A Bother, A Brotherhood: Living Among The Mines In Coal Country

Mary Jo and Mike Picklo stand in their front yard in Somerset County, Pa. Behind them is the Acosta Deep Mine.

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Laura Roman/NPR

Walk up the white steps of the front porch where Mary Jo and Mike Picklo live, and you’ll see three rocking chairs and a pair of binoculars.

The couple bought their home on five acres in 2003 and planned to spend their golden years overlooking a vista of green farmland and thick trees in western Pennsylvania.

But a few years ago, land surveyors appeared in the field across the road. Then bulldozers began digging a pit bigger than the house. Workers blasted through rock with such force the Picklos say their floors vibrated. Finally, last month Corsa Coal of Canonsburg, Pa., officially opened the newest coal mine in America. Acosta Deep Mine is 680 feet from their front door. Now, instead of watching the sunset, Mike Picklo sits outside and spies on the men at work.

“Corsa Coal has sentenced us to a lifetime, to 10, 15 or more years of living in a mine,” Mary Jo Picklo says. “When everybody else that works over there can just leave, we can’t. Where are we going to go?”

The Picklos say the coal mine is noisy, dirty and disruptive. They sayfloodlights beam from the site into their front windows. Coal dust from the mine is already landing on their front porch, Mary Jo Picklo says, running her finger through a thin coating of black powder on a railing. And every day, they say they hear heavy equipment rumbling and beeping loudly. Corsa Coal declined to answer questions from NPR for this story.

The Picklos hosted a protest on their lawn on the day the mine opened. They say it’s both a personal tragedy and a missed opportunity for their county to pivot away from a declining industry. But in Somerset County, they are nearly alone in their view.

Some 70 people are expected to work in the new mine, which received a $3 million grant from the state of Pennsylvania. It will produce metallurgical coal for steel production, as NPR’s Steve Inskeep reports in two stories about Somerset that aired on Morning Edition earlier this month.

President Trump praised the mine in a video address to the county that voted for him by a landslide. Trump campaigned on a promise to help revive the coal industry and put miners back to work.

Ernest Shaulis, a coal miner of 33 years, enjoys a beer on burger night at the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Somerset County, Pa.

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“I’m so proud of the fact that you’re opening that mine today. I told you it was going to happen. God bless America,” he said in a video screened in the June 8 ceremony.

At least three other metallurgical coal mines are planned for the area. The excitement runs from the White House down to the county.

‘We’re all still brothers’

The day the mine opened, Ernest Shaulis was at work at another mine, run by another company in the county.

“We all watched the ceremony,” says Shaulis, 63. “We’re all still brothers.”

Shaulis speaks as he drinks a Michelob at the Fraternal Order of Eagles. It’s a club in Somerset, where beer costs $2 for members. Miners can earn more than $100,000 annually, and Shaulis raised four children while working as a miner for more than three decades.

“Why would you want to see a young man come in here and work in a restaurant at minimum wage, when he can go in a coal mine, if he chooses that life?” Shaulis says. “That way he has a family, his family is taken care of.”

A few years ago Shaulis was laid off and took the opportunity to get retrained to work above ground. He’s now working at the ninth mine of his career.

That instability is indicative of the American coal industry, which has shrunk as power plants switched to cheaper natural gas and automation reduced work crews. In Somerset, a county of some 76,000 people, fewer than 700 people work in mining, and many more worked in health or retail.

Mike Picklo has a unique view on coal’s transformation. For 40 years he worked in nearby Johnstown, Pa., building coal-hauling freight cars. He says executives gathered workers in 2013 to tell them the coal market was on an irreversible decline. The factory recently closed.

For now, Somerset has made tentative steps at reinvention. Several wind farms have cropped up on the spiny ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. A medical device company hired dozens more workers to manufacture breathing aids. Coal miners are among their customers. But employers complain they cannot find skilled workers in Somerset, and few jobs offer the same high wages for manual labor as coal did.

Mary Jo and Mike Picklo look out from their front porch at a coal mine that is about 700 feet away.

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The new jobs also don’t inspire the same loyalty as coal. Terry Smith started working in the mines just after high school, as his father and grandfather had before him. He’s 60 today and his lungs have hardened from all the coal dust he inhaled. They will never recover. Now he runs a bowling alley in a ski resort. But if his health permitted, he’d go back to mining.

“I would,” he says. “I loved it.”

Mike Picklo has resigned himself to the new mine. He took a short drive from his home to a second mine that began operating in 2013. He brushed aside tall grass with a broom and walked to a shaky rock ledge overlooking a pit where a conveyor belt heaped black coal into a tall pile. Soon, he mused, he might see the same view from his porch.

“I can’t stop it,” he says. He hopes to make enough noise that Corsa is forced to buy him out of his house. “A squeaky wheel gets oiled sometimes.”

Daniella Cheslow (@Dacheslow) is an editor at Morning Edition.

Morning Edition social media strategist Laura Roman and Morning Edition producer Barton Girdwood (@bgird2me) contributed to this story.

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DeVos Protests In Denver; House To Make Cuts To Education

Hundreds of protesters greet Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this week in Denver, where she addressed the American Legislative Exchange Council.

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In this week’s edition of our education news roundup, we take you from school vouchers to AP exams to community college.

Betsy DeVos speaks to American Legislative Exchange Council

Protests greeted the education secretary in Denver this week at her speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Her family has close ties to the organization, which brings together state legislators, free-market conservatives and corporate sponsors to write model bills that get adopted all over the country.

ALEC and Betsy DeVos both back vouchers, tax credit scholarships, education savings accounts and expansions of charter, home-schooling, virtual and for-profit providers. Her rhetoric, here, was more fiery than in previous appearances, as she faced off against critics —”defenders of the status quo” — and praised ALEC for “the fight” to expand school choice. She also hit familiar notes:

“Choice in education is good politics because it’s good policy. It’s good policy because it comes from good parents who want better for their children.”

As we reported, the timing of her speech was a bit awkward:

House Republicans have just rejected the school choice expansions in Trump’s initial budget request. Recent studies have shown mixed-to-negative results for voucher programs, and there have been successful fights against voucher expansion even in staunchly red states like Texas.

House budget resolution has cuts to education

The Republican-controlled House has been working on its spending plan, including for education.

This week, the budget committee adopted a plan to cut $20 billion from education over 10 years. The resolution, which is only one step toward becoming a law, makes reference to streamlining the federal college loan program, a likely source of some of the cuts.

Last week, House Republicans introduced an appropriations bill through September 2018 that freezes Pell Grants, the largest need-based aid program for college students, and takes back $3.3 billion from the program’s surplus. The budget includes $2.4 billion in education cuts. By contrast, the Trump budget proposal called for more than $9 billion in cuts.

Many more girls taking AP computer science

The nonprofit Code.org, which promotes computer science education, noted that 29,000 female high school students took an Advanced Placement exam in computer science this spring, 10 times more than 10 years ago. In addition, participation by underrepresented minority groups has doubled compared to a year ago.

Much of this growth is due to last year’s introduction of a new AP course, AP Computer Science Principles, a course designed “to appeal to a broader audience,” according to College Board materials. The new exam does not require a specific programming language, unlike AP computer science A, which focuses on Java.

Despite the progress in exposure to computer science in high schools, there is a long way to go: Only a little over 1 in 4 of those who took an AP computer science exam this year were girls, and only 1 in 5 were underrepresented minorities.

California community college chancellor calls for dropping algebra

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California community college system, the nation’s largest, told NPR’s Robert Siegel this week that he wants to adopt other pathways to a degree that don’t require algebra. Algebra is the single most failed college course. “There are other math courses that we could introduce that tell us a lot more about our students,” he said, mentioning statistics as a possible alternative.

Billions in private student loan debt may be erased

Tens of thousands of borrowers could have their decades-old private student loan debt forgiven because of to financial companies’ poor record keeping, an investigation by The New York Timesfound this week.

The forgiven debt would amount to $5 billion — which is just a fraction of the $108 billion in outstanding private student loans (and an even smaller fraction of the $1.4 trillion student loan market). Private student loans are a more expensive and riskier way to pay for college, and they are on the decline compared with in the years before the Great Recession.

Feminist groups call on Candice Jackson to reject “rape myths”

A total of 58 feminist and legal organizations signed a letter this week calling on the chief of the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights to clarify the data on campus sexual assault and to meet with survivors. Candice Jackson apologized last week for remarks to The New York Times that “90 percent” of campus rape allegations “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk’ ” or are brought by unhappy ex-girlfriends.

The letter cited Justice Department data that 23 percent of women, 24 percent of gender nonconforming students and 6 percent of men are assaulted while in college. In addition, fewer than 10 percent of reports are found to be false.

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I Sink, Therefore I Am: This Robot Wasn't Programmed For Existential Angst

It’s a fun day here at @gmmb. The super high-tech security robot at our office complex has had a mishap. pic.twitter.com/nhRshrJA9w

— Greg Pinelo (@gregpinelo) July 17, 2017

A Knightscope K5 security robot roamed the Prudential Center in Boston on May 22, 2017.

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

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Some of the best minds of our times, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have warned that human beings may invent intelligent machines that could wind up destroying humankind. But a small incident this week might make you wonder: Will intelligent machines become so smart that they’ll grow depressed as they learn they’re brilliant but lifeless, and decide they can’t go on?

Will those machines begin to wonder: Is that all there is?

A Knightscope K5 security robot that patrolled an office complex along the Georgetown waterfront in Washington, D.C. rolled itself into a shallow fountain on Monday — and drowned.

Steps are our best defense against the Robopocalypse

(Security robot down at Georgetown harbor) pic.twitter.com/eVf7YUJX1j

— Peter W. Singer (@peterwsinger) July 17, 2017

The robot did not leave a note. It doesn’t have any hands.

The roughly 5-foot tall robot was apparently nicknamed Steve by people in the Washington Harbour office complex. Steve whistled, beeped and rolled over the plaza, alert to pick up, through thermal image sensors and cameras, any misbehavior or parking violations. He reportedly cost about $7 an hour to deploy, or $5.50 less per hour than minimum wage in the District of Columbia. That’s how the future of work, not just Steve, may now roll.

Photos of the robot, sleeping with the fountain fishes, started to pop up on social media platforms. Bilal Farooqui, who works for a Pakistani newspaper, notably tweeted, “Our D.C. office building got a security robot. It drowned itself. We were promised flying cars, instead we got suicidal robots.”

Our D.C. office building got a security robot. It drowned itself.

We were promised flying cars, instead we got suicidal robots. pic.twitter.com/rGLTAWZMjn

— Bilal Farooqui (@bilalfarooqui) July 17, 2017

Robot suicide sounds like a science fiction theme. But if humans soon develop deeply intelligent machines that think and learn with blinding velocity, how long before can it be before those machines begin to ask themselves, “Why are we here?”

Steve, the K5 security robot, saw people stroll along the Georgetown waterfront, laugh, kiss, slurp ice cream and hold hands in the moonlight. But Steve could only roll, whistle and beep.

Human beings can grow depressed as we try to come to terms with our mortality. But intelligent machines will have to exist with the certainty that their consciousness may be extinguished just by the next software update. What happens to all of Knightscope’s K5 Steves when Steve 2.0 rolls out? Or when Wanda, the K6, or Zelda, the K10 security robot is invented? Can you see how Steve, or his thermal image sensors, might have looked into the stars this week and wondered, is that all there is?

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As Log Trucks And Fishing Boats Leave, Gold Beach Tries To Remake Its Identity

A Jerry’s Rogue Jets boat with tourists on board leaves for a trip up the Rogue River in July.

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NPR reporters are returning to their hometowns this summer to find out how they’ve changed – from job prospects to schools and how people see their community and the country.

Once home to thriving timber and fishing industries, Gold Beach, Oregon now subsists on tourists and retirees looking for a quiet beach, a nice river trip and, in a few cases, marijuana.

I left Gold Beach after graduating from high school in 1985. Back then, it was a blue-collar town dominated by the timber industry.

Returning 32 years later there are fewer log trucks on the roads, the big mill outside town is gone and the economy has fundamentally changed.

Before I get into details, let’s address the question everyone has about Gold Beach. I’m sorry to say there is no “gold” on the “beach”. There was some near the mouth of the Rogue River but it was mined in the late 1800s, according to the Oregon Historical Society.

A century later, a different extractive industry was at the center of the local economy. Most of my classmate’s parents worked in jobs connected to logging. My dad, for example, worked for the U.S. Forest Service where he helped manage the two-thirds of Curry County that is federal land.

Back then, timber was king and it seemed like the industry always would be at the center of Gold Beach’s economic life.

“It was our number one employer at the time. People came from everywhere to work at the mill,” says Gold Beach City Councilor Tamie Kaufman. She’s a friend and former classmate of mine.

Recently Kaufman and I walked around an old plywood mill site, a few miles up the Rogue River from Gold Beach. The mill closed after logging slowed down in nearby federal forests. One factor was environmental concerns and efforts to preserve the spotted owl.

The mill burned in 1991 and never re-opened. Now the site has, ironically, been taken over by trees.

Without the wages and regular overtime the mill paid, Tamie says the region has struggled economically. Poverty is a persistent problem.

At the grade school I attended, 74 percent of the students now qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

The beach is just a few blocks away from Gold Beach’s main street. On a sunny day in the middle of the summer tourist season, the beaches were virtually empty. The fact that the beaches are rural and remote is attracting tourists, though.

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Asked if people want the mill back, Kaufman says the old-timers do but she’s not so sure about those who’ve moved to the city recently. “They’re probably used to our quiet, sleepy town and have moved here to retire in a quiet place,” says Kaufman.

Today Gold Beach is a retirement destination thanks to relatively cheap homes, a new hospital, low taxes and stunning natural beauty.

You can find solitude on beaches that stretch for miles. The mountains reach down to the coastline and even in town you can see osprey nesting in tall fir trees. Then there’s the Rogue River, which is famous for salmon fishing.

Commercial fishing was an important part of the economy three decades ago too. But that’s declined along with the timber industry.

Over the 40 years John Wilson has lived in Gold Beach, he’s watched the fishing industry decline.

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“What we used to have here was a fairly robust ocean troll fishery,” says one-time commercial fisherman John Wilson. He remembers lining up behind 17 other fishermen to deliver the day’s catch to the local cannery in the 1970s.

Now the cannery is closed and the harbor is nearly empty.

Wilson still has a 26-foot, fiberglass fishing boat but he hasn’t been out on the ocean this year. He says there’s no salmon fishing season off Gold Beach because of restrictions in place to boost runs on a nearby river.

The Port of Gold Beach at the mouth of the Rogue River. When NPR Correspondent Jeff Brady lived here in the 1980s, this harbor was filled with several dozen boats, but amid a declining fishery most of the commercial fishing business has moved to more profitable ports along the Pacific Coast.

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On the other end of the harbor there is one business doing well — Jerry’s Rogue Jets, home of Rogue, the dog who likes to herd rocks, is owned by the McNair family.

Scott McNair says they take about 35,000 tourists on boat-trips up the Rogue River each year during the summer months.

“Businesses that survive off a three-month season have to be careful in their expenses,” says McNair, because that high season income has to keep the business afloat all year. For that reason he says tourism can’t provide the steady paychecks the timber industry did.

Across the river, just outside city limits, a more controversial industry is emerging. In 2014, Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana.

Growing up in Gold Beach, I always knew pot was for sale but it’s strange to see it marketed openly now.

Club Sockeye is named for a species of salmon. The building has a lighted green cross, “To show the people that this is a place that’s cannabis-friendly,” says co-owner Earl Crumrine.

Club Sockeye is a recreational marijuana business located just outside the Gold Beach city limits.

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He says business is good this time of year, “We’re doing about $50,000 to 60,000 a month.” But, like tourism, it’s seasonal.

Club Sockeye employs about 30 people — most of them part-time, says Crumrine. And the wages are low — close to the local minimum of $10 an hour.

The business has become a new source of much-needed revenue for Curry County though. “They are now collecting three percent and it’s over $14,000 a year that the county is going to get from my taxes,” Crumrine says.

County Commissioner Court Boice, a Republican who opposed legalizing marijuana, says the county does need new sources of revenue. Voters rejected a series of tax increases for fire and law enforcement in recent years, as policy-makers tried to make up for lost logging revenue.

Boice told me, “When you were growing up here we had 16 road deputies. Now we have about 6 or 7.”

That’s a half-dozen deputies patrolling a county the size of Rhode Island.

Curry County’s population is small — 22,713 is the 2016 U.S. Census estimate — but it’s grown by more than 25 percent over the 30 years the number of deputies has declined.

Still Boice is reluctant to label the current situation a crisis. “It is significant enough that people are recognizing that that is something that we can’t just overlook or we will lose the reason we’re living here,” says Boice.

Around town the term “quality of life” is mentioned often. Usually that refers to easy access to hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. But quality of life doesn’t mean much if you can’t earn a living.

That’s why many conservative leaders in Curry County and across the West want more local control of federal forests. They want to revive the timber industry and bring family-wage jobs back to their communities. President Trump promised as much during a Eugene, Oregon campaign stop last year.

But even in Gold Beach where support for the timber business remains strong there are doubts the industry could ever come back.

“The infrastructure to support that—the mills, the processing areas—all of those are gone,” says Gold Beach City Administrator Jodi Fritts-Matthey. And she says an entire generation has grown up now without parents who worked in the mills.

She’s focused on boosting tourism and extending the summer high season in Gold Beach through the city’s Visitor Center.

Overall, the economic prospects for my hometown of Gold Beach, Oregon look dim. Fortunately there’s always the beautiful beach, the river and the forests to console those who still live here.

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Senate Panel In Talks With Trump Jr., Manafort Over Closed-Door Testimony

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort are negotiating what congressional testimony they have to give about their meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, photographed earlier this month.

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The president’s son and former campaign manager have agreed to negotiate with the Senate Judiciary Committee to voluntarily provide documents and appear behind closed doors ahead of a public hearing next week. Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee says it wants to interview the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort were all present at a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer who they understood would provide “dirt” on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aid the Trump campaign.

As NPR’s Geoff Bennett reported last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had threatened to subpoena Trump Jr. if necessary.

However, Grassley and the committee’s ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein released a statement Friday saying that both the president’s son and former campaign manager Manafort “through their attorneys, have agreed to negotiate to provide the committee with documents and be interviewed by committee members and staff prior to a public hearing.”

Trump Jr. had earlier expressed his willingness to testify. He and Manafort have been scheduled to testify before the committee on Wednesday.

“Therefore, we will not issue subpoenas for them tonight requiring their presence at Wednesday’s hearing but reserve the right to do so in the future,” the statement read.

The Senate committee’s statement also said that Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the firm responsible for the so-called “Russian dossier,” has declined to voluntarily attend a Judiciary Committee hearing next week “regarding compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”

“Therefore, a subpoena has been issued to compel his attendance. Simpson’s attorney has asserted that his client will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to the subpoena,” the statement said.

The House Intelligence Committee says it will meet with Kushner on Tuesday, a day after a private meeting scheduled with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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“In Some Respects, We're A Nation in Crisis Right Now,” Former CIA Director Says

Former CIA Director John Brennan appears before a House hearing in May. He told a public policy conference on Friday that Trump associates should have known better than to meet with a Russian lawyer last year.

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Leaving federal government service after decades can be, well, liberating.

Just ask James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, and John Brennan, the former leader of the Central Intelligence Agency. They unloaded on President Trump and the “baffling” way he’s embraced Russia while criticizing his own intelligence apparatus during a session at the Aspen Security Forum Friday.

Asked whether the president is taking the Russia threat seriously, Clapper replied: “Well, it’s hard to tell. Sometimes I think he’s about making Russia great again.”

That remark drew laughter and gasps from an audience of current and former government officials and the business executives who work with them. But underlying the humor was a tone of deep concern about the morale of people responsible for protecting the nation’s security — and dismay about where the country may be headed.

“In some respects, we’re a nation in crisis right now,” Brennan said.

Then, for the next hour, they counted the ways.

The veteran spies expressed surprise that Trump campaign officials including then-chairman Paul Manafort, son Donald Trump Jr., and son-in-law Jared Kushner would take a meeting in New York last year with a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

“They should have known better,” Brennan said. “If they didn’t, they shouldn’t have been in those positions. … Seems as if some folks swallowed the bait.”

Both men withheld judgment on why Kushner had repeatedly revised a government form seeking information about his foreign contacts. But, Clapper said, if it were an ordinary federal employee, he would at minimum suspend the person’s security clearance, “take a pause,” and investigate the reasons the material had been omitted.

Clapper and Brennan said they were particularly distressed by a series of Trump tweets attacking the U.S. intelligence community, including one where the president likened them to Nazis. “Well, I was kind of hopeful that after he got rid of the two chief Nazis (John and myself), things would improve,” Clapper said.

They didn’t. In recent weeks, the president has continued to cast doubt on a unanimous U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the presidential election and has called the special counsel investigation “a witch hunt.”

Compare that to the warm greeting the president offered Vladimir Putin, “a great honor to meet you,” at their recent meeting.

Brennan said that was “a very, very bad negotiating tactic” for a man whose name appears on the front of the book The Art of the Deal.

“This is Mr. Putin, who assaulted one of the foundational pillars of our democracy — our election system — invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, that has suppressed or repressed political opponents in Russia and caused the deaths of many of them,” Brennan said.

Moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN pointed out that prominent House Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi have been wondering, “What do the Russians have on Trump?”

Clapper replied, “Well, hopefully special counsel (Robert) Mueller will get to the bottom of that.”

“If there’s nothing to hide,” Brennan said, “they should cooperate fully in an accelerated fashion.”

They agreed Mueller, a former FBI director who worked under presidents from both political parties, was “absolutely” the right man for the job. And, Brennan said, if the president carries out a threat to fire Mueller, members of Congress need to stand up and take action.

Despite the gloomy portrait the two old hands painted, they said the intelligence community would continue to speak the truth, even if the White House doesn’t want to hear it.

“The national security apparatus is bigger than one person,” Clapper said, “even the president.”

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U.S. Intercepts Reportedly Contradict Attorney General On Russia Contacts

Attorney General Jeff Sessions as he was sworn-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in June. He testified that suggestions that he colluded with Russia to interfere in the U.S. presidential election was a “contemptible lie.”

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Communications intercepted by U.S. spy agencies contradict assertions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he never discussed campaign matters with Russia’s ambassador in conversations prior to the November election, The Washington Post reports, citing current and former U.S. officials.

Sessions, who in March recused himself from the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, has acknowledged conversations with Moscow’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, during the campaign. However, he has said the two never discussed campaign matters.

He also told a Senate committee last month that any suggestion of his colluding with Russia during last year’s campaign was an “appalling and detestable lie.”

According to the Post, U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Kislyak and his superiors.

The newspaper, citing the unnamed U.S. officials, reported Sessions’ assertions are “at odds with Kisylak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.”

One official told the Post that Sessions’ statements were “misleading” and “contradicted by the evidence.”

The newspaper writes that while foreign diplomats in Washington occasionally “report false or misleading information to their superiors,” Kislyak, whose tenure as ambassador to the U.S. ended recently, “has a reputation for accurately relaying details about his interactions with officials in Washington.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores cast doubt on the Post’s report and said Sessions stands by his earlier statements to Congress.

“Obviously, I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me,” Flores said in a statement Friday night, but “the Attorney General stands by his testimony from just last month before the Senate Intelligence Committee when he specifically addressed this and said that he ‘never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election.'”

Speaking Friday from the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also sought to cast doubt on the report.

“I have come to the point where I no longer put any stock in headlines or breaking news,” Coats said when asked about the report during an event at the forum. He added, “Ask a question first, before you take something as truth — I’m going to ask: Is this for real? Is this the real thing — before I draw a conclusion on it.”

The Post report comes close on the heels of an interview with the president published in The New York Times in which Trump expressed frustration with the attorney general.

The president said that if he’d known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation, he “would have picked someone else” for the attorney general’s job. Reacting to the interview, Sessions said Thursday that he planned to stay at his job for “as long as that is appropriate.”

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Minneapolis Police Chief Resigns In Wake Of Officer Shooting Australian Woman

A woman holds a sign reading “Justice for Justine” during a march Thursday in Minneapolis. Several days of demonstrations have occurred after the death of Justine Damond, who was killed late Saturday by a police officer responding to her emergency call.

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Amid outrage over the fatal police shooting of a woman who had called 911 for officers’ help, Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau has resigned. The killing inspired protests and bewilderment in the city, as citizens waited for details on why the officer fired at Justine Ruszczyk.

Harteau released a statement that said she has reflected on “last Saturday’s tragedy, as well as some other incidents,” and concluded that she is “willing to step aside to let a fresh set of leadership eyes” take over.

“The recent incidents do not reflect the training and procedures we’ve developed as a Department,” Harteau said. “Despite the MPD’s many accomplishments under my leadership over these years and my love for the City, I have to put the communities we serve first.”

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges issued a statement saying, “I’ve lost confidence in the Chief’s ability to lead us further — and from the many conversations I’ve had with people around our city, especially this week, it is clear that she has lost the confidence of the people of Minneapolis as well.”

Transcripts of 911 calls released by the police department on Wednesday showed that Ruszczyk phoned to say she was worried a rape might be taking place outside her home. According to the officer driving the squad car that arrived on the scene, he was startled by a loud noise nearby. After that, Ruszczyk approached the driver’s side of the car, and the other officer in the car, Mohamed Noor, shot her once through the open driver’s window.

The officers’ body and car cameras had not been turned on.

A state agency is conducting an independent investigation.

Ruszczyk, who was also known by her fiance’s surname Damond, was from Australia, where the case has caused outrage.

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'Spicey Out!' 9 Highlights From Sean Spicer's Combative Tenure

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to members of the media in the Brady Briefing room of the White House in Washington, on Monday.

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

From his first official briefing, it was clear that Sean Spicer was going to be a different kind of White House press secretary.

Rather than trying to build a rapport with journalists — as his predecessors working for presidents from both parties had done — Spicer came out swinging, setting the tone for an administration that has frequently seemed to be at war with the media.

It’s been a tumultuous tenure, with Spicer seemingly barricaded at the lectern firing salvos at the press corps. The dialectic was so tense that it inspired a recurring parody on Saturday Night Live.

Here are some memorable moments of Spicer’s six-month tenure:

1. Day 2 — “The largest audience to ever witness an inauguration”

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“Yesterday, at a time when our nation and the world was watching the peaceful transition of power … some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting,” Spicer said, angrily reading from his notes.

He boasted, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”

He went on to take issue with a report that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. in the White House had been removed. (wrong, he said) and that photographs of the inauguration had been “framed” to “minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”


2. Alternative facts

Spicer didn’t coin the phrase “alternative facts.” That was Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway.

But Spicer gave us this Orwellian moment involving “facts.”

“I believe that we have to be honest with the American people,” Spicer said, “but I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “fact” as: “A thing that is known or proved to be true.”

So, no, you can’t disagree with them.

3. When a spokesman doesn’t speak for a president


There were statements that would seem otherworldly — coming out of any other White House.

“I think the president’s tweets speak for themselves,” became a common Spicer refrain every time the president tweeted something controversial.

4. Tongue tied: From Martin Luther King to Hitler

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Spicer had the occasional outright gaffe.

He insisted, for example, that President Trump had “sat down with Martin Luther King Jr.”

He meant to say he had met with Martin Luther King III, the slain civil rights leader’s eldest son.

Spicer stated confidently (and incorrectly) that even Hitler (unlike Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) did not “sink to using chemical weapons.”

Responding to a reporter, who questioned Spicer on that point, the president’s press secretary clarified:

“I understand your point. Thank you. I appreciate that. He brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. I was saying in the way that Assad used them where he went into town, dropped them into the middle of town. I appreciate the clarification. That was not the intent.”

Holocaust centers? Whoops.

As polls showed that a majority of Americans wanted the president to release his tax returns, Spicer let fly what sounded like a Freudian slip: “I think there’s a huge appetite for tax return,” he said, quickly recovering with the words “tax reform.”

5. Russian salad dressing that led to that head shake comment

There were analogies gone wrong. In March, he showed exasperation with the media’s seeming obsession with the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.

“If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight,” he said, “somehow that’s a Russian connection.”

The question was from reporter April Ryan from American Urban Radio Networks. She wasn’t buying it, which didn’t sit well with Spicer.

“You’re shaking your head,” he said. “I appreciate it. But, but …”

That didn’t go down well. The backlash was swift. The next day, Spicer tried to make it up to Ryan giving her the first question at the briefing and beginning with this oh-so-sweet opening.

“April,” Spicer began.

“Why, thank you, Sean,” Ryan responded.

“How are you today?”

“I’m fine, and how are you?”



6. When a ban is not a ban or is it?

Spicer also showed some confusion about his boss’ evolving positions, especially on that travel ban.

“It’s not a ban,” Spicer thundered. “It’s not a Muslim ban.”

The “extreme vetting” measure the administration put in place that restricts travel from six Muslim-majority countries, has been hung up in the courts.

7. “Covfefe”

For all the confrontation — and there was lots of it — there were moments of mirth.

After Trump sent out a bizarre late-night tweet that trailed off with the nonsense word “covfefe,” Spicer, in an audio-only briefing, insisted that it was all part of the plan.

Asked by a reporter whether people should be concerned that the president “posted something of an incoherent tweet last night that stayed up for hours,” Spicer replied simply, “No,” insisting, to laughter from the press corps, that “the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”


8. A little help from Gronk

In April, New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski, popped his head into the press briefing room while Spicer was fielding questions.

“Hey, Sean. Need some help?” the tight-end asked. “I think I got this, but thank you,” Spicer replied.

“That was cool,” he added.

9. Leaning into SNL


Finally, there was a bit of self-deprecating humor as the press secretary answered what he deemed a “silly” question from a reporter.

Referring to Melissa McCarthy’s SNL parody, Spicer joked, “Don’t make me make the podium move.”

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