After massacre, Virginia governor demands action on guns

By ALAN SUDERMAN Associated Press
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday he will summon lawmakers back to the state Capitol this summer to take up a package of gun-control legislation, saying last week’s mass shooting in Virginia Beach calls for “votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”
Northam, a Democrat faced with a gun-friendly, Republican-controlled General Assembly in the middle of a legislative election year, also said he wants every lawmaker to go on record for or against his proposals during the special session, rather than avoid tough votes by quietly killing the bills in subcommittee.
“The nation will be watching,” the governor said, four days after Virginia Beach employee DeWayne Craddock used two semi-automatic handguns, a silencer and extended ammunition magazines to slaughter 12 people at a municipal building. Craddock was then killed in a gunbattle with police.
Northam’s bills include a ban on silencers and high-capacity magazines, as well as a broadening of the ability of local governments to prohibit guns in city buildings. The governor said he also wants mandatory, universal background checks before gun purchases; a limit of one handgun purchase per month; and a “red flag” law that would allow authorities to seize weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
“I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers,” he said, mocking the usual response to gun violence by supporters of the gun lobby.
No immediate date for the special session was set, but Northam said he wants to hold it in late June.
In a statement, GOP Speaker Kirk Cox dismissed the governor’s call for a special session as “hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months” — a reference to the blackface photo scandal that nearly destroyed Northam’s career.
Cox said the Republicans will instead put forward legislation to toughen penalties — including new, mandatory minimum sentences — for those who use guns to commit crimes.
“We believe addressing gun violence starts with holding criminals accountable for their actions, not infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said.
Another top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, noted that the governor is pushing for legislation that already failed earlier this year. “This governor has opted for political posturing over solutions,” Norment said.
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Jennifer Baker accused Northam of “exploiting a tragedy to push his failed political agenda.”
Virginia is generally considered a very gun-friendly state and is home to the NRA headquarters. After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which a student with a history of mental problems shot 32 people to death, the state passed a law prohibiting people adjudicated as seriously mentally ill from buying a gun. But a push at the time for universal background checks failed.
Most of the other legislation proposed this time has also fallen short before in Virginia, where Republicans hold slim majorities in the House and Senate. All 140 legislative seats are up for grabs this year, and the Democrats are thought to have a realistic chance of taking back control of the General Assembly.
In making the announcement at a state office building, Northam got a standing ovation from gun-control advocates, state workers and elected officials as he said the massacre in Virginia Beach demands that lawmakers put saving lives ahead of party loyalty.
Noting that first responders saved lives in last week’s attack, he said: “Now, I’m calling on the elected officials of this commonwealth to become second responders. Your duty is clear: Rush to the scene and put a stop to this violence.”
“Show Virginians that it doesn’t matter what party you are in, we all are Virginians first, and we care about the safety and security of every Virginian,” he added.
The governor has long advocated stricter gun control and gets an F grade from the NRA. He made the issue a top priority of his 2017 campaign, drawing from his experience as a pediatrician and Army doctor who has treated children and soldiers wounded by gunfire.
Craddock appeared to have had no felony record and is believed to have legally purchased his two .45-caliber pistols, authorities said.
Friday’s shooting has been Northam’s first major test since a scandal over a photo in his medical school yearbook nearly drove him from office four months ago. Northam denied he was in the picture of someone in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.
Democrats, including many who have previously called for his resignation, hailed Northam’s move on guns as strong leadership, and several lawmakers publicly thanked him.
A top gun-rights advocate, Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, denounced the special session as “political theater” and said the answer is to make it easier for people to carry weapons.
“There’s really nothing other than allowing people to protect themselves until the police get there that would have worked,” he said.

Proposed cat declawing ban passes New York Legislature

By DAVID KLEPPER undefined
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s Legislature passed a bill Tuesday that would make the state the first in the U.S. to make it illegal to declaw a cat .
The bill, which would subject veterinarians to $1,000 fines for performing the operation, now heads to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose representatives said he will review the bill before deciding if he will sign it.
Declawing a cat is already illegal in much of Europe as well as in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver, but no other U.S. state has voted to ban the procedure, which involves amputating a cat’s toes back to the first knuckle.
Unlike human nails, a cat’s claws are attached to bone, so declawing a feline requires a veterinarian to slice through tendon and nerves to remove the last segment of bone in a cat’s toes.
Supporters of the ban include animal welfare advocates, some cat owners and some veterinarians, who argue the practice is cruel and barbaric. They have predicted that other states will follow with their own bans.
“New York prides itself on being first,” said the bill’s sponsor in the state Assembly, Manhattan Democrat Linda Rosenthal. “This will have a domino effect.”
The New York State Veterinary Medical Society had opposed the bill, arguing that declawing should be allowed as a last resort for felines that won’t stop scratching furniture or humans — or when the cat’s owner has a weakened immune system, putting them at greater risk of infection from a scratch.
“Medical decisions should be left to the sound discretion of fully trained, licensed and state supervised professionals,” the society said in a memo opposing the legislation.
Under the bill, veterinarians could still perform the procedure for medical reasons, such as infection or injury.
The bill was first introduced years ago and has slowly gained momentum as more lawmakers came out in support. Tuesday was the first time the measure has gone to a vote in either the Senate or Assembly.
Cuomo and the majority of lawmakers in both houses of the Legislature are Democrats.

Climate change lawsuit vs. US government faces court test

By ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A lawsuit by a group of young people who say U.S. energy policies are causing climate change and hurting their future faces a major hurdle Tuesday as lawyers for the Trump administration argue to stop the case from moving forward.
Three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are hearing arguments from lawyers for 21 young people and the federal government in Portland but are not expected to rule right away. The Obama and Trump administrations have tried to get the lawsuit dismissed since it was filed in Oregon in 2015.
“It’s just really disappointing to see the lengths that they go to — to not only not let us get the remedy that we’re seeking, but not even let us have the chance to prove our facts or present our case at trial,” said Nathan Baring, a 19-year-old from Fairbanks, Alaska, who joined the lawsuit when he was 15.
As the case drags on, sea ice that protects coastal Alaska communities from fierce storms is forming later in the year, leaving those villages vulnerable, Baring said Tuesday.
The young people argue that government officials have known for more than 50 years that carbon pollution from fossil fuels causes climate change and that policies promoting oil and gas deprive them of their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.
Lawyers for President Donald Trump’s administration have argued that the lawsuit is trying to direct federal environmental and energy policies through the courts instead of through the political process.
“No federal court has ever permitted an action that seeks to review decades of agency action (and alleged inaction) by a dozen federal agencies and executive offices — all in pursuit of a policy goal,” the attorneys argued in a March court brief.
Justice Department lawyers also assert that the young people had not identified any “historical basis for a fundamental right to a stable climate system or any other constitutional right related to the environment.”
The lawsuit says the young are more vulnerable to serious effects from climate change in the future. The American Academy of Pediatrics, 14 other health organizations and nearly 80 scientists and physicians agreed in a brief filed with the appeals court.
“Today’s children are expected to have poorer health as they age than today’s adults do, because of the worsening and intensifying effects of climate change,” three of the experts wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.
They pointed out that the World Health Organization estimates that 88% of the global health burden of climate change falls on children younger than 5.
The lawsuit wants the U.S. District Court in Eugene, where the lawsuit was filed, to declare that the U.S. government is violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by substantially causing or contributing to a dangerous concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
It asks the court to declare federal energy policy that contributes to global warming unconstitutional, order the government to quickly phase out carbon dioxide emissions to a certain level by 2100 and mandate a national climate recovery plan.
The case has become a focal point for many youth activists, and the courtroom in Portland was expected to be packed Tuesday. A video livestream was being set up at a nearby park, where a rally was expected to be held, said Meg Ward, spokeswoman for Our Children’s Trust, a group supporting the lawsuit.
The U.S. Supreme Court last November declined to stop the lawsuit but told the Trump administration it could still petition a lower court to dismiss the case. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit granted the Trump administration’s motion to put the case on hold while considering its merits.
If the panel decides the lawsuit can move forward, it would go before the federal court in Eugene.
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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

Florida deputy charged for inaction during Parkland shooting

By CURT ANDERSON and TERRY SPENCER Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) — The former Florida deputy who failed to confront a gunman during last year’s Parkland school massacre was arrested Tuesday on 11 criminal charges related to his actions, prosecutors announced.
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz said in a statement that 56-year-old Scot Peterson faces child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury charges that carry a combined potential prison sentence of nearly 100 years.
Peterson, then a Broward deputy, was on duty as the school resource officer during the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but never went inside while bullets were flying. Seventeen people died and 17 others were wounded in the attack.
Peterson’s bail was set at $102,000, Satz said. Once released, Peterson will be required to wear a GPS monitor and surrender his passport, and will be prohibited from possessing a firearm, the prosecutor said.
Peterson lawyer Joseph DiRuzzo III didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, he has defended Peterson’s conduct as justified under the circumstances.
The charges follow a 14-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to that agency.
“The FDLE investigation shows former deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting that killed 17 children, teachers and staff and injured 17 others,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen in an email statement said. “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.”
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said Peterson has been formally terminated, although he announced his retirement shortly after the shooting.
“It’s never too late for accountability and justice,” Tony said.
Nikolas Cruz , 20, faces the death penalty if convicted of the first-degree murder charges filed in the attack. His lawyers have said Cruz would plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors have refused that offer.
Cruz is expected to go on trial in early 2020.
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Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

White House tells 2 ex-aides to defy congressional subpoena

By MARY CLARE JALONICK and LISA MASCARO Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Tuesday again directed former employees not to cooperate with a congressional investigation, this time instructing former aides Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson to defy subpoenas and refuse to provide documents to the House Judiciary Committee.
The letters from the White House to the Judiciary panel are the latest effort by the White House to thwart congressional investigations into President Donald Trump . Trump has said he will fight “all of the subpoenas” as Democrats have launched multiple probes into his administration and personal financial affairs.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler issued subpoenas for documents and testimony from Hicks, former White House communications director, and Donaldson, a former aide in the White House counsel’s office, last month. Both are mentioned frequently in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report , along with former White House Counsel Donald McGahn. The White House has also directed McGahn to refuse to provide documents or testify before the committee.
Mueller’s investigation concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in hopes of getting Trump elected, though his report said there was not enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. Last week Mueller emphasized he had not exonerated Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice — in effect leaving it to Congress to decide what to do with his findings.
In a letter to Nadler, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said that Hicks and Donaldson “do not have the legal right” to disclose White House documents to the panel. Cipollone said requests for the records should be directed to the White House, adding that they remain “legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles, because they implicate significant executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege.”
In directing witnesses not to comply, the White House has frequently cited such executive privilege, or the power to keep information from the courts, Congress and the public to protect the confidentiality of the Oval Office decision-making process.
But that only extends so far. Nadler said in a statement that while the White House had instructed the former aides not to turn over materials, Hicks has agreed to turn over some documents related to her time on Trump’s presidential campaign. Those materials are not covered by executive privilege.
Nadler said he thanked Hicks for “that show of good faith.” But it was unclear how much material the committee would receive.
The committee is arguing that the documents would not be covered by executive privilege if they left the White House months ago.
“The president has no lawful basis for preventing these witnesses from complying with our request,” Nadler said. “We will continue to seek reasonable accommodation on these and all our discovery requests and intend to press these issues when we obtain the testimony of both Ms. Hicks and Ms. Donaldson.”
The subpoenas also demanded that Hicks appear for a public hearing on June 19 and that Donaldson appear for a deposition on June 24. They have not yet said whether they will appear.
As the White House has pushed back on the investigations, some Democrats have ramped up their calls for Nadler to open an impeachment inquiry, arguing it would improve congressional standing in the courts as they try to enforce subpoenas. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been reluctant to launch impeachment proceedings, despite a growing number in her caucus who have called for it.
On Tuesday, progressive groups expressed “deep disappointment” over Pelosi’s unwillingness and called on her to act, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press. The groups said in the letter that voters gave Democrats control of the House “because they wanted aggressive oversight of the Trump administration.”
Pelosi says impeachment requires more public support and would detract from the legislative agenda. She has instead favored a slower, more methodical effort.
As part of that approach, the House is expected next week to hold McGahn and Attorney General William Barr , who has refused to turn over the full Mueller report, in contempt of Congress. The resolution scheduled for a June 11 vote will allow the Judiciary Committee to seek court enforcement of its subpoenas.
With that vote approaching, the Justice Department sent a letter to Nadler Tuesday with a final offer to resume negotiations over access to redacted portions of the Mueller report and underlying documents — but only if the Judiciary panel nullifies its May vote to recommend contempt for Barr and cancels the June 11 vote in the full House. Nadler did not have an immediate response, but was unlikely to agree to those terms.
Nadler has also said that his panel will launch a series of hearings on “the alleged crimes and other misconduct” in Mueller’s report as Democrats try to keep the public’s focus on his findings in the Trump-Russia investigation.
The hearings will serve as a stand-in of sorts for Mueller, who said last week he would prefer not to appear before Congress and would not elaborate on the contents of his report if he were forced to testify.
The first hearing, on June 10, looks at whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by intervening in the probe. It will feature John Dean, a White House counsel who helped bring down President Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Democrats have suggested they will compel Mueller’s appearance if necessary, but it’s unclear when or if that will happen. Negotiations over Mueller’s testimony are ongoing.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Tuesday that his panel will also hold hearings on the Mueller report, focusing on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Record flooding causes levee breach in western Arkansas

DARDANELLE, Ark. (AP) — A levee breached Friday along the Arkansas River, prompting a flash flood warning and evacuation of a rural area in western Arkansas.
Officials said the levee breached at Dardanelle, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock. Yell County officials had anticipated the breach and urged residents in the nearby Holla Bend area to evacuate Thursday.
Emergency management officials say crews are going door to door to recommend evacuation for about 160 homes.
National Weather Service data showed a dip in the water level at Dardanelle, likely due to the breach. A flash flood warning was issued early Friday for the area, and forecasters said residents should be prepared for rapidly rising water.
The levee breached because of ongoing flooding along the Arkansas River, which began in Oklahoma.
Earlier this year, about two dozen levee systems were breached or overtopped during Missouri River flooding that devastated parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.

Trump prompts protests with promise of new Mexican tariffs

By JILL COLVIN and COLLEEN LONG Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a surprise announcement that could derail a major trade deal, President Donald Trump says he is placing a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports, effective June 10, to pressure the country to do more to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants trying to cross the U.S. border.
He said the percentage will gradually increase — up to 25% — “until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied.”
The decision showed the administration going to new lengths, and looking for new levers, to pressure Mexico to take action — even if those risk upending other policy priorities, like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement , a trade deal that is the cornerstone of Trump’s legislative agenda and seen as beneficial to his reelection effort. It also risks further damaging the already strained relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, two countries whose economies are deeply intertwined.
Trump made the announcement by tweet after telling reporters earlier Thursday that he was planning “a major statement” that would be his “biggest” so far on the border.
“On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP,” he wrote. “The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded in a public letter late Thursday, telling Trump that “social problems are not solved with duties or coercive measures” and alluded to the United States’ history as a nation of immigrants. “The Statue of Liberty is not an empty symbol,” he wrote. He also said he was dispatching his foreign relations secretary to Washington on Friday to try to negotiate a solution.
In his growing fury over an increase in border crossings that he has likened to an “invasion,” Trump has blamed Mexico for failing to stop the flow of asylum seekers from countries like El Salvador and Honduras who pass through its territory. And he has been itching to take increasingly radical, headline-grabbing action on the issue, which he sees as critical to his 2020 campaign because it energizes his base.
But the sudden tariff threat comes at a peculiar time, given how hard the administration has been pushing for passage of the USMCA, which would update the North American Free Trade Agreement. It comes less than two weeks after Trump lifted import taxes on Mexican and Canadian steel and aluminum, a move that seemed to clear an obstacle to its passage, and the same day that both Trump and López Obrador began the process of seeking ratification. The deal needs approval from lawmakers in all three countries before it takes effect.
“The tariffs certainly put the USMCA on ice,” said Gary Hufbauer, an expert in trade law at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who panned the move but said Trump does have the legal authority to impose the tariffs under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by citing a national emergency.
“The drama is legal, but it’s preposterous,” he said.
Daniel Ujczo, a U.S.-based international trade lawyer, said the threat would likely slow the deal’s progress in Mexico and put U.S. lawmakers who want to vote “yes” in a difficult position because companies in their districts will end up paying the tariffs.
Still, Ujczo and others wondered whether Trump — who has a habit of creating problems and then claiming credit when he rushes in to solve them — would go through with the threat.
“This seems more theater and tactics than a strategy to solve the migration crisis and rebalance North American trade,” Ujczo said.
It wouldn’t be the first time Trump has punted on an immigration threat. In late March, Trump threatened to shut the entire U.S.-Mexico border if Mexico didn’t immediately halt illegal immigration. Just a few days later, he backed off the threat, saying he was pleased with steps Mexico had taken in recent days. It was unclear, however, what Mexico had changed.
Indeed, on a briefing call with reporters Thursday evening, administration officials said Mexico could prevent the tariffs from kicking in by securing their southern border with Guatemala, cracking down on criminal smuggling organizations, and entering into a “safe third country agreement” that would make it difficult for those who enter Mexico from other countries to claim asylum in the U.S.
“We fully believe they have the ability to stop people coming in from their southern border and if they’re able to do that, these tariffs will either not go into place or will be removed after they go into place,” said acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
He also insisted that tariffs were “completely” separate from the USMCA because one pertained to immigration and the other trade.
Still the threat drew a withering response from Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, a usual Trump ally, who slammed it as “a misuse of presidential tariff authority” that would burden American consumers and “seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA.”
Mulvaney said the White House had briefed a number of Republicans on the plan and acknowledged that some — particularly in the Senate — had raised concerns about the president invoking such powers.
The threat comes at a time when Mexico has already been stepping up its efforts to crack down on migrants, carrying out raids and detaining thousands of people traveling through the country en route to the U.S.
The crumbling city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border, has become the epicenter of the crackdowns, with thousands of migrants stranded because the Mexican government isn’t providing them visas to travel. In addition, the Mexican government has allowed the U.S. to send back hundreds of asylum seekers from Central America and other countries, forcing them to wait out their cases in Mexico.
But that hasn’t satisfied Trump, whose White House laid out an escalating schedule of tariff increases if his demands are not met: 10% on July 1, 15% on Aug. 1, 20% on Sept. 1 and 25% on Oct. 1.
After that, the White House said, “tariffs will permanently remain at the 25% level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.”
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Associated Press writer Kevin Freking and Paul Wiseman in Washington and Maria Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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Follow Colvin and Long on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj and https://twitter.com/ctlong1

Trump attacks Mueller, denies that Russia helped him win

By DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has angrily assailed special counsel Robert Mueller’s motives, after Mueller bluntly rebuffed Trump’s repeated claims that the Russia investigation had cleared him of obstructing justice.
The president also offered mixed messages on Russia’s efforts to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign. Early in the day, Trump tweeted he had “nothing to do with Russia helping me get elected.” That was the first time he seemed to acknowledge that Russia tried to help his campaign. Then on the White House South Lawn, Trump told reporters: “Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia didn’t help me at all.”
Mueller’s report said Russia interfered in the election in hopes of getting Trump elected, but his findings and intelligence officials have stopped short of saying the efforts contributed to Trump’s victory.
Attorney General William Barr, meanwhile, is defending his short summary of Mueller’s report, telling CBS on Friday he was “just trying to state the bottom line.” Critics have accused Barr of spinning the report’s findings to favor Trump.
Trump’s 20-minute eruption Thursday underscored that he remains deeply distressed over the probe that has shadowed his presidency for nearly two years, even after Mueller announced his resignation and the closure of his office. Democrats are mulling the possibility of impeachment proceedings.
Trump insisted that he’s been tough on Russia and that Moscow would have preferred Clinton as president. But that’s not what Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. When asked last year in Helsinki whether he wanted Trump to become president, Putin replied: “Yes, I did.”
On Wednesday, Mueller, in his first public remarks on the Russia investigation, pointedly rejected Trump’s claims — repeated almost daily — that the special counsel’s investigation cleared him of criminal activity and was a “witch hunt.” Mueller emphasized that he had not exonerated Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice, but said charging Trump with any crime was “not an option” because of Justice Department rules.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller declared.
Attorney General William Barr, however, said Mueller could have reached a decision on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr said in an interview with “CBS This Morning” that though Justice Department rules prevent the indictment of a sitting president, Mueller nonetheless could have decided whether Trump had committed a crime.
Trump repeated his baseless claims that Mueller is “conflicted,” contending that Mueller, who served as FBI director under President George W. Bush, wanted his old job back, but that he had told him no. He said Mueller, a Republican, was “a true never Trumper” and “didn’t get a job that he wanted very badly.”
Mueller had been considered for the FBI director position shortly before being named as special counsel. But then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has said that while the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director again, Mueller did not come in looking for a job.
Trump also said Mueller should have investigated law enforcement officials who the president claims tried to undermine him. Mueller’s mandate, however, was to investigate Russian election interference, possible coordination with the Trump campaign and any obstruction of that investigation.
Among those whom Trump says Mueller should have investigated were members of the special counsel’s own team, including Peter Strzok, a former FBI agent who helped lead the investigation and exchanged anti-Trump text messages during the 2016 election with ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
Strzok was removed from Mueller’s investigative team following the discovery of the texts and later was fired from the FBI. Page has left the bureau. Strzok told Congress that there was “no conspiracy” at the FBI to prevent Trump from becoming president.
Trump, asked about impeachment by Congress, called it a “dirty word” and said he couldn’t imagine the courts allowing him to be impeached. “I don’t think so because there’s no crime,” he said.
Mueller made clear that his team never considered indicting Trump because the Justice Department prohibits the prosecution of a sitting president. He and others have indicated that the next move, if any, is up to Congress, which has the power of impeachment. Trump has blocked House committees’ subpoenas and other efforts to dig into the Trump-Russia issue, insisting Mueller’s report has settled everything.
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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

Louisiana’s Democratic governor signs abortion ban into law

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s Democratic governor signed a ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy Thursday, a move that puts him squarely in line with the leaders of other conservative Southern states while provoking anger from members of his own party.
With his signature, Gov. John Bel Edwards made Louisiana the fifth state to enact a law prohibiting abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, joining Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia. Alabama’s gone further, outlawing virtually all abortions .
Louisiana’s law doesn’t contain exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest.
The bill’s signing, however, won’t limit the state’s three abortion clinics anytime soon. Louisiana’s law takes effect only if the law in neighboring Mississippi, which was recently blocked by a judge , is upheld by a federal appeals court.
Edwards, a Catholic running for reelection this year, didn’t hold a public bill signing, instead announcing his action through his office. He had repeatedly said he intended to sign the measure, citing his faith and saying his views match those of people in his conservative, religious state, who he described as “overwhelmingly pro-life.”
Louisiana legislators overwhelmingly supported the ban , with a 79-23 House vote and 31-5 Senate vote.
Lawmakers in conservative states across the nation are striking at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationally. Abortion opponents are pushing new restrictions on the procedure in hopes that a case will make its way to the high court and two new conservative justices appointed by President Donald Trump could help overturn Roe.
None of the abortion bans enacted this year has taken effect, and all are expected to face legal challenges that will delay any enforcement of the prohibitions against the procedure.
Opponents of the so-called heartbeat bills said they would effectively eliminate abortion as an option before many women realize they are pregnant and would violate constitutional privacy protections.
Louisiana’s law includes an exception from the abortion ban to prevent the pregnant woman’s death or “a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” — or if the pregnancy is deemed “medically futile.” But it does not include an exception for a pregnancy caused by rape or incest, drawing criticism that the law forces continued trauma on women who have been victimized.
Under the bill, a doctor who violates the prohibition could face a prison sentence of up to two years, along with medical license revocation.
The abortion-rights debates that divide state Capitols across the nation cause fewer ripples in the Louisiana Legislature. It is one of the country’s most staunchly anti-abortion states, with a law on the books that immediately outlaws abortion if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned. State lawmakers annually enact new regulations seeking to curb access with bipartisan support.
Louisiana’s latest abortion ban won support from many Democrats and was sponsored by Democratic Sen. John Milkovich, from northwest Louisiana.
Although Edwards is rarity in the national Democratic Party, he’s consistently run as an anti-abortion candidate. When he ran for governor in 2015, his campaign had a prominent TV ad that showed his wife, Donna, describing being advised to have an abortion because of their daughter’s spinal birth defect. The Edwardses refused, and the ad showed a grown-up Samantha.
The bill signing from Edwards, who faces two Republicans on the ballot this fall, is expected to help shore up his position with some voters at home, even if it puts him at odds with national Democratic Party leaders and donors.
Still, the governor faced an outcry of anger on social media from Democrats who objected to his support for the abortion ban.
The chair of Louisiana’s Democratic Party, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, has been regularly slamming the bill. She’s posted opposition messages on Twitter, such as: “Roe vs. Wade should be respected not undermined! Right to privacy!” But she hasn’t directly criticized Edwards by name, and the party is supporting him for reelection.
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Senate Bill 184: www.legis.la.gov
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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

Lawsuit calls Mississippi’s way of choosing governors racist

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS and DAVID A. LIEB Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In 1890, as white politicians across the South cracked down on the black population with Jim Crow laws, Mississippi inserted into its constitution an unusually high bar for getting elected governor or winning any other statewide office.
The provision, which remains in force to this day, says candidates must win not only a majority of the popular vote — that is, more than 50% — but also a majority of the state’s 122 House districts.
On Thursday, more than a century later, four black Mississippians sued in federal court to put an end to what they say is a racially discriminatory system, unique in the U.S. and aimed at thwarting the election of African Americans.
“The scheme has its basis in racism — an 1890 post-Reconstruction attempt to keep African Americans out of statewide office,” said former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first black person to hold that position. He added: “In the 21st century, it’s finally time to say that this provision should be struck down.”
Holder is chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, whose affiliated foundation is providing financial and legal backing for the lawsuit.
Under the Mississippi provision , if no candidate wins the required majorities, the election is decided by the Mississippi House.
It’s not one of those dusty segregation-era provisions that have remained on the books, forgotten and unused. It was invoked in 1999, when the House chose between two white candidates who were the top vote-getters in a four-person race for governor.
“This is not a theoretical thing,” Holder said. “We have seen no statewide African American elected to office since this was enacted, in spite of the fact that Mississippi has the highest percentage of African Americans of any state in the country.”
The lawsuit asks a judge to prohibit Mississippi from using the procedure in this year’s elections. It does not suggest an alternative, but Holder said Mississippi could simply be ordered to do what most states do — “count all the votes and the person who gets the greatest number of votes wins.”
Mississippi Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
The longtime chairman of the state House Elections Committee, Republican Rep. Bill Denny, said that during his 32 years in office, there has been no serious effort to change Mississippi’s method of electing statewide officials.
“I’m comfortable with it,” Denny said.
It was put in place as white politicians sought to suppress black voting power that emerged during Reconstruction and propelled some black candidates to statewide office.
The lawsuit cites comments at the time by the president of Mississippi’s constitutional convention, who asserted that black control of government “meant economic and moral ruin” and that the state had an “over generous” number of black voters.
The case is part of an effort by Holder’s organization to influence the election of the politicians who will oversee congressional redistricting in Mississippi after the 2020 census. Some African American candidates are running for governor and other statewide offices this year.
The lawsuit notes that black voters are highly concentrated in certain Mississippi House districts and constitute a majority of the voting-age population in 42 of them. Mississippi’s white residents overwhelmingly vote Republican, while its black residents overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Democrats. About 38% of the state is black.
Because of the racially polarized and concentrated voting, a candidate preferred by white voters could win a majority of the House districts without winning the statewide vote, the lawsuit says. Yet it asserts that a candidate preferred by black voters would have to get more than 55% of the popular vote to meet the House-district requirement.
To date, no Mississippi candidate who won the most votes for a statewide office has been prevented from taking office because of the other requirements.
Marvin King, an associate professor at the University of Mississippi who focuses on African American politics, said that if the lawsuit succeeds, it is unlikely to lead to more statewide victories by Democrats or black candidates.
“The racial polarization in Mississippi is just so high,” he said.
African American candidates have faced other hurdles in Mississippi politics over the years. After Reconstruction, extremely few blacks were registered to vote until the mid-1960s because of poll taxes and deadly violence.
The lawsuit says just four states — Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi and Vermont — require a candidate for governor to win a majority of the popular vote. Arizona and Georgia have runoffs if needed, while in Vermont, the House and Senate decide the winner.
The four plaintiffs in the lawsuit include two retired political science professors.
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Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri. Follow Emily Wagster Pettus at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus and David A. Lieb at http://twitter.com/DavidALieb .