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The Latest Political Headlines

    President Donald Trump says he'll be making a 'major announcement' on the government shutdown and the southern border on Saturday afternoon as the standstill over his border wall continues into its fifth week. Democrats are now proposing hundreds of millions of dollars for new immigration judges and improvements to ports of entry from Mexico but nothing for the wall, a House aide said, as the party begins fleshing out its vision of improving border security. After days of bitter clashes between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it was unclear if the twin developments represented serious steps toward resolving the fight. But they were the first tangible signs of movement in a dispute that has caused a partial government shutdown, which Saturday was entering its record 29th day.
  • The Latest on a disputed report that President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to lie to Congress (all times local): 10:25 p.m. President Donald Trump says it's 'a very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!' after the special counsel's office disputed the accuracy of a BuzzFeed News story about the president. A spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller's office issued an extraordinary and unprecedented statement on Friday night characterizing as 'not accurate' a BuzzFeed story that said Trump had directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Moscow. The statement didn't cite any specific errors. BuzzFeed says it stands by its reporting but is 'working to determine what exactly' Mueller's office is disputing. Some senior Democrats had said that if the BuzzFeed report was confirmed, Trump's actions could rise to the level of impeachment. ___ 8:30 p.m. BuzzFeed says it stands by its reporting but is 'working to determine what exactly' special counsel Robert Mueller's office is disputing about its story on President Donald Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen. Mueller spokesman Peter Carr issued an extraordinary and unprecedented statement on Friday night characterizing as 'not accurate' a BuzzFeed News story that said Trump had directed Cohen to lie to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Moscow. The story was attributed to two unidentified law enforcement officials. In a statement Friday night, BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal says the news organization is trying to figure out what Mueller's team is taking issue with. In a separate statement, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith says it stands by the reporting and the 'sources who informed it.' He called on Mueller 'to make clear what he's disputing.' ___ 7:50 p.m. The special counsel's office has issued a rare public statement disputing the accuracy of a news report saying that President Donald Trump told his personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. The statement by Robert Mueller's office on Friday night doesn't cite any specific errors. Spokesman Peter Carr says, 'BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the Special Counsel's Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen's Congressional testimony are not accurate.' ___ 12:50 p.m. Donald Trump's personal attorney is denying that the president told his former legal fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the details of a Trump business proposal in Russia. Rudy Giuliani says in a statement that 'Any suggestion— from any source— that the President counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false.' Giuliani is responding to a Buzzfeed News report saying that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress. The report was based on information from two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The officials are not named in the story. The report says Cohen said Trump directed him to lie and investigators have additional documents and testimony backing that up. __ 10:45 a.m. President Donald Trump is accusing his former personal attorney of 'lying to reduce his jail time!' after BuzzFeed News published a report saying Trump had asked his ex-fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress in 2017. BuzzFeed said Trump directed Cohen to lie about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election. Trump tweeted that Cohen is 'Lying to reduce his jail time!' even though he's already been sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to tax crimes, bank fraud and campaign violations. On Fox News Channel, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said that the BuzzFeed story was 'absolutely ludicrous,' but he repeatedly refused to deny the central allegation: that Trump directed Cohen to lie. One of Gidley's interviewers noted at one point: 'That was not a denial of my question.' The Democratic chairmen of two House committees pledged Friday to investigate the report, which cites two unnamed law enforcement officials. The Associated Press has not independently confirmed the report. __ 8:23 a.m. The House intelligence committee chairman said he will 'do what is necessary' to confirm a published report that President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election. Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff of California says the allegation that Trump asked Cohen to lie 'to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date.' The report by BuzzFeed News, citing two unnamed law enforcement officials, says that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress and that Cohen regularly briefed Trump on the Moscow project. The Associated Press has not independently confirmed the report. An adviser to Cohen, Lanny Davis, declined to comment.
  • Arizona has become the only state in the country where members of federally recognized tribes are exempt from work or volunteer requirements for Medicaid benefits, while 120,000 state residents risk losing health coverage if they don't comply. The announcement came Friday from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which said it believes the exemption is consistent with the tribes' status as political entities. Early last year, the agency wrote to tribes saying exempting all Native Americans from work requirements could violate equal protection laws. Tribes across the country pushed back, saying the position ignored Supreme Court decisions that allow federally recognized tribes to be treated differently than others, disregarded the U.S. Constitution and violated treaties. They also cited high unemployment rates on reservations and funding shortfalls at the federal Indian Health Service that Medicaid reimbursements help fill. The tribal exemption in Arizona sets a precedent for other states with significant Native American populations. Eight states have taken up the Trump administration on its offer to approve work requirements for low-income people on Medicaid. Now that the administration has granted Arizona's request, it's expected to follow suit for any other state seeking the exemption. Arizona initially wanted to include all Native Americans, which might have raised concerns under civil rights laws that the exemption wasn't allowed based on race, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman Yvonne Hylton said. After negotiating, the request was limited to members of federally recognized tribes. 'We have long stressed the importance of meaningful tribal consultation when states are contemplating program reforms, and I'm pleased with how this important process informed Arizona's approach,' agency Administrator Seema Verma said. The Trump administration urged changes to Medicaid programs to encourage work and independence. Others see work requirements as unfairly targeting the working class. Arizona residents will have a three-month grace period when the work requirements take effect next January. About 120,000 of Arizona's 1.8 million residents on Medicaid, ages 19 to 49, must work or volunteer at least 80 hours a month and report those hours. If not, coverage will be suspended for two months. Christina Corieri, a senior policy adviser for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, said he believes the requirements will improve residents' financial situations, help them engage in communities and become healthier. 'We believe that those who can work should, and we think that's backed up by evidence as well,' she said. 'This can improve people's lives.' Arkansas implemented work requirements last summer and has seen 18,000 people lose coverage, said Jessica Schubel, a senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 'It's just one more burden on people who are more likely already working, but are in jobs that are low-wage jobs, and they are relying on Medicaid to help them treat their condition,' she said. Most of those affected in Arizona were added to the Medicaid rolls in 2013 after the state expanded coverage under former President Barack Obama's health care law. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services denied Arizona's request for a five-year limit on coverage for those who fail to meet the work requirements. Others who are exempt in Arizona include the mentally ill, those with disabilities and pregnant women. Arizona has 21 federally recognized tribes, whose reservations take up about a quarter of the state. Navajo President Jonathan Nez said approval of Arizona's plan is a victory for all of them. Victoria Stevens, vice chairwoman of the governing board for the San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corp., said the tribe's hospital stood to lose $15 million in Medicaid funding if tribal members were forced to work or volunteer. About 70 percent of patients there have Medicaid, she said. She and others worked to pass a law in Arizona last year with similar language. She said classifying tribes as anything but political entities is illegal. 'Native American people are entitled to health care because of treaty rights and settlements when tribes were defeated in war,' she said. In Maine and Wisconsin — two other states with work requirements for Medicaid — tribes can satisfy them by participating in tribal work programs, including traditional subsistence activities. Federal regulators approved the plans last year. Maine also exempts tribal members from paying proposed premiums. ___ Associated Press writer Marina Villanueve in Augusta, Maine, and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller's office on Friday issued a rare public statement disputing the accuracy of BuzzFeed News' report that said President Donald Trump's former attorney told Mueller that the president directed him to lie to Congress. BuzzFeed, citing two unidentified law enforcement officials, reported that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate project and that Cohen told Mueller the president personally instructed him to lie about the timing of the deal. The report said Mueller's investigators learned about Trump's directive 'through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.' The report said Cohen acknowledged Trump's instructions when he was interviewed by the Mueller team. The statement by Mueller's office on Friday night doesn't cite any specific errors. In it, the special counsel's spokesman, Peter Carr, said, 'BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the special counsel's office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen's congressional testimony are not accurate.' BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal said the publication stands by its reporting and urged readers to 'stay tuned' as they worked to determine what Mueller was denying. Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, also said the publication stands by its reporting and the sources who informed it. 'We urge the special counsel to make clear what he's disputing,' Smith said. Immediately after the special counsel's statement was issued, Trump retweeted several posts that called the story fake news. He later tweeted: 'A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!' Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tweeted: 'I commend Bob Mueller's office for correcting the BuzzFeed false story that Pres. Trump encouraged Cohen to lie. I ask the press to take heed that their hysterical desire to destroy this President has gone too far. They pursued this without critical analysis all day. #FAKENEWS.' The extraordinary statement from Mueller's office came after Democrats had vowed to investigate whether the report was true, calling that possibility a 'concern of the greatest magnitude.' House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., both said they would probe BuzzFeed's account. Some Democrats even said that if the report were true, then Trump should be impeached. The Associated Press had not independently confirmed the report. Any evidence that Trump directed a witness to lie to investigators would place him in the greatest political and legal jeopardy yet. Giuliani said in a statement earlier Friday that 'any suggestion — from any source — that the President counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false.' White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the allegation 'absolutely ridiculous.' On Twitter on Friday morning, Trump charged that Cohen was 'Lying to reduce his jail time!' Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating the Trump Tower project on Trump's behalf during the heat of his presidential campaign. The charge was brought by Mueller and was the result of Cohen's cooperation with that probe. Cohen admitted that he lied when he told lawmakers he had never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow project and when he said that he'd decided by the end of January 2016 that the 'proposal was not feasible for a variety of business reasons and should not be pursued further.' He was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal his boss' alleged sexual affairs, telling a judge that he agreed time and again to cover up Trump's 'dirty deeds' out of 'blind loyalty.' Giuliani noted that Cohen had pleaded guilty to lying and quoted federal prosecutors in New York who chastised him for a 'pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time.' Mueller's team, however, had previously called him a credible witness. 'Today's claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen's malice and desperation,' Giuliani said. Lanny Davis, a Cohen adviser, declined to comment. Cohen is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7. The top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said Friday that he expects Cohen to talk to that panel in February. Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has discouraged any talk of impeachment in the early days of her new majority, some senior Democrats said that if the BuzzFeed report was confirmed, Trump's actions could rise to that level. 'If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,' tweeted Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the House intelligence panel. Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, also a Judiciary committee member, tweeted that if Trump directed Cohen to lie, 'that is obstruction of justice. Period. Full stop.' A Senate Democrat, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, tweeted that 'we need to know this ASAP' if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming that Trump directed Cohen to lie. 'Mueller shouldn't end his inquiry, but it's about time for him to show Congress his cards before it's too late for us to act,' Murphy tweeted. ___ Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller in Washington and Jonathan Lemire and Jim Mustian in New York contributed to this report.
  • Kris Kobach, a vocal ally of President Donald Trump and an advocate of tough immigration laws, confirmed Friday that he is considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2020 after losing the Kansas governor's race. Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, joins a crowded field of Republicans who are either actively looking at the race or being touted as possible candidates. The list also includes U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a four-term Republican, announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election. His decision set off a scramble to replace him, and Republicans have frequently mentioned Kobach as a potential candidate. 'I am seriously considering it,' Kobach told The Associated Press. Kobach said he does not have a timetable for making his decision and does not know how talk about Pompeo getting into the race would affect it. A top Republican Senate strategist said there's a high level of interest among GOP senators in having Pompeo seek to succeed Roberts in the chamber. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive conversations, said multiple Republican senators have talked to Pompeo about it, including some of the party's most senior lawmakers. The person would not name those who've talked to Pompeo. Pompeo is a former congressman who represented a Wichita-area district in the U.S. House for six years before Trump appointed him CIA director. He became a trusted adviser, and Trump named him U.S. secretary of state when Rex Tillerson left. The only announced Republican contender to succeed Roberts is State Treasurer Jake LaTurner. Others interested include U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, who represents the same western Kansas district in Congress that Roberts once did, and former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who narrowly lost the GOP primary for governor last year to Kobach. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt also is considering it along with Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. Among Democrats, Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney for Kansas, said he was looking at the race before Roberts decided not to seek re-election. Kobach served eight years as Kansas secretary of state and lost the governor's race to Democrat Laura Kelly. He built a national profile — and alienated moderate Republicans — with his views on immigration and advocacy of strict voter identification laws. He was an early supporter of Trump's presidential campaign in 2016, advised the campaign and later the White House, and served as vice chairman of a short-lived presidential commission on election fraud. Kobach had Trump's endorsement in the governor's race. Kobach declined to comment Friday on whether he has talked to Trump about a job in the administration. ___ Associated Press writer Alan Fram in Washington also contributed to this story. ___ Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .
  • U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said Friday he supports President Donald Trump's push for a border wall that has led to a government shutdown and questioned why Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won't agree to 'another few miles' of barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border. Romney also said he plans to keep working with other senators to find interim solutions, such as legislation that would make sure essential government employees still working get paid now. The 2012 GOP presidential nominee and new Utah senator acknowledged that it 'takes two to tango' but backed Trump's position and chided Pelosi for hers. That's noteworthy from Romney, who despite being a Republican like Trump, has frequently criticized the president. 'You (Pelosi) and your fellow Democrats have voted for over 600 miles of border fence in the past, why won't you vote for another few miles now?' said Romney, speaking in the northern Utah city of Ogden after visiting with county commissioners about the shutdown's impact on the community. 'I don't understand their position, I really don't.' He implored the two sides to 'make a deal' and end the suffering of federal workers who aren't getting paid, suggesting Pelosi should offer a certain amount of money for the border wall and make a proposal to the president about border security. He said Trump is willing to allow participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to stay in the country. 'On policy, it strikes me like there's not a big gap but the politics have drawn people into different corners,' Romney said. Romney said the country deserves border security, which includes more barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border. He said there is 'humanitarian pain' being suffered by people entering the country illegally and being stopped at the border. The backing for Trump in the shutdown dual illustrates Romney's stated goal of calling the president out when he disagrees while supporting him when he feels he's staking out the right position. His most recent critique of the Trump came two days before he took office in an op-ed for The Washington Post in which he said Trump's conduct in his first two years in office had 'not risen to the mantle of the office.' Romney said he backs an idea by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that would enssure essential government workers who are still working, but without pay, get paid. He said the goal is to get legislation before the president. 'It doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me that we ask people to work, we insist that they work, we tell them that if they don't work they may lose their pension and may lose they their job, so they show up, but we aren't paying them,' Romney said. 'Somehow that just doesn't seem right.' Romney met Friday with Weber County Commissioners about the impact on the city of Ogden, home to about 5,000 federal employers who work for the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Forest Service. About 3,750 workers IRS workers in Ogden were on furlough, though about 1,000 were called back this week to prepare for tax-filing season. The city of 87,000 residents is about 35 miles north of Salt Lake City. After meeting with Romney, Weber County Commissioner James H. Harvey called it a 'desperate time' for federal workers and their families. 'We want those messages heard so that there will be some action,' Harvey said.
  • After yet another day which featured no hints of progress in ending a funding fight that has to a partial government shutdown taking paychecks away from over 800,000 federal workers, President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday evening that he would make a ‘major announcement’ on Saturday about his push to get money to build a wall along the Mexican border, which has led to an ongoing standoff with Democrats in Congress. “I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown,” the President wrote on Twitter, giving no details about what he might announce. With no indications that Democrats in Congress are ready to give in on their opposition to a border wall, some Republicans have continued to urge the President to declare a ‘national emergency’ under existing laws, and move money around in the military’s budget to build a wall. I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019 “He ought to go ahead and declare an emergency, and it would be over,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). “I don’t know why he is reluctant to do that.” Inhofe – who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee – said Thursday that he would not oppose the President dipping into military construction funds to build the wall, though other Republicans have publicly opposed the idea. Democrats on Friday also pressed the Department of Homeland Security on another front – using eminent domain to take land away from landowners, in order to build the way – focusing on a case involving the Catholic Church in Texas, which owns land that the Trump Administration wants. “The federal government must exercise extreme caution when seizing private property,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer to the Homeland Security Secretary. To @SecNielsen: The Trump Administration’s lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, raises important questions on the exercise of eminent domain to build a border wall. We ask you to respond to these questions by January 31: pic.twitter.com/MXcfoQib9E — Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 18, 2019 The President has asked for $5.7 billion in border security money for both fencing and a wall; Democrats in Congress have offered $1.6 billion – the original requests of the Trump Administration and Republicans – but Democrats want none of that to go to the wall.
  • Photos and video taken by animal welfare activists at a recent trophy hunting convention show an array of products crafted from the body parts of threatened big-game animals, including boots, chaps, belts and furniture labeled as elephant leather. Vendors at the Safari Club International event held last week in Reno, Nevada, also were recorded hawking African vacations to shoot captive-bred lions raised in pens. The club has previously said it wouldn't allow the sale of so-called canned hunts at its events. The hidden camera footage was released Friday by the Humane Society of the United States. Both federal and state laws restrict the commercial sale of hides from African elephants, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Nevada's chief game warden confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that an investigation is underway to determine if state law was violated. Safari Club spokesman Steve Comus said Friday the group was also conducting an internal investigation after what he described as allegations based on 'what appears to be an unauthorized visit' by the Humane Society. The group didn't respond to written questions from the AP about what steps it takes to ensure exhibitors at its events are following the law. The club denied a request earlier this month from the AP for a media credential to attend its annual conference, billed as the nation's premier big-game hunting show. 'This hunters' heaven has everything the mind can dream of and occupies more than 650,000 square feet of exhibit space,' the group's web site boasts. 'Six continents are under one roof where SCI members come to book hunts, rendezvous with old friends and shop for the latest guns and hunting equipment.' Humane Society investigators purchased tickets to the conference and prowled the exhibit booths with concealed cameras. They recorded racks of clothing and other products made from the hides, bones and teeth of imperiled African wildlife. 'Making money off the opportunity to kill these animals for bragging rights is something that most people around the world find appalling,' said Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. 'It's an elitist hobby of the 1 percent, and there is no place for trophy hunting in today's world.' The wares included oil paintings of big-game animals painted on stretched elephant skins, bracelets woven from elephant hair and an elephant leather bench. There was also a coffee table made from the skull of a hippopotamus and boxes filled with hippo teeth. Under a state law passed in 2017, it is illegal in Nevada to purchase, sell or possess with intent to sell any item that contains the body parts of elephant, lion, rhinoceros, tiger, leopard, hippopotamus and other imperiled wildlife. A first offense is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $6,500 or an amount equal to four times the fair market value of the item sold, whichever is greater. Additional violations can be classified as a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Tyler Turnipseed, the state's chief game warden, confirmed Friday that his office had opened an investigation as a result of the information and images provided by the Humane Society. He said that there is a learning curve when new laws are implemented and that state officials would work with the Safari Club 'to try and prevent unlawful sales in future years.' Though President Donald Trump has decried big-game hunting as a 'horror show,' his administration reversed Obama-era restrictions on the importation of elephant and lion trophies for personal use or display. But federal law still prohibits the sale or use of the body parts from such international protected species for commercial purposes. The Safari Club has actively lobbied the Trump administration to loosen restrictions on the importation of wildlife trophies, arguing that the fees paid to African countries by American hunters help to fund anti-poaching and conservation programs. A licensed two-week African hunting safari can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates. The AP reported last year that a federal advisory board created by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to advise his agency on the issue was stuffed with big game hunters. At least seven of the 16 members of the International Wildlife Conservation Council are Safari Club members, including the group's president. In a February 2018 media release, the Safari Club said it would no longer support the practice of breeding lions in captivity so they can be shot for trophies, saying the practice 'has doubtful value to the conservation of lions in the wild.' The club also pledged not to accept advertising from the operators of such canned hunts or allow such trips to be sold at its annual convention. In the video released by the Humane Society of Friday, multiple vendors at the Safari Club conference were recording salesmen pitching hunts of captive-bred lions in South Africa, describing how the lions would be 'placed' where they could be easily shot. Vendors also described hunts where lions were baited using the meat from giraffes or other animals, with one guide bragging that a customer had shot a lion in less than 90 minutes. ___ Associated Press investigative reporter Michael Biesecker reported from Washington. ___ Follow Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck
  • The future of a much-criticized database that checks if voters are illegally registered in multiple states is up in the air after its patron, Kris Kobach, lost the Kansas race for governor and is out of elected office. A spokeswoman for Kobach's successor as Kansas secretary of state said Friday the office is reviewing the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program and consulting with other member states about it. 'No formal decision has been made either way' about whether to end the program, said Katie Koupal, the spokeswoman for Secretary of State Scott Schwab. Crosscheck, which had been administered by Kobach's office, compares voter registration lists among participating states to look for duplicates. The program is aimed at cleaning voter records and preventing voter fraud, but has drawn criticism for its high error rate and lax security. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas alleged in a lawsuit filed last year that 'reckless maintenance' of the program has exposed sensitive voter information. Kobach has called that lawsuit 'baseless,' citing the U.S. Supreme Court last year in an Ohio case dealing with maintenance of voter rolls. On Friday, Kobach noted Crosscheck has grown from four states at its start in 2005 to 30 states. 'It grew quickly because it provides such valuable information,' he said. 'Continuing the Crosscheck program is a no-brainer.' Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, said Friday it would be hard to reform the Crosscheck program in a way that would make it constitutionally sound. 'If there was a way to make sure the program was more accurate and secure, we wouldn't necessarily be calling for its full abolishment,' Bonds said. 'But I think it would be hard to make those adjustments without changing the program fundamentally.' Kobach, a longtime champion of strict voter registration laws, was vice chairman of President Donald Trump's now-disbanded commission on election fraud. Kansas voters elected Schwab, also a Republican, to replace him after Kobach ran for governor and lost to Democrat Laura Kelly. Crosscheck compares registration lists and analyzes voters' first and last names and date of birth to determine whether a person is registered in multiple states, but critics say most of the hits are false matches. By comparison, the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC as it is better known, uses encrypted voter information along with Social Security Administration death records, driver license information and U.S. Postal Service change-of-address data. Twenty-six states now use ERIC system, according to its website. ERIC, based in Washington, D.C., is a non-profit corporation governed by a board of directors made up of member states. 'A number of states use that for a fairly reasonable fee and that seems like a much better option than trying to rebuild Crosscheck from the ground up so it doesn't have the problems it currently has,' Bonds said. The ACLU lawsuit alleges Kobach used reckless methods such as unencrypted email to transmit sensitive personal voter information, such as partial Social Security numbers, to other states while investigating possible double registration. As administrator of the Crosscheck server, he regularly sent server passwords in plain text emails that were widely shared. Crosscheck was started in 2005 and had only four participants when Kobach took office in 2011. By 2017, 30 states were participating in Crosscheck and more than 100 million voter records were added to the database, according to the ACLU lawsuit. Eight states — Florida, Alaska, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts — have left the program due to security risks and data reliability concerns since Kobach began managing it. In New Hampshire, lawmakers are now considering a bill to end the state's participation in Crosscheck and instead join ERIC. The legislation's sponsor, Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough) said she was concerned at the high percentage of false matches produced by the Crosscheck system and reports that it doesn't properly protect personal information. After the 2016 election, Crosscheck flagged nearly 95,000 New Hampshire voters with first and last names and dates of birth that matched those in other states, but officials eliminated all but 142 after taking a closer look at middle names and other information. The secretary of state's office eventually sent 61 cases to the attorney, and there have been a handful of charges brought so far. 'It certainly helps us say with confidence what we all believe is true, which is that there's no wide scale voter fraud that is taking place in New Hampshire,' Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told the House Election Law Committee this week. 'But it does happen, and it happens in isolated incidents, and it's a good thing we're able to catch those.' ___ This version of the story corrects the information attributed to Kobach about Crosscheck, reflecting that he said its growth occurred since 2005, not four years. ___ Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, also contributed to this report.
  • A Democratic senator is asking the FBI to investigate whether Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen lied during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a letter to the FBI that a December 2017 memo shows DHS officials outlined a policy to separate families. In April 2018, the Trump administration instituted the 'zero-tolerance' policy where anyone caught crossing the border illegally was criminally prosecuted. It resulted in the separation of nearly 2,800 children. Nielsen said at the hearing last December there wasn't a policy to separate families. She said the separations under zero tolerance happened because children can't be jailed with parents. Homeland Security officials said the secretary rejected the 2017 memo's suggestion and reiterated there was no policy to separate families. The FBI had no comment. Merkley, of Oregon, is considering a presidential run.

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  • After yet another day which featured no hints of progress in ending a funding fight that has to a partial government shutdown taking paychecks away from over 800,000 federal workers, President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday evening that he would make a ‘major announcement’ on Saturday about his push to get money to build a wall along the Mexican border, which has led to an ongoing standoff with Democrats in Congress. “I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown,” the President wrote on Twitter, giving no details about what he might announce. With no indications that Democrats in Congress are ready to give in on their opposition to a border wall, some Republicans have continued to urge the President to declare a ‘national emergency’ under existing laws, and move money around in the military’s budget to build a wall. I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019 “He ought to go ahead and declare an emergency, and it would be over,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). “I don’t know why he is reluctant to do that.” Inhofe – who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee – said Thursday that he would not oppose the President dipping into military construction funds to build the wall, though other Republicans have publicly opposed the idea. Democrats on Friday also pressed the Department of Homeland Security on another front – using eminent domain to take land away from landowners, in order to build the way – focusing on a case involving the Catholic Church in Texas, which owns land that the Trump Administration wants. “The federal government must exercise extreme caution when seizing private property,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer to the Homeland Security Secretary. To @SecNielsen: The Trump Administration’s lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, raises important questions on the exercise of eminent domain to build a border wall. We ask you to respond to these questions by January 31: pic.twitter.com/MXcfoQib9E — Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 18, 2019 The President has asked for $5.7 billion in border security money for both fencing and a wall; Democrats in Congress have offered $1.6 billion – the original requests of the Trump Administration and Republicans – but Democrats want none of that to go to the wall.
  • Florida schools are seeing a critical shortage of certified science, English and math teachers. A new report by the Florida Department of Education says those subjects are among areas where substantial proportions of teachers who are not certified in the appropriate field are being hired to teach those courses. “We have a shortage because people aren’t entering the teaching profession like they used to because there’s no security in teaching,” Renna Lee Paiva said. Paiva is president of the Clay County Education Association. She said those who have been in the education field for years are extremely concerned about the teacher shortage. In Duval County, a district spokesperson said there are 146 total vacancies at schools, with 21 open positions in math and four in science. In St. Johns County, the district had 28 unfilled positions as of Jan. 7, including four in math and science. Clay County Schools says it has 14 vacancies overall, with five in math and science. “We start to see fewer freshman coming in and saying, ‘I want to be an elementary teacher or I want to be a biology teacher,’” Paul Parkison, chair of the University of North Florida’s childhood education program, said. He told Action News Jax that the university starts recruitment early, educating incoming freshman about teaching opportunities. “We didn’t used to have to have those conversations, we’d have freshman coming in that were already excited about being teachers,” he said. “We actually initiated a couple programs that are targeted toward particularly the secondary, our UNF graduates who didn’t consider teacher as their primary major. Maybe they’re a history major or a biology major.” Local education experts, including Jacksonville Public Education Fund President Rachel Tutwiler Fortune, said the focus needs to be on higher pay. “There are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities,” she said in a statement. “Our pay scales, our benefits is all in jeopardy and it’s up to the legislators to fix it so we can give quality education to our kids -- which is our primary goal,” Paiva said. Full statement from JPEF: “The teacher shortage is a problem in Duval County as well as across our state and the nation, and there are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities. The Duval County School Board recently discussed one of these promising solutions -- creating a program to help public high students work toward a degree in education, in order to increase the number of aspiring teachers. This would be a win for Duval County students now and in the future, and we applaud Duval County Public Schools for exploring how we could adopt this innovative model -- known as 'grow your own teacher' -- in Jacksonville.”
  • You've been hearing the buzz about autonomous vehicles for a while, now lawmakers in Florida are discussing the possibility of making the futuristic form of transportation a reality. A state representative from Duval County has filed legislation to allow the development and deployment of those autonomous vehicles.  State Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) says as an engineer by trade, he understands the benefits autonomous vehicles would bring with them. He says if Florida were to ban those types of vehicles, it would stunt the state's potential for growth.  'Those engineers aren't going to move here. Those planners aren't going to move here. Those are high paying jobs,' Fischer says.  He says he can imagine Jacksonville as a place where football fans will be able to hop on driverless vehicles to take them to Jaguars games at TIAA Bank Field. He says the Skyway, linking one side of the St. Johns River to the other in downtown, is a prime example of something that could be updated if his bill goes through.  'We have a public transportation component that's already looking to go that way,' he says. 'My legislation would help enable them to move in that direction.'  Fischer says autonomous vehicles would also be a major help to the blind community. Both AARP Florida and the Florida Council of the Blind have offered their support for the legislation, saying their members will have more mobility opportunities if the bill goes through.  “For blind people, people living with disabilities and some senior citizens, self-driving cars will mean greater independence,” President of the Florida Council of the Blind Sheila Young says in a statement.  Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is sponsoring the companion measure in the Florida Senate. Fischer says he thinks the legislation should make it to the governor's desk within a couple months.
  • Two Florida fifth-graders are accused of plotting to kill an 11-year-old classmate and escape in a golf cart last month. The plot unraveled Dec. 14 at Roberts Elementary School in Tallahassee, where the alleged victim and the accused students, ages 10 and 11, all attend school. A 32-page police report obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat details the plot, which resulted in both students’ suspension and civil citations for conspiracy to commit battery and bringing weapons on school grounds.  The students are also being recommended for expulsion, the Democrat reported.  “This obviously is a very serious matter,” Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement. “There is zero tolerance in our school system for violence or threats of violence. The individuals who participate in these types of behavior will suffer severe consequences, as (will) these two young boys.” The school’s principal, Kim McFarland, told investigators that the boys “planned and put into effect” a plot to kill their classmate, the Democrat reported.  >> Read more trending news According to the timeline laid out in the police report, one of the accused boys threatened the victim Dec. 10, telling him they would kill him. A few days later, a female classmate told the victim a secret and then went to the two suspected plotters and claimed the victim was spreading rumors about her.  The plotters again threatened the boy, saying they would “take care of him and kill him,” the Democrat reported.  Another student later told police investigators the boys drew a map of where on campus they would take the victim -- an area without security cameras, the newspaper reported. They ultimately changed their mind and planned to take the boy to the school’s garden instead, the police report said.  The day of the planned attack, one of the boys brought a backpack to school with what investigators believe was a murder kit: a wrench, adjustable clamp pliers, a multitool with a 3-inch blade on it and baseball batting gloves. According to police, the student showed the tools to classmates and one of the pair told them “snitches get stitches.” They also told at least one classmate they had the gloves so they would not leave fingerprints, the Democrat reported. They planned to use some of the tools to bust through a gate and flee on a golf cart.  During an after-school program on campus, the boys approached the alleged victim and asked if he wanted to go to the “secret hideout in the garden,” the police report said. He told investigators he refused because other students had told him the boys wanted to hurt him.  The alleged victim went to a teacher supervising the after-school program and told what the boys had planned, the newspaper reported. The boys were taken to the principal, who searched the backpack and found the tools, including the knife. The boys denied wanting to kill the victim, but admitted they planned to beat him up, the Democrat reported.  After the incident, McFarland sent parents an email, which was obtained by WCTV in Tallahassee. “Last Friday there was an incident, with alleged intent to harm a fellow student, that occurred in the afterschool program with a group of 5th grade students who had been developing a plan over a series of days,” McFarland said. “Some of you have reached out with concerns and questions. At this time, I cannot share details, but I can assure that your children are safe and the situation is being handled.” McFarland wrote that she met with the school’s fifth graders to discuss the importance of “see something, say something.”   “Many fifth grade students knew of the potential incident but did not tell teachers or their parents,” the principal said. “We discussed the importance of alerting adults when there is any concern for safety for themselves or their fellow students. Please discuss this with your children. It is imperative they learn this valuable skill now.”
  • The Clay County Sheriff's Office is inviting the community to a fundraiser next month called 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs.' Chris Padgett, the Public Information Officer with CCSO, says the event will essentially be a clay-shoot competition featuring Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and other law enforcement members and the community.  Padgett says proceeds from the event will allow them to send about 30 people from their honor guard and members of their traffic section to Washington D.C., later this year for the police memorial service to honor one of their own.  '...In August 2018, one of our very close friends and deputies, Deputy Ben Zirbel, was tragically killed in a traffic crash on Blanding Boulevard. With that, his name will be getting placed on the law enforcement memorial's wall. And we want to make the sure the members of his direct team and the members of our honor guards go there and partake in that event,' says Padgett.  Padgett says it's important to send a team to be there to represent Zirbel's legacy and represent his wife and his child.  'And that is just so important to us, because they're [Zirbel’s family] going through some extreme hardships and there is one way we can help elevate them and be there as a support element,' says Padgett.  Padgett says the 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs' event will be family-friendly and everyone's invited to either watch or take part.  The event will be held February 25th, from 9 AM- 2 PM, at the Saltwaters Shooting Club located at 900 Big Oak Road in St. Augustine.  To register or help sponsor the event, you can contact Jimmy Stalnaker at (904) 813-9554 or by email at jstalnaker@claysheriff.com. You can also contact Charlie Goldsmith at (904) 838-3350 or by email at cgoldsmith@claysheriff.com.  You can also contact either of them to make a cash donation if you can’t make it out that day, but still want to help.

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