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Associated Press

On open records, half Florida’s legislators rate F or D

Half of Florida’s legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year’s legislative sessions.

In a “scorecard” produced by the Florida Society of News Editors and based on information provided by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation — which tracked a priority list of public records exemptions — the 160 legislators totaled three Fs, 77 Ds, 71 Cs, and 9 Bs.

Each year FSNE completes a project devoted to Sunshine Weeka nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government. This year FSNE members created a scoring system to grade legislators on their introduction of bills and their final votes.

“As an advocate for open government, the grades of course, are disappointing,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported mostly by newspapers and broadcasters.

Several lawmakers contacted about their grades questioned the concept of fairly and accurately scoring how they addressed and decided on open records bills.

“It’s a little simplistic to think you can reduce this to a mathematical formula. It’s a little more complicated,” said Rep. Rick Roth, R-Wellington, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Emory University,

Roth, who was graded a D-minus, added, “The Sunshine Law is great in principle, but what it actually assumes is everybody is a crook. I just think it needs a little bit of tweaking.”

Florida’s Legislature established public records laws as early as the early 20th century, created the Government in the Sunshine Law in the late 1960s, and in 1992 established a “constitutional right of access.” Because of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, the state’s records and meetings are more accessible than in most states. But the Legislature has, year in and year out, instituted, or considered instituting, numerous exemptions. The body, on average, imposes up to a dozen a year.

Petersen said the recent session accounted for “a near record number of new exemptions created, but we see few bills that actually would improve access to either meetings or records.”

The 2017 Legislature created 26 exemptions and expanded another, then instituted yet one more exemption during its special session. Should Gov. Rick Scott approve all the 28 new exemptions, the grand total over the years would be 1,150.

Where does your legislator rank? See the scorecard

The three legislative Fs — actually F-minuses — were assigned to two representatives from southwest Florida and one from the Jacksonville area.

The single lowest score went to Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, who sponsored House Bill 351, which would have made secret records of public college president searches; and House Bill 843, which would have allowed two members of a government board to meet privately. Both bills failed. Rommel also voted on the House floor against government openness in five of seven cases.

Rommel was joined in drawing an F by Rep. Byron Donalds, another Naples Republican; and Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat.

Daniels did not personally return a reporter’s call, instead providing a prepared statement that doesn’t directly address her grade but says that getting the two public records exemptions passed, as well as four others, as a freshman legislator, “exceeds more than I could have imagined accomplishing.”

And all five voted for HB 111, which hides the identification of murder witnesses — Harrell co-sponsored it — as well as SB 118, which hides criminal histories. Those two bills passed and were signed by Scott.

No legislator earned an A in the same way the others got the Fs. Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, voted for government openness in six of seven floor votes and earned a B-plus, the same grade given to Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.

Despite his favorable score, Geller is bucking for “at least an A-minus,” pointing out that he so frequently asks about the First Amendment Foundation’s position on open government bills that he said he “got a pretty bad ribbing about it on the floor from other legislators.”

Just six Democrats and three Republicans earned a score of B-minus or better. And 17 Democrats and 63 Republicans drew grades of D-plus or worse.

For Democrats, the most common grade was a C-minus. Dozens of Republicans drew C-minus grades, but more got a D-plus.

Scores in the House were much more likely to be lower than those in the Senate. Some of that may be because of HB 111, which drew nearly two dozen sponsors and co-sponsors in the House. The bill, which hides information about witnesses to murders, was signed by Scott in May.

Roth, of Wellington, defended his position on secrecy for the process of hiring public college presidents, explaining that while he’d be OK with making candidates public once there’s a “short list” of finalists, he feared scaring away top-flight candidates who don’t want their respective college leadership to know they’re shopping for a new position.

On HB 843, dealing with talks between two officials, Roth said he voted for it — in fact he was a co-sponsor — but said it probably went too far and “I’m glad it failed.” He said he’d like to see a new bill with conditions that would satisfy opponents — such as requiring staff be present and notes be taken to be made public later. He said he supports trying to head off “skullduggery” but he said many elected bodies now are dominated by staffers who “pretty much drive the bus,” and since officials can’t talk in advance, “they don’t come to the board meeting fully informed.”

Roth also noted the bill to protect crime witnesses does require they’re eventually identified, and while he didn’t remember much of SB 118, he saw a desire to protect the privacy of people who had committed crimes in the past.

The First Amendment Foundation’s Petersen did note that, because the scorecard reflects only votes and sponsorship, it might skew perception of legislators’ attitudes toward open government.

For example, she said, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, who is in line to become Senate Democratic leader in 2018, “always has something to say about open government when something comes up on the (Senate) floor.”

But, she said, “what we would like to see is more awareness from some legislators, and we’re hoping that’s what this project will do.”

She said the last bill that improved access to meetings was pushed three years ago by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, now Senate President. And, she said, “We haven’t seen anything passed by the Legislature to enhance the right of access to public records since 1995. We did see a couple of bills that would improve access, but they didn’t even get a committee hearing.”

Some South Florida lawmakers also argued the scorecard’s narrow focus on open government doesn’t leave room for considering good policy.

On HB 111, for example, “It’s not that hard of a reach to say this law will keep others from being murdered,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, who earned a C-minus. ” I realize they (the First Amendment Foundation) are a one-issue, one-note organization. But at a certain point, reality comes crashing in to any philosophy.”

And Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who also earned a C-minus, said, “It’s not that I don’t respect the First Amendment Foundation. It’s that I’m going to do whatever I can do as a legislator to begin to bring justice to individuals who are being murdered senselessly.”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat and another of those who earned a C-minus, said, “People are trying to get good grades from these organizations, instead of looking at whether it’s fair policy. The only grade that matters is the one that my residents give me when they decide to re-elect me into office.”

Two of the top four grades went to Republican senators from Tampa Bay: Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Bill Galvano of Bradenton.

“Our goal is that there be a completely transparent and open government,” Brandes said. He, along with Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg — who received a B-minus — sponsored legislation that protects court clerks from being sued if they release confidential information due to an error committed by a lawyer involved in a case. Current law isn’t clear on the issue.

Diamond called HB 843, the proposal to let two elected officials meet, an “existential threat” to open government in Florida.

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who earned a D-plus, supported HB 843.

“In the Legislature, we can meet with another legislator one-on-one, so I thought that the state government shouldn’t be treated any differently than the local government,” he said.

Thirteen Tampa Bay area lawmakers scored below a C.

“This ‘scorecard’ was created by a special interest group that thinks legislators should cater to the group’s own political agenda rather than do what is in the best interest of the people of Florida,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who scored a D-plus.

Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz — who scored a D-plus — called inclusion of HB 111, the witness-identity bill, in the scorecard, “just plain silly.” And Latvala said, “If I have to vote on that bill 100 more times, I will vote 100 more times for that bill.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

3-run 9th propels Orioles over Rays 8-5

It had been a long road for Caleb Joseph and the Baltimore Orioles since they won a series away from Camden Yards.

Joseph homered, then singled to start a three-run ninth inning Sunday that led the Orioles over the Tampa Bay Rays 8-5.

 The O’s hadn’t won a road set since April 18-20 at Cincinnati.

“It’s been that long?” Joseph asked. “Time goes by quickly so you don’t really recognize that you’re that deep into not winning a road series. This was a nice win for us, coming from behind. Good bullpen, clutch hits … a big rubber-match game.”

Trey Mancini and Jonathan Schoop also homered for the Orioles.

“We obviously haven’t played well on the road, but in this game it comes and goes,” said shortstop Paul Janish, who drove in the game’s first two runs with a single. “Hopefully we just finished a rough stretch and it can snowball the other way for us.”

It was 5-all when Joseph opened the ninth with his third hit, a single off Alex Colome (1-3). Joey Rickard put the Orioles ahead with a double, Schoop was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Adam Jones added a sacrifice fly.

Brad Brach (2-1) earned the win with two innings of shutout relief.

Schoop’s 15th home run, a solo shot off reliever Chase Whitley, tied it in the eighth.

Evan Longorias three-run homer off starter Chris Tillman put the Rays up 5-3 in the fifth. It was Longoria’s 12th home run of the season and the ninth of his career off Tillman. It was the Rays’ only homer of the game, ending a streak of six straight multi- homer games.

Joseph and Mancini connected off starter Jake Odorizzi, marking the 11th straight start in which the Rays right-hander has given up a home run, tying a club record.

Mancini, homering for the second straight day, became the first Orioles rookie to hit 14 home runs before the All-Star break.

“First time we’ve actually seen Mancini, he’s for real,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “He’s got pop to everywhere. He showed that to us over the weekend.”

Tillman, winless in nine starts since May 7, gave up five runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings. In his last four starts, the right-hander has allowed 23 earned runs on 34 hits over 15 innings.

Odorizzi gave up four runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings.

“We did a pretty good job offensively today,” he said. “It’s a shame it fell apart late but I’ve got to get better early on and those situations might not come up.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

RHP Brad Boxberger (oblique soreness) will made a minor league rehab appearance Tuesday with Class-A Charlotte. … SS Tim Beckham (sore left hand) was out of the lineup.

ROTATION CHANGE

LHP Blake Snell will be recalled from Triple-A Durham to start Wednesday night at Pittsburgh. Snell, 0-4 with the Rays earlier this season, is replacing RHP Erasmo Ramirez, who is moving to the bullpen.

UP NEXT

Rays: RHP Alex Cobb (6-5), 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA over his last three starts, faces Pittsburgh RHP Trevor Williams (3-3) on Tuesday night.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Tim Tebow being promoted to Mets’ affiliate in Florida

Tim Tebow is moving up and heading south — to some very familiar territory.

Tebow has been promoted to the New York Mets’ high Class A affiliate in St. Lucie, Florida. The 29-year-old Tebow led the University of Florida to two national championships in football and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy during his stellar career with the Gators.

Baseball has not been as easy for the 29-year-old outfielder. He entered his final game with the Fireflies hitting just .222 with three homers and 23 RBIs — numbers that usually don’t lead to a promotion.

“For me, it’s not something I have to answer,” Tebow said. “There’s a lot smarter, wiser people than me that make those decisions. I just try and show up and play hard every day.”

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson announced the promotion prior to the major league club’s game in San Francisco. He said Tebow’s performance had trended positively the past two or three weeks and the Mets thought it was a good time for his promotion.

“Clearly, it’s a step up,” Alderson said. “I certainly think he can handle it.”

Tebow has been a smash hit with fans the past three months in the South Atlantic League. The Fireflies are second in the league with an average attendance of 5,230 before Sunday, and Tebow’s presence has led to sellouts and big crowds at nearly every road stop.

He is happy to be headed back to the Sunshine State, where he still has family, friends and many, many supporters in Gator colors.

“I obviously love Florida so this is nice,” he said with a grin. “But the goal and focus is improving as a baseball player.”

Tebow’s first pro baseball stop had a storybook start with a home run in his first at-bat. He added another homer three games later, but he has been mostly inconsistent at the plate.

That’s baseball, Tebow said. He went 0 for 3 during Saturday’s win over Kannapolis, but drove in two runs.

“I know that my progress has led me to having three good at-bats, to bring in two guys,” he said. “As an athlete you can’t worry about those things. You have to focus on, ‘Am I seeing the pitches? What am I doing with them? Am I doing damage with them?’”

Tebow certainly looked comfortable in the Fireflies’ clubhouse, despite being a decade older than several of his teammates.

“We’ve said he’s just one of 25 guys,” Columbia president John Katz said. “At the end of the day, he really is. He wants to succeed. He puts in the work and hopefully, he’ll have continued success at a higher level.”

That’s Alderson’s wish, too, as Tebow continues a journey that he hopes ends at Citi Field in New York.

“I wouldn’t say he has excelled” at Columbia, Alderson said. “But at the same time, what he’s done there — given all the circumstances — justified the promotion.”

Alex Faedo pitches Gators into College World Series finals

Alex Faedo pitched three-hit ball for 7 1/3 shutout innings in a second straight strong performance against TCU, and Florida moved to the College World Series finals with a 3-0 win Saturday night.

No. 3 national seed Florida (50-19) will play Southeastern Conference rival LSU in the best-of-three finals beginning Monday night. Fourth-seeded LSU (52-18) advanced with a 6-1 win over No. 1 Oregon State on Saturday.

TCU (50-18) had beaten the Gators 9-2 on Friday to force the winner-take-all bracket final and the teams’ third meeting in a week.

Faedo (9-2) struck out 11, just as he did last Sunday in a 3-0 win over the Horned Frogs. Michael Byrne finished for his 18th save.

The Gators had struggled on offense since they arrived in Omaha, but with Faedo holding down the Frogs they were able to muster enough against Jared Janczak (9-2).

Austin Langworthy doubled and scored on a groundout in the second inning, Christian Hicks doubled in a run in the fifth, and he scored in the seventh when he tripled and came home on Deacon Liput‘s grounder that deflected off first base.

Faedo reached for his right calf in apparent pain after delivering a pitch to Josh Watson in the seventh, and he grabbed the calf again when he struck Watson out to end the inning. The Detroit Tigers‘ first-round draft pick came out for the eighth and got a groundout, but he left after Austen Wade singled.

Zach Humphreys greeted Byrne with a base hit, but the star closer struck out Evan Skoug and got Cam Warner to fly out to end the threat.

Janczak and Faedo were matched up for the second time. Janczak, who struggled against the Gators last Sunday, struck out seven, walked none and scattered seven hits in seven innings.

Skoug singled off Faedo in the first, and the Florida ace walked three in the first four innings before finding a groove. He picked off Ryan Merrill at first in the fourth inning and retired nine of the next 10 batters.

Florida will be playing for its first national championship in baseball. TCU has made it to Omaha four straight years, and a fifth time overall, and is yet to reach the finals.

GUTHRIE INJURED

Florida shortstop Dalton Guthrie, son of former big league pitcher Mark Guthrie, left the game with back pain after striking out in the top of the third. Liput moved from second base to shortstop, and Blake Reese took over at second.

QUIRKY BOUNCE

TCU caught a bad break with two outs in the seventh when Liput’s high bouncer heading right at first baseman Connor Wanhanen deflected off the bag toward surprised second baseman Cam Warner, who couldn’t make the play at first. If the Frogs get Liput, the inning’s over. As it was, Hicks was able to score from third for a 3-0 lead.

THE MATCHUP

Florida won two of three regular-season meetings with LSU in Gainesville in March. The Tigers will be the home team in Game 1 of the finals and the Gators in Game 2. LSU would be the home team if a Game 3 is necessary.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Orioles avoid dubious mark with 8-3 win over Rays

Dylan Bundy helped Baltimore avoid a dubious pitching record, throwing seven solid innings as the Orioles beat the Tampa Bay Rays 8-3 Saturday.

The Orioles had given up at least five runs in 20 straight games, matching the major league mark set by the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies.

Bundy (8-6) allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings. Relievers Donnie Hart and Mychal Givens combined to keep the Rays scoreless over the final two innings.

Jose Alvarado (0-3) walked the only batter he faced, Seth Smith, leading off the seventh. He was replaced by Jumbo Diaz, who gave up a two-run double to Mark Trumbo and Trey Mancini‘s two-run homer that put Baltimore ahead 7-3.

Baltimore also got a second-inning, two-run homer from Welington Castillo and Adam Jones hit a solo shot in the third.

Corey Dickerson and Evan Longoria homered on consecutive pitches in the third for the Rays.

Rays catcher Wilson Ramos singled in four at-bats in his season debut. The 2014 NL All-Star with Washington missed the first 76 games this season after right knee surgery.

Tampa Bay rookie Jake Faria wound up with a no-decision after winning each of his first three starts in the majors. He permitted three runs and five hits over six innings.

Faria had pitched at least 6 1/3 innings in his first three starts, allowing one run each time.

The Rays tied it at 3 in third when Dickerson had a two-run drive before Longoria went deep on Bundy’s next pitch.

Tampa Bay set a team mark with their major league-leading 10th set of back-to-back homers this season. Tampa Bay has sixth straight multihomer games, one off the franchise high.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Orioles: Closer Zach Britton (left forearm strain) could move his rehab assignment from Class-A Delmarva to Double-A Bowie on Monday.

Rays: RHP Brad Boxberger (strained flexor mass) was expected to be reinstated from the disabled list this weekend but has oblique discomfort and will have a Sunday bullpen session.

SMITH’S SURPRISE

NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith surprised his sister Marsha Smith-Hill, who threw the ceremonial first pitch as part of a cancer survivor salute, by joining her on-the-field.

UP NEXT

Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman (1-5, 8.39 ERA) makes his 10th start since returning from right shoulder bursitis in the series finale Sunday. He allowed five runs and eight hits in four-plus innings Tuesday, but Baltimore’s 6-5 comeback win over Cleveland enabled him to avoid losing a sixth straight start.

Rays: RHP Jake Odorizzi (4-3, 3.78 ERA) will look Sunday to avoid tying Wilson Alvarez‘s team record set in 1998 of allowing a homer in 11 consecutive appearances.

Reprinted with permission from the Associated Press.

Jeb Bush, Romney join forces to pursue Marlins

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has switched sides in pursuit of the Miami Marlins, and he’s trying to beat out former teammate Derek Jeter.

Bush has joined forces with businessman Tagg Romney in a group trying to buy the Marlins, two people familiar with the negotiations said Friday. The people confirmed Bush’s new role to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the parties involved in the sales talks aren’t commenting publicly.

One of the people said South Florida businessman Jorge Mas has contacted the Marlins to say he’s leading a group interested in buying the franchise, meaning at least three groups are pursuing a deal.

Bush and Jeter, the 14-time New York Yankees All-Star shortstop, led rival groups earlier this year. They then joined forces, but Bush dropped out in May.

Now they’re rivals again, and Jeter is still exploring financing options.

The Romney-Bush group also includes Quogue Capital investment fund founder Wayne Rothbaum, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine and former Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart.

The Romney and Jeter groups have bid about $1.3 billion to buy the team from Jeffrey Loria but have not yet raised the money needed. Jeter met Thursday with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and Marlins president David Samson, and told them he doesn’t yet have the necessary money and is still seeking help from other investors.

Loria bought the Marlins for $158.5 million in 2002 from John Henry.

Mas is the chairman of the board and co-founder of MasTec, an infrastructure construction business, and chairman of the board of the Cuban American National Foundation, a Miami-based organization committed to bringing democracy to Cuba.

Bush also lives in Miami, served two terms as governor from 1999-2007 and was an unsuccessful candidate last year for the Republican nomination for president.

Romney, the son of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is a Massachusetts businessman and venture capitalist.

One of the people confirming Bush’s withdrawal from the bid with Jeter in May said the former governor didn’t put up enough of his own money to have the controlling interest he sought. The commissioner’s office wants the purchasing group to demonstrate it has enough cash both to close the deal and operate the team.

The value of the franchise has climbed dramatically even though the Marlins haven’t been to the postseason since 2003, the longest current drought in the National League. They were last in the NL in attendance 11 of the past 12 years despite a 2012 move to Marlins Park.

A sale requires approval of at least 75 percent of the major league clubs.

Evan Longoria, Shane Peterson lead Rays rout of Orioles

Evan Longoria and Shane Peterson drove in four runs apiece to back the pitching of Chris Archer and lead the surging Tampa Bay Rays to a 15-5 victory over the struggling Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.

Peterson and Derek Norris hit two-run homers off Ubaldo Jimenez (2-3) as Orioles pitchers allowed at least five runs for the 20th consecutive game, tying a major league record set by the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies.

Longoria had a two-run single during Tampa Bay’s four-run first inning, and Peterson and Norris both went deep in the third to chase Jimenez, who yielded nine runs, seven hits and four walks in 2 1/3 innings.

Logan Morrison also had a big night for the Rays, hitting his 22nd homer and finishing with three RBIs.

Archer (6-4) wasn’t especially sharp. But the right-hander didn’t have to be with the Rays posting a season-high for runs.

Jonathon Schoop and Trey Mancini each drove in two runs off the Tampa Bay starter, who allowed five runs and eight hits over six innings.

Rookie reliever Austin Pruitt inherited a 14-5 lead and pitched the final three innings for his first big league save.

The Orioles fell to 6-14 over a dubious stretch that’s seen them allow 10 or more runs six times. The Rays scored five runs on one hit – Norris’ infield single – in the fifth inning, and Jiminez’s ERA jumped from 6.25 to 7.26 during his shortest outing of the season.

Baltimore manager Buck Showalter rejoined the team after missing Thursday night’s 6-3 loss to Cleveland while attending the birth of his first grandchild.

Tampa Bay has won five of six to climb a season-best four games over .500.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Orioles: RHP Darren O’Day (shoulder) was reinstated from the 10-day DL. … CF Adam Jones, who has missed time with a sore hip, was back in the lineup after being rested Thursday. Friday’s game began a stretch of six straight games on artificial turf for Baltimore.

Rays: SS Matt Duffy, who had his rehab assignment for offseason Achilles’ tendon surgery shut down due to heel soreness, had a pea-sized calcium deposit removed this week. … OF Colby Rasmus was placed on the 10-day DL with left hip tendinitis.

HELP ON THE WAY

Rays manager Kevin Cash said there is a “good chance” C Wilson Ramos (right knee surgery) and RHP Brad Boxberger (flexor mass strain) will return from the DL this weekend. Neither has played a big league game this season.

UP NEXT

Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy (7-6) and Rays rookie RHP Jake Faria (3-0) are Saturday’s starters. According to Baseball Reference, Faria is the fifth pitcher since 1913 to go at least six innings, allow one or fewer runs and get the win in his first three career starts.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Watch ole ‘Bandit’ run: Fans assemble to mark movie’s 40th

They had a long way to go and a short time to get there, but hundreds of fans in Trans Ams have put the hammer down and made it to Atlanta to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Smokey and the Bandit.”

About 350 cars this week retraced actor Burt Reynolds‘ wild beer run from the Texas-Arkansas line to Atlanta in the movie that roared into pop culture in 1977. Some truckers also took part in “Snowman’s Run,” named for singer Jerry Reed‘s sidekick character.

They’ve all congregated in Jonesboro, Georgia, the town 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of Atlanta where much of the movie was filmed.

This weekend, fans plan to recreate some of the movie’s memorable scenes, including an attempt by a stunt driver to jump 150 feet (46 meters) in a Trans Am.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ron Howard takes helm of Han Solo ‘Star Wars’ film

Ron Howard is taking command of the Han Solo “Star Wars” spinoff after the surprise departure of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

Lucasfilm announced their replacement director Thursday, two days after Lord and Miller left the project over creative differences. Howard gives the reeling production a veteran hand in the wake of Lord and Miller’s exit in the midst of shooting.

Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, said filming will resume July 10. The untitled film, which stars Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo, is about three-quarters of the way through production. It has several weeks of shooting left, along with reshoots.

Howard has shepherded Oscar winners like “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13.” But his recent films, including the “Da Vinci Code” sequel “Inferno” and “In the Heart of the Sea,” have struggled at the box office. He also has some history with Lucasfilm. He helmed the 1988 fantasy “Willow” and starred in George Lucas’ 1973 breakthrough “American Graffiti.”

“We have a wonderful script, an incredible cast and crew, and the absolute commitment to make a great movie,” said Kennedy.

Disney reiterated the film’s release date of May 25 next year, suggesting that — at least for now — the “Star Wars” spinoff will be released on schedule. Representatives for the studio declined to comment.

How producers and the Directors Guild of America handle the film’s directing credit will also be closely watched. DGA rules govern the crediting of directors.

Lord and Miller had previously been considered among Hollywood’s most sought-after directors, having turned “The Lego Movie” and “21 Jump Street” into unexpected and widely praised comedy hits. But reports have circulated that the duo, who favor improvisation and irreverent humor, clashed with Kennedy and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, a “Star Wars” veteran and executive producer.

“Unfortunately, our vision and process weren’t aligned with our partners on this project. We normally aren’t fans of the phrase ‘creative differences’ but for once this cliché is true,” the directors said earlier in a joint statement. “We are really proud of the amazing and world-class work of our cast and crew.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

No tapes: Donald Trump says he didn’t record meetings with James Comey

President Donald Trump said Thursday on Twitter that he “did not make” and doesn’t have any recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information,” Trump said he has “no idea” whether there are “tapes” or recordings of the two men’s conversations. But he declares he “did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

The tweets are the latest chapter in a high-stakes guessing game after Trump hinted that he might have recordings of his private conversations with Comey at the White House and over the phone.

The tale of mystery began last month, just days after Trump fired Comey, who was then leading an investigation into contacts before and after the election between the president’s campaign and Russian officials.

The absence of recordings almost certainly elevates in significance to investigators the notes made by Comey right after his conversations with Comey.

A New York Times report cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted his version of a January dinner with the president in which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering to be “honest.” When Trump then pressed for “honest loyalty,” Comey told him, “You will have that,” the associates said.

Trump tweeted the next day that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Trump’s tweets on Thursday raised questions about why the president would have staked his reputation and political capital on promoting something that wasn’t real.

His earlier suggestion about tapes immediately evoked the secret White House recordings that led to Richard Nixon’s downfall in the Watergate scandal. Under a post-Watergate law, the Presidential Records Act, recordings made by presidents belong to the people and can eventually be made public. Destroying them would be a crime.

Comey says any recordings that might exist would support his version that Trump asked him to pledge loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey declared at a congressional hearing.

But the president has steadfastly refused to clarify whether any tapes existed.

Two weeks ago, he teased reporters in the White House Rose Garden by saying that he’d explain “maybe sometime in the very near future.” He cryptically added: “You are going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer.” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said Wednesday that an answer would be provided this week, presumably by the Friday deadline set by the House intelligence committee for turning over any tapes.

The Secret Service had said it had no audio copies or transcripts of any tapes recorded within Trump’s White House, according to a freedom of information request submitted by The Wall Street Journal. But that didn’t exclude the possibility that recordings were created by another entity.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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