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Associated Press

Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago loses State Department promotion posting

The State Department has removed its promotional posting about President Donald Trump‘s Florida resort, after a storm of ethics criticism.

In an April 4 blog post that was republished by several U.S. embassies abroad, Mar-a-Lago was described as “Trump’s Florida estate,” where he has hosted foreign leaders. “By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the post said.

Left unsaid: Mar-a-Lago is part of Trump’s business empire. After his election, the resort doubled its membership fee to $200,000. As president, Trump has visited the property seven times, and its restaurant fills up when he’s in town.

The State Department said late Monday that its intention was “to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders” and that it regrets “any misperception.” That statement now appears in place of the original blog post.

The White House did not respond to questions about whether it had any involvement in the original posting or the decision to take it down.

The post originated on “Share America,” a State Department project. Its website describes its mission as “sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

Other topics on the Share America page include a new U.S. coin honoring Frederick Douglass, debate over the Confederate flag and news about first lady Melania Trump’s participation in the State Department’s International Women of Courage award ceremony.

The Mar-a-Lago post was nearly three weeks old but gained traction Monday when several people noticed the U.S. embassy to the United Kingdom was featuring it. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, asked on Twitter why taxpayers are “promoting the president’s private country club” and referred to the incident as “kleptocratic.”

Norman Eisen, who was President Barack Obama‘s chief ethics attorney, said the promotion is “exploitation.”

Eisen compared it to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway‘s promotion of Ivanka Trump‘s clothing business, for which she was “counseled” but not otherwise reprimanded by the White House.

“This idea of using government for private gain is metastasizing,” Eisen said. “It must be stopped.”

On Twitter, Richard Painter, who served in an ethics role for President George W. Bush, called the State Department post “Use of public office for private gain pure and simple.”

Eisen, Painter and other attorneys have sued Trump, alleging violation of the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution. That provision says the president may not accept foreign gifts or payments without the consent of Congress.

The Trump Organization argues that this prohibition wasn’t intended to cover fair-market exchanges.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida Forever bill could affect Everglades reservoir plan

A bill that looks to “un-muddy” the mission of Florida’s main environmental land acquisition program could potentially affect the plan for an Everglades reservoir.

A House bill brought forth Monday by Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Republican with close ties to House leadership, was passed unanimously by a House panel. Caldwell wants to alter what projects are eligible for money under the Florida Forever Program and put more money into land conservation. But the measure would also remove funding allocations for acquisitions on water management districts’ priority lists.

Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, said this could potentially make it more difficult for water management districts to fund projects through bonding.

“I’m just pointing out that by taking water management districts out, it takes away an important part of the Florida Forever program that has been used to fund both land acquisition and construction of projects,” Draper said.

This could hinder Senate President Joe Negron‘s plan to build a $1.2 billion reservoir system south of Lake Okeechobee to curb toxic algal bloom from coastal communities. Senate Bill 10 would direct the South Florida Management District to find land for the reservoir system.

Negron’s plan to have the state borrow money to pay for the project has not been welcomed by House leadership, which has yet to hear the proposal. Caldwell’s bill could prevent the South Florida Management District from using bonding for the reservoir project. House Speaker Richard Corcoran supports the Florida Forever bill.

Caldwell does not believe his bill takes aim at Negron’s project because the focus of his bill pertains to land acquisition for conservation purposes, not capital projects.

Environmental groups were split on whether removing water management districts would affect the project. But they said they were hopeful Caldwell’s bill could lead to more money in the state budget for the Florida Forever program.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Orioles hit 3 HRs off Chris Archer in 6-3 victory over Rays

Adam Jones hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the seventh inning, Hyun Soo Kim and Jonathan Schoop also went deep, and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-3 on a cold, damp Monday night at Camden Yards.

All three home runs were off Chris Archer (2-1), who gave up five runs, six hits and five walks in 6 2/3 innings. The right-hander didn’t allow a long ball in his previous four starts this season.

Baltimore trailed 3-1 before Kim and Schoop connected on successive pitches in the sixth inning. In the seventh, Archer hit Seth Smith with a pitch, and Jones followed with a drive deep into the left-field seats.

It was the fifth win in seven games for the Orioles, whose 13-5 record is best in the American League.

Corey Dickerson homered for the Rays, who fell to 1-7 on the road.

Coming off an intense three-game series against the Red Sox that drew huge crowds to Camden Yards, the Orioles performed before 11,142 hearty fans, most of whom didn’t make a whole lot of noise until Kim and Schoop got Baltimore’s offense going.

Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez allowed three runs, three hits and five walks in 3 1/3 innings. After he gave up four walks and a double in the fourth, Vidal Nuno entered with the bases loaded and struck out Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier.

Mychal Givens (3-0) followed with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Brad Brach worked the ninth for his fourth save.

Dickerson put the Rays in front with his third career leadoff homer, all this season. Tampa Bay leads the majors with 25 first-inning runs.

Smith doubled and scored on a groundout by Chris Davis in the third. Smith had been sidelined since April 18 with a strained right hamstring.

Shane Peterson‘s two-run double gave the Rays a 3-1 lead in the fourth. The liner landed so close to the right field foul line that Orioles manager Buck Showalter asked for a replay, but the call stood.

DEBUT

Tampa Bay reliever Chih-Wei Hu made his major league debut in the ninth inning, getting three straight outs. Recalled from Triple-A Durham on Sunday, the right-hander is the first Taiwan-born player in Rays history.

BARNES SUSPENDED

Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes has been suspended four games and fined for throwing a fastball past the head of Baltimore’s Manny Machado on Sunday.

The commissioner’s office issued the penalty Monday. Barnes is appealing, meaning the reliever can continue to pitch until the process is done.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. received an exciting present for his 28th birthday Monday: He was selected the AL Player of the Week. Souza batted .414 with three home runs and nine RBIs.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: Kiermaier was in the starting lineup after being hampered by an illness over the weekend. “I’m still not where I want to be, but definitely on the right track,” he said.

Orioles: Closer Zach Britton (left forearm strain) played catch from about 90 feet on Monday before his scheduled appointment with a hand specialist. If all goes well, the left-hander will have a full side session on Wednesday, Showalter said. … OF Joey Rickard (sprained finger) went 1 for 4 in his rehabilitation stint with Class A Delmarva on Monday.

UP NEXT

Rays: RHP Erasmo Ramirez (2-0, 3.07 ERA) makes his second start since April 2016 after beating Detroit last Thursday. In 29 starts with the Rays, he’s lost once when receiving at least two runs of support.

Orioles: LHP Wade Miley (1-0, 1.87 ERA) seeks an encore for his 11-strikeout performance in Cincinnati last week.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

 

Confirmation of 4 Florida agency heads going to Senate floor

The confirmation of four agency heads in Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration will be headed to the Senate floor.

The Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday voted in support of the confirmations of Jeffrey Bragg as Secretary of Elderly Affairs, Dr. Celeste Philip as Surgeon General, Justin Senior as Secretary of Health Care Administration and Glenn Sutphin as Director of Department of Veterans Affairs.

All four are expected to be approved by the full Senate.

Last year, Dr. John Armstrong had to resign as Surgeon General, marking the first time since 1995 that an agency head had lost his job by not being confirmed. It also marked the first time since 1975 that a governor and Legislature of the same party were at odds over a confirmation.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Disgraced Sen. Frank Artiles paid Hooters, Playboy models as ‘consultants’

Artiles hired Heather Thomas (left) and Brittney Singletary (right) as campaign consultants

A newspaper is reporting that a Florida state senator who resigned this week after using a racial slur hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience to be consultants for his political action committee last year.

The Miami Herald reports Saturday that state records show that Frank Artiles‘ PAC, Veterans for Conservative Principals, had paid former Hooters model Heather Thomas $2,000 and former Playboy model Brittney Singletary $1,500. They were listed as consultants.

Artiles’ political consultant David Custin refused to answer the paper’s questions. Singletary said she did fundraising for the PAC. Thomas declined to comment.

Artiles, a Republican, resigned Friday after he used vulgarities and a variation of the N-word in a barroom conversation with two black colleagues earlier in the week.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Campbell Park Elementary principal apologizes for racially insensitive email

The new principal of a predominantly black elementary school is apologizing after emailing her staff that white students should be in the same class.

Christine Hoffman sent the email last Tuesday to the staff at Campbell Park Elementary School. According to the Tampa Bay Times, she was setting criteria for setting up classes for next year. Also included were instructions that classes should have a mix of reading levels, an equal number of boys and girls and no more than two children with disciplinary problems. Of the school’s 606 students, 49 are white.

Hoffman sent emails and letters to both her staff and parents apologizing, saying she will learn from her mistake. The Pinellas County School District says it is developing a corrective plan for Hoffman.

The NAACP called the email baffling.

Gov. Scott delays trip to Argentina due to wildfires

Gov. Rick Scott is delaying his planned trade mission to Argentina due to wildfires that are burning in several parts of the state.

Scott was scheduled to leave late Saturday for a five-day trip to Buenos Aires. A final decision has not yet been made on whether to cancel the trip completely.

The governor has been monitoring the wildfires and visited one site in southwest Florida.

The Argentina trip is supposed to be Scott’s 13th trip abroad since he became governor in January 2011.

Scott has defended the trips as a way to open doors for Florida-based companies seeking business abroad.

He has taken previous economic development trips to the South American countries of Brazil, Colombia and Chile, as well as Japan, Israel, England, France, Spain, Canada and Panama.

Florida man convicted in fatal fight over gumbo spices

A man charged with fatally stabbing a Florida restaurant worker and former Florida State mascot in a fight over gumbo spices has been found guilty of second-degree murder.

Caleb Joshua Halley was found guilty Thursday in the 2015 death. He faces up to life in prison for the crime.

Panama City police say 33-year-old Halley was working at Buddy’s Seafood Market when he and a co-worker, 26-year-old Orlando Thompson, began arguing about how much spice to add to the restaurant’s gumbo. Authorities say Thompson slashed Halley across the torso. He died two days later. The two had also been roommates at one point.

According to the police, Halley portrayed Florida State mascot “Chief Osceola” from 2004 to 2007.

The News Herald reports family members of both men wept when the verdict was read.

Ethics Commission clears Pam Bondi over Donald Trump contribution

Florida’s ethics commission is throwing out complaints filed against Attorney General Pam Bondi over her decision to ask Donald Trump for a contribution to help her re-election campaign.

The Florida Commission on Ethics on Friday voted to reject several complaints filed against Bondi by a Massachusetts trial attorney.

One of the complaints questioned Bondi receiving a contribution around the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University.

Bondi asked for money from Trump in 2013 and got a $25,000 check for her political organization on Sept. 23 of that year. Emails from the same time period show that her office was being asked about the New York allegation.

Bondi has said repeatedly that she did nothing wrong.

Lawyer: Frank Artiles racial slurs offensive, but they’re also free speech

A lawyer representing a state senator who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities says he’ll present evidence that other senators have used similar language.

The Senate is reviewing a complaint that Republican Sen. Frank Artiles used the “n-word” and other obscenities in a conversation with two African-American senators at a private club near the Capitol.

Lawyer Steven Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case and said the complaint shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles’ statements — as offensive as they were — are protected under his constitutional rights to free speech.

He also said the Senate lawyer, Dawn Roberts, shouldn’t handle the case because she’s also represented Artiles and witnesses who would be called to testify.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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