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    California Gov. Gavin Newsom was wrapping up a meeting with the president of El Salvador in April when his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, spoke up in fluent Spanish. What, she asked Salvador Sánchez Cerén, did he have to say about the country's poor record on women's rights? Newsom, who doesn't speak the language, learned what she had asked through a translator and worried his host would be offended. But Sánchez Cerén didn't seem fazed and gave a lengthy answer about progress and work that remains. Gavin Newsom said in a recent interview he should have expected his wife's forthrightness. 'There's no timidity with Jen when it comes to things she cares about and causes she holds dear,' he said. And the chief causes for Siebel Newsom, a 45-year-old actress turned documentary film maker, are gender equality and society's treatment of women and families. As California's 'First Partner,' a term she prefers to the traditional 'First Lady' because it is gender neutral and could apply to the spouse of a future woman or LGBT governor, Siebel Newsom is marrying the activism she's done through her filmmaking with the governing agenda of her husband, a Democrat in his first term leading the nation's most populous state. Since her husband's inauguration, Siebel Newsom has launched a campaign pushing California companies to pay workers equally and urged her husband to expand paid family leave. She stood alongside him and women lawmakers in May when he announced a 'parents' agenda' that includes two more weeks of leave per parent, a bigger tax credit for low-income families and tax cuts on tampons and diapers. It easily passed as part of the state budget. 'I don't have to say things anymore — he's been listening for a long time,' Siebel Newsom said of her husband of 11 years. Women lawmakers see new allies in the Newsoms, parents of four children under 10, compared to former Gov. Jerry Brown, who was 81 when he left office. 'She has the governor's ear and you know she values the same things,' Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said of Siebel Newsom's work with the Legislative Women's Caucus. Shortly after the Newsoms married, Siebel Newsom, found herself dissatisfied with the roles Hollywood gave her -- like the love interest of male characters and a one-episode appearance as a prostitute in the 'Mad Men' TV series. Inspired by the pregnancy that produced her first child, a girl, Siebel Newsom decided to go behind the camera to make her first documentary 'Miss Representation,' which examines Hollywood's fixation on women's looks. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, followed by her launch of The Representation Project nonprofit group that writes curricula about gender in media. Siebel Newsom then widened her scope, focusing on how society treats men and boys with her film 'The Mask You Live In' and exploring how gender values influence the U.S. economy in 'The Great American Lie,' which premiered this year. As Newsom's 'First Partner,' she plans to launch an effort this fall probing the negative effects of media and technology on children. She said 'the jury's still out' when asked if it will be hard for her as the governor's wife to take on two mega-industries that drive California's economy: Silicon Valley and Hollywood. 'A good percentage of entertainment and tech that we're putting out into the world is questionable in terms of the impact it's having on our kids' minds and hearts and well-being,' she said. In 'The Great American Lie,' Siebel Newsom takes on the economic policies of President Ronald Reagan, who she revered while growing up in a conservative household in wealthy Marin County, just north of San Francisco. That background, she says, helps her empathize with a range of people, including conservatives featured in her films. Her father, the son of steel mill workers, put himself through college on a scholarship and then went into the wealth management business where Siebel Newsom said he reaped benefits from so-called 'Reaganomics' that favored less taxes and government regulation. He held traditional views of family, with him as the breadwinner and his wife maintaining the home and caring for five daughters. When Siebel Newsom was 6, her older sister died in a golf cart accident, which she said fostered a sense of guilt and a need 'to help people because I couldn't help her.' Siebel Newsom said her political views evolved as she got older. 'I really grew up thinking Reagan was the end-all, be-all and then when I started delving into research around his policies and saw the outcomes, I realized that I didn't associate with those policies and didn't think those were the smartest,' she said. That makes for some uncomfortable conversations with her parents, who she said are still proud of her political work with Newsom. 'We have discussions that I'm not always interested in having, but I'm always listening to (my dad's) perspective and hoping he's listening to mine,' she said. Siebel Newsom's parents instilled a commitment to service, and she followed in her father's footsteps by working with the nonprofit Conservation International in Latin America and Africa in between getting her bachelor's degree and an MBA at Stanford University. She honed her Spanish while living in Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. Her Spanish now allows her to communicate with millions of Californians in a way that her husband can't. State Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, an immigrant from El Salvador, said Siebel Newsom has worked to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. 'She's not trying to speak on behalf of any group, she's trying to give voice and a platform to communities that often are not invited or don't have the opportunity or the luxury of being in the room or at the table,' Carrillo said. Both Newsoms say they constantly discuss their political priorities. 'They're informal conversations at dinner, having breakfast, driving the kids to school, getting coffee in the morning,' Gov. Newsom said. Newsom said he arrived at 11 p.m. at the family's multi-million-dollar home in a Sacramento suburb after a long day in June finalizing his state budget and found about two dozen women there discussing Michelle Obama's book 'Becoming' with his wife. That talk with her book club led Siebel Newsom to bring a host of other topics to her husband's attention, keeping him up long past midnight. As he recalled it, 'They just got into these deep conversations, and those conversations carry over to: 'What are you going to do about it, Gavin?
  • Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana returned Friday to the Mexican beach where her father entered the U.S. illegally before she was born, this time to put final touches on a mural of adults who came to the U.S. illegally as young children and were deported. Visitors who hold up their phones to the painted faces are taken to a website that voices first-person narratives. There is a deported U.S. veteran. There are two deported mothers with children who were born in the U.S. There is a man who would have been eligible for an Obama-era program to shield people who came to the U.S. when they were very young from deportation, but was deported less than a year before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, took effect in 2012. The project blends Mexico's rich history of muralists with what can loosely be called interactive or performance art on the 1,954-mile (3,126-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border. At the same Tijuana beach during an art festival in 2005, David Smith Jr., known as 'The Human Cannonball,' flashed his passport, lowered himself into a barrel and was shot over the wall, landing on a net with U.S. Border Patrol agents nearby. In 2017, professional swimmers crossed the border from the U.S. in the Pacific Ocean and landed on the same beach, where a Mexican official greeted them with stamped passports and schoolchildren cheered. Last month, an artist installed three pink seesaws though a border wall that separates El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. De La Cruz Santana, 28, conceived the interactive mural as part of a doctoral dissertation at University of California, Davis, in Spanish with a focus on literature and immigrant experiences. The faces are affixed with barcodes that link to audio on the project website. Her dissertation will include written arguments for DACA-style benefits to anyone who comes to the U.S. as a young child, without any of the disqualifiers like criminal history that former President Barack Obama included. 'Technology is one of the best ways and venues for people to tell their stories,' said De La Cruz, whose parents obtained legal status through former President Ronald Reagan's amnesty law. With a $7,500 grant, De La Cruz, who was born and raised in California, directed about 15 people who painted on polyester canvass at a Tijuana art gallery called 'House of the Tunnel,' which was once used to smuggle drugs in a secret underground passage to San Diego. She partnered with Mauro Carrera, a longtime friend and a muralist who lives in Fresno, California. The project is also deeply personal for Carrera, 32, who was born in Mexico, crossed the border illegally as a toddler, and obtained legal status through his father, who had amnesty. He grew up with friends and neighbors in the U.S. illegally. Carrera said the project aims to 'see the people behind the politics.' The deportees painted at least 80% of their own faces under his direction. 'I feel I'm right in the middle of the issue,' he said as others rolled canvases over steel poles that were topped with coiled wire installed after Donald Trump became president. Last year, many Central Americans in a large caravan of asylum seekers gravitated to the beach, which is downhill from a light tower, bull ring and restaurants. The U.S. side of the beach is usually empty, except for Border Patrol agents parked in their vehicles and occasional hikers. De La Cruz Santana is struck by the lively atmosphere on the Mexican side and quiet in the U.S. 'If you look past this wall on the U.S. side, there's nothing,' she said. 'I wanted to erase the border.' ___ This story has been corrected to show that two mothers' daughters were not allowed to stay in the U.S. under an Obama-era program.
  • It's not quite 'Trump-McConnell 2020,' but it might as well be. As he runs for reelection, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is positioning himself as the president's wingman, his trusted right hand in Congress, transformed from a behind-the-scenes player into a prominent if sometimes reviled Republican like none other besides Donald Trump himself. 'In Washington, President Trump and I are making America great again!' he declared at a rally in Kentucky, his voice rising over protesters. Other than Democrat Nancy Pelosi — and more recently Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — no current politician has so quickly become such a high-profile object of partisan scorn. McConnell was heckled last weekend at his home state's annual 'Fancy Farm' political picnic, and protesters outside his Louisville house hurled so many profanities that Twitter temporarily shut down his account for posting video of them online. Undaunted, he revels in the nickname he's given himself — the 'Grim Reaper,' bragging that he's burying the House Democrats' agenda — though he seems stung by one lobbed by opponents, 'Moscow Mitch.' But the Democrats' agenda includes gun legislation to require background checks that Trump now wants to consider, forcing McConnell to adjust his earlier refusal to do so. The Senate leader has been here before, pushing ahead with a Trump priority that's unpopular with most Republicans. But this will test both his relationship with the president and his grip on the GOP majority. All while he's campaigning to keep his job. McConnell is even more dependent on Trump's popularity in Kentucky than on his own, a different political landscape from the one he faced in 2014, before the president took the White House. 'They need each other,' says Scott Jennings, a longtime adviser to McConnell. The new McConnell strategy shows just how far Trump has transformed the GOP, turning a banker's-collar-and-cufflinks conservative into a 'Fake News!' shouting senator. Theirs was not an easy alliance in Trump's first year, and they went a long stretch without talking to each other. But two years on, McConnell has proven a loyal implementer of the president's initiatives, and Trump no longer assails the senator on Twitter. Perhaps no issue has drawn the unlikely partners together more than the current reckoning over national gun violence. Republicans, long allied with the National Rifle Association, have resisted stricter laws on firearm and ammunition sales. But the frequency of mass shootings and the grave toll are intensifying pressure to act. Trump on Friday revived his interest in having Congress take a look at expanding federal background checks and other gun safety laws long pushed by Democrats, insisting he will be able to get Republicans on board. McConnell, in a shift, said he's now willing to consider those ideas 'front and center' when Congress returns in the fall. Said Trump, 'I think I have a greater influence now over the Senate.' But McConnell doesn't call himself the Grim Reaper for nothing. He is well known on Capitol Hill for his legislative blocking skills, having stopped much of the Obama administration's agenda when he first became Senate leader and more recently halting bills coming from the Democratic-controlled House, including one to expand background checks. 'We've seen it before,' said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in a tweet after the weekend mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. 'An awful shooting occurs. @realDonaldTrump expresses interest in helping. Republicans try to get him off the hook with lesser measures. Nothing happens.' In fact, McConnell and his allies have taken on Trump's style, lashing out at media and political opponents. When campaign volunteers came under criticism for appearing to choke a cardboard cutout of Ocasio-Cortez at the picnic in a photo circulated online, McConnell allies said the high schoolers were being treated unfairly by opponents trying to maliciously shame them in public. The shift in McConnell's strategy is not lost on Democrat Amy McGrath, the former fighter pilot and the leading Democrat hoping to win the party's nomination to challenge him next fall, her campaign said. McGrath is telling Kentuckians that McConnell is part of the problem, a long-serving leader who has stood in the way of gun safety, health care and other legislation for years, and hardly the one to fulfill Trump's promises. Democrats and Republicans say she is expected to attract plenty of fundraising dollars and volunteers in a race that could easily approach $100 million, second only to the presidential contest. 'It almost feels like we have a mini-presidential campaign going on here,' said Jennings. Kentucky remains a GOP stronghold, and Trump is extraordinarily popular, which is part of the reason McConnell is tying his own political future to the president. But it's unclear if his is the right strategy for the times. With a national profile, McConnell's record is coming under more scrutiny. An investment in a Kentucky aluminum plant by a company with ties to Russia has raised questions. And McConnell's refusal to allow the Senate to consider a House-passed election security bill has resulted in opponents calling him 'Moscow Mitch' following Russia's 2016 campaign interference. His campaign tries to make light of questions surrounding the shipping business run by the family of his wife, Elaine Chao, Trump's transportation secretary. The state's lone Democratic congressman, John Yarmuth, whose district includes liberal Louisville, said McConnell has never been especially popular in Kentucky but has managed to keep winning elections. 'He's a survivor,' Yarmuth said. 'He's in good shape only because Trump's at the top of the ticket.' At the weekend events in Kentucky, McConnell was relishing his Senate post, telling voters that as the only member in congressional leadership not from New York or California, 'I'm the guy that sticks up for middle America.' At breakfast before taking the stage, he said he was ready to take on all comers. 'I can't wait,' he said. 'There's nothing I like better than engaging these crazy left-wingers and saving this country,' he said. 'And we're going to do precisely that.' ___ Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Louisville contributed to this report. ___ Online: Crowd rallies against McConnell's gun legislation https://youtu.be/FnUF4br6Fng ___ Follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lisamascaro
  • The packed field of Democratic presidential candidates descended Friday night on a small, northern Iowa town, delighting a raucous crowd of voters by largely attacking President Donald Trump rather than each other. Some of the loudest applause at the Wing Ding fundraiser came for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who tailored her message to her rural surroundings, saying she'd stand up for small farmers against 'big ag' interests. 'Trade war by tweet is not working for our farmers,' she said of Trump's using Twitter to announce tariffs on China, which has stung international markets. 'I promise you this, when I'm president, when I negotiate a trade deal there will be independent farmers at the table.' Also energizing the crowd was Mayor Pete Buttigeig of South Bend, Indiana, who accused the president of 'coddling white nationalism' and mocked Trump's background in television, saying he wasn't sure if its current occupant had turned the White House into a 'reality show' or a 'horror show.' 'What we're going to do is pick up the remote and change the channel,' Buttigeig, the youngest presidential candidate, proclaimed to sustained cheers. Once a low-key fundraiser that served up chicken wings and raised money for Democratic candidates and nearby county parties, the event has grown in stature in the state that kicks off presidential primary voting. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota poked fun at the parade of candidates taking the stage one after another and forcing everyone to keep their speeches short: 'Last time I had 20 minutes, and this time I have 20 candidates.' Some who ran longer than their allotted five minutes — including the evening's final speaker, former Vice President Joe Biden — were subjected to musical cues trying to play them offstage, just like the Academy Awards. The event coincides with the state fair in Des Moines, and most Democratic White House hopefuls have been crisscrossing the state for days. California Sen. Kamala Harris is on a bus tour, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is traveling via RV and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has a Winnebago. Many of Friday's speeches featured cracking voices after long stretches of campaigning. Biden, who has consistently led in the polls, offered a long list of Trump's actions that he said had stirred up racial division before declaring: 'Let's call this what it is. This is white nationalism, this is white supremacy.' The candidates overlapped with messages of how Trump had spread hate and fear nationwide. But a few also offered stern warnings that topping the president in 2020 will be tough. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Trump will win unless Democrats have an argument that 'speaks to the pain and reality of the working families of this country.' Hickenlooper noted that Trump's approval rating was about 42 percent, just a tad lower than Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama before they won reelection. He also said neither Reagan nor Obama had 'an economy as strong as the one today.' Hickenlooper said the Democrats need to look at the nation's history to beat Trump and swiped at the numerous senators seeking the White House, saying no senator has ever beaten a sitting president — only former governors have because they were closer to their constituents. But most of the others played nice, a departure from two rounds of recent debates that featured frequent clashes. Things were civil behind-the-scenes, too. As Harris spoke, Biden breezily milled through the crowd of staffers, Democratic activists and security personnel backstage. The pair has developed an increasingly testy rapport since the first debate, but Biden, with his trademark grin, was smiling and shaking hands — including with Harris aides waiting for their candidate to finish. Iowa is also getting its first look at billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, who only recently joined the race. Steyer said he alone could challenge a fellow rich man like Trump, exposing his 'pattern of fraud.' The candidates also consistently blamed Trump for not doing enough to prevent mass shootings like those in Ohio and Texas last week. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke canceled his Iowa visit to remain in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, where 22 people died. His campaign will stay suspended through the weekend and perhaps beyond. 'We've been asked a couple of times by folks when we're gonna get back on the campaign trail. We will at some point,' O'Rourke said in a Facebook video from his home Friday. 'We really want to be here right now for El Paso, for the families.' O'Rourke also appeared in a somber video during Friday's event. 'I'm sad that I can't be with you in person,' he said. 'I hope to see you in the very near future.' ___ Associated Press writers Bill Barrow and Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump has sent his clearest signal yet that he may be about to sign commutation papers freeing former Illinois governor and one-time 'Celebrity Apprentice' contestant Rod Blagojevich from federal prison in Colorado. The 62-year-old Democrat, who was once best known and the butt of jokes for his thick, meticulously coiffed hair, is seven years into a lengthy sentence for extortion, bribery and other wide-ranging political corruption. 'I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,' Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One this week about Blagojevich. He added: 'I'm thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly.' Trump on Thursday took to Twitter , saying that many people have asked him to look into commuting Blagojevich's sentence. 'White House staff is continuing the review of this matter,' Trump tweeted. Trump's comments aboard Air Force One on Blagojevich's case contained several errors and underplayed the severity of the crimes, which included attempting to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. A look at Blagojevich's crimes, Trump's characterization of them and why the president may be taking a special interest in the case: Q: WAS BLAGOJEVICH CONVICTED FOR BRAGGING? A: Trump echoed an assertion Blagojevich has made for years that federal prosecutors came after him for mere musings and boastful talk on the phone, which, unbeknownst to Blagojevich at the time in 2008, had been tapped by the FBI. Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, Trump said Blagojevich was behind bars 'over a phone call where nothing happens.' He added Blagojevich 'shouldn't have said what he said, but it was braggadocio.' Judges and prosecutors rejected such interpretations. The majority of Illinois residents, many who seemed otherwise jaded by the state's long, ignominious history of political corruption, expressed shock at what Blagojevich did. His conviction for trying to sell an appointment to Obama's Senate seat for campaign contributions stood out, in part, because of Blagojevich's excited, expletive-laden talk captured on wiretaps about how he could parlay his power to name a new senator into campaign donations. 'I've got this thing and it's f------ golden,' he is heard saying. 'And I'm just not giving it up for f------ nothing.' Prosecutors said the crimes went beyond talk, with Blagojevich dispatching emissaries to press potential donors and to convey the message that they'd have to pay to play. His other convictions included trying to shake down a Chicago children's hospital. Its CEO, Patrick Magoon, testified that Blagojevich threatened to cancel an $8 million state pediatric-care reimbursement unless Magoon paid $25,000 into Blagojevich's campaign coffers. A federal appeals court in 2015 did toss five of 18 convictions , including ones in which Blagojevich offered an appointment to the Senate for a high-paying job. But the convictions for trying to trade an appointment for campaign cash where upheld. Q: WAS TRUMP RIGHT ABOUT THE SENTENCE? A: In his comments, Trump was right about the amount Blagojevich has served to date when he said: 'I think it's enough: seven years.' Blagojevich reported to prison in 2012, after which his hair quickly turned white because hair dyes are prohibited behind bars. Inside, the Elvis Presley fan formed a prison band called 'The Jailhouse Rockers,' his lawyers have said. Trump was wrong in saying Blagojevich 'was given close to 18 years in prison.' Judge James Zagel sentenced Blagojevich in 2011 to 14 years in prison. 'The abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than the abuse of any other office, except the president's,' Zagel said in sentencing the two-term governor. 'When it is the governor who goes bad,' the judge said, 'the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired.' Federal felons must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, meaning Blagojevich would be eligible after serving 12 years. That would put his release date in 2024. In speaking about how he thought Blagojevich's sentence was too long, Trump also said: 'You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they've killed 25 people.' It's unclear what Trump meant. Q: WHAT'S TRUMP'S INTEREST IN THE CASE? A: Trump appeared to draw a link between the federal prosecution of Blagojevich and the federal investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. 'And it was the same gang — the (James Comey) gang and the — all these sleazebags — that did it,' Trump said Wednesday. But Comey, who Trump fired as FBI director in 2017, wasn't in the FBI or anywhere in the Department of Justice during the investigation and indictment of Blagojevich. During that period, he was a vice president and general counsel at Lockheed Martin Corp. He left private practice in 2013, after Blagojevich was already in prison, and was confirmed that year as FBI director. The Blagojevich investigation began during the George W. Bush's presidency, when a familiar figure in the Russian investigation led the FBI: Robert Mueller. Trump fired Blagojevich from the 'Celebrity Apprentice' reality show in 2010 after Blagojevich struggled to complete basic tasks on a cellphone, like sending texts and e-mails. But Trump also expressed admiration for Blagojevich, whose first trial was about to begin. Trump praised him for how he was fighting his criminal case, telling him: 'You have a hell of a lot of guts.' Q: HAS TRUMP DISCUSSED THIS BEFORE? A: Trump first publicly mentioned the idea of freeing Blagojevich in May 2018. He said at the time that Blagojevich was convicted for 'being stupid, saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say.' As time passed with no action by Trump, Blagojevich's wife, Patti, went on a media blitz with an apparent target audience of one: Trump himself. Patti Blagojevich, who comes from a influential family of Chicago Democrats, went out of her way to praise the Republican president. She gave several interviews on Fox News, one of the president's favorite news sources, likening the investigation of her husband to the Russia investigation that Trump called a 'witch hunt.' In his comments this week, Trump expressed sympathy for the Blagojevich daughters and admiration for Patti. 'I'm very impressed with his wife,' he said. 'She's one hell of a woman.' ___ Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm
  • A billionaire New York investor and owner of the Miami Dolphins who is hosting a high-dollar fundraiser for Donald Trump on Friday also has a financial interest in the president's business empire — including his iconic Manhattan tower. Shortly after Trump's election, Stephen M. Ross tried to take over Ladder Capital, one of Trump's biggest creditors, which also holds a mortgage on Trump Tower. Though the takeover failed, Ross' private equity firm Related Companies purchased an $80 million stake in Ladder, which is still owed more than $100 million by Trump, records show. The campaign fundraiser at Ross' home in the Hamptons, with tickets costing up to $250,000, provides another stark example of the intersection between Trump's business and political interests, the sort of comingling of wealth and power that Trump crusaded against during the 2016 race when he derided politicians for taking money from special interests. 'It's another reminder of how the president's refusal to divest from the Trump Organization continues to present potential conflicts of interest,' said Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. 'We don't know what they might want, or what they might be getting in return.' Unlike other presidents, Trump has refused to divest himself from his business holdings, and he is not legally required to do so. His campaign did not respond to repeated request for comment on Thursday. Daniel I. Weiner, a former Federal Election Commission attorney, said concern about the influence big donors may wield over a president is not unique to Trump. 'It's not that this is some completely new universe that we're living in. It's that longstanding problems with our political system are now on steroids,' said Weiner, who is now senior counsel at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. 'It becomes very hard to know where a president's personal and political interests end and his service to the public interest begins.' The fundraiser, which was first reported by the Washington Post, has already set off a wave of bad publicity for Ross and Related Companies, which also owns Equinox, an upscale chain of athletic clubs, and the indoor cycling studio SoulCycle. Some celebrities and activists threatened to boycott. Kenny Stills, a Dolphins wide receiver, also criticized Ross' decision to hold the fundraiser. He tweeted a screen capture from the website for Ross' anti-racism initiative RISE which says the program 'educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.' 'You can't have a non-profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,' he tweeted. Ross regularly donates to Republicans — as well as a few Democrats — though he does not appear to have given to Trump in the past, according to FEC records. In a statement released Wednesday Ross defended his decision to hold the fundraiser, noting that he has known Trump for 40 years. 'I always have been an active participant in the democratic process,' Ross said. 'While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about.' Since 2012, Trump's companies have taken out loans from Ladder Capital and currently owe anywhere between $110 million and $150 million, according to a debt range included in the president's 2019 financial disclosure. That includes at least $50 million he owes on a 2012 mortgage on Trump Tower, the building where he lives, and represents one of his most successful real estate investments. Before their takeover attempt was rejected, Related Companies purchased an $80 million share in Ladder Capital and Richard O'Toole, the company's vice president and general counsel, was installed on the board of directors, filings show. Related sold off some of its stock earlier this year and O'Toole recently stepped down from the board, but the company continues to hold 5.1 million shares in Ladder, filings show. Related spokeswoman Joanna Rose said the firm 'now owns less than 5% of the shares of Ladder' and added that 'any allegation or speculation beyond a simple investment strategy is patently false.' Ladder did not respond to a request for comment. Trump has repeatedly been accused of using his position for profit. Foreign governments and businesses flock to his Washington hotel. His Mar-a-Lago club has seen a surge in memberships. And political fundraisers are often held at his properties. Related has business holdings in the United States and abroad, much of it in real estate, including high-end developments in London and the Middle East, according to the company's website. 'The timing of the initial purchase certainly seems significant,' said Fischer, of the Campaign Legal Center. 'It became clear pretty early on that foreign and domestic interests saw the president's business holdings as an opportunity to curry favor.' ___ Follow Slodysko on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrianSlodysko
  • Seven days, three mass shootings, 34 dead. The FBI has labeled two of those attacks , at a Texas Walmart and California food festival, as domestic terrorism — acts meant to intimidate or coerce a civilian population and affect government policy. But the bureau hasn't gone that far with a shooting at an Ohio entertainment district. Even if there's a domestic terrorism investigation, no specific domestic terrorism law exists in the federal criminal code. That means the Justice Department must rely on other laws such as hate crimes and weapons offenses in cases of politically motivated shootings. The legal gap has prompted many survivors, victims' families, law enforcement officials and legal experts to call on lawmakers to create a domestic terrorism law that could aid investigators and punish perpetrators. 'Calling something for what it is is an important first step in combating this problem,' said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. However, supporters of a domestic terrorism law say some lawmakers may be reluctant to push legislation that could target white supremacists. 'When you dismiss it as a mass shooting or a hate crime or some crazed gunman, you're minimizing what impact it has,' said Daryl Johnson, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 'It's a double standard. We should be calling all ideologically motivated violence terrorism, whether it comes from the white variety or the Muslim variety.' The gunmen in Ohio and Texas appear to be white, while the Gilroy shooter identified himself as Iranian and Italian on social media. In El Paso, authorities suspect a 21-year-old gunman posted anti-Hispanic writings online before killing 22 people Saturday at a Walmart store. In Gilroy, authorities say, the 19-year-old attacker who killed three people, including two children, had compiled a 'target list' that included religious groups, federal buildings and both major political parties. Search warrant records released Thursday show authorities found a passport, clown mask, wilderness survival guide and bottle rockets — as well as a pamphlet for the garlic festival he targeted — in his car. In Dayton, Ohio, however, the FBI has not yet said if it considers an attack that killed nine people to be domestic terrorism. The bureau says the 24-year-old gunman expressed a desire to commit a mass shooting and showed an interest in violent ideology. In addition, posts from what appears to be his Twitter account endorsed communism, bemoaned President Donald Trump's election and supported Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is running for president. Todd Lindgren, an FBI spokesman in the Cincinnati office, said the bureau is investigating the shooter's motive and ideologies— including combing through his social media — but he declined to address a potential domestic terrorism aspect of the case. Domestic terrorism has historically been applied to violent anti-government extremists such as Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Crimes targeting African Americans, Jewish people and other minorities have more regularly been treated as hate crimes, rather than terrorist attacks, and investigated by FBI criminal agents instead of counterterrorism agents. The FBI Agents Association, which represents thousands of active-duty and retired agents, has called for Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime to ensure investigators and prosecutors have the 'best tools' to fight it. Mary McCord, former head of the Justice Department's national security division, has also advocated for such a law. 'It is something we may see come out of this, we may not,' she said. The punishment for mass killings can be life imprisonment or even death, regardless of the label applied to the crime. Even if a shooter dies, as occurred in California and Ohio, experts said a federal law would help authorities gather evidence and serve as a deterrent. The legal framework is different in international terrorism cases, where a wide-reaching statute makes it a crime to support a designated foreign terror group such as Islamic State or al-Qaida and often produces arrests long before violence occurs. As a result, it's a crime for an American to fly to Syria to join Islamic State, but it's not illegal for an American to travel in the U.S. to meet with Ku Klux Klan leaders or other white supremacists. 'When politics get involved, we end up playing games,' Levin said. 'Had the El Paso killer been named Ahmed, the response of some in government and some in the media would have been markedly different.' In national security cases with an overseas connection, the FBI can obtain secret surveillance warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of people they suspect of being agents of a foreign power. Investigators in domestic criminal cases don't have that tool. They can apply for court-authorized wiretaps but must show there's probable cause that such surveillance will turn up criminal activity. Civil liberties groups wary of additional federal surveillance powers say the FBI and Justice Department already have the tools they need. The FBI says it doesn't investigate anyone based on ideology alone. Investigators need some sign that they are planning a crime. Many act alone, without any affiliation to a group. 'If they're just kind of out there sitting in a basement, not going on anything that we can tie them to, they are very hard to find,' said Robert Anderson, a former executive assistant director in charge of the FBI's criminal branch. One similarity between contemporary international and domestic acts of terror is the ease of pulling them off. The Islamic State has encouraged followers to kill where they are, with whatever weapon they have, instead of plotting grandiose bomb plots. Recent suspects in white nationalist killings have taken a page from that book. 'Honestly, it's a pretty easy thing to do if you think about it,' Anderson said of mass shootings. 'This isn't like you're going out and building a bomb, this isn't like you're thinking about taking over an airplane.' ___ Tucker reported from Washington.
  • After dozens of people, including toddlers and teenagers, were gunned down in separate mass shootings at a church Sutherland Springs and a high school in suburban Houston, Texas Republicans came to the Capitol this year with their eyes on new gun laws. The goal was not to limit access to weapons or ban assault-style rifles, but to expand gun rights. After a pro-gun legislative session applauded by the National Rifle Association, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed new laws that eased restrictions on where firearms can be carried, from schools to churches, apartments and foster homes, and barred cities from passing their own gun and ammunition sales limits. After last weekend's massacre of 22 people at an El Paso Walmart by an attacker with a military-style rifle, Texas' Republican leadership is still unlikely to push for gun restrictions in a state that has long embraced firearms and has nearly 1.4 million handgun license holders, experts and advocates on both sides of the gun issue say. The shooting comes nearly 21 months after the Sutherland Springs massacre that killed more than two dozen people and more than a year after the Santa Fe shooting that killed 10. 'When Texas Republicans look at these massacres, they don't blame guns, or gun laws. They blame people. They may blame institutions, schools, families, mental health, but not guns,' said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University. 'If a school massacre and a church massacre didn't change people's opinion, the El Paso massacre isn't going to.' Texas' resistance to tightening gun laws stands in contrast to how some Republican-led states have reacted after mass shootings. After a 2018 attack at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that state became one of more than a dozen with 'red flag' laws, which generally allow law enforcement or family members to ask a judge to order the seizure or surrender of guns from someone deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Florida also raised the legal age of buying a gun from 18 to 21. On Tuesday, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine proposed requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales and adopting a red flag law in his state, where a gunman killed nine people at a Dayton entertainment district just hours after the El Paso shooting. Texas has no restrictions on gun sales and allows licensed handgun owners to carry their weapons openly or concealed. Long gun or rifles, like the one used in the El Paso massacre, can be openly carried in public. Alice Tripp, legislative director and lobbyist for the NRA-affiliated Texas State Rifle Association, said Texans won't follow other states on gun laws. 'We're smarter. We're self-determined and independent and look for the root cause of problems,' Tripp said. 'We don't follow people who simply say for political purposes, 'We should have done this or that.' We look for laws that could have made a difference.' Abbott and other state leaders have focused on mental health, social media and video games since the El Paso shooting. Abbott met Wednesday with Democratic lawmakers from El Paso who have pushed for gun control and said he wants to keep guns away from 'deranged killers.' Abbott said the state should battle hate, racism and terrorism, but made no mention of gun restrictions. 'Our job is to keep Texans safe,' Abbott said. 'We take that job seriously. We will act swiftly and aggressively to address it.' Abbott said he will meet with experts this month to discuss how Texas can respond — much as he did after shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe. Those meetings resulted in Abbott issuing a 43-page report with proposals for more armed guards in schools, boosting mental health screenings, new restrictions on home gun storage, and consideration of red flag laws. Gun rights supporters immediately pushed back on anything that could be interpreted as restricting gun ownership, and the Legislature's Republican majority pivoted to expanding run rights. The only victory gun control supporters could claim was a small item in a $250 billion state budget: $1 million for a public awareness campaign on safe gun storage at home. 'They made things worse,' said Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense. 'I went naively into the session thinking 'Progress here we come.' But we ran head on into this idea that more guns make us safer.
  • Ivanka Trump will travel to South America in September to focus on issues that make it difficult for women in developing countries to prosper financially, including lack of access to credit and limits on employment. President Donald Trump's daughter and White House adviser plans to visit Paraguay and Argentina to promote the Women's Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, a program started six months ago, by focusing on three key areas: job training, financial assistance and encouraging legal and regulatory changes. During the trip, aides said Ivanka Trump will advocate for laws and other changes that will allow women to access courts and other institutions, build credit, own and inherit property, travel freely and work the same jobs as men. Ivanka Trump, who had a business selling clothing and accessories before joining her father's administration, said these laws, while not exhaustive, are 'foundational to building strong societies where women can freely participate in the economy.' Owning property, either land or a home, is one avenue to financial independence for women, but 40% of all countries limit women's property rights, according to research by the global development initiative. Women cannot run a business in nearly two-thirds of the world's nations. In 17 countries, they are prohibited from traveling without permission and, in 37 nations, they are not even allowed to apply for a passport. Many nations also limit women's occupations and work hours. Advisers to the president's eldest daughter point to changes underway in Ivory Coast as an example of the kind of change that can help women in developing countries. Ivanka Trump promoted the development program in Ivory Coast and Ethiopia in April, though the marriage code change was under consideration before her visit. Under the revised code, husbands and wives will have equal say in managing household assets and making financial decisions. In Paraguay, most women work in informal jobs where they are subject to vulnerable working conditions and no access to social security, according UN Women, a division of the United Nations dedicated to gender equality and women's empowerment. Women in Paraguay also participate in the labor market at a significantly lower rate than men. Ivanka Trump launched the Women's Global Development and Prosperity initiative in February with her father's full backing and an initial investment of $50 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development. ___ Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap
  • With one hand resting on the mane of a sturdy Mongolian horse, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper invoked the name of one of America's great soldiers as he sought to strengthen the military bonds between the U.S. and this landlocked democracy sandwiched between Russia and China. 'I'd like to name this fine-looking horse Marshall, after Gen. George Marshall,' Esper said Thursday as he was presented with a 7-year-old buckskin during a time-honored traditional ceremony at Mongolia's Ministry of Defense. Esper's stop in Ulaanbaatar, the third U.S. engagement with Mongolia in recent weeks, underscored its key role in America's new defense strategy that lists China and Russia as priority competitors. With just over 3 million people spread over an area twice the size of Texas, Mongolia has worked to maintain its independence from Beijing and Moscow by increasing its ties to other world powers, including the U.S. It describes the U.S. as a 'third neighbor.' Esper has made it clear throughout his weeklong travel across the Asia Pacific that countering China's aggressive and destabilizing activities in the region is a top administration priority. The activities, he said, include Beijing's militarization of manmade islands in the South China Sea, efforts to use predatory economics and debt for sovereignty deals, and a campaign to promote the state-sponsored theft of other nations' intellectual property. 'We've got to be conscious of the toeholds that they're trying to get into many of these countries,' Esper told reporters traveling with him to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Mongolia this week. Esper, who was sworn in as defense secretary in July, said the U.S. is working to build relationships with key countries in the Indo-Pacific that share values and respect for each other's sovereignty, 'whether it's Mongolia this trip, Vietnam, a future trip, Indonesia, other countries who I think are key.' His stop in Mongolia was less than 24 hours long, but he told his defense counterpart, Nyamaagiin Enkhbold, that it gives him the 'opportunity to look at different ways we can further strengthen the ties' between the two nations. As he stood outside the ministry, just steps away from a large statue of Mongolia's famed founder Genghis Khan, Esper recounted a story of Marshall disciplining one of his soldiers who had struck a Mongolian horse that was being stubborn. Marshall, said Esper, had a high regard for the horses. As he spoke, the newly named Marshall yawned and stood patiently as Esper patted his neck. 'He's happy,' Esper said. 'He likes his name.' Esper also presented the horse's caretaker with a saddle blanket emblazoned with the name and insignia of the U.S. Army's Old Guard. The horses, which are bred for endurance, always remain in Mongolia, and the tradition dictates that recipients name them after something they consider important. Just last week, the Mongolian government gave one of the horses to President Donald Trump's 13-year-old son, Barron, who named it Victory. A previous Pentagon chief, Chuck Hagel, got a Mongolian horse when he visited in 2014, and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld received one when he went in 2005. Hagel named his 9-year-old buckskin gelding Shamrock, after his high school mascot, and Rumsfeld named his Montana, because the arid, mountainous landscape around the Mongolian capital reminded him of that state. Esper's trip is the first by a Pentagon chief since Hagel, and it comes on the heels of a visit to the White House last week by Mongolia's president, Khaltmaa Battulga, the first since 2011. In addition, national security adviser John Bolton went to Mongolia in June. Esper said he had no specific goals for the visit involving how the Pentagon can expand its military cooperation with Mongolia. Instead, he said he wants to build stronger relationships at senior defense levels. The State Department's 2019 budget for foreign operations was explicit in outlining Mongolia's importance, stating that the primary goals of U.S. assistance are to 'ensure the United States remains a preferred partner over geographical neighbors Russia and China.' And while U.S. officials have insisted that America is not asking nations to choose between the United States and China, Esper said, 'We've got to be able to compete with them.' One senior U.S. official said the U.S. seeks to expand its defense and intelligence cooperation with Mongolia, noting that its location makes it ideal for listening posts and monitoring stations for peering into both U.S. adversaries. The official was not authorized to discuss details publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mongolian troops have consistently been a visible force, often providing security at U.S. facilities. The nation still has more than 200 troops in Afghanistan. In addition, U.S. troops frequently conduct cold-weather training in Mongolia. And in June, U.S. and Mongolian forces participated in the annual Khaan Quest military exercise focusing on peacekeeping and other interoperability training. More broadly, Mongolia wants to enhance its trade with the U.S., and that was a key topic when Battulga met with President Donald Trump last week. The country is looking to diversify its trade flows since China buys more than 85 percent of Mongolia's exports. The U.S. is interested in Mongolia's economic resources, including rare earth metals and cashmere. Most of Mongolia's raw cashmere is finished in China, triggering interest in finding another market to bolster competition. The U.S. is open to helping Mongolia expand its access to the trans-Siberian pipeline, thereby allowing a route for shipping goods to the West other than through China. ___ Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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  • Just a month after City of St. Augustine Beach leaders passed bans on the sale and distribution of plastic straws, plastic bags, and Styrofoam, it all may need to be rolled back. That's as a Florida appeals court has struck down a similar ordinance in Coral Gables. The court found that their ban violated a state law that stops local governments from regulating Styrofoam.  Attorney Jane West, who pushed for the St. Augustine Beach bans, tells our partner Action News Jax, that after the city passed the measures, they received a letter from the Florida Retail Federation threatening to sue.  'Now that they're armed with this very strong opinion in their favor, the city can't take the legal risk of getting sued and then having to pay all the attorney's fees in defending what is probably going to be a losing case,' says West.  She and other residents believe it'll likely be up to families and local businesses to cut down on their use of these materials on their own. The ban was set to take effect on January 1st, 2020. St. Augustine Beach Mayor Undine George released the following statement about this court decision: “I don’t believe the appellate decision reflects the majority opinion of Fl communities. Even our governor has expressed strong support for local communities’ right to regulate Styrofoam and single use plastics; we are the ones who see and feel their impact. Hopefully, local businesses will listen to the voice of the people and transition away from Styrofoam and single use plastics. Consumers want to patronize businesses who share their desire to protect our environment from harmful pollutants.”
  • The Jacksonville Beach Police Department is turning to the community for any information after a man was fatally shot outside his home. Police have now identified the victim as 28-year-old Jake Hall. Neighbors tell us he was a father of three kids.  Investigators say at this time, there's no clear motive or any information on a possible suspect. That's why they're asking neighbors within a 6 block radius of 17th Avenue North and 2nd Street North to check their doorbell cameras and security cameras for anything that might be of interest to police. They say the shooting happened around 9:40 PM, Thursday evening.  The police department says shootings for the community are rare. According to their stats, the last shooting was in August 2018.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has released an extremely clear surveillance photo of two armed robbery suspects that they're working to identify. Police say they're accused of robbing the Circle K on St. Johns Bluff Road, Thursday night, just before 11:00 PM. Police are asking anyone with information about either suspect to contact the sheriff's office at (904) 630-0500 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-8477.
  • The plane that crashed in Tennessee on Thursday while carrying retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., his family and two pilots bounced at least twice before stopping and catching fire, according to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board. >> Read more trending news  Officials said the incident happened as the Cessna Citation was landing at Elizabethton Municipal Airport at 3:40 p.m. An NBC Sports spokesperson said in a statement that Earnhardt, his wife Amy, his 15-month-old daughter Isla and two pilots were safe after the crash.  Update 2:35 p.m. EDT Aug. 16: Investigators will spend at least two days collecting evidence from the scene of the crash, Ralph Hicks, a senior investigator with NTSB, told reporters Friday. Authorities have reviewed surveillance footage from near the crash site which showed the plane bounced at least twice before coming down hard on one of the landing gears, Hicks said. 'You can actually see the right main landing gear collapsing in the video,' he said. 'The airplane continued down the runway off to the end, through a fence, and it came to stop ... on Highway 91.' Hicks said the crash site was about 1,000 feet past the end of the runway. The plane had taken off about 20 minutes before the crash from Statesville, North Carolina, Hicks said. The aircraft was not equipped with a data recorder, though Hicks said other instruments recorded some data. Officials are also analyzing a cockpit voice recorder. Authorities continue to investigate the cause of the crash. Update 2 p.m. EDT Aug. 16: Authorities are providing an update Friday on the investigation into Thursday's plane crash. Update 1:50 p.m. EDT Aug. 16: Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration said no injuries were reported as a result of the crash, although the Cessna 680A aircraft was destroyed. The Earnhardt family and the pilots were the only passengers listed on board when the crash happened. Authorities are expected to provide more updates on the incident at 2 p.m. news conference Friday. Update 11:50 a.m. EDT Aug. 16: Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board are scheduled to hold news conference Friday afternoon to update the public on the investigation into Thursday's crash.  Update 9:25 a.m. EDT Aug. 16: Earnhardt's sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, thanked God, supporters and medical staff early Friday in a Twitter post after Earnhardt and his family survived a fiery plane crash in Tennessee. 'Finally laying down for the night and want to say thank you to God, the angels among us, our pilots, first responders, medical staff, our NASCAR family and everyone that has reached out in whatever way to support us all,' Earnhardt Miller wrote in a post around 12:30 a.m. Friday. A nurse who witnessed the crash told WSOC-TV her instincts kicked in Thursday when she saw the jet skid off the runway. '(The) first thing that went through my mind was, 'Lord, I hope there was nobody in the plane that's still in the plane,' because it was completely engulfed,' she told WSOC-TV. She added that as she tried to help, the plane, it was smoking out the back and then, all of a sudden, it caught on fire.' An NBC Sports spokesperson said Thursday that Earnhardt was taken to a hospital but released a short while later. Authorities are investigating the cause of the accident. Update 9 a.m. Aug. 16: Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were in Elizabethton on Friday morning, WJHL reported. Agency officials said Thursday that two NTSB officials were being sent to investigate the incident. Federal Aviation Administration officials were also expected to be on the scene Friday, WJHL reported. Original report: Retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his wife Amy Reimann were aboard a private jet when it crashed at the Elizabethton Airport, in Tennessee.  Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford told WJHL that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was taken to an area hospital and his injuries are described as cuts and abrasions.  Lunceford also said that his wife and child were onboard as well as the family dog. The pilot and one other passenger was also onboard. Earnhardt Jr. sister, Kelley, tweeted that everyone involved survived the crash. 'We're incredibly grateful that Dale, his wife Amy, daughter Isla, and the two pilots are safe following today's accident,' NBC Sports said in a statement. 'After being discharged from the hospital, we communicated with Dale and his team, and we're all in agreement that he should take this weekend off to be with his family. 'We look forward to having him back in the booth next month at Darlington.' According to WJHL, emergency crews responded to the crash involving the Cessna Citation Latitude business jet that ran off the end of the runway Thursday afternoon. It's not clear if the plane was departing or arriving. Earnhardt retired as a full-time racer in 2017 and has been working as an analyst for NBC. He is part of the scheduled broadcast team for Saturday night's Cup Series event in Bristol, Tennessee.The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • It's an exciting day for the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park! The zoo held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new sloth exhibit. WOKV told you back in July, when the zoo brought in two Hoffman’s two-toed sloths named Teddy and Grizzly.  The zoo says the exhibit is part of the rainforest habitat as guests walk into the ‘Land of the Crocodiles.’ Despite sloths typically being solitary, the zoo has said Teddy and Grizzly share a strong bond.

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