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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.

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.


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:



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.



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.



“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.



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.



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.



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.”



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 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.



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.

Donald Trump, big and brash like his hometown, now avoids NYC

For decades, Donald Trump‘s identity was interwoven with his hometown of New York City: big, brash and dedicated to making money.

Manhattan was the imposing backdrop as Trump transformed himself from local real-estate developer to celebrity businessman — skyscrapers and gossip pages featured his name — and during last year’s presidential campaign he’d fly thousands of miles to sleep in his own bed at Trump Tower.

But since his inauguration more than two months ago, Trump has not set foot within the city limits.

The Republican president received only 18 percent of the vote in the decidedly liberal city. Frequent protests now clog Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower. A date for a return trip has yet to be scheduled.

Though Trump is expected to travel to New York in the coming weeks, he is unlikely to receive a hero’s welcome. One of his sons says that while the president will enjoy making trips to his hometown, his relationship with the city has changed.

“When he was in New York, his No. 1 thing was work. This was where work was,” said Eric Trump in an interview. “He was home. He took the elevator to his office. At the end of the day, he went back up. He did it every day of his life.”

“Now his focus isn’t work, but being president, so his attention is elsewhere.”

Trump was last in New York Jan. 19, the day before he took office, when he left Trump Tower, his home of 30-plus years, and flew to Washington. His wife, Melania, and their 10-year-old son, Barron, who attends a private Manhattan school, have remained behind, as have Trump’s two adult sons who are now tasked with running their father’s sprawling business interests.

During the presidential transition, speculation swirled that Trump, a famed homebody and creature of habit, would return to Manhattan frequently. But while the president has repeatedly left Washington on weekends, he heads south instead, to his palatial Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Mar-a-Lago closes for the season later this spring. Trump has given no indication he will keep it open — he didn’t last year during the campaign — and he is expected to head north for weekend trips, either to his Manhattan high-rise or his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Allies say New Yorkers should be excited about his presence even if they may disagree with his politics.

“As someone who loves history, I am excited to go to the Martin Van Buren House in Kinderhook, New York, and New Yorkers should be thrilled to have this president’s house right here in New York City,” said Joe Borelli, a co-chair of Trump’s campaign in New York state. “He’s a quintessential New Yorker. This is going to remain his home.”

But Borelli is just one of just three Republicans on the 51-person New York City Council, pointing to the lopsided political divide in the nation’s largest city. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 6-to-1 margin and Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has denounced many of Trump’s views as “‘un-American.”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the mayor believes the president is significantly out of step with the values of New York City,” said Erik Phillips, de Blasio’s spokesman. “That said, the mayor’s attitude also is that he wants the president to feel and see the potential impacts on his hometown of some of these budget cuts he’s talked about.”

Another of de Blasio’s concerns: the cost of safeguarding the president in the 58-story skyscraper on one of Manhattan’s busiest streets.

The New York Police Department estimated that it cost their agency about $24 million to protect Trump Tower when the president-elect stayed there between Election Day and the inauguration 73 days later. That works out to about $328,000 per day; when it’s just Melania and Barron Trump in the building, the cost to the NYPD drops to about $127,000 to $146,000 per day. The police department is seeking federal reimbursement. Secret Service expenses also balloon while Trump is in town.

Eric Trump said his father is mindful of the impact of his presence in New York, particularly on traffic. But when asked this week if Trump is concerned about criticism of the cost of his trips, White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded, “No, he feels great.”

Many who worked with — or against — Trump in New York have expressed surprise he’s stayed away so far.

Trump was born in Queens but didn’t want to stay there, pushing his family’s development firm into the glitzy and cutthroat Manhattan market. He rehabilitated dilapidated city landmarks — like Central Park’s ice skating rink and a 42nd Street hotel — and gained a reputation as a publicity-hungry celebrity in a town that celebrated success. He’d frequently call into the city’s tabloids, sometimes adopting an alias to act as his own spokesman.

“For all his braggadocio, he was kind of a likable guy if you didn’t pay any attention to the truth,” said George Rush, longtime gossip columnist at the New York Daily News.

“He’d love to say, ‘This is off the record but you can use it,'” said Rush, who recalled Trump’s tireless efforts to make himself part of the city’s celebrity firmament.

“You couldn’t turn the corner without running into his name — and needing to put on sunglasses because of the sun’s glare off the bronze,” Rush recalled. “But he’s always someone who needed to be loved and he’s not loved here now. He’s become sort of the prodigal son of New York.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Roger Stone: I’ll beat suit even if jury thinks I’m a devil

Republican strategist Roger Stone said Thursday that jurors may think he’s “the devil” but he still expects to beat a defamation lawsuit accusing him of circulating a mailer calling a political candidate a sexual predator.

The civil trial in New York was set to start Thursday but was postponed until at least August.

Stone, a longtime Donald Trump adviser who cut his teeth in politics playing tricks on opponents of President Richard Nixon, said he looks forward to testifying — and he also hopes to testify before congressional committees investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

He said he wants to testify before the House Intelligence Committee because ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, of California, “maligned” him by accusing him of predicting the hacking of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta‘s email account.

“He slimed me in public, and I’d like to have an opportunity to defend myself in public,” Stone said.

The defamation suit accuses Stone and two others of sending a flyer to 150,000 New York households during the state’s 2010 election that called the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, Warren Redlich, a “sick twisted pervert.”

Stone predicted Thursday that he would prevail in the end because Redlich has “presented no evidence but a wild conspiracy theory.” He acknowledged, however, that a jury drawn from heavily Democratic Manhattan could present a challenge.

“We would obviously attempt to get a balanced jury but it’s Manhattan,” he said. “The pool is 80 percent Democratic. And I recognize that to some Democrats I’m the devil. That’s just the way it goes.”

Stone did not appear for trial Wednesday, when it was initially scheduled to start. His lawyer, Benjamin Burge, told the judge Stone was busy complying with a notice from the U.S. Senate intelligence committee asking him to preserve any documents that might be related to its investigation into alleged Russian interference in the presidential election.

When both sides appeared Thursday, the judge postponed the trial to give lawyers more time to go over exhibits and prepare their cases.

Stone has said he communicated with Guccifer 2.0, the shadowy hacker credited with breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s email servers. But he has denied that he worked with Russian officials to influence the presidential election.

He said Thursday that complying with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s notice is time-consuming because he has “multiple email addresses and boxes” but he wants to cooperate with both the Senate and House intelligence committees.

Redlich’s lawsuit claims that Stone and his accomplices were responsible for the defamatory flyer. The mailing, which included Redlich’s photo and the header “Sexual Predator Alert,” said: “This man constitutes a public danger.” And it warned: “If you see this man in your neighborhood, CALL THE POLICE!”

It purported to come from an organization called People for a Safer New York.

At the time, Stone was advising two other candidates for governor: Kristin Davis, a former madam of a prostitution ring, and the Republican nominee, Carl Paladino. Redlich also is suing Paladino and his former campaign manager, Michael Caputo.

Redlich, who is representing himself at the trial, and is seeking unspecified damages, charged Wednesday that Stone’s failure to appear was part of a defense strategy to prolong what should be a speedy trial.

But Redlich agreed Thursday to postpone the trial, saying the delay would give him more time to prepare.

Stone, 64, got his start in politics working for Nixon, where he developed a reputation as someone who specialized in campaign trickery and spreading dirt on opponents.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Poll: Most disapprove of Donald Trump, except on economy

Most Americans disapprove of Donald Trump‘s overall performance two months into his presidency. But they’re more upbeat about at least one critical area: his handling of the economy.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of Trump’s overall performance, and about the same percentage say the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It was conducted amid the collapse of the GOP’s health care overhaul.

But the poll also found a brighter spot for the businessman-politician on the economy, often a major driver of presidential success or failure. There, Americans split about evenly, with 50 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving of Trump’s efforts.

“He’s driving the car off the cliff in every other kind of policy and executive action he’s trying to push through, but (not) the economy,” said Ryan Mills, a 27-year-old tobacco company chemist from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Overall, just 42 percent of Americans approve and 58 percent disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president. That’s an unusually poor rating by historical standards for a still-young administration.

By contrast, at this point in their presidencies, Barack Obama‘s approval rating was above 60 percent in Gallup polling and George W. Bush‘s was above 50 percent. Gallup’s own measure of Trump’s approval has dipped below 40 percent.

Trump has suffered defeats in the federal courts, which twice temporarily halted his travel ban on some foreigners, and in Congress, where discord among Republicans has stymied legislation to up-end Obama’s signature health care law. The FBI, along with Congress, is probing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

The president has responded in public with belligerent tweets often blaming the media, Democrats, conservative Republicans and others.

The AP-NORC poll did show Republicans still far more likely to approve than disapprove of Trump, a fifth of GOP respondents said they don’t approve of his performance. Among independents, six in 10 disapprove.

Notably, whites — who formed an important chunk of Trump’s political base during the election — divide about evenly on the approval question, 53 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving.

But there are signs in the poll that Trump’s base is holding and that people are willing to give him a chance on the still-strong economy.

Fifty-eight percent of whites without a college degree — who were especially likely to vote for Trump — approve of the job he’s doing overall.

Nearly 20 percent of those who disapprove of Trump’s overall performance still approve of how he’s handling the economy. And most Americans — 56 percent — describe the national economy as good, while 43 percent describe it as poor. About a year ago, in April of 2016, just 42 percent of Americans described the economy as good in another AP-NORC poll.

The current majority extends across party lines, with 63 percent of Republicans, 54 percent of independents and 53 percent of Democrats describing the national economy as good.

Trump voter Joshlyn Smith, a Riverside County, California, law enforcement officer, said the president needs to move past “the Twitter stuff” that often mires him in social media spats — and focus instead on the nation’s policy.

“I feel like I want to give him a fair shot, especially in terms of helping on taxes and the economy,” said Smith, 38. “On a personal level, I think he’s too involved with how he’s portrayed in the media. I want him to have a little bit tougher skin.”

The approval ratings of many presidents through history are linked to the economy, with several — including Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama — suffering politically for downturns during their first year in the White House, according to a project by the Miller Center at The University of Virginia.

Trump inherited a strong economy, which might be leading people to give him a chance to maintain it, said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center.

“It starts with how they’re feeling about their pocketbooks and their family budget,” Perry said. For presidents, “if you can keep the economy going well and having people feel good about (it), good about their lives and therefore good about the country, that can cover a multitude of sins.”

The poll, conducted over five days preceding and following last Friday’s collapse of the GOP health care bill, suggests the political damage could be hard for Trump to leave behind even if the economy stays strong.

It was a galling setback for the president and the Republicans who control Congress. Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin canceled a House vote that would have spelled defeat for the legislation because too many Republicans opposed it.

In other findings:

— More than 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of health care, the worst of seven issues tested in the poll. Three in 10 Republicans feel that way, as do 6 in 10 independents and 90 percent of Democrats.

— Eighty-six percent call health care a very or extremely important issue to them personally, nearly as many as the 87 percent who say the same about the economy.

— Along with health care, majorities of Americans also disapprove of Trump’s handling of foreign policy, immigration, the budget deficit and taxes. Half approve of how he is handling Supreme Court appointments.

— Most Americans — 62 percent — say the country is headed in the wrong direction, while just 37 percent say it’s headed in the right direction. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say the country is headed in the right direction, while just a third of independents and less than a fifth of Democrats say the same.


The AP-NORC poll of 1,110 adults was conducted March 23-27 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.

Interviews were conducted online and using landlines and cellphones.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Cyprus businessman suing BuzzFeed for unproven Donald Trump dossier

A businessman based in Cyprus is suing the BuzzFeed online media outlet for defamation over its publication of an unproven dossier on President Donald Trump‘s purported activities involving Russia and allegations of Russian interference during last year’s U.S. election.

The businessman, Aleksej Gubarev, claims he and his companies were falsely linked in the dossier to the Russia-backed computer hacking of Democratic Party figures. Gubarev, 36, is seeking unspecified damages from BuzzFeed and its top editor, Ben Smith, for the lawsuit’s libel and slander claims.

BuzzFeed’s lawyers, meanwhile, say the case should be tossed out of Miami federal court due to lack of jurisdiction or at least transferred to New York, where the company’s main offices are located.

The most recent filing by Gubarev’s attorneys Monday appeared to mock BuzzFeed’s editorial style by titling the document this way:

“Six Ways BuzzFeed Has Misled The Court (Number Two Will Amaze You) … And A Picture Of A Kitten.”

The 35-page dossier, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, was circulating among multiple news outlets during the 2016 election. It contains unproven allegations of coordination between Trump’s advisers and Russians on hacking the emails of prominent Democrats and makes unverified claims about sexual activities.

On Jan. 10, BuzzFeed published the dossier in full, noting at the time that much of its content had not been verified. The Associated Press has not authenticated its claims. Trump himself has described the lurid dossier as “phony allegations” concocted by his political opponents.

In one paragraph, the dossier claims that Gubarev and his companies, XBT Holdings and Webzilla Inc., “had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership” at the behest of Russian entities, according to court documents filed by his lawyers.

“Not a single portion of this statement, as it applies to Mr. Gubarev, XBT or Webzilla, has any basis in fact whatsoever,” his attorneys wrote in a filing dated Monday.

Since the dossier’s publication, they added, Gubarev “has found his personal and professional reputation in tatters” and his wife has been subjected to online harassment. XBT operates 37,000 computer servers around the world, about 40 percent of them in Dallas, the document says.

In his lawsuit, Gubarev is described as a “venture capitalist and tech expert” who moved from his native Russia to Cyprus in 2002. Gubarev is not involved in politics and has no connections with the Russian government, the document says.

In a March 14 filing, BuzzFeed’s attorneys contend the case has no place in a Florida court because neither BuzzFeed nor Gubarev’s companies have a strong presence in the state. They want the case dismissed or moved to New York, where BuzzFeed’s headquarters are located.

“On the most fundamental level, this action has no meaningful connection to Florida,” the BuzzFeed lawyers wrote. “While the dossier itself continues to generate intense international interest, it is clear that this dispute about its publication has nothing to do with Florida.”

Gubarev, however, contends that BuzzFeed regularly reports in and about Florida and that Webzilla has maintained a corporate presence and paid taxes in the state since 2009.

The case, originally filed in February, is pending before Miami U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro. She could issue a ruling on the motion to either dismiss or transfer at any time.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida welfare recipients could face tougher sanctions

People who receive cash assistance from the Florida government and fail to comply with work requirements could be left without money for a longer time.

A House panel on Thursday advanced a bill (HB 23) that would toughen sanctions for individuals who do not work toward furthering their education or careers while in the program. The vote came over the objections of Democrats, who said it would leave more families hungry and would make it harder for people to get back on their feet.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dane Eagle, challenged those claims, saying the bill is aimed to stop fraud and the “downward spiral of handouts.”

Eagle says the average welfare recipient gets $250 a month. If the bill becomes law, the state would save $2.5 million every year.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.

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