Associated Press, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 228

Associated Press

Florida’s legislative leaders talk issues, personalities

Florida Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are Republican lawyers. But the similarities start to drift from there.

Negron calls himself boring and is the quiet, deliberative type. Corcoran likes listening to music at top volume, and his approach to leadership reflects that.

The Associated Press interviewed each separately about their backgrounds, personalities and priorities as they prepare for their first legislative session as their chambers’ leaders. Here’s what they had to say:

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What motivated you to first run for office?

Corcoran said his interest in government was a lesson he learned from his parents, who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. “They always were very involved in understanding and following and trying to affect our government at all levels because they recognized and lived through the horrors of what bad government or the wrong philosophy lead to.”

Negron: “I’ve always been fascinated by how the political process works, and I have strong opinions on some core issues, like the sovereignty of the individual. In government service, you have an opportunity to advocate and promote those things you believe in and make a tangible and measurable difference.”

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What is the one bill you are most proud of passing?

“I couldn’t tell you one,” said Corcoran, who listed several bills. The first one he mentioned was a billed passed his freshman year in 2011 that requires urgent-care centers to post the costs of their 50 most frequently provided medical services. Negron sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Negron: “We passed a bill saying that out-of-state insurance companies had to follow the same Florida consumer protection laws if they wanted to sell policies in our state.”

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What are your 2017 priorities?

Corcoran: “Scaling back the size of government; eliminating and getting a hold on pork barrel spending and wasteful government spending and cutting that out of the budget, and creating much bigger transparency and accountability; having the toughest ethics standards of any state in the nation; holding elected officials accountable by creating finer lines on the separation of powers, and reining in a Supreme Court that’s writing law and trying to be two branches instead of one; cutting taxes; and getting government as much as we can out of the people’s pockets.”

Negron said increasing water storage capacity south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce and eliminate discharges that have cause algae blooms in rivers flowing to the coast. Also, he said increasing funding to state universities.

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How would you describe your leadership style?

Corcoran: “The book that over the last six years that our class used a lot was ‘Good to Great’ and we talked about having a real leadership team with people having input.” The subtitle of the book is “Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t” and it’s a management book on how to improve companies.

Negron: “My colleagues supported me to be the presiding officer based on my commitment to work as a team. I try to make up with attention to detail what I lack in charisma. … I don’t need to be the center of attention.”

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What are the similarities and differences between you and the other chamber’s leader?

Corcoran: “Both of us would like to accomplishment a tremendous amount.” On differences, he said, “He doesn’t drink; he doesn’t smoke cigars. When you get together with Joe it’s literally business for like 30 minutes.”

Negron: “His growing up was very much revolved around playing sports and being competitive with siblings. That’s very similar to how I grew up. We both have a strong work ethic and respect for our parents who worked hard for everything they got.” On differences, he said he analyzes issues apart from the issue, and Corcoran dives right in. “He’s a little bit more animated than I am.”

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What’s your greatest nonpolitical achievement?

Corcoran: “Being a husband and a father are the things I enjoy the most.”

Negron cited a legal case in which he helped exonerate a man wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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What brought your family to Florida?

Corcoran said his family was living in Toronto when his father invested in a Florida concrete plant with some friends. “It was going under and it was losing money, so they got together and they said ‘One of us needs to go down there and see what’s going on.’ So, my dad said he would. He went down and of course people were stealing and all that kind of stuff, so he came down to manage it.”

Negron: “My grandfather came from Ponce, Puerto Rico, to New York through Ellis Island and then moved to South Florida.”

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What is your most interesting hobby or recreational activity?

Corcoran: “Pretty much anything sports. All sports.”

Negron: “Visiting courthouses. I’ve probably personally been in, of our 67 counties, at least 40, maybe as many as 50. Especially in small towns. I just like to go into courthouses and just walk around, poke my head in courtrooms and sit in the back seat for 30 minutes.”

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Who is your favorite author?

Corcoran: “For fluff, I’ll read any of the best-sellers. I’ll read (John) Grisham, but I’ll also read where there’s a new one out like ‘The Girl on the Train.’ When I see it in the bookstore or see it The New York Times rankings 20 weeks in a row, still in the top 10, then I’ll go out and read it.”

Negron: “George Will. I’ve been reading George Will since I was in high school.”

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Who is your favorite musician or band?

Corcoran: “U2. That’s easy. I crank U2.”

Negron: “Billy Joel. I saw him when I was in law school and then I saw him in New York last year.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Teed off: Critics say Donald Trump water rule helps his golf links

President Donald Trump‘s recent executive order calling for a review of a rule protecting small bodies of water from pollution and development is strongly supported by golf course owners who are wary of being forced into expensive cleanups on their fairways.

It just so happens that Trump’s business holdings include a dozen golf courses in the United States, and critics say his executive order is par for the course: yet another unseemly conflict of interest that would result in a benefit to Trump properties if it goes through.

“This conflict is disturbing and his failure to completely step away from his business raises questions about his White House actions,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight.

Trump’s order targets a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule — released under former President Barack Obama in 2015 — that designates many smaller creeks and wetlands as protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Environmentalists, and some hunting and fishing groups, say keeping those humble waterways intact and clean is essential to the larger downstream waters they feed.

Golf course owners like Trump oppose the Obama rules, arguing that water features on golf courses would be covered and thus subjected to costly controls and possible fines for violating pollution limits. Among the 17 golf courses Trump owns around the world, three are in Florida. He also owns golf properties in Scotland, Ireland, California and North Carolina.

Trump had railed against the Obama rule during his campaign, slamming it as an example of federal overreach. In signing the executive order on Feb. 28, Trump derided the Obama rule as a “very destructive and horrible rule” and an example of federal regulation that “has truly run amok.”

Bob Helland, a lobbyist for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, said there are more than 161,000 acres of streams, ponds and wetlands on golf courses around the nation that he argues would be covered under the Obama administration rule. He said the cost of dealing with that is the group’s concern, and that he didn’t think Trump’s involvement was an issue.

“It’s not about the Trump administration doing something to benefit themselves,” Helland said. “We’ve been opposed to the rule from the start because we think every drainage area or pond would be subject to oversight.”

The administration did not respond to requests for comment by The Associated Press for this story.

Trump’s executive order is lifting the pro-business spirits of many, including builders, landowners, and farmers who opposed the Obama rule as too onerous. The American Farm Bureau contends the Obama rule would convert much of the nation’s farmlands to wetlands in the eyes of the law, opening a door for more intrusion from regulators.

John Duarte, a fourth-generation California farmer involved in a legal battle over Clean Water Act violations on one of his farms, applauded Trump’s decision to rescind the rule.

“I think the Trump directive is very promising, and hopefully points to a very broad redirection of the regulatory state and the Trump administration bringing it back to reality,” Duarte said.

Trump’s order to “rescind or revise” the rule could take years. The Obama rule is tied up in court and hasn’t even taken effect yet, and legal experts say the Trump administration will have to draft its rule while seeking to have the myriad court challenges against the existing rule thrown out.

Despite the legally tangled future of the Trump order, critics came out swinging after the president signed it.

Richard W. Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who served as President George W. Bush‘s chief White House lawyer on ethics, said if Trump were head of the EPA, the law would require him to sell his golf courses or recuse himself from participating in the rule making.

“So the boss is doing something that the head of the EPA cannot do. That’s going to look terrible when the EPA backs off on that rule and people will ask if there was White House influence.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Trump hotel may be political capital of the nation’s capital

At a circular booth in the middle of the Trump International Hotel’s balcony restaurant, President Donald Trump dined on his steak — well-done, with ketchup — while chatting up British Brexit politician Nigel Farage.

A few days later, major Republican donors Doug Deason and Doug Manchester, in town for the president’s address to Congress, sipped coffee at the hotel with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

After Trump’s speech, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin returned to his Washington residence — the hotel — and strode past the gigantic American flag in the soaring lobby. With his tiny terrier tucked under an arm, Mnuchin stepped into an elevator with reality TV star and hotel guest Dog the Bounty Hunter, who particularly enjoyed the Trump-stamped chocolates in his room.

It’s just another week at the new political capital of the nation’s capital.

The $200 million hotel inside the federally owned Old Post Office building has become the place to see, be seen, drink, network — even live — for the still-emerging Trump set. It’s a rich environment for lobbyists and anyone hoping to rub elbows with Trump-related politicos — despite a veil of ethics questions that hangs overhead.

“I’ve never come through this lobby and not seen someone I know,” says Deason, a Dallas-based fundraiser for Trump’s election campaign.

For Republican Party players, it’s the only place to stay.

“I can tell you this hotel will be the most successful hotel in Washington, D.C.,” says Manchester, adding that he would know because he has developed the second-largest Marriott and second-largest Hyatt in the world. Manchester says Trump’s hotel will attract people based on its location near the White House and Congress, the quality renovation and the management team.

Then there’s also the access.

Although Trump says he is not involved in the day-to-day operations of his businesses, he retains a financial interest in them. A stay at the hotel gives someone trying to win over Trump on a policy issue or political decision a potential chit.

That’s what concerns ethics lawyers who had wanted Trump to sell off his companies as previous presidents have done.

“President Trump is in effect inviting people and companies and countries to channel money to him through the hotel,” said Kathleen Clark, a former ethics lawyer for the District of Columbia and a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

She said the “pay to play” danger is even greater than it would be if people wanted to donate to a campaign to influence a politician’s thinking. Spending money at a Trump property “is about personally enriching Donald Trump, who happens to be the president of the United States.”

The White House strongly disputes there’s any ethical danger in Trump’s business arrangements.

Trump can see his hotel from the White House. When a Fox News interviewer mentioned that to him recently, Trump responded, “Isn’t that beautiful?” But while the interviewer pointed out that he can see the property from his desk in the Oval Office, Trump said, “I’m so focused on what I’m doing here that I don’t even think about it.”

Still, Trump couldn’t resist the short trip over there for dinner on his only weekend night out in Washington since becoming president.

A reporter for the website Independent Journal Review was tipped off about Trump’s dining plans and sat at a table near him. He noted the president’s dinner fare and companions, who also included daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Trump adviser Jared Kushner.

On other nights, the posh hotel is the kind of place where on a mid-February evening, you could bump into Trump television personality Katrina Pierson having cocktails with Lynne Patton, a former Trump Organization executive who’s now working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Trump campaign and inauguration hands Tom Barrack, Boris Epshteyn, Nick Ayers and Rick Gates are among the many who have stayed there in recent weeks.

Rooms start at above $500 most nights, according to the hotel’s website and a receptionist. That’s up hundreds of dollars from when the hotel first opened, not long before Election Day. Patricia Tang, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, declined to answer questions about how business is going.

The hotel has become a staging area for big political events.

Eric and Donald Trump Jr. posed for dozens of selfies with admirers at the hotel that bears their name before attending their father’s White House ceremony in late January to announce Judge Neil Gorsuch as the president’s pick for the Supreme Court.

Deason ran into the Trumps and fellow Texas donor Gentry Beach while at a meeting at the hotel that day with Trump’s campaign adviser Rudy Giuliani. During inauguration week, when Trump himself repeatedly visited, the hotel was “literally the center of the universe,” Deason said.

Last Tuesday, as Trump gave his first address to Congress, lobbyists and politicos watched the four large flat screens above the bar, two tuned to Fox news and two to CNN. In what hotel staff said was an effort to avoid some of the obvious politics of the place, the TVs were muted, so people followed along on their own devices.

As Trump wrapped up, applause rose through the lobby and bar. Mnuchin waved to admirers gathered in the bar as he strolled through after Trump’s speech.

Mnuchin is one of the New Yorkers working in Washington who call it home during the week. White House economic adviser Gary Cohn is another. Linda McMahon, who heads the Small Business Administration, also has been staying there.

Administration officials “have been personally paying a fair market rate” for their accommodations, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

Even Trump’s closest friends pay to stay.

Billionaire Phil Ruffin, Trump’s partner for his Las Vegas residential tower, said he shelled out $18,000 per night while he was in town for the inauguration, which he said surprised him since he’d given $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee. Ruffin says he lightly complained about the high rate to the president.

“He said, ‘Well, I’m kind of out of it.’ So I didn’t get anywhere, didn’t get my discount,” Ruffin recalled.

Trump’s continued ownership of his hotel and other businesses has spawned lawsuits and ethics complaints, but so far, no action on any of them. One accommodation Trump says he is making on the ethics front is to donate profits from foreign governments that spend money at his hotels.

Last week, Kuwait’s ambassador, Salem al-Sabah, and his wife hosted a reception in the hotel’s presidential ballroom, in what was one of the first known instances of foreign money changing hands with the hotel division of the Trump Organization since he became president. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not respond to questions about whether the money from the Kuwait Embassy has been or will be donated.

Mnuchin attended.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Tea Party parallel? Liberals taking aim at their own party

Four days after Donald Trump‘s surprising White House victory, the liberal organization CREDO Action fired off a frantic warning to its 4.6 million anxious supporters.

Their worry wasn’t the new president. It was his opposition.

“Democratic leaders have been welcoming Trump,” the email said. “That’s not acceptable. Democratic leaders need to stand up and fight. Now.”

Amid a national surge of anti-Trump protests, boycotts and actions, liberals have begun taking aim at a different target: Their own party.

Over the past few weeks, activists have formed a number of organizations threatening a primary challenge to Democratic lawmakers who offer anything less than complete resistance to the Republican president.

“We’re not interested in unity,” said Cenk Uygur, the founder of Justice Democrats, a new organization that’s pledged to replace “every establishment politician” in Congress. “We can’t beat the Republicans unless we have good, honest, uncorrupted candidates.”

While party leaders have urged Democrats to keep their attacks focused on Trump, the liberal grass roots sees the fresh wave of opposition energy as an opportunity to push their party to the left and wrest power from longtime party stalwarts.

The intraparty pressure is reminiscent of the tea party movement, where conservative activists defeated several centrist Republican incumbents. Their efforts reverberated through the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, forcing candidates to the right on economic issues.

Like Uygur, many founders of the new groups are supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ presidential campaign, eager to continue their effort to remake the Democratic Party.

Uygur’s group says they’ve already found 70 possible candidates who will refuse corporate campaign donations while running for Congress— challenging elected Democrats if needed. Those people are now going through candidate training.

Democratic officials from more conservative states worry that those primary contests will result in the party holding even less power in Washington.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat likely to face a tough re-election fight in a state won overwhelmingly by Trump, said the effort will make Democrats a “super minority” in the Senate.

A coalition named “WeWillReplaceYou” is urging Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York to remove Manchin from his new role in the party leadership after Manchin expressed openness to working with Trump.

“If you want to go ahead and beat me up in a primary then go ahead,” Manchin said. “All it does is take the resources from the general.”

Even without primaries, the party faces a challenging political map in 2018. Republicans will be defending just eight Senate seats, while Democrats must hold 23 — plus two filled by independents who caucus with them. Ten of those races are in states Trump carried November.

The activists say they’re willing to trade power for conviction.

“I’d rather have 44 or 45 awesome Democrats who are lockstep together than 44 or 45 really awesome Democrats and three to four weak-kneed individuals who are going to dilute the party,” said Murshed Zaheed, CREDO’s political director.

They point to a postelection shift among Democrats as a sign that their efforts are working.

Initially, Schumer and even liberals such as Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren cautiously spoke of working with Trump on certain issues. After the wave of liberal fury, most Democrats have shifted into full opposition mode.

“Democrats have a reflexive instinct to compromise,” said Ben Wikler of MoveOn.org, which has directed its members to protest at Democratic as well as Republican congressional offices. “At this moment of successive Trump crises, resistance rather than compromise is what the country needs.”

Democratic leaders say the path to victory next year depends on a strong economic message, one that casts Trump as betraying the working-class voters who boosted him to victory.

“What we have in common, whether you’re West Virginia or Massachusetts or Kansas is a commitment to economic opportunity,” said Tom Perez, the newly elected Democratic National Committee chairman.

A memo this past week from Priorities USA gave Democrats a “10-point checklist” for criticizing Trump’s economic policies and conflicts of interest, saying the party cannot simply count on the president to remain “his own worst enemy.”

Many of the most vulnerable Democratic senators avoided town halls meetings during the congressional recess last week, hoping to evade politically damaging confrontations.

Party officials are trying to channel the new energy into more targeted electoral efforts.

In the weeks after Election Day, the Ohio Democratic Party held a series of meetings across the state with new activists. Since then, they’ve teamed up with some organizations for events.

“Our goal is to build good relationships so that come spring, summer of ’18 everyone moves to an election mindset,” said David Pepper, the state party chairman.

Last month, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee installed full-time organizers in 20 swing districts, with the goal of building stronger connections with activist groups.

Their message: “We can’t add by subtracting,” said the committee chairman, Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.

That may be a hard sell for some of the new anti-Trump organizations.

“Something the tea party was really smart about early on was not giving a big bear hug to the Republican National Committee,” said Ezra Levin, the executive director of the new anti-Trump group Indivisible. “Keeping the political parties at arm’s length is crucial to remaining an outside political force.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump claims Barack Obama had phones wiretapped; Obama denies it

President Donald Trump on Saturday accused former President Barack Obama of having Trump Tower telephones “wire tapped” during last year’s election, a startling claim that Obama’s spokesman said was false.

Trump did not offer any evidence or details, or say what prompted him to make the allegation.

Trump, whose administration has been under siege over campaign contacts with Russian officials, said in a series of early morning tweets that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!’

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said a “cardinal rule” of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered in any Justice Department investigations, which are supposed to be conducted free of political influence.

“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” Lewis said, adding that “any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

The White House did not immediately reply to inquiries about what prompted the president’s tweets.

Trump, who used to speak of having a warm relationship with Obama, compared the alleged activity by his predecessor to behavior involving President Richard Nixon and the bugging of his political opponents.

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” he tweeted, misspelling ‘tap.’

Trump said the wiretapping occurred in October. He ran the presidential transition largely out of Trump Tower in New York, where he also maintains a residence.

Trump’s tweets came days after revelations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, during his Senate confirmation hearing, didn’t disclose his own campaign-season contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Sessions, a U.S. senator at the time, was Trump’s earliest Senate supporter.

Trump’s opening tweet Saturday mentioned Sessions and claimed the first meeting Sessions had with the Russian diplomat was “set up by the Obama Administration under education program for 100 Ambs …”

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign with the goal of helping elect Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton — findings that Trump has dismissed. The FBI has investigated Trump associates’ ties to Russian officials. Congress is also investigating.

Trump has blamed Democrats for leaks of information about the investigation and the contacts.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that Trump was making “the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them.”

Schiff added: “No matter how much we hope and pray that this president will grow into one who respects and understands the Constitution, separation of powers, role of a free press, responsibilities as the leader of the free world, or demonstrates even the most basic regard for the truth, we must now accept that President Trump will never become that man.”

It was unclear what prompted Trump’s new charge. The president often tweets about reports he reads on blogs and conservative-leaning websites.

The allegations may be related to anonymously sourced reports in British media and blogs, and on conservative-leaning U.S. websites, including Breitbart News. Those reports claimed that U.S. officials had obtained a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to review contacts between computers at a Russian bank and Trump’s New York headquarters.

The AP has not confirmed these contacts or the investigation into them. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist in the White House, is a former executive chairman of Breitbart News.

FISA is a 1978 law that created a system to hear requests to surveil foreign intelligence agents. It differs from a regular criminal warrant because it does not require the government to provide probable cause that a crime has occurred. Instead, under FISA, the government must simply provide evidence that the target of an investigation is an agent of a foreign power.

Such targetable agents would include Russian diplomats such as Sergei Kislyak, the ambassador who spoke with a number of Trump aides. But a FISA warrant could also include others for whom investigators could muster probable cause, potentially including entities directly connected to Trump.

Obama could not order a FISA warrant. Obtaining one would require officials at the Justice Department to seek permission from the FISA court, which is shrouded in secrecy. Judges could order prosecutors to share FISA information with defendants if they deem it necessary for challenging a search’s legality, but courts have consistently agreed with the government that disclosing the material could expose sensitive intelligence secrets.

One exception to this practice is the president himself, who has the authority to declassify records. In Trump’s case, he could confirm any such surveillance of his campaign or business undertaken before he took office in January.

Trump is spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his waterfront estate in Palm Beach, and he spent several hours at his golf club in nearby West Palm Beach on Saturday.

Trump also tweeted about Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s decision to leave “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” Schwarzenegger replaced Trump as host of the show while the president remained its executive producer.

Trump was scheduled to have dinner Saturday at Mar-a-Lago with Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has a home in Palm Beach, Bannon and other White House advisers.

The president planned to return to the White House late Sunday.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Spokesman for former President Obama says President Trump’s wiretapping allegation is false

President Donald Trump on Saturday accused former President Barack Obama of having Trump Tower telephones “wire tapped” during last year’s election, a claim that an Obama spokesman said was false.

Trump did not offer any evidence or details, or say what prompted him to make the allegation.

Trump, whose administration has been under siege over campaign contacts with Russian officials, said in a series of early morning tweets that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!’

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said a “cardinal rule” of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered in any Justice Department investigations, which are supposed to be conducted free of political influence.

“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” Lewis said, adding that “any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

The White House did not immediately reply to inquiries about what prompted the president’s tweets.

Trump compared the alleged activity to behavior involving President Richard Nixon and the bugging of his political opponents.

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” he tweeted, misspelling ‘tap.’

Trump said the wiretapping occurred in October. He ran the presidential transition largely out of Trump Tower in New York, where he also maintains a residence.

Trump’s tweets came days after revelations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, during his Senate confirmation hearing, didn’t disclose his own campaign-season contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Sessions, a U.S. senator at the time, was Trump’s earliest Senate supporter.

Trump’s opening tweet Saturday mentioned Sessions and claimed the first meeting Sessions had with the Russian diplomat was “set up by the Obama Administration under education program for 100 Ambs …”

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign with the goal of helping elect Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton — findings that Trump has dismissed. The FBI has investigated Trump associates’ ties to Russian officials. Congress is also investigating.

Trump has blamed Democrats for leaks of information about the investigation and the contacts.

It was unclear what prompted Trump’s new charge. The president often tweets about reports he reads on blogs and conservative-leaning websites.

The allegations may be related to anonymously sourced reports in British media and blogs, and on conservative-leaning U.S. websites, including Breitbart News. Those reports claimed that U.S. officials had obtained a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to review contacts between computers at a Russian bank and Trump’s New York headquarters.

The AP has not confirmed these contacts or the investigation into them. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist in the White House, is a former executive chairman of Breitbart News.

FISA is a 1978 law that created a system to hear requests to surveil foreign intelligence agents. It differs from a regular criminal warrant because it does not require the government to provide probable cause that a crime has occurred. Instead, under FISA, the government must simply provide evidence that the target of an investigation is an agent of a foreign power.

Such targetable agents would include Russian diplomats such as Sergei Kislyak, the ambassador who spoke with a number of Trump aides. But a FISA warrant could also include others for whom investigators could muster probable cause, potentially including entities directly connected to Trump.

Obama could not order a FISA warrant. Obtaining one would require officials at the Justice Department to seek permission from the FISA court, which is shrouded in secrecy. Judges could order prosecutors to share FISA information with defendants if they deem it necessary for challenging a search’s legality, but courts have consistently agreed with the government that disclosing the material could expose sensitive intelligence secrets.

One exception to this practice is the president himself, who has the authority to declassify records. In Trump’s case, he could confirm any such surveillance of his campaign or business undertaken before he took office in January.

Trump is spending the weekend at his waterfront estate in Palm Beach, Florida, after highlighting his education agenda and support for school choice on Friday by visiting a Catholic school in Orlando. Trump had no public events scheduled during the weekend.

After tweeting Saturday about Obama, as well as about Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s decision to leave “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump went to his golf club in nearby West Palm Beach. Schwarzenegger replaced Trump as host of the show while the president remained its executive producer.

Trump is also scheduled to have dinner Saturday with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at Trump’s estate, Mar-a-Lago.

The president planned to return to the White House late Sunday.

Trump Taj Mahal

Seminole Tribe also wants casino near NYC

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, now co-owner of Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal casino, also wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey just outside New York City.

Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Tribe-controlled Hard Rock International, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the company remains committed to its plan to build a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford if voters change the law to allow it.

Hard Rock and two investors bought the Taj Mahal, which now-President Donald Trump opened in 1990, from billionaire Carl Icahn on Wednesday for an unspecified price.

“We own 25 percent of the Meadowlands (track) and we are 100 percent still on board to do that project at the Meadowlands,” said Allen, also Seminole Gaming CEO.

The company has partnered with track owner Jeff Gural to propose a casino resort just outside New York City that analysts predict could become one of the most successful casinos in the nation – at least until New York City allows one or more casinos to open nearby.

But before that happens, New Jersey voters would have to change a law that currently restricts casinos to Atlantic City. A statewide referendum on it last November was rejected by more than 80 percent of voters, and it cannot be reconsidered for at least two years.

When it reopens in the spring of 2018, the casino’s domes and spires will be gone, replaced by Hard Rock’s signature music theme. The company says it has the world’s largest collection of music memorabilia, which is on display at Hard Rock cafes and casinos around the world.

Allen said a stabilizing climate in Atlantic City helped convince Hard Rock to buy the casino; it made an unsuccessful bid for Revel in bankruptcy court.

“The bones of the Taj Mahal are as good as anything in town, and it’s something we felt we could do something spectacular with, from the height of the ceilings to the way the casino floor is laid out,” Allen said.

Jeff Sessions says he shouldn’t investigate campaign

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he should not be involved in investigating a presidential campaign he had a role in.

Sessions made the comment at a Thursday news conference where he announced he will recuse himself from any investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The move came after revelations that Sessions twice spoke to the Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential campaign.

Sessions rejected any suggestion that he tried to mislead anyone about his contacts with the Russian, saying, “That is not my intent. That is not correct.”

But he says he “should have slowed down and said ‘but I did meet with one Russian official a couple of times.’ “

Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente will handle any matters related to investigation.

Reprinted with the permission of the Associated Press.

Florida Supreme Court upholds ban on openly carrying guns

The Florida Supreme Court says there’s nothing wrong with a state law that bans openly carrying handguns.

In a 4-2 decision Thursday, the court rejected a claim that the law is unconstitutional because it restricts the federally protected right to bear arms.

Concealed weapons permit holder Dale Norman was arrested by Fort Pierce police in 2012 because his gun was visible as he walked down a sidewalk.

He was convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor but appealed his conviction.

Florida hasn’t allowed guns to be openly carried in public for decades, although the Legislature is considering bills this year that would grant that right.

Similar bills failed last year.

More Republicans say AG Jeff Sessions should recuse himself

The Latest on Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ talks with the Soviet ambassador (all times local):

11:25 a.m. attorneyAttorney

The top House Democrat says Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath when he told the Senate Judiciary that he had no contacts with the Russian government and says he should resign.

Nancy Pelosi says, “Perjury is a crime.”

In the meantime, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida joined a growing chorus of Republicans calling upon Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation on contacts between the Russians and President Donald Trump‘s campaign last year. Graham says, “Somebody other than Jeff needs to do it.”

Graham also tells reporters he is meeting Thursday with FBI Director James Comey and will demand to know whether there is an investigation into the Russia contacts.

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10:58 a.m.

A growing number of Republicans want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the election and ties to the Trump campaign.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman says in a statement that Sessions is a former colleague and a friend, “but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe.”

Portman joins congressmen Jason Chaffetz, Darrell Issa and Tom Cole in calling for Sessions to recuse himself,

Other Senate Republicans are rallying around Sessions, saying they trust him and that it’s up to Sessions whether to recuse himself.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. He says, “I trust Jeff Sessions to make that decision.”

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10:33 a.m.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren joins other Democrats in calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. She says there should be an independent special prosecutor named to oversee an investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election.

Warren has clashed repeatedly with President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans. The Massachusetts senator reacted in a series of tweets to reports that Sessions talked twice with Russia’s ambassador during the presidential campaign, conversations that seem to contradict sworn statements Sessions gave to Congress during his confirmation hearings.

The White House says Sessions met with the diplomat in his capacity as a then-U.S. senator, not a Trump campaign adviser.

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10:25 a.m.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign.

Several Republicans and Democrats have called for Sessions to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election following the revelation he talked twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign.

The conversations seem to contradict sworn statements Sessions gave to Congress during his confirmation hearings.

Schumer says a special prosecutor is needed to investigate the allegations of Russian interference and also look into whether the investigation has already been compromised by Sessions.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has accused Sessions of “lying under oath” and demanded that he resign.

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10:25 a.m.

Another congressional Republican says Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from any investigation into Russia meddling in the election and links to the Trump campaign.

In a statement, congressman Darrell Issa of California joined House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz in calling on Sessions to recuse himself now.

Issa says, “We need a clear-eyed view of what the Russians actually did so that all Americans can have faith in our institutions.”

It is members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who typically meet with foreign ambassadors, not Armed Services Committee lawmakers whose responsibility is oversight of the military and the Pentagon. Congressional contact with Russian officials was limited after the invasion of Crimea and due to Moscow’s close relationship with Syria, a pariah for much of the West.

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9:15 a.m.

A Republican committee chairman says Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

Utah’s Jason Chaffetz chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He tells MSNBC that Sessions “is going to need to recuse himself at this point.”

The Justice Department has confirmed Sessions talked twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign, a seeming contradiction to sworn statements he gave to Congress.

Chaffetz told MSNBC that Sessions “should further clarify.”

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri called on Sessions to resign, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said he should recuse himself.

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8:30 a.m.

A Democratic senator says Attorney General Jeff Sessions should step aside from any role in the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia.

Minnesota’s Al Franken tells MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Sessions’ statements about his contacts with Moscow have been “contradictory.”

At Session’s confirmation hearing in January, Franken asked the then-Alabama senator what he would do if there was evidence that anyone from the Trump campaign had been in touch with the Russian government during the 2016 White House race.

Sessions replied he was “unaware of those activities.” But the Justice Department has confirmed that Sessions had two conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Franken is calling for an “independent prosecutor” to investigate any links the Trump campaign may have had with the Russian government and says Sessions must “come forward with the truth.”

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8:15 a.m.

A Kremlin spokesman says all the attention given to Jeff Sessions’ meetings with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the U.S. presidential campaign last year could affect improved ties between the countries.

Sessions — who’s now President Donald Trump’s attorney general — was a senator and policy adviser to Trump’s campaign at the time of the meetings with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Dmitry Peskov is the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Peskov tells reporters that he didn’t know about the meetings. But he says it’s normal for Russian diplomats to meet with U.S. lawmakers.

The White House says Sessions met with the diplomat in his capacity as a senator, rather than as a Trump campaign adviser.

Peskov is characterizing reaction to the news of the meetings as “an emotional atmosphere (that) leads to resistance to the idea of some kind of U.S.-Russia dialogue.”

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7:10 a.m.

A White House spokeswoman is assailing reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions twice talked to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during last year’s presidential campaign.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the reports “the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats.”

She says Sessions “met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony” to the Senate Judiciary Committee at a confirmation hearing in January.

Referring to questions on this issue that Sen. Al Franken raised with Sessions at that hearing, she said, “It’s no surprise Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump’s successful address to the nation.”

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7:00 a.m.

A prominent Russian lawmaker close to the Kremlin is playing down the revelation that the Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with Russia’s ambassador during the American presidential campaign.

The news that then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was a policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign, had discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak has added fuel to the controversy over whether Russia was improperly involved with Trump’s campaign. It spurred calls in Congress for Sessions to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

Alexei Pushkov, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament and former head of the lower chamber’s foreign affairs committee, said Thursday on Twitter: “It turns out that almost the entire US elite has ties to Russia … Paranoia knows no bounds.”

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2:37 a.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions talked twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign season, communications that spurred calls in Congress for him to recuse himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

Sessions, an early supporter of President Donald Trump and a policy adviser to the Republican candidate, did not disclose those discussions at his confirmation hearing in January when asked what he would do if “anyone affiliated” with the campaign had been in contact with officials of the Russian government.

Sessions replied that he had not had communication with the Russians.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Wednesday night that “there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer.”

Sessions said, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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