Trump’s advisers worried about Mueller’s next steps
By ERIC TUCKER, JONATHAN LEMIRE and CHAD DAY
Friday, November 9
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is bracing for the probe of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to fire up again. Trump’s advisers are privately expressing worries that the special counsel, who’s been out of the news for the past month, has been stealthily compiling information and could soon issue new indictments or a damning final report.
Trump abruptly altered the chain of command above Mueller on Wednesday, putting his work under the supervision of a Republican loyalist who has been openly skeptical of the special counsel’s authority and has mused about ways to curtail his power. But Trump and his aides are concerned about Mueller’s next move with the work that is complete, according to a White House official and a Republican with close ties to the administration.
They insisted on anonymity to comment on conversations they were not authorized to describe.
Mueller kept a low profile for the past month as voters were mulling their choices for this week’s elections.
But a flurry of activity during his quiet period, including weeks of grand jury testimony about Trump confidant Roger Stone and negotiations over an interview with the president, hinted at public developments ahead as investigators move closer to addressing key questions underpinning the special counsel inquiry: Did Trump illegally obstruct the investigation? And did his campaign have advance knowledge of illegally hacked Democratic emails?
Trump has told confidants he remains deeply annoyed by the 18-month-old Mueller probe, believing it is not just a “witch hunt” but an expensive and lengthy negative distraction. The latest indication of the fury came Wednesday when he forced out his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whose recusal opened the door to Mueller’s appointment.
To this point, Trump has heeded advice not to directly interfere, though a new chapter in the relationship with the probe may have begun with the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as new acting attorney general. Even if Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff, does not curtail the investigation, Trump could direct him to take a more aggressive stance in declassifying documents that could further undermine or muddle the probe, the White House aide and Republican official said.
The investigation until now has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller last year and granted him fairly broad authority.
“It’s very significant because Whitaker’s position on indictments or future indictments may be different than Rosenstein’s, and Rosenstein had given Mueller a broad mandate to pursue various crimes,” said Washington criminal defense lawyer Jeffrey Jacobovitz.
On Friday, Trump moved to distance himself from Whitaker, saying, “I don’t know Matt Whitaker.” But he also called him “smart” and “respected.”
The Mueller investigation has so far produced 32 criminal charges and four guilty pleas from Trump associates. But the work is not done.
A clear focus concerns Stone, a longtime political dirty trickster. The special counsel’s team has been investigating Stone’s connection to WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign and whether he had advance knowledge of the group’s plans to release hacked material damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Stone has said he did not, but emails, Twitter messages and his own public statements show he portrayed himself as plugged into the WikiLeaks orbit. That includes implying he had inside knowledge in separate email exchanges with a Breitbart editor and Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign chief executive, just days before WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Bannon and other Stone associates have been questioned, and multiple witnesses have appeared before the grand jury. One associate, Jerome Corsi, said in a video recording Monday that he’s “been involved in a really constant basis” for two months with Mueller’s investigation.
On Thursday, a federal appeals court heard a challenge to Mueller’s authority brought by Stone aide Andrew Miller, who defied a grand jury subpoena last summer and was held in contempt by a judge.
In the president’s orbit, there remains some concern about his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., though there are no outward indications that charges are imminent, according to a Republican close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Beyond Mueller, but also within the Justice Department’s oversight, is a federal investigation into Trump’s longtime legal fixer, Michael Cohen, who admitted as part of a guilty plea in August to coordinating with Trump on a hush-money scheme to silence a porn actress and an ex-Playboy model who say they had affairs with Trump.
The president hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing, but federal prosecutors have said that a grand jury investigation is ongoing and it targets unspecified “others.” Court papers show Trump’s conduct and that of top executives at the Trump Organization, some of whom have received immunity, have been scrutinized.
It’s unclear what additional charges prosecutors are pursuing and how much of it pertains to the president personally. Federal prosecutors have said in court papers that the case involves numerous “uncharged” third parties and have argued against disclosing search warrants and other documents that would “certainly result in a very public guessing game” about their identities.
Overseeing it all is Whitaker, a former college football player and U.S. attorney from Iowa who was brought into the Justice Department last year to serve as Sessions’ chief of staff. In the months before, Whitaker was a familiar presence on CNN, where he questioned Mueller’s scope and reach.
In one appearance, he defended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, saying, “You would always take that meeting.”
He also once tweeted an ex-prosecutor’s opinion piece that described the Mueller team as a “lynch mob,” and wrote his own op-ed saying Mueller would be outside his authority if he investigated Trump’s family finances.
Trump had enjoyed Whitaker’s cable TV appearances — including one on CNN in which he suggested that the Mueller probe be starved of resources — and the two men soon struck a bond. Trump told associates that he felt that Whitaker would be “loyal” and would not have recused himself from the Russia probe as Sessions had done, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Despite demands from Democrats that he recuse because of his past comments, Whitaker showed no signs Thursday that he intended to do so. And not everyone is convinced he needs to.
“Based on my experience with Matt,” said John Richter, a former U.S. Attorney in Oklahoma and high-ranking Bush administration Justice Department official, “I think he will act consistently with the best traditions of the department and call things as he sees them.”
Trump, speaking to reporters Friday, stressed that Whitaker was serving as attorney general in an acting capacity. He said he has not discussed the position with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the subject of some speculation.
Northern California wildfire nearly quadruples in size
By DON THOMPSON and JOCELYN GECKER
Friday, November 9
PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — A wildfire that moved so fast that firefighters couldn’t hope to stop it quadrupled in size Friday after destroying several thousand buildings and leveling much of a Northern California town of nearly 30,000 people, authorities said.
Only a day after it began, the fire near the town of Paradise had grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square kilometers).
“There was really no firefight involved,” said Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, explaining that crews gave up on attacking the flames and instead helped people evacuate. “These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day yesterday.”
The entire town was ordered evacuated, setting off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got struck in gridlocked traffic and abandoned their cars to flee foot. People in Paradise reported seeing much of the community go up in flames, including homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement center.
“We were surrounded by fire. We were driving through fire on each side of the road,” police officer Mark Bass said.
On Friday, the massive blaze spread north, prompting officials to order the evacuation of Stirling City and Inskip, two communities north of Paradise along the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The wind-driven blaze also spread to the west and reached the edge of Chico, a city of 90,000 people. Firefighters were able to stop the flames at the edge of the city, where evacuation orders remained in place Friday, said Cal Fire Cpt. Bill Murphy said.
The winds calmed down in the valley, but they were still shifting and erratic, with speeds of up to 45 mph (72 kph) along ridge tops, he said.
In Paradise, Bass evacuated his family and then returned to the fire to help rescue several disabled residents, including a man trying to carry his bedridden wife to safety.
“It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us,” Bass said.
McLean estimated that several thousand buildings were lost in Paradise, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.
“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It’s that kind of devastation,” he said.
Wildfires also erupted in Southern California, with reports early Friday of two large fires scorching about 23 square miles (60 square kilometers) and threatening numerous communities. ABC7.com reported that 75,000 homes were under evacuation orders along the border of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
The National Weather Service issued extreme fire danger warnings in many areas of the state, saying low humidity and strong winds were expected to continue through the evening.
The fire in Paradise was reported shortly after daybreak Thursday.
In the midst of the chaos, officials said they could not provide figures on the number of wounded, but County Cal Fire Chief Darren Read said that at least two firefighters and multiple residents were injured.
“It’s a very dangerous and very serious situation,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. “We’re working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is: If you can evacuate, you need to evacuate.” Several evacuation centers were set up in nearby towns.
Residents described fleeing their homes and getting stuck in traffic jams as the flames sparked explosions and toppled utility poles.
“Things started exploding,” resident Gina Oviedo said. “People started getting out of their vehicles and running.”
Many abandoned their cars and trucks on the side of the road.
“They were abandoned because traffic was so bad, backed up for hours,” Bass said.
Thick gray smoke and ash filled the sky above Paradise and could be seen from miles away.
“It was absolutely dark,” said resident Mike Molloy, who said he made a decision based on the wind to leave Thursday morning, packing only the minimum and joining a sea of other vehicles.
Concerned friends and family posted frantic messages on Twitter and other sites saying they were looking for loved ones, particularly seniors who lived at retirement homes or alone.
Chico police officer John Barker and his partner evacuated several elderly people from an apartment complex.
“Most of them were immobile, with walkers or spouses that were bed-ridden, so we were trying to get additional units to come and try and help us, just taking as many as we could,” he said. He described the community as having a lot of elderly residents, some with no vehicles.
Kelly Lee called shelters looking for her husband’s 93-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Herrera, who was last heard from Thursday morning. Herrera, who lives in Paradise with her 88-year-old husband, Lou, left a frantic voicemail at around 9:30 a.m. saying they needed to get out.
“We never heard from them again,” Lee said. “We’re worried sick. … They do have a car, but they both are older and can be confused at times.”
Associated Press writers Paul Elias, Janie Har, Daisy Nguyen, Olga R. Rodriguez, Sudhin Thanawala and Juliet Williams in San Francisco, Sophia Bollag in Sacramento, Michelle A. Monroe in Phoenix and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher in Honolulu contributed to this report.
$4.1 Million of Clean Ohio Conservation Funds Available to Preserve Land and Streams in Franklin County
(Columbus – Nov. 8, 2018) The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) announces the availability of over $4.1 million of Clean Ohio Conservation Funds (COCF) in Round 13 for District 3-Franklin County from the Natural Resources Assistance Council (NRAC). The COCF is part of the Clean Ohio program approved by voters in 2008. The COCF can be used for the acquisition of green space and the protection and enhancement of river and stream corridors. The Natural Resources Assistance Council reviews funding applications and selects applications for approval using the selection methodology it has established. Local governments, park and joint recreation districts, conservancy districts, soil and water conservation districts, and non-profit organizations located in Franklin County are eligible to apply for the grant funds.
Potential applicants should submit a preliminary screener to determine if the project is eligible and to receive constructive comments for the final application. The deadline for the preliminary screener is 5:00 p.m. on December 28, 2018, and the final application is due by 5:00 p.m. on March 15, 2019.
The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) is a voluntary association of local governments and regional organizations that envisions and embraces innovative directions in economic prosperity, energy, the environment, housing, land use, and transportation. Our transformative programming, services and innovative public policy are designed to promote and support the vitality and growth in the region. For more information, please visit www.morpc.org.
Central Ohio school board member receives association’s highest honor
Ohio School Boards Association
Nov. 8, 2018
COLUMBUS — A Franklin County school board member will receive the Ohio School Boards Association’s (OSBA) most prestigious award.
Lee Schreiner, who has served on the South-Western City Schools Board of Education for five years, will be recognized as a 2018 All-Ohio School Board member on Sunday, Nov. 11, during the OSBA Capital Conference and Trade Show in Columbus. OSBA Chief Executive Officer Richard Lewis will introduce All-Ohio School Board members on the first day of the 63rd annual conference, a three-day convention attended by more than 9,000 Ohio public school board members, administrators and other education stakeholders.
Each year, OSBA names one board of education member from each of its five regions — Central, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest — to the All-Ohio School Board. The award recognizes outstanding service to public education and represents the dedication shown by thousands of board members across the state.
All-Ohio School Board candidates are nominated by their respective school boards. OSBA regional committees then select the five winners.
Schreiner, a Grove City resident and retired teacher who represents OSBA’s Central Region, has been elected twice to the South-Western board and currently serves at its president.
He also is OSBA’s 2019 president-elect nominee. If elected by delegates at the Annual Business Meeting of the OSBA Delegate Assembly on Nov. 12 during the Capital Conference, Schreiner will become OSBA president in 2020.
In nominating Schreiner, colleges wrote: “Lee works tirelessly for public education. He has dedicated his life to it. As a retired educator, he brings invaluable knowledge to his school board position.”
In his district, Schreiner has served on numerous levy and bond committees during South-Western’s ongoing, multiphase Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project. He also tutors South-Western students in reading, writes children’s books and has coached high school and collegiate soccer.
His work with OSBA includes serving as a member of the Board of Trustees, Executive Committee, Central Region Executive Committee, and Federal Relations Network, among others.
In its 63rd year, OSBA leads the way to educational excellence by serving Ohio’s public school board members and the diverse districts they represent through superior service, unwavering advocacy and creative solutions.
Opinion: Now We Can Get Back to Work With North Korea
By Donald Kirk
WASHINGTON — Time now to return to North Korea, the topic having been all but forgotten during campaigning for congressional elections seen as testing President Donald Trump’s grip on power.
No, Congress does not get to vote a president in or out of an office the way the British parliament or Japanese Diet vote for or against a prime minister. Still, Trump sorely had to retain control over the upper house of Congress, the Senate, which he managed to do in elections Tuesday for six-year terms for 35 of that august body’s 100 members.
As for the House of Representatives, the lower house, all of whose 435 seats were contested for two-year terms, yes, the Democrats gained a slight majority. House Democrats will have a lot of fun investigating everything from Trump’s tax returns, never revealed, to his profiteering off his hotels and golf courses, but they probably won’t impeach him. Even if they do, he can be sure the Republican-controlled Senate would not take the final step of convicting and ousting him.
With the elections out of the way, Trump can take a deep breath, stop the grandstanding about invasion of aliens plotting to infiltrate the U.S. way of life, and get back to dealing with his old friend from Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un. Kim has said he would like to meet Trump for a second summit, and Trump has said, sure, but maybe not until early next year, not right after the elections, as originally planned.
Trump still needs North Korea. The president would love to have peace and friendship on the Korean peninsula, rapprochement between the United States and North Korea, as his enduring legacy even if he’s less than successful in blocking a caravan of several thousand frightened, poverty-stricken, hungry people from reaching the U.S. border, begging for refuge from their dictatorial, crime-ridden native countries in Central America.
Funny, North Korea didn’t make it into the rhetoric of the campaign when Trump, in desperation, played on the fears of people fed up with crime, with shootings, with the massacre of worshipers at a Jewish synagogue. He apparently convinced so many voters that violence would prevail and the American economy would go to hell if those “leftist’ Democrats had their way that he actually did rather well in the midterms.
Historically in midterm elections, the party of the man in the White House has lost seats in the House of Representatives. The fact that Trump’s party of conservative Republicans still controls the Senate will put him in position to run for re-election as president two years from now.
Kim Jong-un can also help. Trump, after seeing Kim in Singapore in June, went around claiming that he had “solved” the North Korean nuclear problem where all his predecessors, both Democrats and Republicans, had failed. That obviously wasn’t true. North Korea has yet to do anything about denuclearization despite a show of destroying a nuclear test site that collapsed in the last nuclear test more than a year ago.
With the midterms behind him, Trump can think about his next summit with Kim, maybe early next year. He might consider more concessions, maybe giving up some of the sanctions imposed after each of North Korea’s tests of nuclear warheads and long-range missiles for sending them to targets as far as the White House. He might even consider an end-of-war “peace declaration.”
All, however, may not go according to plan. The “f” word — “f” for “flexibility” — keeps coming up as a rebuke to Trump for not giving up on “complete denuclearization.” Stop demanding Kim first give up its nukes, say the “flexible” crowd. Give the man what he wants, and then he’ll give you what you want.
Oh sure. As if the North had always responded with nice gestures to American and South Korean moves toward reconciliation. As if the North did a thing about “complete denuclearization” after Trump made the grand gesture of cancelling joint U.S.-South Korean war games right after his summit with Kim.
As if Kim has for a moment considered pulling back the thousands of artillery pieces that loom as a club over the Seoul-Incheon megalopolis. As if the North has done one thing about returning South Koreans held for many years up there or has considered regular, not sporadic and agonizing, visits between members of families divided by the Korean War.
As if “flexibility” were to be applied only to those obstinate Americans, not the North Koreans. Trump, as he returns to the topic of North Korea, may want to ask Kim if would mind showing a little flexibility too.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.