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Associated Press

Reform school horrors relived as Florida prepares an apology

Several men painfully recalled being beaten and sexually abused at a north Florida reform school as the state begins the steps to formally apologize for the horrors they endured more than 50 years ago.

A Senate bill to recognize the abuse at the now-shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. House Speaker Richard Corcoran later met with men who were abused at the school during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Researchers have determined nearly 100 people died at the school between 1900 and 1973. The school was shut down in 2011.

As well as the apology, lawmakers are proposing memorials to be built in Tallahassee and in Marianna 60 miles (96.56 kilometers) west of the Capitol.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Babies Romeo and Juliette make debut in Florida hospital

Two sets of new parents were surprised to learn their babies were part of a Shakespearean connection at a Florida hospital just two weeks after another pair of infants premiered as Romeo and Juliet on the same day at a hospital in South Carolina.

The Orlando Sentinel reports Juliette Crouch was born Friday morning at Leesburg Regional Medical Center, northwest of Orlando. Hours later, Romeo Kidd made his debut down the hallway.

Hospital privacy laws almost kept the drama from playing out. But a nurse asked Carolyn Kidd her baby’s name and said a Juliette was born earlier that day. She just couldn’t tell them which room Juliette’s parents were in.

“I was completely shocked by it,” Marie Crouch said, adding that she’d heard about the babies born March 19 in a Hardeeville, South Carolina, hospital. Baby Juliet in South Carolina is spelled as Shakespeare wrote the name. “I had no clue the same thing was going to happen to us,” Marie Crouch said.

In spite of the hospital rules, the two central Florida families began searching for each other.

“I was going to walk down the hallway and say, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?'” Justin Crouch, Juliette’s father, said.

The nurses were overjoyed when Romeo’s family met Juliette’s family. Lots of pictures were snapped and later in the day, the newspaper reported, hospital officials dressed Romeo in a tuxedo and Juliette in a dress for more pictures.

The couples promised to meet next year to celebrate their babies’ first birthday. It turns out the families have lots in common. Marie Crouch and Carolyn Kidd are each 32 years old and they both have 2-year-old daughters. The families live near each other as well.

“They may end up all going to the same schools one day,” said Justin Crouch, 30.

They exchanged contact information, unlike in “Romeo & Juliet” where the families were mortal enemies.

“It was a cool coincidence,” said Romeo’s father, Dana Kidd, 35.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Donald Trump steps up effort to dispute and distract on Russia

After weeks on the defensive, President Donald Trump has stepped up his efforts to dispute, downplay and distract from revelations stemming from the investigations into the Kremlin’s interference in last year’s election and possible Russian ties to his campaign associates.

The White House says the real story is not about Russia — it’s about how Obama administration officials allegedly leaked and mishandled classified material about Americans. Trump and his aides have accused former officials of inappropriately disclosing — or “unmasking” — the names of Trump associates whose conversations were picked up by U.S. intelligences agencies.

“Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends,” Trump tweeted Monday. ‘Spied on before nomination.’ The real story.”

The White House has not pointed to any hard evidence to support such allegations, and instead has relied on media reports from some of the same publications Trump derides as “fake news.”

The truth is buried somewhere in classified material that is illegal to disclose. Here’s a look at what the White House believes is the real story.

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THE FLYNN AFFAIR

Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn following news reports that Flynn misled the White House about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. But the White House says the problem is that Flynn’s conversations were in the news at all.

“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” Trump tweeted after firing Flynn in February.

The White House has called for investigations into the disclosure of multiple intercepted conversations that Flynn had with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the inauguration. The government routinely monitors the communications of foreign officials in the U.S. It’s illegal to publicly disclose such classified information.

Officially, the White House said Flynn was forced to resign because he had given inaccurate descriptions of the discussions to Vice President Mike Pence and others in the White House. But Trump has continued to defend Flynn, suggesting he was only fired because information about his contacts came out in the media.

“Michael Flynn, Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man,” Trump said. “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”

___

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

White House officials say some Obama holdovers are part of a so-called deep state out to tear Trump down.

Last week, the White House latched onto a month-old television interview from an Obama administration official who said she encouraged congressional aides to gather as much information on Russia as possible before the inauguration.

Evelyn Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense, said she feared that information “would disappear” after President Barack Obama left office. She was no longer in government at the time, having left the Pentagon about a year before the election.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer called Farkas’ comments “devastating” and said they “raised serious concerns on whether or not there was an organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes.”

On Monday, Spicer suggested there should be more interest in a Bloomberg report in which anonymous U.S. officials said that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, asked for the identities of people related to Trump’s campaign and transition dozens of times.

Spicer remarked that he was “somewhat intrigued by the lack of interest” in the Rice revelations. But he added: “I do think that it’s interesting, the level, or lack thereof, of interest in this subject.”

As national security adviser, Rice would have regularly received intelligence reports and been able to request the identities of Americans whose communications were intercepted.

___

THE HILL WEIGHS IN

The White House has embraced a top Republican’s assertion that information about Trump associates were improperly spread around the government in the final days of the Obama administration. It appears the White House played a role in helping House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., acquire some of that information.

Nunes announced last week that he had seen intelligence reports showing that Trump aides’ communications were picked up through routine surveillance. But he said their identities may have been improperly revealed. The California congressman later said he viewed the reports at the White House.

The White House contends that Nunes’ information — which has not been made public — validates Trump’s explosive claim that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper. Nunes has disputed that but still says he found the reports “troubling.”

The White House’s apparent involvement in helping Nunes access the information has overshadowed what Trump officials contend are real concerns about how much information about Americans is disseminated in intelligence reports. Trump has asked the House and Senate intelligence committees to include the matter in their Russia investigations.

___

CAMPAIGN MODE

Trump won the election, but thinks it’s his vanquished opponent whose ties to Russia should be investigated.

Some of the White House’s allegations against Clinton stem from her four years as secretary of state, a role that gave her ample reasons to have frequent contacts with Russia.

To deflect questions about Trump’s friendly rhetoric toward Russia, the White House points to the fact that Clinton was a central figure in the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” relations with Moscow — an effort that crumbled after Vladimir Putin took back the presidency.

“When you compare the two sides in terms of who’s actually engaging with Russia, trying to strengthen them, trying to act with them, trying to interact with them, it is night and day between our actions and her actions,” Spicer said.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state, has deep ties to Russia from his time running ExxonMobil and cutting oil deals with Moscow.

The White House has also tried to link Clinton to Russia’s purchase of a controlling stake in a mining company with operations in the U.S., arguing that she was responsible for “selling off one-fifth of our country’s uranium.”

The Clinton-led State Department was among nine U.S. government agencies that had to approve the purchase of Uranium One. According to Politifact, some investors in the company had relationships with former President Bill Clinton and donated to the Clinton Foundation. However, the fact checking site says most of those donations occurred well before Clinton became secretary of state and was in position to have a say in the agreement.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Woman charged in Sandy Hook parent threat arrested

The woman accused of sending death threats to a man whose 6-year-old son was killed in the 2012 mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, has been arrested after failing to show up in court.

Jail records show 57-year-old Lucy Richards was arrested on Saturday in Hillsborough County in the Tampa Bay area.

A judge issued an arrest warrant March 29 after Richards failed to show up in federal court in Fort Lauderdale for a change-of-plea hearing and sentencing.

She was set to plead guilty to a charge of interstate transmission of a threat to injure for threatening Lenny Pozner, the father of Noah Pozner who died in the shooting at the Sandy Hook school. Prosecutors said she told them she believed the shooting was a hoax.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Hall of Fame coach vs. future Hall of Famer for NCAA title

Roy Williams has been here before. Just last year, in fact. And five times altogether, playing for the NCAA championship. Twice he got to celebrate winning the final game of the season with the Tar Heels, pushing their total to five tournament titles.

For Mark Few and Gonzaga, this is all new. Just getting to the Final Four was a first, and now they are one victory from lifting the trophy.

If it came down to history, tradition and experience, North Carolina would run away with Monday’s NCAA championship game. If only it were that easy for the Tar Heels.

“You know, on game night, kids got to play. That’s the bottom line,” Williams said Saturday night after the Tar Heels beat Oregon 77-76. “I’ve never won a game from the bench. I may have lost some, but I know I’ve never won one.”

The 66-year-old Williams called Few one of his best friends in coaching and said he was stressed out hoping that his poker buddy would finally break through and reach the Final Four this year.

The last time they played each other in the NCAA Tournament was 2009, when the Tar Heels eliminated the Bulldogs in the Sweet 16. Since the Zags graduated from upstart to national power, there have been lots of early exits in the tournament.

Few has been the coach of Gonzaga for 18 seasons and never once have the Zags missed the NCAA Tournament. He is 503-112 at Gonzaga, but there were always questions about whether the program was good enough to really be considered among the best in the country.

Those should be gone now and if there are any lingering doubters, the Bulldogs can take care of that on Monday by beating one of the bluest of college basketball’s blue bloods. This is North Carolina’s record 20th Final Four.

“I know Gonzaga, they don’t have the history that we do. But they’ve only lost one game this year. They’re a pretty good team,” North Carolina guard Joel Berry II said. “While the history matters to show how great your program is, at the same time it doesn’t because you got to play that game on Monday.”

For years Williams was the coach who couldn’t win the big one. During his time at Kansas, Williams made it to the Final Four four times but never won one. He left for North Carolina, his alma mater where he played and worked as an assistant for Dean Smith.

Williams shook that label in his second season at North Carolina, winning it all in 2004-05 and then came back with another title in 2008-09. A gut-wrenching loss to Villanova in a championship game classic last year denied Williams a third career title. Now he will get another chance to pass his mentor, Smith (who won two) and become just the sixth coach with at least three NCAA championships on his resume.

“I’m coaching a new group of kids,” Williams said. “And making it back to the national championship game is amazing. Oh, you did that last year? Well, that still makes it even more amazing kind of thing.”

Few joked earlier in the tournament about not worrying about having a monkey on his back. He has, like Williams, always gone out of his way to make it about his players – and this season he has some really great players such as Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski.

“I’ve had some really, really tough teams. I’ve had some really close teams. I’ve had some teams that have been crazy efficient on the offensive end and ones that have been pretty darned good on the defensive end that probably didn’t get credit for it,” Few said. “These guys are all of that. All of it.”

The matchup is set: The Hall of Fame coach with a chance to move into company that includes the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and John Wooden against the future Hall of Famer looking to add the only thing missing on his resume.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Judiciary panel votes 11-9 in favor of Neil Gorsuch

The Latest on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (all times local):

2:35 p.m.

A divided Senate panel is backing Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

The Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 along party lines on Monday to favorably recommend Gorsuch to the full Senate. A confirmation vote is expected on Friday, but not before a partisan showdown over President Donald Trump‘s choice.

Democrats have secured the 41 votes to block Gorsuch with a filibuster after Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said he would vote against the nominee. The opposition will prevent Republicans from reaching the 60 votes they need to move Gorsuch over procedural hurdles to a final Senate vote.

Determined to confirm him despite Democratic objections, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he will likely change Senate rules later this week to reduce the threshold from 60 to a simple majority to get Gorsuch confirmed.

___

1:25 p.m.

Senate Democrats now have enough votes to try to block Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with a filibuster, setting up a showdown with Republicans who plan to confirm him anyway.

The crucial 41st vote came from Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware who announced his decision Monday as the Senate Judiciary Committee met to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination.

Coons said that he had decided to oppose President Donald Trump’s nominee over concerns that include his vague answers in his hearing.

Coons’ opposition will prevent Republicans from reaching the 60 votes they need to move Gorsuch over procedural hurdles to a final Senate vote. Determined to confirm him despite Democratic objections, they will likely change Senate rules later this week to reduce the threshold from 60 to a simple majority.

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11:45 a.m.

Senator Michael Bennet says he will not join Democratic efforts to block a full-Senate vote on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The Colorado Democrat has been under pressure to support Gorsuch in part because the nominee is also from Colorado. Bennet doesn’t say whether he will ultimately vote in favor of Gorsuch. But he says he will not try to block a vote.

If Democrats successfully block a vote on Gorsuch, Senate Republicans are threatening to change Senate rules to enable them to confirm a Supreme Court nominee with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Under current rules, the need 60 votes to end debate.

Bennet says, “Changing the Senate rules now will only further politicize the Supreme Court.”

___

11:35 a.m.

Senator Lindsay Graham says flatly that Republicans will change the Senate’s rules if Democrats use a filibuster to block the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Under current rules, Supreme Court nominees need at least 60 votes to end debate and hold a vote on their confirmation. So far, 40 Democrats have publicly said they will try to block Gorsuch’s nomination.

That’s just one shy of the number needed to stop the nomination under current Senate rules.

The South Carolina Republican says his GOP colleagues will change the rules to enable them to confirm a Supreme Court nominee with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Graham says: “The Senate’s traditions are going to change over this man. This says more about the Senate than it does Judge Gorsuch.”

___

11:15 a.m.

Senators Mark Warner and Patrick Leahy say they will vote against the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The two Democrats are the 39th and 40th senators to say they will try to block Gorsuch’s nomination. That’s just one shy of the number needed to stop the nomination under current Senate rules. The nomination needs 60 votes to succeed.

However, Senate Republicans are threatening to change Senate rules to enable them to confirm a Supreme Court nominee with a simple majority of 51 votes.

All 52 Republicans are expected to support the Gorsuch.

___

10:45 a.m.

Senator Dianne Feinstein says she will vote against the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The California Democrat cited two cases in which, she says, Gorsuch inserted his own view of what the law should be. In one case Gorsuch sided with a trucking company over a fired trucker who refused to drive a disabled truck in subzero weather. In the other case, Gorsuch sided with a school district that denied services to a student with autism.

Feinstein also says she is troubled that Gorsuch refused to say whether he supports the outcome of Brown v. Board of Education, the court decision that ended racial segregation in public schools.

Feinstein is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is voting Monday on Gorsuch’s nomination.

___

10:25 a.m.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley says Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is a mainstream judge who will be independent from the president. The Iowa Republican is accusing Democrats of “moving the goal posts” in their assessment of Gorsuch.

Grassley opened a committee meeting on Gorsuch’s nomination by making the case in favor of President Donald Trump’s nominee for the high court. Republicans on the committee are expected to send Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate after a lengthy series of speeches.

Most Democrats are expected to oppose the nomination.

___

3:30 a.m.

A Senate panel is opening a weeklong partisan showdown over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee with Democrats steadily amassing the votes to block Neil Gorsuch and force Republicans to unilaterally change long-standing rules to confirm him.

The Republican-led Judiciary Committee meets Monday and is expected to back Gorsuch and send his nomination to the full Senate, most likely on a near-party line vote. Intent on getting Trump’s pick on the high court, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is likely to change Senate rules so that Gorsuch can be confirmed with a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber, instead of the 60-voter threshold.

So far, 36 Democrats and one independent have announced they will vote to block the nomination on a procedural cloture vote — a parliamentary step to advance a legislative issue — and oppose the choice. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who faces a tough re-election in a state Trump won handily, announced his opposition on Sunday.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Congress seen as not likely to pass tax overhaul quickly

After their humiliating loss on health care, Republicans in Congress could use a quick victory on a big issue. It won’t be an overhaul of the tax code.

Overhauling the tax code could prove harder to accomplish than repealing and replacing Barack Obama‘s health law. Congressional Republicans are divided on significant issues, especially a new tax on imports embraced by House Speaker Paul Ryan. And the White House is sending contradicting signals on the new tax, adding to the uncertainty.

House Republicans also can’t decide whether to move on from health care. Ryan canceled a scheduled vote on a House GOP plan after it became obvious that Republicans didn’t have the votes. He said he will continue to work on the issue but one of his top lieutenants on health care, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, says he is now “100 percent” focused on a tax overhaul.

Ryan says Congress can work on both at the same time. It won’t be easy. Here’s why:

___

REPUBLICAN DIVIDE

House and Senate Republicans largely agree on the broad outlines of a tax overhaul. They want to lower tax rates for individuals and corporations, and make up the lost revenue by scaling back tax breaks.

But they are sharply divided on a key tenet of the House Republican plan.

The new “border adjustment tax” would be applied to profits from goods and services consumed in the U.S., whether they are domestically produced or imported. Exports would be exempt.

House GOP leaders say the tax is key to lowering the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.

But good luck finding a single Republican senator who will publicly support the tax. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is the latest in a long line of Republican senators to come out against the tax.

___

ABSENT DEMOCRATS

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says he wants to work with Democrats to overhaul the tax code.

“A bipartisan bill would allow us to put in place more lasting reforms and give the overall effort additional credibility,” Hatch said.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said it is bad policy to pass major legislation without bipartisan support.

“Without some meaningful buy-in, you guarantee a food fight,” McConnell wrote in his memoir last year. “You guarantee instability and strife.”

But in the House, Republicans haven’t reached out to Democrats in any meaningful way.

___

WHERE’S THE WHITE HOUSE?

“Obviously we’re driving the train on this,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

But President Donald Trump‘s administration has been all over the map on tax reform. Trump at one point said the House border tax is too complicated, then said it’s in the mix.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a Senate panel that “there would be no absolute tax cut for the upper class” in Trump’s tax plan.

However, the plan Trump unveiled during his presidential campaign would provide big tax breaks to high-income households.

Since taking office, Trump has promised “massive” tax cuts for the middle class.

A former Treasury official under President Barack Obama says the White House needs to stake out clear goals on tax overhaul to guide the debate in Congress.

“I think it’s important for the administration to signal early the general shape” of what they would like to accomplish so that there are fewer proposals vying for attention, said Michael Mundaca, a former assistant Treasury secretary now at Ernst & Young.

___

TAX CHANGE IS DIFFICULT

There is a reason it’s been 31 years since the last time Congress rewrote the tax code. Since then, the number of exemptions, deductions and credits has mushroomed. Taxpayers enjoyed $1.6 trillion in tax breaks in 2016 — more than the federal government collected in individual income taxes.

That huge number could provide plenty of tax breaks that lawmakers can scale back so they can lower tax rates significantly. There is just one problem — all of the biggest tax breaks are very popular and have powerful constituencies.

Nearly 34 million families claimed the mortgage interest deduction in 2016. That same year more than 43 million families took advantage of a deduction of state and local taxes.

The House Republicans’ tax plan would retain the mortgage deduction and eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes.

___

HEALTH CARE

Both Trump and Republicans in Congress made big campaign promises to repeal and replace Obama’s health law, so the issue won’t go away.

However, several players say negotiations on a way forward are non-existent. In the meantime, Trump is stoking animosity among a key voting bloc by criticizing them on Twitter.

Two factions in the House GOP had members oppose the health plan: the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday Group.

Ryan has suggested that they get together to sort out their differences, but it’s not happening, according to one key lawmaker.

“We are not currently negotiating with the Freedom Caucus. There was never a meeting scheduled with the Freedom Caucus. We will never meet with the Freedom Caucus,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a member of the Tuesday Group.

Trump tweeted: “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”

To quote a favorite saying of the president, Not nice.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

TRUMP TAJ MAHAL

Sale of ex-Trump Taj Mahal casino to Hard Rock is finalized

It’s official: Atlantic City‘s former Trump Taj Mahal casino now belongs to Hard Rock International.

The sale of the shuttered casino opened in 1990 by President Donald Trump was finalized Friday.

The Florida-based Hard Rock, which manages gambling and resort operations for the Seminole Indian tribe, bought the casino March 1 from billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

Icahn is a close friend and adviser to the president. He acquired the Taj Mahal last year from bankruptcy court after Trump was no longer involved with it, aside from a 10 percent ownership stake in its parent company in return for the use of his name.

Icahn closed it in October after a devastating strike by union workers seeking the restoration of health insurance and pension benefits that the casino’s owner before Icahn, Trump Entertainment Resorts, got a bankruptcy court judge to eliminate in 2014.

Hard Rock plans a press conference Wednesday to unveil its plans for the casino, which it wants to reopen next spring. The purchase price has not been revealed, but CEO Jim Allen has said the purchase and extensive renovations will together cost about $300 million.

It is likely to feature plenty of guitars, big and small, inside and out. The guitar has become the symbol of the Hard Rock chain, and the company says it owns the world’s largest collection of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia.

Hard Rock has long toyed with the idea of opening a casino resort in Atlantic City. In 2011, the company proposed — and soon abandoned — a music-themed casino resort at the southern end of the Boardwalk that was to feature items from the state’s rock ‘n’ roll history.

Hard Rock also still plans to seek permission to open a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford if voters eventually amend the state constitution to allow casino gambling beyond Atlantic City. A referendum to allow it last year was crushed at the polls.

White House says real story is about leaking, not Russia

On the defensive, the White House is throwing counter punches to deflect attention from three investigations into the Kremlin’s interference in last year’s election and possible Russian ties to President Donald Trump or his associates.

The White House says the real story is not about Russia, but about how Obama administration officials allegedly leaked and mishandled classified material about Americans. Reaching back to campaign mode, Trump aides also contend that Hillary Clinton had more extensive ties to Moscow than Trump.

Arguing the White House’s case Friday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said: “There is a concern that people misused, mishandled, misdirected classified information — leaked it out, spread it out, violated civil liberties.”

The White House has not pointed to any hard evidence to support its allegations, and instead has relied on media reports from some of the same publications Trump derides as “fake news.” The truth is buried somewhere in classified material that is illegal to disclose.

__

THE FLYNN AFFAIR

Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn following news reports that Flynn misled the White House about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. But the White House says the problem is that Flynn’s conversations were in the news at all.

“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” Trump tweeted after firing Flynn in February.

The White House has called for investigations into the disclosure of multiple intercepted conversations that Flynn had with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the inauguration. The government routinely monitors the communications of foreign officials in the U.S. It’s illegal to publicly disclose such classified information.

Officially, the White House said Flynn was forced to resign because he’d give inaccurate descriptions of the discussions to Vice President Mike Pence and others in the White House. But Trump has continued to defend Flynn, suggesting he was only fired because information about his contacts came out in the media.

“Michael Flynn, Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man,” Trump said. “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”

___

THE DEEP STATE?

White House officials say some Obama holdovers are part of a so-called deep state out to tear Trump down.

This week, the White House latched onto a month-old television interview from an Obama administration official who said she encouraged congressional aides to gather as much information on Russia as possible before the inauguration.

Evelyn Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense, said she feared that information “would disappear” after President Barack Obama left office.

Spicer called Farkas’ comments “devastating” and said they “raised serious concerns on whether or not there was an organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes.”

Farkas was no longer in government when she urged officials to collect intelligence on “the staff, the Trump staff, dealing with Russians.” She left the Pentagon in 2015, just over a year before the election. She says she was offering advice to associates and did not pass on actual information.

Obama administration officials have acknowledged that there were efforts to preserve information that could be related to the Russian investigations, as was first reported in The New York Times. Former Obama officials contend that intelligence was disseminated to pockets of the government where officials had clearance to see classified reports, not publicly leaked.

Still, Farkas herself connected the concerns among government officials about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia to the information winding up in the press.

“That’s why you have the leaking,” Farkas said in the March 2 interview on MSNBC. “People are worried.”

___

THE HILL WEIGHS IN

The White House has embraced a top Republican’s assertion that information about Trump associates were improperly spread around the government in the final days of the Obama administration. It appears the White House played a role in helping House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., acquire some of that information.

Nunes announced last week that he had seen intelligence reports showing that Trump aides’ communications were picked up through routine surveillance. But he said their identities may have been improperly revealed. The California congressman later said he viewed the reports at the White House.

The White House contends that Nunes’ information — which has not been made public — validates Trump’s explosive claim that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper. Nunes has disputed that but still says he found the reports “troubling.”

The White House’s apparent involvement in helping Nunes access the information has overshadowed what Trump officials contend are real concerns about how much information about Americans is disseminated in intelligence reports. Trump has asked the House and Senate intelligence committees to include the matter in their Russia investigations.

___

CAMPAIGN MODE

Trump won the election, but thinks it’s his vanquished opponent whose ties to Russia should be investigated.

Some of the White House’s allegations against Clinton stem from her four years as secretary of state, a role that gave her ample reasons to have frequent contacts with Russia.

To deflect questions about Trump’s friendly rhetoric toward Russia, the White House points to the fact that Clinton was a central figure in the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” relations with Moscow — an effort that crumbled after Vladimir Putin took back the presidency.

“When you compare the two sides in terms of who’s actually engaging with Russia, trying to strengthen them, trying to act with them, trying to interact with them, it is night and day between our actions and her actions,” Spicer said.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state, has deep ties to Russia from his time running ExxonMobil and cutting oil deals with Moscow.

The White House has also tried to link Clinton to Russia’s purchase of a controlling stake in a mining company with operations in the U.S., arguing that she was responsible for “selling off one-fifth of our country’s uranium.”

The Clinton-led State Department was among nine U.S. government agencies that had to approve the purchase of Uranium One. According to Politifact, some investors in the company had relationships with former President Bill Clinton and donated to the Clinton Foundation. However, the fact checking site says most of those donations occurred well before Clinton became secretary of state and was in position to have a say in the agreement.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The Camden Effect: At 25, ballpark’s legacy is large in MLB

A quarter-century later, Larry Lucchino can be self-deprecating about a vision that ushered in a new era of ballpark construction.

“I tell everyone I’ve had one good, original idea in my 38 years in baseball,” said Lucchino, whose career as an executive has included stints with Baltimore, San Diego and Boston. “It was to build a traditional, old-fashioned ballpark with modern amenities, intimacy and irregularity.”

It sounds so simple the way Lucchino describes it, and he insists the Orioles weren’t trying to set any sweeping trends when they opened their new ballpark 25 years ago. That’s exactly what happened, though. Oriole Park at Camden Yards became the model for a period of groundbreaking transformation in the way baseball venues were built.

Over two-thirds of all major-league teams now play in facilities that opened in 1992 or later, part of a ballpark boom that has changed how fans and players experience the game — and has led to some contentious debate over how to pay for it all.

Three years before the Orioles opened their new park, the Toronto Blue Jays began playing at SkyDome, a futuristic stadium with a retractable roof and a hotel overlooking the field. For Baltimore, Lucchino wanted something more understated.

“We didn’t let people use the ‘stadium’ word — the s-word,” said Lucchino, who was president of the Orioles from 1988-1993. “We fined anybody five bucks if he called it a stadium, because to us, it was a ballpark. The word had a different connotation.”

Located downtown and built just for baseball, Camden Yards was a departure from the trend of multipurpose venues that seemed largely indistinguishable from each other. The B&O Warehouse beyond right field made Oriole Park instantly recognizable — like Wrigley Field’s ivy or Fenway Park’s Green Monster — and although the ballpark’s simplicity was part of its appeal, it included some innovations that improved the spectator experience.

“You never knew where a good idea might bubble up,” said Janet Marie Smith, an architect and urban planner who served as vice president of planning and development for the Orioles and oversaw the ballpark’s design and construction. “It was in a fan forum that someone said, ‘Why don’t you elevate the bullpens beyond the outfield fence so every fan can see who’s warming up?'”

The Orioles drew over 3.5 million fans in the first season at Camden Yards, increasing their attendance by 40 percent from the previous year. Baltimore drew at least 3 million in each of its first 10 seasons at the new park, with the exception of strike-shortened 1994.

BALLPARK BOOM

In that 1994 season, Jacobs Field opened in downtown Cleveland. It was designed by HOK Sport, the same firm that worked on Camden Yards. (HOK is now called Populous, and Jacobs Field is now Progressive Field.)

The Indians enjoyed an attendance bump of their own as they began a mid-1990s renaissance that would result in two American League pennants. The Texas Rangers also opened a new park in ’94, and the Colorado Rockies followed suit the next year.

Across the majors, teams wanted to replicate Baltimore’s success. From 1992-2012, a total of 21 new parks opened. When there were no additions to that list from 2013-16, it was the first time since Camden Yards opened that even two consecutive seasons had passed without a new ballpark.

“The wave of new ballparks has dramatically improved the fan experience in terms of access, sight lines, food options and a variety of other issues,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in an email. “These new ballparks have allowed baseball to ride a wave of record attendance that has improved the economics of all 30 clubs.”

When Lucchino moved on to the Padres, he was a driving force behind their new ballpark. Smith, meanwhile, helped turn the main stadium from the Atlanta Olympics into a baseball park, and the Braves began playing there in 1997. Atlanta is moving into a new home in the suburbs this season.

Lucchino and Smith both ended up in Boston, where they oversaw improvements to Fenway Park that included new seats atop the Green Monster. Lucchino, who had looked to Fenway as inspiration for Camden Yards, had come full circle.

“We used Camden Yards as a model for Boston by saying, ‘We want some of the modern amenities that exist at Camden Yards up here,'” said Lucchino, who is now the chairman of Boston’s minor league affiliate in Pawtucket. “The old-fashioned stuff came from Fenway to Baltimore, and the modern amenities and the newness came from Baltimore to Boston.”

THE BALLPARK EXPERIENCE

As much as fans have come to appreciate a traditionalist approach to designing ballparks, there’s still room for more exotic attractions. Putting seats on the Green Monster is one thing, but at Arizona’s Chase Field, there’s a swimming pool beyond the outfield fence. That’s the type of idea that might have fit back at SkyDome, when the Blue Jays seemed eager to test the limit of what could reasonably be added to a baseball stadium.

Now called Rogers Centre, SkyDome made its own mark on the sport. Five other current ballparks also have retractable roofs. The only remaining dome without one is Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Rays have played since their inaugural season in 1998. The stadium actually opened in 1990.

When it comes to the “modern amenities” Lucchino talks about, fans aren’t the only constituents who can benefit. Players notice when their work environment improves.

“It’s a home away from home. You get a chance to go to (Philadelphia’s) Citizens Bank Park, and you walk in and the clubhouse is huge, and you get the hot tub, the cold tub and the pool where you can swim,” said Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs, who played in the majors from 1992-2011. “You always look forward to going to those new ballparks, with the brand-new locker rooms.”

DEBATE OVER FUNDING

While new parks can benefit players, owners and spectators, they require huge financial commitments — a thorny issue that isn’t going away any time soon. The use of public money in sports has caused a lot of tension over the years. By the time Marlins Park opened in 2012 in Miami, it had been at the center of all sorts of controversy, and the opening was delayed a year because of a lawsuit challenging the ballpark’s financing package. The team prevailed in court.

The Braves, who began playing at Turner Field only two decades ago, already have a new ballpark. The 2017 season will be their first at SunTrust Park in Cobb County. The county contributed about $400 million in public funding.

Last year in Arlington, Texas, voters approved public funding for a new retractable-roof stadium for the Rangers.

“It looks to me that we’re entering an environment where at least owners and the people who can extract the subsidies are saying 15 to 20 years is the useful life of these facilities,” said Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at West Virginia University whose expertise includes sports economics. “If that’s the case then this boom of construction from the ’90s, those stadiums are going to be considered obsolete in 10 years. It is frightening when you look at the size of the subsidies we’re giving out the last 20 years.”

The lesson from Atlanta’s experience is that not every new park is going to be a long-term success story. With so many ballparks being built, some are bound to be more forgettable than others — especially when the style of Camden Yards has been mimicked so extensively.

“I don’t have a crystal ball that’s any better than anyone else’s, but I can tell you that one of the biggest concerns I had when we were working on Camden Yards is: Would it stand the test of time?” said Smith, who now works in the front office for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I can tell you I certainly feel easier about that question, now that 25 years has passed.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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