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Joe Henderson: Stench from St. Pete sewage spill last year hangs over Rick Kriseman campaign

If I’m St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the results of a new poll in his re-election bid against Republican Rick Baker might keep me up at night.

I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to early surveys in political races but this one by St. Pete Polls, conducted for FloridaPolitics.com, is different. It shows how steep a hill Kriseman has to climb.

It’s not just that the overall poll shows him trailing Baker 46-33, although that’s a significant number. Twenty percent are undecided.

His biggest problem may be that while 73 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of Baker (which would be expected), nearly half of Democrats (49 percent) and 57 percent of independents feel the same way.

And if Kriseman thought the smell from last year’s massive sewage spill would go away in time, it’s clear that was wishful thinking; 44 percent say last year’s sewage problem remains a big deal. Kriseman was widely criticized for the way he mishandled it.

He first tried to deflect blame onto some now-former members of his senior staff, and then faced an extended grilling at a City Council meeting.  Chairwoman Darden Rice, a Democrat, pounded Kriseman on the lack of transparency over this problem and even suggested she might call for a special investigation if things didn’t get better.

Although there are about 3 ½ months until the Aug. 29 Election Day, Kriseman clearly has significant obstacles standing in the way of a second term.

Baker consistently has been ahead by double-digits in these polls, even before he officially announced his candidacy earlier this month. In local elections, people tend to already have an opinion locked in on the candidates and it’s hard to change hearts and minds.

What can Kriseman do?

He does have more than $400,000 in the bank, a goodly amount for a local election. He’ll try to chip away by linking Baker to Donald Trump and so on, but that seems like a Hail Mary play to me.

The high favorable percentage Baker enjoys from Democrats shows people remember his performance as St. Pete’s mayor from 2001-2010 and they wouldn’t mind more of the same, so long as sewage doesn’t spill into the streets. I don’t think party affiliation will count for much, except maybe with liberal newcomers to the city who spit on the ground at the mention of President Trump’s name.

As this poll shows, Kriseman will need much more than that.

Ben Carson to keynote Hillsborough GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Donald Trump administration, will be the keynote speaker for the Hillsborough County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner scheduled for June 9.

That announcement was made Tuesday night by Deborah Tamargo, the chair of the Hillsborough GOP, at the party’s monthly meeting in Tampa.

Congressmen Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan and Dennis Ross will also appear at the dinner, as will House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

A native of Detroit, Carson grew up poor and was raised by his single mother, eventually graduating from Yale University and University of Michigan Medical School.

In 1984, Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. At age 33, he was the youngest doctor in America to rise to that position.

Carson earned worldwide recognition in 1987 when he led the team performing the first successful separation of conjoined twins, Benjamin and Patrick Binder, who were joined at the head. The procedure took five months of planning, and the surgery was over 22 hours using a 70-person team. He is also credited with discovering hemispherectomy, a procedure where half a brain is removed in a patient to cure certain brain diseases causing seizures.

Carson documented his life story in an autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” which made him a national hero, particularly among African-Americans. He has written several books since, including “One Nation,” which became a New York Times best-seller in 2014.

In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian.

After ending a Republican bid for president in 2016, Carson — an early Trump supporter — became Trump’s pick for HUD secretary in February 2017. The U.S. Senate confirmed him March 2 on a 51-48 vote. He was a controversial nominee because of his lack of experience in either housing or development, or government in general.

Partly in disbelief, Florida’s members of Congress denounce Donald Trump’s revelations to Russians

A lot of Florida’s Democratic members of Congress are responding with stunned disbelief to news reports — and President Donald Trump‘s Tuesday morning tweet — that he shared classified, highly sensitive ISIS information with Russian diplomats last week, calling the prospect inexcusable and demanding details.

Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Mario Diaz-Balart also denounced the events, while most other Republican members from Florida have yet to react Tuesday morning to Monday evenings’ news, and Trump’s tweet essentially acknowledging the information exchange.

On the other hand, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge argued that if the concerns are real and serious, the sources who brought the story forward need to be taking their concerns to Congress, not offering unnamed source tips to the media.

“The President has the authority to make decisions regarding our national security and work with other nations to combat international terrorism,” Posey stated. “It’s time for these unnamed sources to come forward and inform Congress and the public of any specific allegations.”

After reports first in The Washington Post and then other major media outlets, Trump responded Tuesday morning with two tweets stating, “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining …” and “… to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Essentially The Washington Post and others had reported that Trump told the Russian officials about intelligence it had gathered on ISIS in Syria, from third-party sources that presumably would not want that information shared with the Russians, who are not aligned with the United States in the multisided Syrian conflicts.

“If the story is true,” began a statement from Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“If these allegations are true,” opened Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

“If reports are accurate,” surmised Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton

“If true,” started Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.

“Putin and the Russian regime are dangerous players in the global arena,” Diaz-Balart stated. “They are not our allies and cannot be trusted with sensitive, classified information.”

Ros-Lehtinen spoke on CBS Miami, and then passed along her essential position in a tweet Tuesday morning: “No one should share classified information with nations like #Russia that have interests adverse to ours.”

Democrats were no less direct, including those who caveated their statements in initial disbelief, calling for damage assessments and more.

And with later reports on Tuesday that the intelligence may have come from Israel, Deutch really let loose.

“It is shocking that President Trump shared classified information reportedly obtained by Israel with the Russians. Not only does this endanger Israel’s intelligence network, but it puts highly sensitive information into the hands of Russia — a partner of Israel’s enemies Syria, Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah,” Deutch said. “Intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel has always been a cornerstone of our relationship, and to jeopardize this while boasting to the Russians puts America’s national security and Israel’s security at serious risk.”

“When you betray the trust of our allies and national security partners, it jeopardizes our safety and future intelligence sharing. As the former vice chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I can’t stress enough how serious of a blunder this is,” declared U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar. “It is imperative that Congress is given a full briefing on the extent of the damage that President Donald John Trump has caused in compromising highly classified code-word intelligence to the Russians.”

“If the story is true, this is a serious breach of security and will have lasting and dangerous consequences for the U.S.,” Nelson said.

“Trump betrays our country & allies when he leaks classified info to Russia,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando.

“The news that the president gave highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office is deeply, deeply disturbing. His actions are indefensible,” declared U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “They delivered a self-inflicted wound to our national security, imperiling secret, sensitive operations overseas battling ISIS, putting the lives of our operatives in grave danger. Congress must exercise its oversight responsibilities immediately. The repercussions of the disclosure, and measures to prevent the President from repeating such a serious error, must be weighed.”

“If these allegations are true, they are inexcusable and deserve immediate action from Congress. In leaking this kind of intelligence, the President would be putting lives in danger. Our allies need to know that they can trust us,” Demings offered.

“As president, Trump has the right to declassify anything he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” offered U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. “Russia is not our friend, and the sooner he realizes that, the better off our country will be.”

“If true, news reports indicate that President Trump compromised America’s intelligence gathering operations and security, and possibly harmed a relationship with a key ally and put lives at risk,” stated Wasserman Schultz. “His disclosure would be a gravely dangerous compromise of classified information with an adversary. Congress needs an immediate and full briefing on what damage has been done.”

“If reports are accurate, President Trump revealed vital and highly classified information in the Oval Office to Putin’s top officials. This reckless move jeopardizes our intelligence sources, exposes extremely sensitive information, and seriously calls into question our president’s judgment,” Deutch declared in his original statement, before the Israel report. “This dangerous behavior threatens our global alliances in the fight against terrorism and actually makes America less safe.”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee posted on Facebook, “Reports of President Trump sharing highly sensitive information with Russian officials is extremely concerning. This underscores the need for a Special Prosecutor to investigate this administration’s ties to Russia.”

At a news conference Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa said: “If it’s true that President Trump shared classified information with one of our adversaries while they were invited into the Oval Office, it’s simply outrageous and it undermines the ability of the United States of America to cooperate with our allies across the world, gathering intelligence. It undermines the effectiveness of the brave men and women in our intelligence agencies.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, also sent out a tweet, stating, “If other nations can’t trust us to keep shared classified info secret, then they will stop sharing it with us — making us less safe.”

Murphy’s campaign side had a lot more to say on the subject late Tuesday, in a fundraising email, demanding that transcripts of Trump’s meeting with the Russians be sent to Congress for review:

“These leaks could put American lives in danger and no one — not even the President — should be given a free pass for this kind of reckless behavior. Nothing is more important than the safety and security of American citizens. Trump’s leaks to the Russians put our national security at risk and endanger our relationships with key allies.

“In fact, The Associated Press is reporting that other countries may stop sharing intelligence that could prevent future terrorist attacks. As a former National Security specialist with one of the nation’s top security clearances, Stephanie knows the importance of keeping classified information within the intelligence community.

“That’s why she’s taking Trump’s leaks VERY seriously and calling for the immediate release of the meeting transcripts for Congressional review.

“Congress should at least have the same information the Russians now have in their possession. If our President put our nation in danger — we deserve to know.”

The email then directs people to click on a link to send a message to Trump, but the link first sends visitors to a fundraising page for Murphy’s 2018 re-election.

Gus Bilirakis wants Donald Trump to talk human rights when meeting Turkish president

Gus Bilirakis is calling on Donald Trump to speak about the deteriorating state of human rights in Turkey, just before the president is scheduled to sit down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House Tuesday.

“As it is a critical moment for Turkey and the U.S.-Turkish relationship, the United States must be candid and consistent in our support of democratic values and respect for human rights for the sake of Turkey’s future, as well as the long-term interests in the region of both the United States and our NATO allies,” writes the Tarpon Springs Republican congressman in a letter made available Tuesday afternoon. “We, therefore, urge you to make support for Turkish democracy a priority, both in your meetings with President Erdogan and in U.S. policy toward Turkey thereafter.”

Erdogan has been under fire for a contested referendum that vastly expanded his executive power, as well as his government’s crackdown on dissidents and civil society after an attempted coup last summer.

Trump is reportedly among the minority of world leaders who actually called and congratulated Erdogan on his recent victory in the referendum giving him sweeping constitutional powers and extending his potential political lifespan.

“Over the past several years, Erdogan and his allies have a continuous assault on the rule of law, particularly using the courts to stifle fundamental rights, including free speech, to quash any opposition to their undemocratic actions,” writes Bilirakis, a co-chair of the Hellenic Caucus.

As his staff indicates, Bilirakis has often spoken out against Turkish provocation and threats to the sovereignty of Greece.

Bilirakis represents Tarpon Springs in Congress. That city has the largest population of Greek-Americans of any city in Florida.

Fresh off Atlantic City deal, Seminole Tribe now adding Hard Rock in Canada

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which recently bought the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, is expanding its Hard Rock gambling and entertainment brand to Canada.

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa
Hard Rock Casino Ottawa (rendering). (PRNewsfoto/Hard Rock International)

A Tribe spokesman on Tuesday said that the Seminoles had won a bidding process to open a Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa, the nation’s capital.

The deal with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., pending final approval by Canadian authorities, includes an investment by Rideau Carleton Raceway Holdings Limited, a Canadian horse racing concern.

“This is a crucial first step towards a larger strategic vision of our world-class brand’s expansion efforts in Ontario and throughout Canada,” said Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming CEO, in a statement.

The investment group will transform an “existing property with a complete remodel, rebrand and significant expansion, leading to an economic development boost,” according to a press release. “The multi-phase project is expected to potentially create 1,900 construction-related jobs and 2,000 direct and indirect ongoing jobs.”

Hard Rock International, which the Tribe controls, earlier this year bought the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino on Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk, formerly owned by President Donald Trump, from billionaire Carl Icahn. That deal includes two New Jersey investors.

Allen also has said the Tribe wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey just outside New York City. He told The Associated Press that Hard Rock remains committed to its plan to build a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford if voters change the law to allow it.

The Tribe last year consolidated its control over the rock ‘n’ roll-themed Hard Rock hotel and casino brand, buying out remaining rights from the owner-operator of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Julianne Holt heaps effusive praise about working with Andrew Warren in Hillsborough judicial system

On the same day Julianne Holt was elected to serve as the public defender in Hillsborough County in 1992, Harry Lee Coe was elected state attorney.

After Coe committed suicide in 2000, he was succeeded in office by Mark Ober, who served for another 16 years, before Democrat Andrew Warren narrowly defeated him in a major upset in November.

Although he’s only been on the job officially for a little more than four months, Holt says that in some ways, they’ve been the best four months of her illustrious career in the Hillsborough judicial system.

“What a fresh breath of air it is to practice law in Hillsborough County right now, and it is clearly due to the leadership of Mr. Warren. He deserves the credit for it,” Holt to a crowd of local Democrats at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee on Monday night in Ybor City.

Since taking office, Warren has been reviewing about two dozen death penalty cases that he inherited from Ober. He’s already announced that he won’t use the powers of the state in two of those cases, a move applauded by Holt.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had up to 29 death penalty cases pending in our office, we don’t have the resources — people resources or monetary resources — to handle that type of workload, even if I live to be one hundred,” she lamented, adding that in the 24 plus years that she’s served as public defender, Warren is the first prosecutor she feels give him time and respect, something that didn’t happen under his predecessors.

“He’s actually going to read the materials that I send to him,” she said. “He’s going to take them into consideration, and I’m not going to get everything I ask for, but … I can sleep at night knowing that there’s fairness and equity, passion, empathy and compassion because this man not only wants public safety in our community but he wants to change people’s lives in the criminal justice system.”

Warren ran an aggressive campaign in ultimately ousting Ober last year, saying that he was too focused on conviction rates than in making the community safer. He charged that under Ober, juveniles were being charged as adults in Hillsborough County more than “just about anywhere in the entire country.”

In a debate, Warren cited a Harvard University study that said Hillsborough was one of the worst counties in the entire country in handling death penalty cases. (The case also mentions Pinellas, Duval and Miami-Dade, alleging that all four shared a “history of overzealous prosecutions, inadequate defense lawyering, and a pattern of racial bias and exclusion.”)

Holt said the job as a public defender has taken an emotional toll on her over the years, but she had a renewed sense of purpose in seeing “true reform” happening in the community when it comes to criminal justice issue.

“This is a dream come true for me,” she enthused.

Left unsaid in her rhapsody towards her colleague was that in fact Holt endorsed Ober over Warren in last fall’s election.

In her letter of endorsement (available on the local FloridaYouJudge.com blog), Holt wrote that based on her knowledge of Ober’s “legal acumen and professionalism, as well as the accomplishments made under his leadership,” she was backing him in the contest.

After she was finished, Warren, who was in attendance, quipped, “How much do I owe you?” without further comment.

Although the duties of her job are generally of a nonpartisan manner, Holt also proudly spoke about her Democratic Party roots during an era when it wasn’t popular to be a “D” in the county.

“All of you know that for a long time, there was some tremendous efforts by the other party that if you were someone that was in office and they could pull you away, and tell you that they were going to promise you to do lots of things for you, that you should switch parties, and I stayed as committed as I could stay,” she said, referring to politics in Hillsborough County in the 1990s.

That certainly wasn’t the case last fall, when not only did Warren stunningly oust a 16-year incumbent in Ober, but Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump for president by more than six percentage points.

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.

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.

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.

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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.
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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.

Donald Trump to James Comey: Better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of talks

President Donald Trump, in an apparent warning to his fired FBI director, said Friday that James Comey had better hope there are no “tapes” of their conversations. Trump’s tweet came the morning after he asserted Comey had told him three times that he wasn’t under FBI investigation.

“I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said you are not under investigation,” Trump said in an interview Thursday with NBC News. He said the discussions happened in two phone calls and at a dinner in which Comey was asking to keep his job.

Comey has not confirmed Trump’s account. Late Thursday, The New York Times 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 “honest.” When Trump then pressed for “honest loyalty,” Comey told him, “You will have that,” the associates said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the report and said the president would “never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty.” Officials did not immediately respond to questions about whether Trump recorded his discussions with the FBI director.

The president’s morning Twitter comments again raised the specter of Richard Nixon, who secretly taped conversations and telephone calls in the White House during the Watergate investigation that ultimately led to his downfall. Trump’s firing of Comey already has left him with the dubious distinction of being the first president since Nixon to fire a law enforcement official overseeing an investigation tied to the White House.

Even before Trump’s provocative tweet, the White House was scrambling to clarify why Comey was fired. Trump told NBC he had planned to fire Comey all along, regardless of whether top Justice Department officials recommended the stunning step.

The White House initially 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. But Trump on Thursday acknowledged for the first time that the Russia investigation — which he dismissed as a “made-up story” — was also on his mind as he ousted the man overseeing the probe.

The shifting accounts of the decision to fire Comey, whom Trump derided as a “showboat” and “grandstander,” added to a mounting sense of uncertainty and chaos in the West Wing, as aides scrambled to get their stories straight and appease an angry president. Not even Vice President Mike Pence was spared the embarrassment of having told a version of events that was later discredited by Trump.

The White House’s explanations continued to crumble throughout the day Thursday. On Capitol Hill, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe strongly disputed the White House’s assertion that Comey had been fired in part because he had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank-and-file.

“That is not accurate,” McCabe said. “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.”

Unfazed, Sanders insisted she had heard from “countless” members of the FBI who welcomed the president’s decision.

McCabe also pointed out the remarkable nature of Trump’s version of his conversations with Comey. McCabe told a Senate panel it was not “standard practice” to tell an individual whether they are or are not under investigation.

Previous presidents have made a public show of staying out of legal matters, so as not to appear to be injecting politics. Trump’s comments demonstrated his striking deviation from that practice.

The ousted director himself is said to be confident that his own version of events will come out, possibly in an appearance before Congress, according to an associate who has been in touch with him since his firing Tuesday.

Trump and Comey’s relationship was strained early on, in part because of the president’s explosive and unsubstantiated claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Comey found the allegations confounding, according to his associate, and wondered what to make of what he described as strange thoughts coming from his new boss.

The president was no kinder to Comey on Thursday, calling him names and saying he’d left the FBI in “virtual turmoil.” He said that while he received a scathing assessment of Comey’s performance from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday, that memo was not a catalyst for his dramatic decision as the White House had said earlier.

“I was going to fire Comey,” Trump said. “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”

That’s far different from the White House’s initial account in the hours after Comey’s firing. Multiple officials, including Pence, said the president was acting at the behest of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

But it quickly became clear that the president had been stewing for days over the Russia investigation and Comey’s refusal to defend him in appearances before lawmakers. By Wednesday afternoon, the officials, like Trump, were saying he had in fact been considering ousting the FBI director for months because of a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the agency.

And the Russia investigation was still on his mind.

“In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” he said.

Sanders attributed the disconnect in the week’s explanations to the fact that she had not directly asked Trump when he’d made the decision to fire Comey until shortly before Thursday’s press briefing.

White House officials and others insisted on anonymity in order to disclose private conversations and internal deliberations.

The White House said Trump is weighing options for replacing Comey, a decision that could have broad implications for the future of the Russia investigation. Some senior officials have discussed nominating Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who ran the House committee that investigated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s actions in connection with the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Trump’s advisers have repeatedly tried to downplay the Russia-election matter, with Sanders saying Wednesday the FBI was “doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation.”

But McCabe characterized the investigation as “highly significant” and assured senators that Comey’s firing would not hinder it. He promised he would tolerate no interference from the White House and would not provide the administration with updates on its progress.

“You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing,” he declared. He said there has been no interference so far.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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