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Reports of the President’s attempts to target political enemies demonstrate his view that that the government — his government — should be mobilized against them

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“Lock her up!” and “America First!” are more than just slogans. He’s stress-testing the government for ways to punish his rival Hillary Clinton and absolving Saudi Arabia for the way its titular leader dispatched with one of his critics in exchange for their participation in the US arms market.
Freedom to dissent and the peaceful transfer of power between opponents are supposed to be what sets the US apart from undemocratic societies.
But when Trump shot back at Clinton during a 2016 presidential debate that if he were President she’d be in jail[1], it was a prelude to him actually targeting his former rival and pressuring the Department of Justice to actually “lock her up.”
He’s tweeted as much since then, complaining that the DOJ wasn’t doing enough to investigate her.
Top Trump officials saved the President from himself

But his view on political rivals like Clinton and critics like former FBI Director James Comey, whom he fired, is that the government — HIS government, he believes — should be mobilized against them.
His former White House counsel Don McGahn stood in the way, according to The New York Times[2]. But he’s also asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Matt Whitaker, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff who has since become acting attorney general, for updates on the investigation.
“We live in a democracy and you don’t go after your political rivals,” said Alberto Gonzales, who served as both White House counsel and attorney general for Republican President George W. Bush.
But Gonzales added during an interview with CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” Wednesday that so far, the people around Trump have kept his power dreams in check. The process, he argued, has worked.
“Sometimes I think this President in particular says things out of frustration but nothing comes of it, and so long as we have good people serving in these senior positions, both in the White House and in the Department of Justice, I have to be confident the rule of law is going to be respected,” Gonzales said.
This is the place to point out that that particular counsel is gone and hasn’t been replaced. Trump is also in the market for a new attorney general. The man stepping in temporarily is Whitaker, who has been publicly critical of the special counsel investigation that Trump calls a witch hunt. Nowhere has Trump’s personal frustrations with the government around him and his desire to influence the Justice Department been more evident than on that government’s ability to investigate possible collusion with Russia by his campaign.
While his political grudges have influenced his interactions with justice officials, Trump has ignored the politically inconvenient determinations of his intelligence community.
One of Trump’s main slogans since becoming President is “America First!” and that was the subhead of his stream-of-conscious-dictated statement meant to silence debate about how or whether the US should react to Saudi Arabia’s official involvement in the death and dismemberment of Virginia resident and Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Maybe they did or maybe they didn’t,” Trump said in the release, again contradicting his intelligence community. That line seems to be code for the fact that he doesn’t care what Saudi Arabia does to its dissidents at long as the government there is buying US-made weapons.
The din in Trump’s ear on Saudi Arabia, which the US has long backed as an ally in the Middle East, had grown as evidence grew in the eyes of US intelligence agencies that the operation against Khashoggi had the imprimatur of the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Trump, after inking a deal for Saudi Arabia to buy more US weapons doesn’t want to hear that, so he affixed eight exclamation points in his statement to drive the point home.
Trump's Saudi support highlights brutality of 'America First' doctrine

He’s also grown tired of the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election — the one that gave him his current job — so he’s routinely tried to distract from the inquiry into whether his campaign was complicit in that interference by returning again and again to Clinton, the rival he vanquished and the person Russia tried to keep from winning.
The difference between Saudi Arabia — a kingdom — and the United States — a representative democracy with checks and balances — is that in Saudi Arabia, a prince can dispatch a team of agents to deal with an inconvenient public critic in a foreign land. They can arrest scads of political rivals and lock them up in the Ritz Carlton during a power grab[3].
Trump, despite his desires, is hemmed in by the system he leads, which puts us a long way from that kind of naked abuse of power in the US, where the institutions of government do not as easily allow for that moral flexibility.
His absolution of Saudi Arabia of any consequences for the killing of Khashoggi drew reactions from Republicans like Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, as well as Sen.-elect Mitt Romney.
“America can’t excuse & minimize the brutal & gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident & columnist. Our country is defined by human values, by principle above convenience, & by commitment to morality. We must subject the perpetrators of this outrage to withering sanction,” Romney tweeted after the release of Trump’s statement.
Not that such admonitions are likely to influence Trump’s thinking. They don’t even signal new Republican opposition to the President after the party suffered losses at the ballot box that cost them control of the House and gave Democrats a new foothold in Washington.
Top Republicans slam Trump for statement backing Saudi Arabia

Trump has said he sees the election as a victory because Republicans picked up two seats in the Senate. And Republican control of that chamber means he is likely safe, for now, from serious censure or biting legislative counteractions.
It has long been a far different thing for Republicans to criticize Trump as opposed to voting against his policies, which means Trump will likely maintain a protective buffer in the Senate from anything the newly powerful House Democratic majority does to contain him.
The progression of Trump policy from tweet to slogan to action has become more familiar, even though his ideas and tweets seem designed for shock value.
The lasting legacy of the Trump administration will be very dependent on how the government — whether in the form of the courts, the Congress, the special counsel or the bureaucracy and staff around him — can contain his attempts to use the government as his own political tool.
The tension between powers is what keeps the US government in balance, but as he does with everything, Trump has supercharged the stress.

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster

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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

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Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”

References

  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (www.nytimes.com)

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake

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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.

References

  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (akleg.gov)

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes

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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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