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Associated Press

Stalking pythons: Carlos Lopez-Cantera joins Everglades hunt

Florida’s lieutenant governor joined hunters paid by the state to stalk and shoot invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith says Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera went hunting Monday night with one of 25 hunters hired to kill pythons on district property.

Smith says Tom Rahill and Lopez-Cantera brought in a 15-foot-4-inch (5-meter) python. It was the 96th python caught by the district’s hunters since March 25.

Rahill leads the “Swamp Apes” program taking veterans on hunts to remove invasive animals from the Everglades. He took Lopez-Cantera hunting along a canal in western Miami-Dade County.

The district is paying $8.10 an hour in a python-killing pilot program ending June 1. Florida’s wildlife agency also is hiring contractors to remove pythons from specific areas.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump defends sharing ‘terrorism’ facts with Russians

President Donald Trump defended revealing information to Russian officials, saying in a pair of tweets Tuesday that he shared “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety” and had “the absolute right” to do so.

Trump was responding to reports Monday that he revealed highly classified information to senior Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last week, putting a source of intelligence on the Islamic State at risk.

But Trump tweeted that he shared the information for “humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump says he wanted to share with Russia “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.” He noted that as president, he has an “absolute right” to do this.

The reports by The Washington Post and others drew strong condemnation from Democrats and a rare rebuke of Trump from some Republican lawmakers. White House officials denounced the report, saying the president did not disclose intelligence sources or methods to the Russians, though officials did not deny that classified information was disclosed in the May 10 meeting.

The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation,” said H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser. “At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also disputed the Post report. He said Trump discussed a range of subjects with the Russians, including “common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism.” The nature of specific threats was discussed, he said, but not sources, methods or military operations.

The Post, citing current and former U.S. officials, said Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. The ambassador has been a central player in the snowballing controversy surrounding possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s election meddling.

The anonymous officials told the Post that the information Trump relayed during the Oval Office meeting had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. They said it was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.

The New York Times and BuzzFeed News published similar reports later Monday.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman denied the report. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, on Facebook on Tuesday described the reports as “yet another fake.”

The revelations could further damage Trump’s already fraught relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies. He’s openly questioned the competency of intelligence officials and challenged their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in last year’s presidential election to help him win. His criticism has been followed by a steady stream of leaks to the media that have been damaging to Trump and exposed an FBI investigation into his associates’ possible ties to Russia.

The disclosure also risks harming his credibility with U.S. partners around the world ahead of his first overseas trip. The White House was already reeling from its botched handling of Trump’s decision last week to fire James Comey, the FBI director who was overseeing the Russia investigation.

A European security official said sharing sensitive information could dampen the trust between the United States and its intelligence sharing partners. “It wouldn’t likely stop partners from sharing life-saving intelligence with the Americans, but it could impact the trust that has been built, particularly if sharing such information exposes specific intelligence gathering methods,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak about such intelligence sharing.

The revelation also prompted cries of hypocrisy. Trump spent the campaign arguing that his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, should be locked up for careless handling of classified information.

The Post said the intelligence partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russian officials. By doing so, Trump would have jeopardized cooperation from an ally familiar with the inner workings of the Islamic State group, and make other allies – or even U.S. intelligence officials – wary about sharing future top secret details with the president.

Afterward, White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency, the newspaper said.

The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment Monday evening.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats expressed concern about the report.

GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters the Trump White House “has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and order.” He described the White House as “on a downward spiral.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also called the story “disturbing,” adding, “Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country.”

The controversy engulfed the White House. Reporters spent much of the evening camped out adjacent to Press Secretary Sean Spicer‘s office, hoping for answers. At one point, an eagle-eyed reporter spotted a handful of staffers, including Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, walking toward the Cabinet Room.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

2,100 wildfires have burned in Florida since start of year

State officials say 170,000 acres in Florida have burned from wildfires since the start of the year.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said that more than 127 active fires were burning in Florida as of Monday.

Since the start of 2017, there have been more than 2,100 wildfires in Florida.

Putnam says drought conditions and high wildfire danger will continue for some time since May is traditionally one of the driest months of the year in Florida.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Indians hold off Rays 8-7

Cleveland Indians starter Carlos Carrasco left early with an injury, but five relievers kept the lead and helped the Indians hold off the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7 Monday night.

Carrasco was pulled because of tightness in his left pectoral muscle after giving up an RBI single to Brad Miller. The right-hander allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings and left with Cleveland ahead 7-4.

Boone Logan (1-0), who entered in the fifth, retired both batters he faced. Andrew Miller allowed his first run of the season in the eighth, and Cody Allen gave up a solo homer to Peter Bourjos in the ninth before recording his 10th save.

Lonnie Chisenhall hit a three-run homer when Cleveland scored five times in the first off Chris Archer (3-2). Francisco Lindor added a solo homer in the eighth.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

State orders sales stopped on new cannabis product

Florida’s Department of Health on Monday ordered a Quincy-based dispensary to quit selling a medical cannabis product that could potentially be broken down and made into pot that can be smoked.

Trulieve began selling its first whole-flower cannabis product meant for vaping last week at five retail dispensaries and through home delivery. The buds in the Entourage Multi Indica vaporizer cup, however, could also be used in joints, pipes or bongs.

The Department of Health authorized Trulieve to sell sealed vaporizer cups containing marijuana. However, Office of Compassionate Use Director Christian Bax said in a cease and desist letter to Trulieve that the mesh caps can be removed with minimal effort and cannot be reattached.

Vaping is allowed under state law, but smoking is prohibited. Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said the company had issued warnings to patients that the product should only be used for vaping.

“We were surprised by the letter, but are immediately and completely complying with the department’s wishes while evaluating our options,” she said.

The department also found in a tour of one of Trulieve’s retail facilities that a vaporizer it advertises for use with the product is sold only online. Trulieve also was not able to show how to use the product with the vaporizer.

Currently, low-THC cannabis can be used by patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms. The law was expanded last year to include patients with terminal conditions. It also allowed them to use more potent strains.

The rules from a medical marijuana constitutional amendment passed last November, which will expand the list of conditions for which patients can receive pot, must be in place by July and enacted by October.

Rays’ bats come alive in 11-2 rout of Red Sox

The Tampa Bay Rays spent their longest game in team history playing in wind, rain and chilly temperatures in Fenway Park. It certainly felt a lot better coming away with a win.

Steven Souza Jr. hit a three-run homer, Jesus Sucre drove in three runs and the Rays beat the Boston Red Sox 11-2 on Sunday.

The Rays beat the Red Sox for the second time in three games – and just the sixth time in the last 20 meetings – a day after striking out 16 times in a loss.

“I didn’t know that, but I’m excited,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said when he found out that it was the club’s longest game. “It’s much better than losing the longest game in club history.”

Evan Longoria and Sucre both had two singles, and Souza’s homer came during a seven-run ninth as the Rays matched their season-high with 16 hits in a game that lasted 4 hours, 32 minutes.

Boston starter Drew Pomeranz (3-3) came out with left triceps tightness before the fourth inning. He gave up two runs and three hits while walking three and striking out three.

“He wasn’t able to reproduce any symptoms later in the day,” manager John Farrell said. “We’ll see what transpires tomorrow. We don’t think this is anything long term.”

He’s expected to get an MRI on Monday.

“I felt something in warmups kind of similar to what I felt in spring training,” the left-hander said.

Xander Bogaerts had an RBI double for Boston after his 15-game hitting streak was halted Saturday.

Matt Andriese (3-1) gave up two runs in five innings.

Playing on a chilly, windy day with a drizzle falling on and off, both teams had trouble with pop ups – one fell against each and Rays first baseman Logan Morrison snow-coned another – and the outfielders looked like they were tip-toeing after balls on a muddy warning track.

“It was pretty ridiculous. I’ve never played in anything like this,” Souza Jr. said. “We’re all professionals. We’ve got to go out there and grind it out. We did a good job of not letting it get to us.”

In the second, Tampa Bay made it 2-1 after Pomeranz walked the first two batters, prompting a visit Farrell. Kevin Kiermaier sacrificed before Sucre’s sacrifice fly.

Sucre’s RBI single increased it to 3-1 in the fourth following a wind-blown ground-rule double. Kiermaier’s pop up fell between two fielders and bounced into the stands.

Longoria’s RBI single made it 4-2. Sucre, Rickie Weeks Jr., Tim Beckham and Kiermaier each had an RBI single in the ninth.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Red Sox: DH Hanley Ramirez (strained muscle right shoulder) was back after missing three games. . LHP David Price, sidelined since early spring training with a strained left elbow, threw a simulated game after his rehab start with Triple-A Pawtucket was rained out. “We’ll re-evaluate following Friday and wouldn’t rule out his return to us if everything goes according to plan,” Farrell said.

YOUR PRESENT, MOM

Andriese won on Mother’s Day for the second straight year. He earned the win against the Angels last year with his mother, Lynn, watching him for the first time in the big leagues.

“She was pretty happy,” Andriese said. “I got a text from her saying ‘Great win.’ It’s good to be 2-0 on Mother’s Day.”

SORRY MOMS

Due to the wet field, the Red Sox had to cancel the “running of the bases” that was scheduled for postgame.

ROSTER MOVE

Tampa Bay optioned Saturday’s losing pitcher Blake Snell to Triple-A Durham and recalled RHP Ryne Stanek from the same team. Snell was 0-4 with a 4.71 ERA in eight starts.

Stanek made his major-league debut, getting one out and allowing a single.

UP NEXT

Rays: RHP Chris Archer (3-1, 3.04 ERA) is set to start Monday’s opener of a three-game series at Cleveland against RHP Carlos Carrasco (4-2, 1.86). Archer is coming off eight shutout innings Wednesday, earning a win against Kansas City.

Red Sox: Off Monday before opening a two-game interleague series at St. Louis on Tuesday. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (1-1, 2.80 ERA) is in line to start.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

GOP leaders dismiss James Comey firing as fleeting political drama

Chaos is President Donald Trump’s style, yet as long as the Republican delivers on health care, taxes and tapping a new FBI director as solid as his Supreme Court pick, GOP leaders say everything will be just fine.

While Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey roiled Washington, Republicans who attended the national committee’s spring meeting outside San Diego this week defended the president’s actions and insisted that they would have little political impact on midterm elections next year.

Even Trump’s Friday morning tweetstorm warning Comey that he had better hope there are no “tapes” of their private conversations and threatening to cancel White House media briefings failed to dent his support among several GOP leaders.

Peter Goldberg, an Alaska committeeman, said Trump’s latest tweets about Comey are “just a distraction” and that reaction to the firing is like “a bee buzzing around your head. It’s going to go away. I think it’s going to disappear.”

Goldberg, who grew up in New York, said he understood Trump’s style of governing.

“Even during the campaign, some people might have thought of him as brash and I just thought of it as just an average New Yorker. It wasn’t bad, it’s just part of the culture where he was living.”

Republicans said the issues that Trump campaigned on — repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting taxes and boosting border security — would determine if the party keeps control of both houses of Congress.

Trump addressed the crowd in a five-minute video, telling them their support will help Republicans keep control of the House next year and make gains in the Senate.

“I’ll be going around to different states. I’ll be working hard for the people running for Congress and for the people running for the Senate. We could pick up a lot of seats, especially if it all keeps going like it’s going now,” the president said.

Ron Nehring, a former committee member and former California Republican Party chairman, said Comey’s firing was far more important to journalists and Washington insiders than voters.

“Every day that something unexpected comes up out of the White House, we see people freaking out and then outside of Washington it doesn’t really have that big of an impact,” he said.

Dirk Haire, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said every president brings a new style.

“President Trump’s style is chaos,” Haire said. “Would I personally like that? No, it would drive me nuts. That’s just the way he operates.”

Among leading talk radio conservatives on Friday, criticism was directed at the news media for the use of anonymous sources on the story, not Trump. Laura Ingraham tweeted that the reporting was “false,” while Hugh Hewitt said Comey’s successor was what mattered.

Hewitt did critique Trump’s suggestion that the White House cease holding briefings. Trump “needs more direct on-the-record” contact with the media, “not less,” Hewitt posted on Twitter.

The harshest criticism came from conservative Erick Erickson, who described Trump as “self-immolating.”

“The overwhelming majority of Trump voters will double down in their support of Trump,” Erickson wrote on his website Friday morning. “Many of us see this as unhinged, suspicious and headed toward impeachment-level.”

At the RNC meeting, Kris Warner, a West Virginia committeeman, predicted that Comey’s successor will put to rest any voter misgivings about Trump’s handling of the FBI, holding up the president’s selection of Neil Gorsuch for a long-vacant seat on the Supreme Court as an example.

“I expect nothing short of someone beyond reproach and (it) will be exactly what the country needs,” said Warner, a Trump delegate at last year’s party convention. “Look at his Supreme Court pick. Very impressed with that, and I would expect him to do the same with the FBI.”

Party leaders said Trump was right to fire Comey, or at least that he had a right to do it.

Kyle Hupfer, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, said picking the FBI chief is a president’s prerogative, despite tradition that the post be held for 10 years regardless of who occupies the White House. He said backlash to Comey’s dismissal was “not resonating” with Indiana voters.

David Bossie, a Maryland committeeman who was Trump’s deputy campaign manager during the final leg of last year’s race, conceded the news could have been better explained.

“I think the White House communications shop needs to do a little better, and I think they’re going to get better at what they’re doing,” he said. “I think we had some mixed messages out there that didn’t help matters at all. But the president made the decision to fire Jim Comey. How that happened and the semantics of the timeline, people can debate over the next couple days.”

On Thursday, about 300 protesters marched on the beach, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” They were kept a good distance from the iconic Hotel del Coronado, where some party members looked out from a patio bar.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Chris Sale, relievers fan 16 Rays in 6-3 Red Sox win

Nothing complicated about Chris Sale‘s strong start with the Boston Red Sox. It’s just more of the same from his time with the White Sox.

Sale struck out 12 while pitching seven solid innings and Mookie Betts hit a two-run homer, leading the Red Sox to a 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

It was Sale’s seventh straight start with double-digit strikeouts. The 6-foot-6 left-hander allowed three runs and two hits, both homers.

“It’s almost a carbon copy of each of the six previous starts, with the exception of a couple of pitches that leave the ballpark,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

Betts also doubled in a run in Boston’s four-run fifth inning. Jackie Bradley Jr. had two hits, including his first double of the season, and Deven Marrero drove in two runs, helping the Red Sox to their 14th win in their last 19 games against the Rays.

Sale (4-2) has struck out 10 or more in every start since he had seven Ks in his Boston debut after he was acquired in a blockbuster offseason trade with Chicago.

“Just finding a good rhythm and tempo,” Sale said. “That’s the key to pitching, going out there and trying to get in a groove. It was nice that when I hit rough patches, my team was right there to pick me up today.”

Kevin Kiermaier and Logan Morrison homered for Tampa Bay, which has dropped seven of 11.

The game was moved from 7:05 p.m. to 1:05 p.m. because of heavy rain forecasted for late afternoon into Sunday.

Pitching in his usual short sleeves on an unseasonably cool day under cloudy skies, Sale mixed his mid-90s fastball with his terrific slider and an occasional changeup for another solid outing. He got Evan Longoria looking on a 94-mph fastball in the sixth for his 10th strikeout.

Joe Kelly worked the eighth before Craig Kimbrel finished the three-hitter for his 11th save. The Rays fanned 16 times.

“Obviously today we saw a lot of power,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “The first six or seven innings they’ve got the best lefty in the American League throwing. Look, they’ve got a lot of weapons, but that’s something eventually we’ll need to overcome.”

Boston led 2-1 before Kiermaier hit a two-run shot on an 0-2 fastball with two out in the fifth.

But the Red Sox rallied in the bottom half. Marrero hit a two-run double off the Green Monster against Blake Snell (0-4). Betts followed with his RBI double, and Xander Bogaerts added a run-scoring grounder.

Snell allowed six runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.

“When you face (Sale) and your team gives you three runs, you need to lock it down,” he said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: OF Steven Souza Jr. returned to the lineup after missing the previous four games with a bruised right thumb. … RHP Tommy Hunter, on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right calf, threw a bullpen session and felt fine.

Red Sox: DH Hanley Ramirez, who left an interleague start at first base earlier this week with a muscle spasm in his right shoulder, was out of the lineup for the third straight game, but Farrell said he could be available Sunday. … LHP Dave Price, sidelined since early spring training with a strained left elbow, is set to make a rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Sunday.

CHASING PEDRO

Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez is the only other Red Sox pitcher to reach seven straight double-digit strikeout games. He posted eight twice, his last coming in the final starts of his AL Cy Young Award-winning 1999 season.

MORE SALE

Sale has 85 strikeouts through eight starts, tied with Randy Johnson – then with Houston in 1998 – for the most ever by a pitcher after their initial eight starts with a new team.

JUMP

First base umpire Laz Diaz had to jump out of the way of a rolling bat that got away from Tampa Bay pinch hitter Brad Miller.

UP NEXT

Rays: RHP Matt Andriese (2-1, 3.12 ERA) is set to start the series finale Sunday. He has given up three or fewer runs in his last six starts.

Red Sox: LHP Drew Pomeranz (3-2, 5.23 ERA) looks to rebound from a rough outing when he gave up six runs in four innings during a loss Tuesday.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Rays hold off Red Sox 5-4

Alex Cobb took a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning before tiring, Evan Longoria hit a homer over the Green Monster completely out of Fenway Park and the Tampa Bay Rays held off the Boston Red Sox 5-4 on Friday night.

Coming off a 3-6 home stand, the Rays rebounded with just their second win in six games in Fenway this season.

Boston’s Xander Bogaerts singled to extended hitting streak to 15 games, the majors’ current longest active streak. He had a career-best 26-gamer last year.

Cobb (3-3) gave up four runs – three earned – and three hits after getting the first out in the seventh, adding to his trouble with a throwing error. Alex Colome got the final four outs for his ninth save.

Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello (2-5) gave up five runs – three earned – with seven strikeouts in six innings for his second rough outing against the Rays this season. He lost only four games last year.

Trailing 5-0, the Red Sox chased Cobb and sliced the deficit to one – with the help of Tampa Bay’s shoddy defense. Sandy Leon had a two-run double, Cobb fired wildly past first base, allowing a run to score, and second baseman Brad Miller was charged with two errors on one play, booting a grounder and throwing the ball away, scoring another.

Tim Beckham‘s two-run single had pushed the Rays ahead in the fourth – with both runs unearned after third baseman Josh Rutledge bounced a throw.

They added three runs in the fifth. Corey Dickerson had an RBI double high off the wall in center field before Longoria hit his shot over a billboard above the Monster seats, a drive estimated at 406 feet.

Porcello was tagged for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings in a home loss to the Rays on April 14.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: Manager Kevin Cash expects OF Steven Souza Jr. (bruised right thumb) to be back in the lineup on Saturday. RHP Tommy Hunter, on the 10-day DL with a strained right calf, is set to throw a bullpen Saturday.

Red Sox: Manager John Farrell said DH Hanley Ramirez was “a little bit improved” and he’s optimistic that the slugger will be in the lineup Saturday. He left Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee with a strained right shoulder after starting at first base. . Farrell also said INF Marco Hernandez (injured left shoulder) could need a procedure that would “likely” be season-ending.

MESSAGE

Many of the vendors entering the park were given buttons to wear with “B Respectful” written on it. The “B” was the club’s logo for Boston.

It was the first series in Fenway Park since Baltimore’s Adam Jones said a fan yelled a racial slur at him.

TIME CHANGE

Saturday’s game, which was scheduled for a 7:05 start, was moved to 1:05 with the forecast for heavy rain starting later in the day and into Sunday.

UP NEXT

Rays: LHP Blake Snell (0-3, 3.96 ERA) hopes to rebound from a rough outing Monday against Kansas City when he gave up a career-high 10 hits in a loss.

Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale (3-2, 1.92) looks to extend his string of double-digit strikeout games. He’s done it in every one of his six starts.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Illinois’ Dick Durbin says Donald Trump is ‘dangerous’

The Latest on President Donald Trump and the FBI (all times local):

11:10 a.m.

The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, says President Donald Trump is “dangerous.”

Durbin says Trump is “dangerous because he may be obstructing justice” in the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump’s own campaign.

And, Durbin says, “his credibility has been destroyed.”

Durbin says: “When you’re the leader of the free world you need to be credible” — in your own country and around the world. The Illinois Democrat says Trump has lost credibility, given his firing of FBI Director James Comey and a constantly shifting explanation for why it happened.

Durbin made his comments Friday on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.

Piece by piece, the FBI’S Acting Director Andrew McCabe, during Senate testimony Thursday, undermined the White House’s explanations about Director James Comey’s firing. (May 11)

___

10:10 a.m.

President Donald Trump’s lawyers say a review of his last 10 years of tax returns do not reflect “any income of any type from Russian sources,” with some exceptions.

The lawyers did not release copies of Trump’s tax returns so The Associated Press cannot independently verify their conclusions.

The letter says there is no equity investment by Russians in entities controlled by Trump or debt owed by Trump to Russian lenders. It does reflect income from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow and a property sold to a Russian billionaire in 2008 for $95 million.

The White House says Trump asked his lawyers for a letter following a request from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who heads one of the congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in last year’s election.

___

8:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump is warning that former FBI Director James Comey “better hope” that there are no “tapes” of their conversations.

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

Trump fired Comey on Tuesday, later saying that “he wasn’t doing a good job.”

In the termination letter to Comey, Trump thanked him for telling the president “three times” that he personally is not under investigation for collusion with Russia during his 2016 campaign.

Trump said in an NBC News interview Thursday that Comey told him once over dinner and twice by telephone that he isn’t under investigation.

Comey has not commented since he was fired.
___

8:30 a.m.

President Donald Trump is reiterating his view that reports about collusion with the Russian government by members of his 2016 campaign are “fabricated.”

The president tweeted early Friday that “Again, the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.”

He added, “The Fake Media is working overtime today!”

In an interview with NBC News Thursday, Trump said he asked FBI Director James Comey point-blank if he was under investigation and was assured three times he was not.

Trump sent Comey a letter Tuesday firing him. In it, he thanked Comey for the three assurances.

Trump showed no concern that the request might be viewed as interference in an active FBI probe.

___

8:20 a.m.

President Donald Trump says his busy schedule makes it “not possible” for his staff to speak at the podium with “perfect accuracy.”

Trump on Friday defended the struggle by his administration to come up with a consistent timeline and rationale for the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey this week.

Trump tweeted, “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!”

He added, “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

The president’s advisers said Trump fired Comey in response to a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, then said Trump had planned to fire Comey regardless.

___

3:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump is contradicting previous White House explanations for the firing of James Comey as FBI director.

Trump says in an interview with NBC News that he had planned to fire Comey all along, regardless of the recommendations of top Justice Department officials.

Initially the White House cited a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the impetus for Trump’s decision.

On Capitol Hill, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe strongly disputed the White House’s assertion that Comey had been fired in part because Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank-and-file.

In the NBC interview, Trump derided Comey as a “showboat” and “grandstander” and said Comey had left the FBI in “virtual turmoil.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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