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National Govt & Politics

    A year of upheaval at the U.S. Interior Department has seen dozens of senior staff members reassigned and key leadership positions left unfilled, rules considered burdensome to industry shelved, and a sweeping reorganization proposed for its 70,000 employees. The evolving status quo at the agency responsible for more than 780,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) of public lands, mostly in the West, has prompted praise from energy and mining companies and Republicans, who welcomed the departure from perceived heavy-handed regulation under President Barack Obama. But the changes have drawn increasingly sharp criticism from conservationists, Democrats and some agency employees. Under President Donald Trump, the critics say, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has curbed outside input into how land administered by the agency is used, and elevated corporate interests above the its duty to safeguard treasured sites. The differing views illustrate longstanding tensions over the multifaceted role of America's public lands — an amalgam of pristine wilderness retreats, recreational playgrounds and abundant energy reserves. A year into his tenure, Zinke, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and Montana congressman, has emerged as the point person for the administration's goal of American 'energy dominance.' He's targeted for elimination regulations perceived to hamper development of oil, natural gas and coal beneath public lands primarily in the West and Alaska. He's also sketched plans to realign the agency's bureaucracy, trimming 4,600 jobs — about 7 percent of its workforce —and proposing a massive overhaul that would move decision-making out of Washington, D.C. and relocate headquarters staff to Western states at a cost of $17.5 million. The intent is to delegate more power to personnel in the field who oversee activities ranging from mining, to livestock grazing to protecting endangered plants and animals. Zinke models himself as a modern-day embodiment of Theodore Roosevelt's conservation ethos, but laid out his reorganization vision to the agency employees via a 'fireside chat' video that evoked another president: Franklin Roosevelt. His actions have stirred dissent from both within and outside the agency — from his claim that one-third of Interior employees were disloyal to Trump, to a proposal to allow more drilling off America's coasts while carving out an exception for Florida at the request of its Republican governor, Rick Scott. Along with Zinke's full-throated promotion of the Trump administration's new agenda came the transfer of at least 35 senior Interior employees. Among them was Matthew Allen, who was demoted from his post as assistant director of communications at Interior's U.S. Bureau of Land Management. He's now in a newly created position, performing 'nonspecific duties' in an Interior branch that oversees offshore drilling. Allen filed a federal lawsuit in December challenging his reassignment as retaliation for his support of government transparency. 'There appears to be a collective effort to suppress information being shared with the public, the press and the Congress,' he said. At the agency's highest levels, 11 leadership positions remain vacant a year after Trump took office, including the directors of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. Panels such as the National Park System Advisory Board have languished, according to a letter submitted by members of the board who resigned last month. Board Chairman and former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, complained requests to engage with Zinke's team were ignored and members were concerned stewardship and protection of the parks was being pushed to the side. When the Park Service in October proposed increasing entrance fees at 17 of the most highly visited parks — from Arches and Grand Canyon to Yellowstone and Zion — the board wasn't consulted, said Carolyn Finney, a University of Kentucky geography professor who was among those who resigned. 'How do we make parks more accessible? It's cost,' Finney said. She said the fee increase would hinder the ability of a 'more diverse and wider group of the public to visit he park.' The board's charter had expired in December after it collected comments from more than 100 experts on how parks should deal with climate change, increase visitor diversity and protect wildlife. Zinke's associate deputy secretary, Todd Willens, called the resignations a 'political stunt' because another meeting was planned and because the agency was working to renew its charter. Similar action has been promised for idled advisory boards at the Bureau of Land Management. Under Trump, the charters for 22 state-level resource advisory councils — composed of local officials, business and environmental group representatives and others — had expired by the end of January. Some expired months ago and at least 14 remained expired as of Friday. Interior Department representatives did not respond to numerous requests for information on the status of the other councils. The councils make recommendations on activities that take place on public lands, such as whether off-road vehicles should be allowed in wildlife habitat or whether logging could help prevent wildfires. Zinke suspended the panels for five months in May as part of a review of more than 200 boards and advisory committees. Some had not met in years. Congressional Democrats objected, saying the move would stifle non-governmental views on how U.S.-owned land is used. Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift said it was 'common practice' to periodically renew and refine the panels' charters. She said Zinke's vision for the agency was 'to manage public lands at the most local level possible' by making more decisions regionally. For example, she said Zinke wants to make sure hiking trails that start on land controlled by one agency division don't just end when they reach land controlled by another division. Oil and gas groups in particular have embraced the concept of change for an agency once seen as an obstacle to drilling. The withdrawal or cancellation of Obama-era rules on fracking and methane emissions from oil and gas exploration were positive first steps, they say. Next comes getting Interior staff on board, said Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance, which promotes giving oil and gas companies access to federal lands. U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the House Natural Resources Committee's ranking Democrat, said Zinke's actions have made it easier to pollute federal lands and waters while giving special interest groups more influence. 'He's in over his head,' Grijalva said. ___ Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at www.twitter.com/matthewbrownap .
  • A 'Make America Great Again' hat. A tea party T-shirt. A MoveOn.org button. Wear any one of those items to vote in Minnesota, and a poll worker will likely ask you to remove it or cover it up. Like a number of states, Minnesota bars voters from wearing political items to the polls to reduce the potential for confrontations or voter intimidation. But that could change. The Supreme Court on Feb. 28 will consider a challenge to the state's law, in a case that could affect other states, too. Wen Fa, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, the group behind the challenge to Minnesota's law, says voters wearing political apparel shouldn't have to hang up their hats, turn their T-shirts inside out or put their buttons in their bags just to cast a ballot. Wearing political clothing is 'a passive way to express core political values,' said Fa, who said the case is 'about the free speech rights of all Americans.' Minnesota sees it differently. In court papers, it says the law is a 'reasonable restriction' that preserves 'order and decorum in the polling place' and prevents 'voter confusion and intimidation.' 'I think what's important to understand is the purpose of this prohibition is to protect the fundamental right to vote,' said Daniel Rogan, who is arguing the case for the state and said he doesn't know of anyone issued a fine of up to $300 allowed under the law. Lower courts have sided with the state. Beyond Minnesota, state laws vary in their fashion policing of the polls. Some states allow voters to wear whatever they want. Others bar campaign clothing directly related to candidates or issues on the ballot. Minnesota has a broad law that also bans 'political' attire, including clothing promoting a group with understood political views, such as the tea party or MoveOn.org. The sides in the Supreme Court case disagree about which states have laws similar to Minnesota's, but each side's number is roughly 10. Elections officials in states with restrictions say it's not a big issue. Most people who wear prohibited items to the polls just aren't aware of the law or forget, officials say, and comply with requests to cover up. Will Senning, Vermont's elections director since 2013, said he can't remember any Election Day calls about people refusing to comply with his state's law. Elaine Manlove, who has headed elections in Delaware since 2007, couldn't think of a single prosecution under her state's statute nor could Mark Goins, who has overseen Tennessee elections since 2009. But Goins said he'd be concerned about allowing clothing supporting candidates or political parties at polling places. 'I think you run the risk of having political disputes inside the polling location and sometimes these disputes can get pretty loud,' Goins said. The Supreme Court last considered the issue of free speech at polling places in 1992 when the court upheld a Tennessee law prohibiting the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of a polling place. The case now before the justices began in 2010 when several groups sued after Minnesota officials made clear they wouldn't permit residents to vote while wearing tea party apparel or buttons that said, 'Please I.D. Me.' The buttons referred to legislation then under discussion in the state and ultimately defeated that would have required residents to show photo identification to vote. Two voters who defied elections officials — one who wore a 'Please I.D. Me' button and another who wore both a button and tea party T-shirt — were asked to cover up or remove the items. Both were ultimately allowed to vote wearing the apparel, though their names were taken down for potential prosecution. Andy Cilek, one of the voters confronted by poll workers, called the policy 'absurd.' Now, at the Supreme Court, Cilek's side has both the support of the libertarian Cato Institute and the liberal American Civil Liberties Union, and his lawyer believes the case is not one that will divide the court along ideological lines. 'The American electorate is surely hardy enough to vote their conscience even if they notice their fellow citizens wearing, say, a Black Lives Matter or AFL-CIO T-shirt, a Women's March hat, or a pro-life or peace-sign button,' the ACLU told the court in a brief. Texas resident Brett Mauthe agrees. In 2016, the Donald Trump supporter was arrested outside his polling place after he refused to cover up a black T-shirt he was wearing that said '50% basket of deplorables,' a reference to a comment Hillary Clinton had made about Trump supporters. He argued his shirt was ambiguous in its support. Mauthe, who didn't know about Texas' law when he went to vote and whose case was ultimately dismissed, says he's moved on. He's passionate about his politics, he said, but if given the opportunity to lawfully wear political clothing to the polls, 'I probably would just wear regular street clothes,' he said. ___ Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko
  • President Donald Trump spent the holiday weekend hunkered down at his Florida estate, watching cable television news, grousing to club members and advisers and fuming over the investigation of Russian election meddling. In a marathon series of furious tweets from Mar-a-Lago, Trump vented about Russia, raging at the FBI for what he perceived to be a fixation on the Russia investigation at the cost of failing to deter the attack on a Florida high school. He made little mention of the nearby school shooting victims and the escalating gun control debate. The president has grown increasingly frustrated since the indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday charged 13 Russians with a plot to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. Trump viewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's declaration that the indictment doesn't show that any American knowingly participated as proof of his innocence and is deeply frustrated that the media are still suggesting that his campaign may have colluded with Russian officials, according to a person who has spoken to the president in the last 24 hours but is not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. Trump was last seen publicly Friday night when he visited the nearby Florida community reeling from a school shooting that left 17 dead and gave rise to a student-led push for more gun control. White House aides advised the president against golfing so soon after the tragedy. Instead, he fired off tweets Saturday and Sunday and met with House Speaker Paul Ryan Sunday afternoon. Trump fumed to associates at Mar-a-Lago that the media 'won't let it go' and will do everything to delegitimize his presidency. He made those complaints to members who stopped by his table Saturday as he dined with his two adult sons and TV personality Geraldo Rivera. Initially pleased with the Justice Department's statement, Trump has since griped that Rosenstein did not go far enough in declaring that he was cleared of wrongdoing, and grew angry when his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, gave credence to the notion that Russia's meddling affected the election, the person said. Amid a growing call for action on guns, the White House said Sunday the president will host a 'listening session' with students and teachers this week, but offered no details on who would attend or what would be discussed. On Monday, 17 Washington students plan a 'lie-in' by the White House to advocate for tougher gun laws. Students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are planning a march on Washington next month to pressure politicians to take action on gun violence. On Twitter, Trump stressed that the Russian effort began before he declared his candidacy and asserted that the Obama administration bears some blame for it. He also insisted he never denied that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. campaign, although in fact he has frequently challenged the veracity of the evidence. The president declared 'they are laughing their asses off in Moscow'' at the lingering fallout from the Kremlin's election interference. James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, said on CNN's 'State of the Union' that the president was not focusing on the bigger threat. 'Above all this rhetoric here, again, we're losing sight of, what is it we're going to do about the threat posed by the Russians? And he never — he never talks about that,' said Clapper. 'It's all about himself, collusion or not.' Trump tweeted about the nation's 'heavy heart' in the wake of the shooting in Parkland and noted the 'incredible people' he met on his visit to the community. But he also sought to use the shooting to criticize the nation's leading law enforcement agency. Trump said late Saturday that the FBI 'missed all of the many signals' sent by the suspect and argued that agents are 'spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.' The FBI received a tip last month that the man now charged in the school shooting had a 'desire to kill' and access to guns and could be plotting an attack. But the agency said Friday that agents failed to investigate. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent Trump critic, called that tweet about the FBI an 'absurd statement' on CNN's 'State of the Union,' adding that the 'FBI apparently made a terrible mistake, and people should be held accountable. But we need leadership out of the executive.' ___ Lemire contributed from Paradise Island, Bahamas.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden is tiptoeing toward a potential presidential run in 2020, even broaching the possibility during a recent gathering of longtime foreign policy aides. Huddled in his newly opened office steps from the U.S. Capitol, Biden began a planning meeting for his new diplomacy center by addressing the elephant in the room. He said he was keeping his 2020 options open, considering it a real possibility. He insisted he had made no decision, and didn't need to yet, according to five people who either attended the meeting or were briefed on it by those who did. Biden also expressed interest in bringing those in the room onto his team if he decides to launch a campaign. At the same time, he gave them an out: There would be no hard feelings if they decided they were content in their current roles outside of government, said the people, who demanded anonymity to discuss a private meeting. The political world has long tried to game out Biden's plans for 2020. After all, he came close to running last time only to see President Donald Trump pull off a victory that many Democrats openly suggest wouldn't have happened had he, not Hillary Clinton, been their nominee. Several people came away from the meeting with the impression that if no strong Democratic candidate emerges in the next year or so, Biden would feel strongly compelled to run. A presidential candidate twice before, Biden would be 78 on Inauguration Day if elected in 2020, a concerning prospect for some Democrats even though he's only a few years older than Trump. One possibility that Biden's longtime advisers have discussed privately is that he could announce his intention to serve only one term, clearing the path for his running mate to take over in 2024 and potentially setting up Democrats for a 12-year White House stretch. Biden's brief discussion about his 2020 deliberations came as he brought foreign policy staffers together to set the 2018 agenda for the newly opened Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement — where many of them are now working, including Colin Kahl, his vice presidential national security adviser, and Steve Ricchetti, his former chief of staff. Eli Ratner, his former deputy national security adviser, and Mike Carpenter, the former Pentagon and State Department official who's now the center's senior director, also attended, as did Julianne Smith, a Biden adviser in the Obama administration's first term who now works at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. A Biden spokesman declined to comment. But in a recent NBC News interview, Biden said he'd decide on running in 2020 based on whether it was 'the right thing to do.' 'I'm focused on one thing: electing a Democratic Congress to stop this erosion of the core of who we are,' Biden said. 'I'll look at that a year from now. I have plenty of time to consider whether or not to run.' The meeting was one of several signs that Biden is beginning to position himself as an alternative to Trump. Biden has started denouncing the current president's leadership more frequently in public, as he crisscrosses the United States and beyond to promote his new book, his cancer initiative, his new domestic policy institute in Delaware, the diplomacy center and his new political action committee, American Possibilities. He's also been gearing up to play a major role campaigning for Democrats seeking to retake the House and Senate in the 2018 midterms. 'Donald Trump's looking out for Donald Trump. Republicans are looking out for Donald Trump. Who's looking out for everyone else? Democrats,' Biden wrote in a recent fundraising pitch to the PAC's supporters. He said in 2018, he would 'beat a path all across this country to stand up for leaders who will stand up for all of us.' In 2015, Biden's face was plastered across cable news channels and newspaper front pages for months as he carried out a lengthy deliberation about whether to challenge Clinton for the nomination. Ultimately, he decided he and his family weren't in position to run so soon after his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died from brain cancer earlier that year. Yet many Democrats have argued that his 'everyman' brand and blue-collar appeal would make him particularly well-suited to challenge Trump. ___ This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Eli Ratner, not Ratney. ___ Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP
  • Pennsylvania's high court is on the cusp Monday of imposing a new congressional district map to take effect for the state's 2018 elections, all but ensuring that Democratic prospects will improve in several seats and boosting the party's quest to capture control of the U.S. House. Monday is the state Supreme Court's self-imposed deadline to unveil new district boundaries, replacing the 6-year-old boundaries the court struck down in a gerrymandering lawsuit last month. New boundaries for Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts are to take effect starting in the May 15 primary and could make substantial changes to a map widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered. The redrawn map also could dramatically change the face of Pennsylvania's predominantly Republican, all-male delegation. Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters will have to sort out which district they live in barely a month before the deadline to submit paperwork to run. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supported the court's decision, but Pennsylvania's Republican lawmakers have said they will swiftly ask a federal court to block any new map, contending that the constitutional authority to draw congressional districts belongs to legislatures and governors, not courts. Pennsylvania's Republican delegation has provided a crucial pillar of support for GOP control of the U.S. House since 2010. Republicans who controlled the Legislature and governor's office after the 2010 census drew boundaries that broke decades of precedent, split up cities and produced contorted districts to help maintain a big Republican advantage in Pennsylvania's congressional delegation. They succeeded: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections under the now-invalidated map, even though Democrats hold a statewide registration edge over Republicans and most statewide offices. The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court ruled last month in a party-line decision that the district boundaries unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria. The court gave the Republican-controlled Legislature 19 days to produce a new map that Wolf would accept. But top Republicans held no votes or serious negotiations on a map before they handed Wolf a proposal that he rejected. The justices could pick a proposed map submitted by parties to the case, including the registered Democratic voters who sued last June. Or they could use one drawn by a Stanford University law professor who has assisted judges drawing districts in other states. Candidates can start circulating petitions to run in their new districts on Feb. 27. Pennsylvania has seen a surge of interest in running for Congress with six incumbents elected in 2016 not running again — the most in four decades — and Democrats inflamed by anti-Trump sentiment.
  • An ex-wife of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter says she has received a letter of apology from Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who defended his former aide from 'a vile attack' after two ex-wives accused Porter of domestic abuse. Porter resigned Feb. 7 after the accusations from Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby became public, though he denied them. Porter had been Hatch's chief of staff for three years. When the allegations first surfaced, Hatch defended Porter as 'kind and considerate towards all' and referred to 'a vile attack' and 'character assassins.' After details of the alleged abuse came to light, Hatch said he was 'heartbroken,' didn't know the details of Porter's personal life, and called domestic violence 'abhorrent.' Holderness told The Associated Press in an email Sunday that she had received 'an apology letter' from Hatch and that she appreciated it. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple first reported that both Holderness and Willoughby had received letters of apology from Hatch. Emails and calls for comment from Hatch's office and from Willoughby were not immediately returned to the AP. President Donald Trump defended Porter after his departure from the White House and wished him well while not mentioning the ex-wives and their accusations. Trump later lamented via Twitter that 'lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,' which critics pointed to as further evidence that Trump downplayed violence against women. The Porter episode also raised questions about how long White House officials knew about the allegations against him and what role they played in Porter failing to obtain a permanent security clearance.
  • Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt is postponing a planned trip to Israel. The decision comes as Pruitt is under pressure over the cost of his travel, including frequent first-class flights. EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman confirmed the trip's postponement in an email Sunday. She did not explain why the trip had been postponed or immediately respond to an email asking whether the decision was related to the recent reports about Pruitt's travel. Pruitt has said a 'toxic environment politically' required first-class travel and protection from a 24-hour security detail. According to travel vouchers obtained by an environmental organization, Pruitt and staffers billed taxpayers nearly $200,000 for his trips over six months last year. The postponement of the Israel trip was first reported by The Washington Post.
  • The Latest on President Donald Trump (all times local): 5 p.m. President Donald Trump has kept largely silent about the Florida school shooting victims and the escalating gun control debate. Instead, Trump has been raging at the FBI for what he perceives to be a fixation on the Russia investigation at the cost of failing to deter the attack. From the privacy of his South Florida estate, Trump has vented about the investigation in a marathon series of tweets over the weekend. Trump was last seen publicly Friday night when he visited the Florida community reeling from a school shooting that left 17 dead and gave rise to a student-led push for more gun control. The White House said Sunday the president will host a 'listening session' with students and teachers this week. No details were offered on who would attend. ___ 12:45 p.m. President Donald Trump will hold a listening session with high school students this week following the deadly school shooting in Florida. A White House schedule says Trump will host students and teachers Wednesday. He also will meet with state and local officials on school safety on Thursday. The White House did not immediately answer questions about what students would be attending the session. Students who survived the shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead have focused their anger on the president, urging him and other elected officials to do something about gun violence. The president visited the community Friday, seeking out victims at a hospital and meeting first responders. Otherwise, his attention has been almost fully on the Russia investigation, the subject of a series of tweets he fired posted Sunday. ___ 9 a.m. President Donald Trump is venting his fury over the Russia probe. In a rapid-fire series of tweets from his Florida estate, he's arguing that the Obama administration bears some of the blame for the election meddling and insisting that he never denied the Russian involvement. Trump in the past has repeatedly expressed skepticism over Russian interference in the 2016 election that put him in the White House. Trump also argued Sunday that the ongoing investigations are just what the Russians want, saying: 'Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!
  • The warnings around Nikolas Cruz seemed to flash like neon signs: expelled from school, fighting with classmates, a fascination with weapons and hurting animals, disturbing images and comments posted to social media, previous mental health treatment. In Florida, that wasn't enough for relatives, authorities or his schools to request a judicial order barring him from possessing guns. Only five states have laws enabling family members, guardians or police to ask judges to temporarily strip gun rights from people who show warning signs of violence. Supporters of these measures, deemed 'red flag laws' or gun-violence restraining orders, say they can save lives by stopping some shootings and suicides. Florida, where Cruz is accused of using an AR-15 assault weapon to kill 17 people at his former high school, lacks such a law. He was able to legally own the semi-automatic rifle, even though his mother, classmates and teachers had at times described him as dangerous and threatening, and despite repeated police visits to his home. Red flag legislation has been introduced by Democratic state lawmakers, but it hasn't been heard during this year's session, and its fate is uncertain in a state Legislature controlled by Republicans who generally favor expanding gun rights. After Wednesday's shooting, Republican Gov. Rick Scott said he will work to make sure people with mental illnesses don't have access to guns, but offered no specifics. Florida's GOP Sen. Marco Rubio — facing criticism from support he has received from the National Rifle Association — is going a step further now. Rubio said on a Sunday morning show that state legislators should 'absolutely' consider enacting a law enabling family members or law enforcement officials to ask a court to remove guns from a person who poses a danger. Rubio, who once served as Florida's House speaker, told Miami CBS affiliate WFOR that it's an 'example of a state law' that could have helped prevent the Florida shooting. In 2014, California became the first state to let family members ask a judge to remove firearms from a relative who appears to pose a threat. Its legislature took action after a mentally ill man, Elliot Rodger, killed six students and wounded 13 others near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before killing himself. California's law also empowers police to petition for the protective orders, which can require authorities to remove firearms for up to one year. Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington also have some version of a red flag law. More than a dozen others, including Hawaii, New Jersey and Missouri, are considering bills to enable family members or police to petition the courts to take weapons away from people showing signs of mental distress or violence. The Florida shooting has revived debate about whether teachers and school administrators should have that authority as well, given that people at Cruz's high school witnessed much of his erratic behavior. California lawmakers voted to expand their law in 2016 so that high school and college personnel, co-workers and mental health professionals can seek the restraining orders, but Gov. Jerry Brown called the effort premature and vetoed it. State Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, said he plans to reintroduce the bill. 'We need to make sure that when people see signs, they have every ability to do something about getting guns out of the hands of mentally ill and dangerous people,' Ting told The Associated Press. Circumstances similar to those in Florida played out seven years ago in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. Jared Loughner had become increasingly disruptive and erratic at his community college in the months leading up to the shooting, frightening students and causing teachers to request campus police officers be on hand during his classes. Eventually, the school threatened him with suspension. Soon after, he went to a gun store and legally bought the weapon he used to attack Giffords as she met with constituents, shooting her in the head and killing six people. Without red flag laws, the main recourse available to family members is to have a troubled loved one committed to a psychiatric institution. Federal law permanently bans anyone who has been involuntary committed from owning guns, but such actions are more difficult to carry out than red flag laws, which are intended to be quick and temporary and have a lower standard of proof. Without such a commitment, formal adjudication of serious mental illness or a felony conviction, many people can pass background checks and possess guns they already own. The red flag laws act as a sort of timeout, so someone in psychological distress can get counseling while their fitness to possess a gun is evaluated, said Laura Cutilletta, legal director of the Giffords Law Center. 'It's a way to allow for temporary removal of firearms in a situation just like this: where somebody has made threats, where they have been expelled from school because of those threats, they're in counseling, and parents or the school or whoever it is understands that this person poses a threat,' she said. Many gun-rights activists oppose the laws. They say they can be used to unfairly take away rights from people who have not been convicted of crimes, nor professionally evaluated for mental illness. The NRA's lobbying arm has said such laws enable courts to remove Second Amendment rights 'based on third-party allegations and evidentiary standards' that are lower than what's required in criminal proceedings. Connecticut led the way with a 1999 law, passed after an employee shot and killed four executives at state Lottery headquarters. It allows police to remove guns based on probable cause that a person poses a 'risk of imminent personal injury.' In a study published last year, researchers at Duke, Yale, Connecticut and Virginia estimated that dozens of suicides have been prevented by the law, roughly one for every 10 gun seizures carried out. They said such laws 'could significantly mitigate the risk' posed by the small number of legal gun owners who might suddenly pose a significant danger. ___ Foley reported from Iowa City, Iowa. ___ Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Sacramento; Gary Fineout and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; and Lisa Marie Pane in Atlanta contributed to this report.
  • As the nation mourned, President Donald Trump kept largely silent about the Florida school shooting victims and the escalating gun control debate, instead raging at the FBI for what he perceived to be a fixation on the Russia investigation at the cost of failing to deter the attack. From the privacy of Mar-a-Lago, Trump vented about the investigation in a marathon series of tweets over the weekend. He said Sunday 'they are laughing their asses off in Moscow'' at the lingering fallout from the Kremlin's election interference and that the Obama administration bears some blame for the meddling. Trump was last seen publicly Friday night when he visited the Florida community reeling from a school shooting that left 17 dead and gave rise to a student-led push for more gun control. White House aides advised the president against golfing so soon after the tragedy, so Trump spent much of the holiday weekend watching cable television news and grousing to club members and advisers. Trump met Sunday afternoon with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, discussing immigration, taxes, infrastructure and the Florida shooting, the White House said. Amid a growing call for action on guns, the White House said Sunday the president will host a 'listening session' with students and teachers this week, but offered no details on who would attend or what would be discussed. On Monday, 17 Washington students plan a 'lie-in' by the White House to advocate for tougher gun laws. Students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are planning a march on Washington next month to pressure politicians to take action on gun violence. Some lawmakers said it would take a powerful movement to motivate Congress. 'I am not optimistic that until there is real action by the American public to demand change in Congress that we're going to see real action to confront gun violence out of this Congress,' said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., on CBS' 'Face the Nation.' Throughout the weekend, the president's mind remained on Russia after an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday charged 13 Russians with a plot to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. Trump viewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's declaration that the indictment doesn't show that any American knowingly participated as proof of his innocence and is deeply frustrated that the media are still suggesting that his campaign may have colluded with Russian officials, according to a person who has spoken to the president in the last 24 hours but is not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. He has fumed to associates at Mar-a-Lago that the media 'won't let it go' and will do everything to delegitimize his presidency. He made those complaints to members who stopped by his table Saturday as he dined with his two adult sons and TV personality Geraldo Rivera. Initially pleased with the Justice Department's statement, Trump has since griped that Rosenstein did not go far enough in declaring that he was cleared of wrongdoing, and grew angry when his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, gave credence to the notion that Russia's meddling affected the election, the person said. Trump's frustration bubbled over on Twitter, where he stressed that the Russian effort began before he declared his candidacy, asserted that the Obama administration bears some blame for the election meddling and insisted he never denied that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. campaign. By late Sunday night, Trump shifted his wide-ranging Twitter critique to Oprah Winfrey, who has played down suggestions she should run for president in 2020. Trump said her appearance as an interviewer on '60 Minutes' was 'biased' and 'slanted.' ''Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!' Trump tweeted. James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, said on CNN's 'State of the Union' that the president was not focusing on the bigger threat. 'Above all this rhetoric here, again, we're losing sight of, what is it we're going to do about the threat posed by the Russians? And he never — he never talks about that,' said Clapper. 'It's all about himself, collusion or not.' Trump tweeted about the nation's 'heavy heart' in the wake of the shooting and noted the 'incredible people' he met on his visit to the community. But he also sought to use the shooting to criticize the nation's leading law enforcement agency. Trump said late Saturday that the FBI 'missed all of the many signals' sent by the suspect and argued that agents are 'spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.' The FBI received a tip last month that the man now charged in the school shooting had a 'desire to kill' and access to guns and could be plotting an attack. But the agency said Friday that agents failed to investigate. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent Trump critic, called that tweet an 'absurd statement' on CNN's 'State of the Union,' adding that the 'FBI apparently made a terrible mistake, and people should be held accountable. But we need leadership out of the executive.' Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stressed on ABC's 'This Week' that the indictment was not the end of the Mueller probe. 'I'd caution everybody to not believe that this is yet over, because there's lots of other places where Director Mueller to look regarding potential Russian involvement in all this,' said Christie, a Republican. 'I think we've unfortunately got more, more to learn and more to come, in the, in the days and weeks ahead.' ___ Lemire contributed from Paradise Island, Bahamas.