-driven. It was supply-driven. They had all this extra money Congress had given them, and they had to justify that.' Forest Service officials would not comment directly on the report. After asking The Associated Press to provide written questions, the agency declined to answer them and issued a short statement saying it was committed to reducing costs in similarly large fires. 'Protection of people first and then resources are our primary considerations,' the statement said. 'Every fire is evaluated to determine the appropriate strategy. We continually look for opportunities to improve outcomes and accountability and to find more cost-efficient and effective methods of managing wildfires.' In addition to burning 206 square miles (534 square kilometers), the smoky fire closed signature parks in the area and put a damper on tourism in Big Sur during the peak season of its only industry. Monterey County estimated a 40 percent loss in revenue for the summer season in the area. An internal Forest Service review produced last year and obtained by the AP reached some of the same conclusions as Ingalsbee. For example, the department's review found that from Aug. 9 to Sept. 29, 2016, the number of threatened structures remained at 400 even as the fire grew by more than 90 square miles (230 square kilometers), which indicated the risk to property had abated as the flames burned into the wilderness. During that period, firefighting costs grew by $140 million. The review found forest managers didn't think they could deviate from the 'overwhelming force concept' aimed at suppression. It also said the agency's protocol for managing long-term wildfires 'does not sufficiently evaluate and adjust to changing risk.' One challenge fire commanders faced was an outdated forest management plan for Los Padres that called for full suppression of all wildfires, Ingalsbee said. Mike Warren, a retired National Park Service firefighter who reviewed the report, questioned the wisdom of suppressing fires in remote wilderness where flames can help eliminate brush and other flammable vegetation that could fuel a later wildfire. When Warren was fire management officer at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, they would let blazes burn in the wilderness if they were confident the fire would stay in the park. The challenge in a place like the tourist-dependent Big Sur area is pressure from politicians, homeowners, businesses, loggers and ranchers to control the fire, Warren said. 'When is enough enough?' he said. 'When do you back off say, 'This is it. We're just going to let it do its thing.' That takes some real political will.' The Forest Service's internal review inspired Ingalsbee to file public records requests for other documents that led to his report. Among his findings: — About a fifth of the area burned was from fires set to clear brush and vegetation between outer perimeters and the active fire. One of these blazes jumped fire lines. These burnout operations created additional smoke and cost an estimated $50 million. — A nearly $39 million air campaign, including large air tankers that cost $5,720 per hour, was largely ineffective. Retardant is effective at slowing flames only where ground crews can remove vegetation to create containment lines. But drops were done deep in steep, rugged wilderness where it was too dangerous to send crews, and even where flames never reached. — Bulldozers, which cost $1,700 per hour, tore up wilderness, creating what Ingalsbee called 'ghost roads' that will remain for years. The Forest Service spent an estimated $1 million a day for weeks repairing damage done by dozers. The report concluded that once the blaze that broke out July 22, 2016, entered wilderness, there was little chance of stopping it before fall rains fell. Chad Hanson, an expert on fire and director of the John Muir Project, a nonprofit environmental group, said the cost was stunning, but the approach to fire was business as usual. 'It's sort of shocking that this massive amount of taxpayer money is being spent trying to suppress backcountry fires that are weather-driven and can't be stopped until the weather changes, rather than focusing resources on protecting communities,' Hanson said. 'On the other hand, I'm not surprised the Forest Service is doing this because it's been their practice for years.' One beneficiary of the firefighting effort was Tom Little Bear Nason, who lives in a homestead in the national forest his family has owned for 150 years. He was also a contractor on the fire, with a team of dozer operators. Nason, chairman of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, credited the suppression effort with helping save his property. But he said costs shot up when managers went overboard on backfires and cut contingency lines too far from the fire. He also criticized the leadership on the fire, which changed every couple of weeks, for disregarding a pre-attack fire plan drawn up by local, state and federal agencies, tribal leaders, environmentalists and homeowners that included information on protecting historic and cultural sites. He said those plans 'got chucked out the window' and led to significant losses. A homesteader cabin burned to the ground, sacred sites such as burial grounds were plowed over, and a rock where tribal members gave birth was struck by a bulldozer. 'Lots of efforts went to protect communities that went above and beyond' what was necessary, Nason said. 'They were acting on the worst-case scenario.
  • Facing investigations by the Justice Department, his own Inspector General, and Democrats in the U.S. House, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave his post by the end of this year, President Donald Trump announced on Saturday, continuing the high profile staff changes since the elections in his administration. “Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation,” the President tweeted, not mentioning the investigations Zinke faced, covering excessive travel costs, improper political activities, and potential conflicts of interest. Zinke – like others in the Trump Cabinet – also faced the prospect of actual aggressive oversight in the Congress, with Democrats taking over the House of Representatives in January. The lawmaker who would lead most of those questions is Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), whom Zinke said a few weeks ago was nothing but a drunk. “It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke tweeted from his official account. My thoughts on Rep. Grijalva’s opinion piece. #TuneInnForMore pic.twitter.com/VMGxdtHwvU — Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 30, 2018 “This is no kind of victory, but I’m hopeful that it is a genuine turning of the page,” Grijalva said on Saturday. Among the investigations into Zinke, the internal watchdog at the Interior Department found that he had taken a security detail with him for a vacation with his wife to Turkey and Greece, costing taxpayers $25,000. Zinke also spent $12,375 on a chartered flight to take him from Las Vegas back to his home of Kalispell, Montana. During some of the Inspector General investigations of Zinke, the Trump Administration tried to move an appointed from the Department of Housing and Urban Development into the IG office at Interior; after complaints and questions about the legitimacy of the move, the change did not occur. Democrats in Congress, who often compared Zinke’s ethics questions to those of former Trump EPA chief Scott Pruitt, had nothing good to say about Zinke, who arrived at the Interior Department for his first day of work in Washington, on his horse. “Glad to see that Interior Secretary Zinke is being forced out,” tweeted Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). “Tired of Trump Administration officials who use their office for personal gain.” “Ryan Zinke kept zero of his promises and used our public lands as handouts to his fossil fuel cronies,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). “Ryan Zinke’s tenure at Interior was a never-ending stream of terrible management decisions,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). “I will not miss him.” Good riddance to Ryan Zinke and the horse he literally rode in on. pic.twitter.com/triFovIXPZ — Chellie Pingree (@chelliepingree) December 15, 2018 The President’s announcement about Zinke’s future came a day after the President announced that his budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, would be Acting White House Chief of Staff starting in 2019. Other Trump Cabinet officials also could be on their way out in coming weeks, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Thank u, next,” tweeted Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV).
  • The Latest on the departure of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (all times local): 5:25 p.m. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is blaming what he calls 'vicious and politically motivated attacks' for his resignation from President Donald Trump's Cabinet. Zinke's departure, set for Jan. 2, comes as the former Montana congressman faces numerous federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest — and shortly before Democrats take over the House, which could launch investigations of its own. Trump says he plans to announce a replacement next week. ___ 1:30 p.m. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska says she's disappointed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is leaving, calling him a 'strong partner for Western states.' President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday that Zinke would be leaving the administration at year's end. Zinke had faced federal investigations and intensifying Democratic scrutiny into ethics allegations. Zinke's work at Interior included helping ease the way for more oil and gas exploration on public lands. Murkowski, head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Zinke had worked to 'secure energy dominance' for the U.S. Congressional Democrats have been scathing over Zinke's tenure, saying he favored business interests instead of protecting natural resources. ___ 12:40 p.m. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (ZIN'-kee) says in his resignation letter to President Donald Trump that 'vicious and politically motivated attacks' on him and his family have 'created an unfortunate distraction' in fulfilling the agency's mission. Zinke is citing what he calls 'meritless and false claims' and says that 'to some, truth no longer matters.' The Associated Press obtained the letter after Trump had tweeted Saturday that Zinke would leave the Cabinet post at year's end. The former Montana congressman is facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest. Zinke says all allegations have been investigated thoroughly, and he writes that 'in each matter the conclusion has been and always will be that I follow all rules and regulations.' ___ 12:20 p.m. A congressional committee still plans to look into allegations of ethical violations by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke despite Zinke's departure. That's according to Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva. Sarvana said Saturday that while Zinke may be leaving, 'the real oversight of former Secretary Zinke has not even started.' President Donald Trump announced earlier Saturday that Zinke will leave the administration at the end of the year. But Sarvana said the House Natural Resources Committee still intends to ask for Zinke's testimony. Grijalva, the top Democrat on the committee, had previously made clear that after Democrats take control of the House next month they intended to summon Zinke to discuss his ethics issues. ___ 10:55 a.m. The top Democrat in the Senate is calling Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke 'one of the most toxic members' of the Cabinet and says the Cabinet 'will be a little less foul without him.' President Donald Trump announced Saturday on Twitter that Zinke will leave the administration at the end of the year. Sen. Chuck Schumer responded with a tweet condemning Zinke for 'the way he treated our environment, our precious public lands, and the way he treated the govt like it was his personal honey pot.' Zinke faces federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest. He is leaving office just weeks before Democrats take control of the House, a shift in power that promises to intensify the probes into his conduct. ___ 10:25 a.m. The coming departure of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is being welcomed by environmentalists. President Donald Trump announced Saturday that Zinke will leave the administration at the end of the year. The executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity says 'Zinke will go down as the worst Interior secretary in history. His slash-and-burn approach was absolutely destructive for public lands and wildlife.' But in his statement, Kieran Suckling cautions that Zinke's departure does not mean the Trump administration will stop its efforts to roll back environmental regulations and promote energy production. He predicts it will be different people but the 'same appetite for greed and profits.' Trump said a replacement for Zinke will be announced next week. Zinke is leaving the administration as he faces federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest. ___ 9:30 a.m. President Donald Trump says Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (ZIN'-kee), who's facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, will leave the administration at year's end. Trump tweets that Zinke 'accomplished much during his tenure' and that a replacement would be announced next week. The Cabinet post requires Senate confirmation. Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, is leaving weeks before Democrats take control of the House, a shift in power that promised to intensify probes into his conduct. Zinke played a leading part in Trump's efforts to roll back environmental regulations and promote domestic energy development. His departure comes amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in office. The president on Friday named budget director Mick Mulvaney as chief of staff.
  • Six months ago, election officials in rural North Carolina's Bladen County resolved to tighten security at their headquarters and protect the ballots stored there by installing an alarm and video cameras and securing an unlocked door that leads to another government office. The fixes never got done before Election Day. The then-chairman of the county commissioners, who control the purse strings, did not see the need. Now Bladen County is at the center of a disputed congressional election rife with suspicions of fraud, including the possibility that absentee ballots were altered or discarded. While no evidence has surfaced to suggest ballots were stolen or tampered with inside the building, warnings about the potential for political chicanery in Bladen County were raised years before the burgeoning scandal dragged this patch of eastern North Carolina's pine barrens into the spotlight. Marshall Tutor, who was lead investigator for the state Board of Elections for 15 years, said he frequently traveled to Bladen County over the years to probe accusations of wrongdoing. He said residents were often hesitant to talk to outsiders about possible voting fraud, much less testify. 'Looking back during my time at the Board of Elections, this mess in Bladen County, just from what I've seen and what I know, is the worst that I've encountered in the entire state,' said Tutor, who retired in March. With the congressional race now under investigation by state authorities, the state has refused to certify the results of the Nov. 6 vote in the 9th District, where Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. Both parties concede a do-over election might be needed. Foremost among the cast of characters in the case is Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a 62-year-old local campaign operative and convicted felon who has been named a 'person of interest' by the state Board of Elections. Authorities want to know whether he and others working on Harris' behalf ran an illegal operation in which they collected large numbers of absentee ballots from voters. Because of the potential for mischief, it is against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than a voter or immediate family member to handle someone's absentee ballot before it is sealed and mailed. In an interview with Charlotte station WBTV on Friday, Harris admitted making the decision to hire Dowless, who he said had come recommended by people in Bladen County. But the GOP candidate denied knowing about any illegal 'ballot harvesting' tactics. The investigation highlights the vulnerabilities of the electoral process in the U.S., where many of the responsibilities for administering federal elections fall on state governments and myriad local jurisdictions big and small. Located about an hour's drive from the coast, Bladen is among North Carolina's least densely populated counties, with about 35,000 people. Good jobs can be hard to come by. The biggest employer is a massive hog processing plant in the town of Tar Heel. Politics here is more personal than partisan, with local races for sheriff and the county commission often generating more interest than state and federal contests. Untangling how the county became the scene of 2018's last undecided congressional race requires a look at a network of decades-long friendships, political alliances and blood relations. Records reviewed by The Associated Press show Dowless and his relatives have received payments over the years from the campaigns of several of Bladen County's top elected officials, including the current sheriff and some county commissioners. He has worked for Democrats and Republicans alike. Dowless, an affable, bearded chain-smoker known locally by his middle name, McCrae, has a criminal record that includes prison time for fraud and perjury. He has also held local elected office as a Soil and Water district supervisor. He declined to comment last week when an AP reporter visited his home, as well as in later phone calls. In recent years, one source of worry about Bladen County elections has been the unsecured door between the local elections office — where registration rolls, absentee ballots and other sensitive documents are stored — and the county veterans' services office. Just before the 2014 election, Jens Lutz, a local Democrat, raised questions about ballot security in Bladen County in an email to state Democratic officials, who forwarded it the state election board. His concern: Republican Larry Hammond, who was formerly the county's elections director and was still the local veterans services coordinator, continued to have free access to sensitive areas of the election offices. This was at a time, Lutz claimed, that Hammond was managing a GOP candidate's race for sheriff. North Carolina's Democratic Party chief asked the state election board to investigate the suspicions about Hammond, but the board's then-attorney, Don Wright, replied via email that he knew Hammond and had 'never noticed or been informed of any unethical or illegal behavior by him.' In an interview Monday, Hammond denied he managed the campaign of the candidate for sheriff, who ultimately won in a close vote. Hammond also denied he had ever improperly accessed the elections office. 'No, absolutely not,' he said. 'I value honest and fair elections.' But Lutz continued to harbor suspicions that something fishy might be going on inside the Bladen elections building. And after he became chairman of the county of Board of Elections last spring, he persuaded the panel to vote 4-0 to block off or secure the door and adopt other measures, including changing the locks and repairing or replacing security cameras that hadn't worked for at least a decade. Lutz's concerns about what he termed the 'lackadaisical openness' of the elections office were buttressed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which assessed the site shortly before this year's election. In a report obtained by AP, the department said that because of the unlocked door, 'sensitive voting materials are vulnerable.' It said the door should be eliminated and other security measures taken. Ray Britt, a Bladen County commissioner who served as the board chairman until earlier this month, said in an interview that security improvements were unnecessary. 'We've never had any problems,' said Britt, a Republican. On Thursday, Bladen County Manager Greg Martin said he is working to adopt some of the changes recommended in the federal report but is unsure whether a lock will be added to the inside door. On Dec. 7, a day after he was interviewed by the AP, Lutz unexpectedly resigned from the county Board of Elections. In a measure of how closely intertwined political figures are in Bladen County, documents soon emerged showing Lutz had previously started a political consulting business with Dowless. He has not responded to messages since quitting the board. Britt, too, has had connections to Dowless. His 2016 campaign issued a $500 check to Dowless with the notation: 'To get out the vote.' The commissioner said he has known Dowless for years and the two remain in touch. He said he would need to see proof before he believed Dowless violated the law. 'But I don't care if you're a member of my family, if you do wrong, you've done wrong,' Britt said. ___ Associated Press investigative reporter Michael Biesecker reported from Washington. AP reporter Gary D. Robertson contributed from Raleigh, North Carolina. ___ Follow Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck and Emery P. Dalesio at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio ___ Contact the AP's investigative team with tips about this or other matters: https://www.ap.org/tips ___ This story corrects the population figure for the county to 35,000.
  • Ohio's Democratic U.S. senator plans an online town hall Sunday as he considers running for president in 2020. Sherrod Brown of Cleveland is coming off a decisive re-election victory in November that helped bring him national attention as a potential national candidate. Brown says his message is on 'the dignity of work' and fighting for workers without compromising progressive values. He also says his Ohio victory shows that approach works. That's because it came on an otherwise dismal day for Democrats in statewide and congressional elections in a state Republican Donald Trump carried handily in 2016. Brown is one of dozens of Democrats who are considered possible 2020 candidates. His Facebook town hall is aimed at people nationwide and is set for Sunday at 4 p.m. EST.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, will be leaving the administration at year's end, President Donald Trump said Saturday. In his resignation letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Zinke said 'vicious and politically motivated attacks' against him had 'created an unfortunate distraction' in fulfilling the agency's mission. Trump, in tweeting Zinke's departure, said the former Montana congressman 'accomplished much during his tenure' and that a replacement would be announced next week. The Cabinet post requires Senate confirmation. Zinke is leaving weeks before Democrats take control of the House, a shift in power that promises to sharpen the probes into his conduct. His departure comes amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in office facing increased legal exposure due to intensifying investigations into his campaign, business, foundation and administration. Zinke's resignation letter, obtained from a Zinke aide on Saturday, cites what he calls 'meritless and false claims' and says that 'to some, truth no longer matters.' The letter, dated Saturday, said Zinke's last day would be Jan. 2. It was not clear whether Zinke had already submitted the letter when Trump tweeted. Zinke, 57, played a leading part in Trump's efforts to roll back federal environmental regulations and promote domestic energy development. He drew attention from his first day on the job, when he mounted a roan gelding to ride across Washington's National Mall to the Department of Interior. Zinke had remained an ardent promoter of both missions, and his own macho image, despite growing talk that he had lost Trump's favor. On Tuesday, Zinke appeared on stage at an Environmental Protection Agency ceremony for a rollback on water regulations. Mentioning his background as a Navy SEAL at least twice, he led the audience in a round of applause for the U.S. oil and gas industry. Trump never established a deep personal connection with Zinke but appreciated how he stood tall against criticisms from environmental groups as he worked to roll back protections. But the White House concluded in recent weeks that Zinke was likely the Cabinet member most vulnerable to investigations led by newly empowered Democrats in Congress, according to an administration official not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters who spoke on condition of anonymity. His tenure was temporarily extended as Interior helped with the response to California wildfires and the West Wing was consumed with speculation over the future of chief of staff John Kelly. But White House officials pressured him to resign, the official said, which he did after his department's Christmas party on Thursday night. On Saturday night, hours after his resignation became public, Zinke was spotted at the White House for another holiday party, the Congressional Ball. As interior secretary, Zinke pushed to develop oil, natural gas and coal beneath public lands in line with the administration's business-friendly aims. But he has been dogged by ethics probes, including one centered on a Montana land deal involving a foundation he created and the chairman of an energy services company, Halliburton, that does business with the Interior Department. Investigators also are reviewing Zinke's decision to block two tribes from opening a casino in Connecticut and his redrawing of boundaries to shrink a Utah national monument. Zinke has denied wrongdoing. The Associated Press reported last month that the department's internal watchdog had referred an investigation of Zinke to the Justice Department. Zinke's travels with his wife, Lola Zinke, also had come under scrutiny. Interior's inspector general's office said Zinke allowed his wife to ride in government vehicles with him despite a department policy that prohibits nongovernment officials from doing so. The report also said the department spent more than $25,000 to provide security for the couple when they took a vacation to Turkey and Greece. Trump told reporters this fall he was evaluating Zinke's future in the administration in light of the allegations and offered a lukewarm vote of confidence. Zinke in November denied he already was hunting for his next job. 'I enjoy working for the president,' he told a Montana radio station. 'Now, If you do your job, he supports you.' 'I think I'm probably going to be the commander of space command,' Zinke said. 'How's that one?' Zinke outlasted EPA chief Scott Pruitt, another enthusiastic advocate of Trump's business-friendly way of governing who lost favor with Trump amid ethics scandals. Pruitt resigned in July. Trump's first Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, also resigned under a cloud of ethical questions. Democratic leaders in Congress were scathing in response to the news that Zinke was leaving as well. 'Ryan Zinke was one of the most toxic members of the cabinet in the way he treated our environment, our precious public lands, and the way he treated the govt like it was his personal honey pot,' Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of the New York tweeted Saturday. 'The swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him.' House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is set to become speaker in January, said Zinke had 'been a shameless handmaiden for the special interests' and his 'staggering ethical abuses have delivered a serious and lasting blow to America's public lands, environment, clean air and clean water.' Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, had warned that after Democrats took control of the House they intended to call Zinke to testify on his ethics issues. Grijalva spokesman Adam Sarvana said Saturday that committee leaders still intended to ask for Zinke's testimony. 'It's safe to say that Citizen Zinke may be leaving, but real oversight of former Secretary Zinke has not even started,' Sarvana said in an email. Earlier this month, Zinke unleashed a jarring personal attack on Grijalva, tweeting, 'It's hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle.' Zinke got a warmer send-off from Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, head of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who said in a statement that he had been a 'strong partner for Western states.'  Under Zinke's watch, the Interior Department moved to auction off more oil leases, ended a moratorium on new sales of federally owned coal, and repealed mandates governing drilling. Zinke's focus on the president's energy agenda was cheered by oil, gas and mining advocates, who credit the administration with seeking to balance conservation with development on public lands. But his tenure was denounced by most conservation groups. 'Zinke will go down as the worst Interior secretary in history,' said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement released Saturday. 'His slash-and-burn approach was absolutely destructive for public lands and wildlife. Allowing David Bernhardt to continue to call the shots will still be just as ugly. Different people, same appetite for greed and profit.' Bernhardt, the deputy secretary, is in line to lead the Interior Department on an interim basis. He has spent years in Washington as a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry and has deep ties to Republican politicians and conservative interest groups. Two outgoing Republican congressmen are said to be interested in the job. Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho planned to go to the White House on Saturday to discuss the job with officials, said a GOP congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe Labrador's private plans. Labrador, 51, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who is retiring from Congress after eight years. He lost a bid for his state's GOP gubernatorial nomination last spring. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., is also interested in Zinke's job, according to another Republican congressional aide who described the situation only on condition of anonymity. The aide said the White House has made inquiries about Denham to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who will be House minority leader next year. Denham, 51, has been involved in water issues in California. He lost his bid for re-election last month. As head of Interior, Zinke made plans to realign the agency's bureaucracy, trimming the equivalent of 4,600 jobs, about 7 percent of its workforce. He also proposed a massive overhaul that would have moved decision-making out of Washington, relocating headquarters staff to Western states at a cost of $17.5 million. Zinke was a one-term congressman when Trump selected him to join his incoming Cabinet in December 2016. An early Trump supporter, Zinke is close to the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and publicly expressed his interest in a Cabinet post when Trump visited Montana in May 2016. ____ Brown reported from Red Lodge, Montana. Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.
  • Russia wants to sit down with Pentagon officials for 'open and specific' talks on alleged violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday. The U.S. claims Russia is violating the INF treaty, and on Dec. 4 issued an ultimatum that Moscow come into compliance with the accord in 60 days, or else Washington will withdraw. Russia denies it's in breach of the treaty. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu sent his counterpart, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, a proposal for launching a dialogue three days ago, according to a statement Saturday. But Russia says it hasn't received any official reply from the Pentagon, which spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said proves that the U.S. is unwilling to maintain professional dialogue with Moscow on security issues. On Friday, the Russian mission to the U.N. submitted a draft resolution calling for the international community to support the INF treaty against Washington's threat of withdrawal, warning that a collapse of the treaty could undermine nuclear arms control across the board. Washington began sounding off on a potential Russian violation of the INF treaty under President Barack Obama. Under President Donald Trump, those allegations have been specified and coupled with threats of unilateral withdrawal from the landmark 1987 arms agreement, which banned an entire class of ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,000 kilometers (310-3,100 miles). The U.S. claims that a new Russian missile, designated by NATO as the SSC-8, operates in ranges forbidden by the INF treaty. Russia has strongly and routinely denied the claim, at times throwing accusations of non-compliance back at Washington. These claims have, at times, focused on U.S. deployment of anti-missile systems in Romania and Poland. Moscow takes specific issue with the U.S. Mk-41 vertical launching system used by these missile defense installations. The Mk-41, derived from the U.S. Navy's Aegis missile system, can launch a variety of American missiles — including the sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, a weapon that would be banned by INF were it deployed on a ground-based launcher. INF not only bans ground-based intermediate-range missiles, but their launchers too. And Moscow has seized on this point to claim the U.S. is responsible for destabilizing the INF treaty.
  • Insuring that North Carolina’s Ninth District seat will be vacant when the 116th Congress convenes in January, the North Carolina state elections board on Friday set a hearing for January 11, 2019, where officials will receive evidence on election irregularities focused on absentee ballot fraud which seemingly benefited Republican Mark Harris. “State investigators are awaiting additional documents from parties subpoenaed in this matter and finalizing the investigation prior to the hearing,” the State Board of Elections and Ethics said in a statement. Originally, the board had planned a hearing before December 21. In an interview with WBTV on Friday, Harris denied knowing that McRae Dowless – hired to run an absentee ballot operation in Bladen County – was doing anything which was illegal. “No, absolutely not,” Harris said in his first interview since allegations of election fraud began to surface after the November elections. This means Mark Harris will not be sworn in on January 3. #NC09 #ncpol — Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) December 14, 2018 “In the Marines, I learned what it means to fight for our democracy,” tweeted Democrat Dan McCready, who lost to Harris by 905 votes. “I never imagined I would watch our democracy come under attack right here at home,” McCready added. It’s not clear if the U.S. House of Representatives will also investigate the possible fraud in the Ninth District race, which possibly involved ballot fraud and discarded ballots. The North Carolina board could still order a new election, which may involve a new primary as well, as some Republicans would like to get Harris out of the race for the seat in Congress, worried that he will be too tainted by the charges of election fraud. . @NCSBE will hold public hearing into 9th CD irregularities on Jan. 11. Notice below. #ncpol #ncga pic.twitter.com/5TYZOFhJYC — NCSBE (@NCSBE) December 14, 2018 The decision to extend the investigation of any election fraud into 2019 means that the U.S. House will start the 116th Congress with Democrats holding a 235-199 edge in the House – with the one vacancy from North Carolina.

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know