Associated Press, Author at Florida Politics

Associated Press

Hackers may have names of thousands of Florida gun owners

Officials say hackers may have obtained the names of more than 16,000 people who have Florida concealed weapon permits.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced Monday they had discovered a data breach of the online payment system that processes payments for applications and permits.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has ordered a review of the department’s cybersecurity measures. State law enforcement is investigating the breach, which authorities suspect originated from overseas.

The agency stated that no financial information was obtained.

The department also warned that the breach may have revealed the social security numbers of 469 customers. The agency plans on offering free credit protection for one year to these individuals.

The Florida Legislature in 2006 passed a law that made the names of concealed weapon permit holders confidential

Small sinkhole opens outside Donald Trump’s Florida getaway club

A small sinkhole has opened on the road just outside President Donald Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

The Palm Beach Post reports that the 4-foot-by-4-foot hole was discovered Monday in Palm Beach County just west of one the resort’s entrances. It is near a new water main and isn’t a threat to the president’s property in Palm Beach.

The president has spent seven weekends at Mar-a-Lago since taking office, but it is now closed for the summer. Trump is on a nine-day trip that began in the Middle East and will end in Italy.

Trump bought the club for $10 million in 1985 and has spent tens of millions on improvements. Each of the 500 members pays $14,000 annually in dues. The initiation fee was recently doubled to $200,000.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Twitter leader says he’s ‘sorry’ for social media role in Donald Trump’s election

A co-founder of Twitter says he’s sorry if the popular social media platform helped put Donald Trump in the White House, as the president has suggested.

In an interview with The New York Times, Evan Williams says Twitter’s role in Trump’s populist rise is “a very bad thing.”

The president has credited Twitter with his election to the highest office in the land.

When confronted with that notion, Williams said: “If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

The 45-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur also said the internet is obviously broken because it rewards extremes.

Williams also says he was wrong thinking that the world would be a better place if there was a platform for everyone to freely speak and exchange ideas.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Justices rejects Florida appeal over death penalty

The Supreme Court has left in place a lower court ruling that said imposing a death sentence in Florida requires a unanimous jury.

The justices on Monday turned away an appeal from Florida officials seeking to overturn the ruling last year from the state’s highest court.

The Florida Supreme Court had struck down a newly enacted law allowing a defendant to be sentenced to death as long as 10 out of 12 jurors recommend it. That ruling concluded that Timothy Lee Hurst — convicted of a 1998 murder at a Pensacola Popeye’s restaurant— deserves a new sentencing hearing.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional. State legislators responded by overhauling the law.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Gainesville considers renaming Corrine Brown transit center

Gainesville city leaders are considering removing the name of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown from a transit facility in the town following her conviction on federal fraud charges.

The Gainesville Sun reports that the Gainesville City Commission on Thursday considered whether to remove Brown’s name from a Regional Transit System facility, but decided to consider the move at a later meeting.

Brown, 70, was convicted by a federal jury of fraud and other charges for taking money from a purported charity for poor children called One Door for Education Foundation and using the money for parties and other personal expenses. She has not yet been sentenced.

Brown helped secure federal funding for Regional Transit Center in Gainesville, and the facility was named in her honor.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Officials worry about drug overdoses at hurricane shelters

Local officials are raising concerns about drug use at hurricane shelters, saying they aren’t equipped to care for addicts, unaccompanied minors and others with other medical needs.

Nearly 16,000 people in nine counties from Indian River to Miami-Dade evacuated to shelters during Hurricane Matthew. Six evacuees seeking refuge at a Delray Beach high school during Hurricane Matthew overdosed on drugs as the dangerous storm approached South Florida. Bags brought to shelters by evacuees are typically not searched.

In another county, a bus full of teenagers from a residential addiction-treatment center was left at an American Red Cross-run shelter without adult oversight.

“Many of the people from sober homes came with supervision, but some came and were just dropped off,” Delray Beach Fire Rescue Capt. Kevin Saxton, told the Palm Beach Post. “There were witnesses seeing people shoot up.”

The concerns were raised during the Governor’s Hurricane Conference last week in West Palm Beach. Hurricane Matthew was the state’s first large-scale evacuation since Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Saxton said some evacuees from sober homes were placed in an area away from the general population. One was taken to the hospital, but others were treated at the school if paramedics could “maintain their airway” until the drug wore off.

In Volusia County, evacuees left shelters while it was still dark outside, even though they were asked to stay by officials wary of downed power lines and broken streetlights.

“People wanted out of the shelter, and we couldn’t put a gun to them,” said James Judge, Volusia County emergency-management director.

At one shelter, authorities nabbed two teenagers after finding them on the street skateboarding during the storm. The Red Cross will not take unaccompanied minors and directed them to law enforcement who “deemed they were not baby sitters,” said Charles Parker, senior disaster program manager for the American Red Cross in South Florida.

Florida’s counties handle staffing at shelters differently. Some rely on Red Cross volunteers while others use county employees.

Parker said one of the biggest problems during Matthew was miscommunication between the Red Cross and government officials about what shelters were opening and when.

Hospitals, nursing homes, and health care facilities are legally required to have their evacuation plans approved by county emergency managers so first responders know where those special-needs clients are going during the storm. But sober homes aren’t under the same requirement.

“It is my understanding that some of the sober homes encouraged their clients to go to one of our shelters,” said Bill Johnson, director of Palm Beach County’s Emergency Operations Center. “A shelter is not equipped to be a rehab center. We don’t have that kind of skill set.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

In Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump seeks to move past domestic troubles

President Donald Trump arrived in the Middle East on Saturday, touching down in Saudi Arabia to begin his first trip abroad, a visit aimed at forging stronger alliances to combat terrorism while seeking to push past the series of controversies threatening to engulf his young administration.

Trump flew to Riyadh overnight on Air Force One and was welcomed during an elaborate ceremony at the airport, punctuated by a military flyover and a handshake from Saudi King Salman. Trump is the only American president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas as president — a scheduling choice designed in part to show respect to the region after more than a year of harsh anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric.

The president’s stop in Saudi Arabia kicks off an ambitious international debut. After two days of meetings in Riyadh, Trump will travel to Israel, have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and meet with allies at a NATO summit in Brussels and the Group of 7 wealthy nations in Sicily.

As he arrived, the president waved from the doorway of Air Force One and then descended the steps, joined by first lady Melania Trump. The 81-year-old King Salman, who used a cane for support, was brought to the steps of the plane on a golf cart. The two leaders exchanged pleasantries and Trump said it was “a great honor” to be there.

Several jets then flew overhead leaving a red, white and blue trail.

A few hours later, Trump tweeted for the first time on international soil as president, writing “Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead.”

White House officials hope the trip gives Trump the opportunity to recalibrate after one of the most difficult stretches of his young presidency. The White House badly bungled the president’s stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the federal investigation into possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. On Wednesday, the Justice Department relented to calls from Democrats to name a special counsel, tapping former FBI chief Robert Mueller to lead the probe.

Moments after Trump lifted off for Saudi Arabia, fresh reports stemming from the Russia investigation surfaced and threatened to overshadow the trip. The New York Times reported that Trump called Comey “a real nut job” while discussing the ongoing investigation with two Russian officials visiting the Oval Office earlier this month. He also told them that firing Comey had “taken off” the “great pressure” he was feeling from the investigation, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that an unidentified senior Trump adviser was being considered a “person of interest” in the law enforcement investigation. In addition, Comey agreed to testify at an open hearing of the Senate intelligence committee in the near future, the panel said.

Despite his domestic troubles, Trump was expected to get a warm reception in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom’s ruling family grew deeply frustrated with former President Barack Obama’s detente with Iran and his restrained approach to the conflict in Syria. The king did not greet Obama at the airport during his final visit to the nation last year.

Saudi Arabia offered Trump an elaborate welcome ahead of his two-day stay. Billboards featuring images of Trump and the king dotted the highways of Riyadh, emblazoned with the motto “Together we prevail.” Trump’s luxury hotel was bathed in red, white and blue lights and, at times, an image of the president’s face.

Trump and the king met briefly in the airport terminal for a coffee ceremony before the president headed to his hotel before the day’s other meetings. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters on Air Force One that Trump spent the flight meeting with staff, working on his upcoming speech to the Muslim world and getting a little sleep.

Melania Trump wore a black pantsuit with a golden belt and did not cover her head for the arrival, consistent with custom for foreign dignitaries visiting Saudi Arabia. In 2015, her husband had, in a tweet, criticized former first lady Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf during a visit to the kingdom.

For a president who campaigned on an “America First” platform, the trip is a crucial moment for U.S. allies to size up his commitment to decades-long partnerships while trying to move behind his previous controversial statements.

“President Trump understands that America First does not mean America alone,” said H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser. “Prioritizing American interests means strengthening alliances and partnerships that help us extend our influence and improve the security of the American people.”

In a sweetener for Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said the Trump administration plans to announce $110 billion in advanced military equipment sales and training to the kingdom during the trip. The package includes tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications and cybersecurity technology.

After spending much of Saturday meeting with King Salman and other members of the royal family, Trump was to end the day at a banquet dinner at the Murabba Palace. On Sunday, he’ll hold meetings with more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders converging on Riyadh for a regional summit focused largely on combating the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Trump dodged one potential land mine when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted on war crime and genocide charges, announced that he would not attend the summit for personal reasons.

The centerpiece of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia will be a speech Sunday at the Arab-Islamic-American summit. White House aides view the address as a counter to Obama’s 2009 speech to the Muslim world, which Trump criticized as too apologetic for U.S. actions in the region.

Trump will call for unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a “battle between good and evil” and urging Arab leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship,” according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. The draft notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights — topics Arab leaders often view as U.S. moralizing — in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.

It also abandons some of the harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric that defined Trump’s presidential campaign and does not contain the words “radical Islamic terror,” a phrase Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for not using during last year’s campaign.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump attorney didn’t want him to sign financial disclosure

President Donald Trump’s attorneys initially wanted him to submit an updated financial disclosure without certifying the information as true, according to correspondence with the Office of Government Ethics.

Attorney Sheri Dillon said she saw no need for Trump to sign his 2016 personal financial disclosure because he is filing voluntarily this year. But OGE director Walter Shaub said his office would only work with Dillon if she agreed to follow the typical process of having Trump make the certification.

The Associated Press obtained the letters under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Trump led his family’s private company until becoming president, and even now maintains financial ties to it. He has avoided full transparency about his finances by breaking the long tradition of major party political candidates making their tax returns public.

His attorney’s effort to sidestep certification of his personal financial disclosure marks another departure from the norm. Each year, the OGE processes thousands of those forms, all of which are certified.

“This is not at all typical; in fact I’ve never heard of anyone trying this,” said Marilyn Glynn, an OGE employee for 17 years before retiring in 2008. Her positions included acting director and general counsel. “It would be as unusual as not signing your taxes.”

The certification means that if a person knowingly included incorrect financial information, the OGE can seek a civil penalty such as a fine, or even make a referral to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Glynn said OGE has indeed used those tools to enforce the integrity of certification.

The letters indicate Shaub and Dillon talked through the importance of Trump presenting true information and signing off on it as such. OGE typically works with federal employees and their representatives and also certifies the financial disclosures.

“As we discussed, OGE will provide this assistance on the condition that the President is committed to certifying that the contents of his report are true, complete and correct,” Shaub wrote in a May 10 letter. “When we met on April 27, 2017, you requested that he be excused from providing this certification.”

In her letter to Shaub, Dillon says the president will “sign and file” documents regarding his 2016 financials by mid-June — an indication that she agreed to the requirement.

Dillon also stressed in her letter, dated May 9, that Trump is under no obligation to file a financial disclosure this year and is doing so voluntarily. “President Trump welcomes the opportunity to provide this optional disclosure to the public, and hopes to file it shortly,” she wrote.

Personal financial disclosures include an accounting of a person’s personal income, assets and liabilities. Trump’s 2016 form will span his general election candidacy, election and transition to power — potentially shedding light on the immediate impact his Republican nomination and election had on his Trump Organization.

Last May, then-candidate Trump’s disclosure form showed his business empire had grown in value while he was running for office. However, the information is no substitute for tax returns, which Trump has chosen not to release. Tax documents would show his effective rate of income tax and detail the extent of his charitable giving.

Trump’s decision to file a personal financial disclosure puts him in the company of past Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and others. The law gives presidents a reprieve from filing financial disclosures in their first year, but citing transparency, they typically file anyway on or before May 15.

Shaub references that history in the first line of his letter to Dillon: “Thank you for your letter dated May 9, 2017, regarding the President’s decision to adhere to the longstanding tradition of voluntarily filing a public financial disclosure report in the first year after taking office.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida’s hurricane fund remains strong heading into season

The Florida fund that helps private insurers pay out claims after a hurricane continues to be in strong shape ahead of storm season.

Estimates prepared by Raymond James show the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund will have $17.6 billion available this year. This marks the second year in a row that fund has more money than it would need to pay out if storms racked the state.

The estimates are expected to be formally approved Thursday by a panel overseeing the fund.

The financial health of the fund is important because the state can impose a surcharge on most insurance policies to replenish it if the money runs out. Some critics have called the surcharge a “hurricane tax.”

The fund has grown because Florida has avoided major hurricanes since 2005.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Worst treatment ever, Donald Trump grumbles; Dems demand deep probe

Surrounded by multiplying questions, President Donald Trump complained Wednesday that “no politician in history” has been treated worse. Democrats demanded an independent commission to dig into his firing of FBI Director James Comey, but Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan cautioned against “rushing to judgment.”

Ryan said Congress needs to get the facts, but “it is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president.” Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on a key House oversight panel, countered that Ryan and the Republicans had shown “zero, zero, zero appetite for any investigation of President Trump.”

The White House has denied reports that Trump pressed Comey to drop an investigation into Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. In addition Trump is facing pointed questions about his discussions with Russian diplomats during which he is reported to have disclosed classified information.

Also Tuesday, in an extraordinary turn of events, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to turn over to Congress records of Trump’s discussions with the diplomats.

The White House has played down the importance and secrecy of the information Trump gave to the Russians, which had been supplied by Israel under an intelligence-sharing agreement. Trump himself said he had “an absolute right” as president to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia. Yet U.S. allies and some members of Congress have expressed alarm.

Republicans and Democrats alike were eager to hear from Comey, who has increasingly emerged as a central figure in the unfolding drama.

The Senate intelligence committee on Wednesday asked Comey to appear before the panel in both open and closed sessions. The committee also asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to give the committee any notes that Comey might have made regarding discussions he had with White House or Justice Department officials about Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Putin told a news conference that he would be willing to turn over notes of Trump’s meeting with the Russian diplomats if the White House agreed. He dismissed outrage over Trump’s disclosures as U.S. politicians whipping up “anti-Russian sentiment.”

Asked what he thinks of the Trump presidency, Putin said it’s up to the American people to judge and his performance can be rated “only when he’s allowed to work at full capacity,” implying that someone is hampering Trump’s efforts.

Trump himself hasn’t directly addressed the latest allegations that he pressured Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. But the swirling questions about his conduct were clearly on his mind when he told graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut that “no politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Striking a defiant stance, he added: “You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. … I guess that’s why we won. Adversity makes you stronger. Don’t give in, don’t back down. … And the more righteous your fight, the more opposition that you will face.”

As for Comey, whom Trump fired last week, the FBI director wrote in a memo after a February meeting at the White House that the new president had asked him to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Flynn and his Russian contacts, said a person who had read the memo. The Flynn investigation was part of a broader probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.

Comey’s memo, an apparent effort to create a paper trail of his contacts with the White House, would be the clearest evidence to date that the president has tried to influence the investigation.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, sent a letter to the FBI on Tuesday requesting that it turn over all documents and recordings that detail communications between Comey and Trump. He said he would give the FBI a week and then “if we need a subpoena, we’ll do it.”

John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said late Tuesday that the developments had reached “Watergate size and scale.”

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, said simply, “It would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House.”

The person who described the Comey memo to the AP was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. The existence of the memo was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times.

The White House vigorously denied it all. “While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” a White House statement said.

Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, on grounds that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russians.

The intensifying drama comes as Trump is set to embark Friday on his first foreign trip, which had been optimistically viewed by some aides as an opportunity to reset an administration floundering under an inexperienced president.

Said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “He’s probably glad to leave town, and a lot of us are glad he’s leaving for a few days.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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