Nick Ayers, Trump’s once-likely replacement for chief of staff Kelly, won’t take the job

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top pick to be his next chief of staff, Nick Ayers, will not take the job and instead leave the White House at the end of the year, reopening negotiations over who will succeed the departing John Kelly.

Four other candidates are now believed to be in the running to direct Trump’s White House, administration officials said Sunday. Ayers, a longtime operative who is currently Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, said in a tweet that after departing he “will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause.”

“Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House,” he said.

Trump’s new list of potential chiefs includes Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who is also acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, according to a White House official.

Sources said Ayers would work with the super PAC set up to assist the president’s reelection campaign. News that Ayers would not take the chief of staff job was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Trump had previously spoken with Ayers about the top administration job and had settled on him as Kelly’s likely replacement, the president’s advisers said.

But Ayers, who has young children, had insisted on serving temporarily,frustrating Trump, who had wanted a replacement to stay on through 2020.

Ayers was also skeptical of taking the job based on the challenges that Kelly and his predecessor, Reince Priebus, faced in the position, and talks between the two sides broke down, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

The 36-year-old Ayers also had faced opposition among many senior White House aides, who worried that his elevation could trigger departures of other high-level staffers.

After initially agreeing that Kelly would announce his departure on Monday, Trump abruptly shifted course andannounced Saturday that Kelly would leave the White House by the end of the year. The position might be filled on an interim basis, he added then.

 

That announcement closed out Kelly’s rocky tenure and ushered in a second straight messy chief-of-staff handover for the president. Last year, Trump took to Twitter to announce Priebus’ departure and Kelly’s arrival while aboard Air Force One, his outgoing top administrator having just left the plane.

With House Republicans poised to return to the minority in the next Congress following their party’s midterm defeat, Meadows could find the chief of staff position an appealing one. His rise to the job would signal anew that Trump’s response to the November drubbing is to move further to the right, rather than toward negotiations with the ascendant Democrats.

Besides Mulvaney and Meadows, other names on Trump’s short list were not immediately known.

Another senior administration official said that Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have both expressed internally that they aren’t seeking the job but could change their minds if pleaded to take the post by Trump.

Kelly, a four-star general who previously served as homeland security secretary, has been lauded by current and former aides who say he brought order to the West Wing. But he has at times clashed with Trump, who openly voiced his frustration with Kelly for months.

Kelly struggled to corral the various factions in the White House, including members of Trump’s family, and was criticized by the president as lacking political skills — an increasing concern heading into the president’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Ayers, a veteran operative who was previously the executive director of the Republican Governors Association, had been viewed as a candidate well-positioned to fill that gap, even as he had alienated some members of the staff.

As news broke Sunday night that Ayers would not take the position, prompting renewed attention on the tumult in the White House, Trump made no mention of his chief-of-staff search and instead sought to shift the focus to his administration’s successes.

“The Trump Administration has accomplished more than any other U.S. Administration in its first two (not even) years of existence, & we are having a great time doing it!” he said in a tweet. He offered no specifics.

He followed up with a swipe at his favorite target, the “Fake News Media,” which he said has “gone totally out of its mind-truly the Enemy of the People!”

Pence, meanwhile, wished Ayers well and said in a tweet that he would “always be grateful for his friendship, dedication to the @VP team and his efforts to advance the @POTUS agenda.”

“He is unstoppable”: Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse looks like the next generation of Democratic leadership

Andrew Romanoff introduced Joe Neguse, a friend and former employee, to a room full of Democratic voters in 2008 by saying: One day we will all be working for Joe.

The people gathered at the 2008 assembly chuckled, but the endorsement from Romanoff, who was then speaker of the Colorado House, helped launch the then-24-year-old law school student down a path of public service that started with his election that year to the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents and recently led him to Washington as the new representative for Colorado’s 2nd District.

Neguse was the second-youngest regent ever elected in Colorado, and he became one of the youngest people in the country to serve in a state Cabinet after Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed him to head Colorado’s consumer protection agency. He’s now the first African-American to represent Colorado in Congress and an early leader in his freshman class.

And friends say he’s nowhere close to done.

“Joe has this uncanny ability to bring people together and to really help manage personality differences,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. “People are attracted to him for it, and in that way he is unstoppable.”

Herod, Neguse and incoming Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, all met at the University of Colorado at Boulder through their work in student government back in the early 2000s.

“We were big student government nerds,” Fenberg said. “We were young people who wanted to be involved in the political process. We felt like we had an immense amount of power, and the administration listened to it.”

The trio soon realized that’s not how politics worked outside of the university campus.

“I think there was a little bit of a wake-up call,” Fenberg said. “Young people don’t have a seat at the table at state-level politics. We’re not really involved in shaping the future of our state.”

So, the three friends set out to change that.

Neguse went to work for the campaign supporting Referendum C, a 2005 ballot measure that let Colorado keep and spend tax dollars it collected above a limit set by a law called the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights TABOR for five years. One of his first tasks for the campaign was to drive Romanoff around the state.

“Apparently, he wanted to impress me, so he put a bunch of air fresheners in his car before he picked me up that first day,” Romanoff said, laughing. “The car was overly fresh.”

Despite the pungent aroma of his old car, Neguse impressed Romanoff. The then-speaker put Neguse to work in his office at the Colorado Capitol. Romanoff quickly picked up on Neguse’s political ambitions and nicknamed him “Speaker Neguse.”

A year later Fenburg, Herod and Neguse started New Era Colorado, a left-leaning nonprofit dedicated to registering and turning out young voters across the state. The organization quickly registered more than 100,000 voters, earning them national media attention, but Neguse kept feeling pulled toward elected office.

“Joe is someone who has every single reason to be doing it for the right reasons,” Fenburg said. “He deeply cares about improving people’s lives because he knows how much those opportunities impacted his parents.”

Neguse’s parents fled their home country of Eritrea during a civil war and legally immigrated to the United States as refugees in the early 1980s. They settled in California before moving to Colorado when Neguse and his sister were in elementary school. Neguse said he’s never been able to quite imagine how it would feel to leave your family, move to a foreign country and build a new life.

“That, to me, is a far more momentous accomplishment than me getting elected to Congress,” Neguse said. “They are the real heroes in my mind, and to the extent I’ve been able to accomplish anything it’s largely because of the way they brought me up.”

His parents’ ability to achieve their American dream is why he supports giving citizenship to children brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents, and it’s why he’s a vocal and unapologetic critic of President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees and other immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries.

“To have their son, 35 years after they came to this country, get elected to serve in the House of Representatives is emblematic of the forward-looking and inclusive country we are so lucky to call home,” Neguse said. “I’d like to get back to a place and time where we value that.”

He will soon represent a district that encompasses Boulder, Fort Collins, Vail and Loveland. It has been home to other progressive voices who have gone on to bigger political careers, including former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Gov.-elect Jared Polis. And Neguse is no exception to that ideological mold.

He supports Medicare for all, banning assault-style weapons, starting the impeachment process against Trump, and the “green new deal” plan that fellow freshman Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., says would fulfill 100 percent of the nation’s energy needs from renewable sources.

His Republican opponent for the 2nd District, Peter Yu, as well as national Republicans have criticized all of these ideas as expensive, potentially reckless and ultimately unrealistic. During the campaign Yu also cautioned against increasing worker visas, saying they could lower wages and limit job opportunities for Americans.

“It’s important that we not forget that policy is iterative. It takes time, and we’re going to have another election in two years where we’re going to have an opportunity to retake the upper chamber and possibly the presidency,” Neguse said. “What we do in the next two years will be framing a governing agenda for the next administration to hopefully enact.”

Neguse’s confidence and optimism about his legislative prospects against a Republican-controlled Senate and a president who has repeatedly doubted the existence of manmade climate change is emblematic of the kind of person he is, Fenberg said. Neguse saw Fenberg’s own future as Senate majority leader long before Fenberg could.

“I was like, no, that’s ridiculous,” Fenberg said. “That’s his way of inspiring others. In a way, he does that for himself too.”

The recent birth of Neguse’s daughter, Natalie, has only increased those convictions.

“I’ve spent so much time, particularly as a young person being involved in public life, talking about the impact of policies on young people and on the world that you and I are going to be living in,” Neguse said. “And, of course, now it really is about building a world she will live in where she can live her dreams and fulfill her potential.”

Neguse demurred when asked whether creating that world for his daughter would lead him to run for another office such as U.S. Senate or governor someday, but his friends all see that possibility.

“If you told me 10 years ago he’d be in Congress, I would have believed you,” Fenberg said. “And if you told me today he would be in a much higher office 10 years from now, I would believe you.”

Russia investigation initially looked at 4 Americans, Comey says

WASHINGTON — The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia initially focused on four Americans and whether they were connected to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, former FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers during hours of closed-door questioning.

Comey did not identify the Americans but said President Donald Trump, then the Republican candidate, was not among them.

He also told the House Judiciary Committee that, contrary to Trump’s claims, he was “not friends in any social sense” with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now leading the Russia investigation. Trump has repeatedly portrayed the men as close as part of a long-running effort to undermine the investigation and paint the lead figures in the probe as united against him.

“I admire the heck out of the man, but I don’t know his phone number, I’ve never been to his house, I don’t know his children’s names,” said Comey, who added that he had “never hugged or kissed the man” despite the president’s insistence otherwise.

“A relief to my wife,” he deadpanned.

The committee released a transcript of the interview on Saturday, just 24 hours after privately grilling the fired FBI chief about investigative decisions related to Hillary Clinton’s email server and Trump’s campaign and potential ties to Russia. The Russia investigation is now being run by Mueller, and Comey largely dodged questions connected to that probe — including whether his May 2017 firing by Trump constituted obstruction of justice.

The Republican-led committee interviewed Comey as part of its investigation into FBI actions in 2016, a year when the bureau — in the heat of the presidential campaign — recommended against charges for Clinton and opened an investigation into Russian interference in the election.

The questioning largely centered on well-covered territory from a Justice Department inspector general report, Comey’s own book and interviews and hours of public testimony on Capitol Hill. But the former FBI chief also used the occasion to take aim at Trump’s public barbs at the criminal justice system, saying “we have become numb to lying and attacks on the rule of law by the president,” and Trump’s suggestion that it should be a crime for subjects to “flip” and cooperate with investigators.

“It’s a shocking suggestion coming from any senior official, no less the president. It’s a critical and legitimate part of the entire justice system in the United States,” Comey said.

In offering some details of the investigation’s origins, Comey said it had started in July 2016 with a look at “four Americans who had some connection to Mr. Trump during the summer of 2016” and whether they were tied to “the Russian interference effort.”

He did not identify the Americans, though Mueller’s investigation has made clear that by that time, there had already been outreach from Russian intermediaries to Trump associates — including a 2015 encounter revealed for the first time in a court filing Friday. Also by that time Democratic email accounts had been hacked by Russian intelligence and a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, had been told that Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of stolen emails.

Multiple Trump associates, including Papadopoulos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, have pleaded guilty to lying about their interactions with Russians during the campaign and presidential transition period.

Comey reiterated that it was a 2016 Papadopoulos encounter with a Russian intermediary in London that started the Russia investigation, rather than — as some Republicans have maintained — Democratic-funded opposition research compiled by a former British spy. That research is known informally as the “Steele dossier.”

“It was weeks or months later that the so-called Steele dossier came to our attention,” Comey said.

He said that by the time of his firing, the FBI had not come to a conclusion about whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia’s efforts to sway the presidential election.

And insisted that the FBI would recover from the president’s steady attacks on the bureau.

“The FBI will be fine. It will snap back, as will the rest of our institutions,” Comey said. “There will be short-term damage, which worries me a great deal, but in the long run, no politician, no president can, in a lasting way, damage those institutions.”

Besides the questioning on Russia, Republicans lawmakers repeatedly pressed Comey on the FBI’s handling of an investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified information on her private email server. Comey’s July 2016 announcement that Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless” but did not deserve criminal charges infuriated Republicans who contended that someone less powerful and well-connected would have faced prosecution.

Under questioning from Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, Comey reiterated that the FBI and Justice Department didn’t have a prosecutable case against Clinton because they couldn’t prove she willfully violated the law by setting up the server.

Republican anxiety spikes as Trump faces growing legal and political perils

WASHINGTON – A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump’s presidency – and threatens to consume the rest of the party as well.

President Donald Trump added to the tumult Saturday by announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John Kelly, whom he sees as lacking the political judgment and finesse to steer the White House through the treacherous months to come.

Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates “totally clear” him.

But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad.

Facing the dawn of his third year in office and his bid for re-election, Trump is stepping into a political hailstorm. Democrats are preparing to seize control of the House in January with subpoena power to investigate corruption. Global markets are reeling from his trade war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference is intensifying. And court filings Friday in a separate federal case implicated Trump in a felony.

The White House is adopting what one official termed a “shrugged shoulders” strategy for the Mueller findings, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe.

But some allies fret that the president’s coalition could crack apart under the growing pressure. Stephen Bannon, the former Trump strategist who helped him navigate the most arduous phase of his 2016 campaign, predicted 2019 would be a year of “siege warfare” and cast the president’s inner circle as naively optimistic and unsophisticated.

“The Democrats are going to weaponize the Mueller report and the president needs a team that can go to the mattresses,” Bannon said. “The president can’t trust the GOP to be there when it counts. . . . They don’t feel any sense of duty or responsibility to stand with Trump.”

This portrait of the Trump White House at a precarious juncture is based on interviews with 14 administration officials, presidential confidants and allies, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss private exchanges.

Rather than building a war room to manage the intersecting crises as past administration’s have done, the Trump White House is understaffed, stuck in a bunker mentality and largely resigned to a plan to wing it. Political and communications operatives are mostly taking their cues from the president and letting him drive the message with his spontaneous broadsides.

“A war room? You serious?” one former White House official said when asked about internal preparations. “They’ve never had one, will never have one. They don’t know how to do one.”

Trump’s decision to change his chief of staff, however, appears to be a recognition that he needs a strong political team in place for the remainder of his first term. The leading candidate for the job is Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and an experienced campaign operative known for his political acumen and deep network in the party.

Throughout the 18-month special counsel investigation, Trump has single-handedly spun his own deceptive reality, seeking to sully the reputations of Mueller’s operation and federal law enforcement in an attempt to preemptively discredit their eventual conclusions.

The president has been telling friends that he believes the special counsel is flailing and has found nothing meaningful. “It’s all games and trying to connect dots that don’t really make sense,” one friend said in describing Trump’s view of Mueller’s progress. “Trump is angry, but he’s not really worried.”

But Mueller’s latest court filings offer new evidence of Russian efforts to forge a political alliance with Trump before he became president and detail the extent to which his former aides are cooperating with prosecutors.

Some GOP senators were particularly shaken by last week’s revelation that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had met with Mueller’s team 19 separate times – a distressing signal to them that the probe may be more serious than they had been led to assume, according to senior Republican officials.

Even in the friendliest quarters, there are fresh hints of trouble. Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, a reliable prime-time booster of the president, faulted Trump in an interview last week for failing to keep his main campaign promises, understand the legislative process and learn how to govern effectively.

For now, Republicans on Capitol Hill are still inclined to stand by Trump and give the president the benefit of the doubt. But one pro-Trump senator said privately that a breaking point would be if Mueller documents conspiracy with Russians.

“Then they’ve lost me,” said the senator, noting that several Republican lawmakers have been willing to publicly break with Trump when they believe it is in their interests – as many did over Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the brutal murder and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., an outspoken Trump critic and a frequent subject of his ire, said, “The president’s situation is fraught with mounting peril, and that’s apparent to everyone who’s paying any attention, which is all of my Republican colleagues.”

Another possible breaking point could come if Trump pardons his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has elicited the president’s sympathy as he sits in solitary confinement in a Virginia prison following the collapse of his plea agreement with Mueller’s team, White House aides and Republican lawmakers said. Trump advisers said they understand that a pardon of Manafort could be difficult to defend and could prompt rebukes from Republican allies.

The special counsel on Friday accused Manafort of telling “multiple discernible lies” during interviews with prosecutors. Manafort was convicted of tax and bank fraud crimes and has pleaded guilty to additional charges as well, including conspiring to defraud the United States by hiding years of income and failing to disclose lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party and politician in Ukraine.

Trump’s legal team, meanwhile, is bracing not only for new Mueller developments, but also for an onslaught of congressional requests. New White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his associate, Emmet Flood, are the leaders inside, although both have taken pains to stay out of the spotlight.

Cipollone has been scouring the resumes of congressional Republican staffers with experience handling investigations and trying to recruit them to the White House, officials said. Meanwhile, Flood, who advised former president Bill Clinton during his impeachment, has been prepping for months to forcefully exert executive privilege once House Democrats assume the majority.

Yet hiring remains difficult as potential staffers worry about whether they will need to hire a personal lawyer if they join and express uncertainty about the constant turmoil within the White House hierarchy, as illustrated by Kelly’s announced departure Saturday.

Bannon said he and others were urging contacts in the White House to enlist David Bossie, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager and a former congressional investigator who was known for his hard-edge tactics.

Trump’s lead outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said he and his team are busy writing a defiant “counter report” to Mueller, which the president boasted this week was 87 pages long. Giuliani described the effort as a collaboration in which he, Jay Sekulow, Jane Raskin and other lawyers draft different sections and then trade them among the group, debating how to frame various passages on the president’s conduct and Russian interference.

“We’re writing out a lot and will pick and choose what to include. We’re trying to think through every possibility,” Giuliani said. “I’m sure we’ll take the lead in defending [Trump] publicly, if he needs defense, like we always do.”

Some of Trump’s allies have been encouraging him to bolster his legal team. One confidant recalled telling the president, “You need to get you an army of lawyers who know what the hell they’re doing.”

So far, Trump’s public relations strategy mostly has been to attack Mueller as opposed to countering the facts of his investigation. But Lanny Davis, a former Clinton lawyer, said that approach has limits.

“No matter what your client says, if you’re not ready with factual messages to rebut charges, you’ll fail,” said Davis, who now advises former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who faces possible prison time for crimes including lying to Congress about his Russia contacts. “Even if you think the Trump strategy of attacking the messenger can continue to work, it will not work once the Mueller report is done.”

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said Clinton’s experience in 1998, when the embattled president questioned the special prosecutor and warned of GOP overreach, is instructive for Trump and Republicans, showing them how to be both combative and confident amid chaos.

“You can’t have that many smart lawyers, with the full power of the government, and not have something bad come out,” Gingrich said of the special counsel’s team. “Mueller has to find something, like Trump jaywalked 11 times. The media will go crazy for three days, screaming, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God!'”

But, Gingrich said, “This isn’t a crisis moment for Trump or the party. Remember, we thought we had Clinton on the ropes, but Clinton kept smiling and his popularity went up.”

The White House is looking to its hard-right supporters on Capitol Hill to serve as its political flank, in particular House Republicans such as Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Devin Nunes of California, who are frequent guests on Fox News Channel. In January, Jordan and Nunes will be the top-ranking Republicans on the House Oversight Committee and the House Select Committee on Intelligence respectively, positioning them as public faces of the Trump defense and antagonists of the Justice Department’s leadership.

Republicans close to incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said there is an implicit understanding that Jordan and Meadows and others in their orbit will be most vocal, but many rank-and-file Republicans, looking to hold onto their seats, will attempt to avoid becoming swept up in the standoff over the probe, as they have for over a year.

“Among most House Republicans, the feeling is, ‘We’re ready for this to be over with. We’re not nervous, but we’re having Mueller fatigue,’ ” Meadows said.

But Democrats say they are determined not to let the investigation end prematurely. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who sits on the intelligence committee as well as the House Judiciary Committee, said, “Our job is to protect the investigation from the president – whether it’s firing Mueller, intimidating witnesses or obstructing the investigation.”

Trump critics, like retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. – who has sponsored legislation that would protect Mueller but has been largely ignored by his colleagues – warned that the drumbeat of Trump loyalists in Congress, along with the president’s relentless clashes with Mueller, have lulled Republicans into a dangerous place.

“It’s like the party is a frog slowly boiling in water, being conditioned to not be worried, to not think too hard about what’s happening around them,” Flake said. “They feel at a loss about what to do because it’s the president’s party, without any doubt. So, there’s a lot of whistling by the graveyard these days.”

Giuliani dismissed Flake’s criticism in much the same way he and the president have taken on Mueller – with a barbed character attack rather than a measured rebuttal.

“He’s a bitter, bitter man,” Giuliani said of Flake. “It’s sick. Nobody likes him and they would like him gone.”

In White House shake-up, John Kelly will leave job at end of year

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is inching closer to his long-teased major White House shake-up, gearing up for the twin challenges of battling for re-election and dealing with the Democrats’ investigations once they take control of the House.

The biggest piece of the shifting picture: Chief of Staff John Kelly’s departure now appears certain.

Trump announced Friday he was picking a new U.S. attorney general and a new ambassador to the U.N. , and at the same time two senior aides departed the White House to beef up his 2020 campaign. But the largest changes were still to come. Kelly’s replacement in the coming weeks is expected to have a ripple effect throughout the administration.

According to nearly a dozen current and former administration officials and outside confidants, Trump is nearly ready to replace Kelly and has even begun telling people to contact the man long viewed as his likely successor.

“Give Nick a call,” Trump has instructed people, referring to Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

Like all of those interviewed, the person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.

Trump has hardly been shy about his dissatisfaction with the team he had chosen and has been weighing all sorts of changes over the past several months. He delayed some of the biggest shifts until after the November elections at the urging of aides who worried that adding to his already-record turnover just before the voting would harm his party’s electoral chances.

Now, nearly a month after those midterms, in which his party surrendered control of the House to Democrats but expanded its slim majority in the Senate, Trump is starting to make moves.

He announced Friday that he’ll nominate William Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, to the same role in his administration. If confirmed, Barr will fill the slot vacated by Jeff Sessions, who was unceremoniously jettisoned by Trump last month over lingering resentment for recusing himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation.

Sessions was exiled less than 24 hours after polls closed. But Trump’s broader efforts to reshape his inner circle have been on hold, leading to a sense of near-paralysis in the building, with people unsure of what to do.

Trump also announced that State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is his pick to replace Nikki Haley as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he said he’d have another announcement Saturday about the military’s top brass.

All this came the same day that Trump’s re-election campaign announced that two veterans of the president’s 2016 campaign, White House political director Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, the director of the office of public liaison, were leaving the administration to work on Trump’s re-election campaign.

“Now is the best opportunity to be laser-focused on further building out the political infrastructure that will support victory for President Trump and the GOP in 2020,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.

The moves had long been planned, and will give Kelly’s eventual successor room to build a new White House political team.

Kelly was not at the White House on Friday, but was expected to attend an East Room dinner with the president and senior staff.

Ayers, who is a seasoned campaign veteran despite his relative youth — he’s just 36 — has the backing of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law and senior advisers, for the new role, according to White House officials. But Ayers has also faced some resistance. During Trump’s flight home from a recent trip to Paris, some aides aboard Air Force One tried to convince the president that Ayers was the wrong person for the job, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Trump and Kelly’s relationship has been strained for months — with Kelly on the verge of resignation and Trump nearly firing him several times. But each time the two have decided to make amends, even as Kelly’s influence has waned.

Kelly, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, was tapped by Trump in August 2017 to try to normalize a White House that had been riven by infighting. And he had early successes, including ending an open-door Oval Office policy that had been compared to New York’s Grand Central Station and instituting a more rigorous policy process to try to prevent staffers from going directly to Trump.

But those efforts also miffed the president and some of his most influential outside allies, who had grown accustomed to unimpeded access. And his handling of domestic violence accusations against the former White House staff secretary also caused consternation, especially among lower-level White House staffers, who believed Kelly had lied to them about when he found out about the allegations.

Kelly, too, has made no secret of the trials of his job and has often joked about how working for Trump was harder than anything he’d done before, including on the battlefield.

___

Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

Cory Gardner believes Saudi prince had Jamal Khashoggi killed but he’s against ending military aid

The U.S. Senate could a take a historic step toward overriding the Trump administration by withdrawing some military support from Saudi Arabia as early as Monday, but Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, hopes an alternative comes together before that.

“This is a country in a critical part of the region that has played a key role in our work protecting Israel,” Gardner told The Denver Post. “The right question is, how do we protect the innocent people of Saudi Arabia while going after the people responsible for this horrific, heinous murder?”

The murder Gardner referred to is the killing of a journalist named Jamal Khashoggi, who walked into the Saudi consulate in Turkey one day in early October to get documents for a marriage license and never walked out. The CIA and its equivalent in Turkey both concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and likely dismemberment.

“This is a prime example of a human rights violation,” Gardner said.

Gardner’s critics in the Colorado Democratic Party, however, say that’s a reversal from what he told KDMT radio host Jimmy Sengenberger on Nov. 29.

“Well, I would be careful of what the CIA is being accused of saying,” Gardner told Sengenberger then. “And I think that was clear in a briefing yesterday. I can’t get into the details of it, but I would just be very careful about what the CIA does and doesn’t believe.”

Gardner has never been briefed by the CIA about Khashoggi’s murder, and he told The Denver Post that’s what he tried to say when he talked with Sengenberger. There’s no text message, email or “smoking gun” that directly links the prince to the crime, but Gardner said all the evidence he’s seen points to Mohammed bin Salman.

The Yuma Republican wants to levy sanctions against the crown prince as well as anyone who helped him carry out the plan.

“We can deny their passports, deny their visas. And if you do that here, it triggers a whole other series of countries that deny them as well,” Gardner said. “We freeze their bank assets. You can imagine what it would be if all of a sudden the crown prince can’t get a credit card anywhere because we have taken those actions. We don’t allow them to invest here anymore.”

Gardner, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, went so far as to say he could support sanctions against the country of Saudi Arabia if it failed to punish the prince, but “we have to recognize we can’t do anything that would empower ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Iran.”

He thinks could happen if Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, pass their bill. It would use the War Powers Act of 1973 to end U.S. involvement in the war between Saudi Arabia and a Yemeni ethnic group called the Houthis. In late November, the Senate voted 63-37 to advance that proposal for floor debate.

“The situation in Yemen now is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world,” Sanders said in a statement following the November vote. “Eighty-five thousand children have already starved to death and millions more are on the brink of starvation. All of which was caused by Saudi intervention in the civil war in Yemen.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, voted yes, while Gardner voted no.

Administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have continued to assert that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, security in the region and an ongoing attempt to negotiate a ceasefire “would be a hell of a lot worse” if Congress withdraws the U.S. military.

Gardner agreed, saying, “We know for a fact that the Houthis that are in Europe right now negotiating would have walked away from this negotiation had the U.S. empowered them by doing what Bernie Sanders wanted.”

If the November resolution passes without any changes, it will be the first time Congress has invoked the War Powers Act to end military operations in a foreign country.

Trump lawyer Michael Cohen met Russian offering “political synergy,” prosecutors say

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in touch as far back as 2015 with a Russian who offered “political synergy” with the Trump election campaign and proposed a meeting between the candidate and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the federal special counsel said Friday.

Court filings from prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office laid out previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries and suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Trump and his campaign by playing to both his political aspirations and his personal business interests.

The filings, in cases involving Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort , capped a dramatic week of revelations in Mueller’s probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. They bring the legal peril from multiple investigations closer than ever to Trump, tying him to an illegal hush money payment scheme and contradicting his claims that he had nothing to do with Russia.

They make clear how witnesses previously close to Trump — Cohen once declared he’d “take a bullet” for the president — have since provided damaging information about him in efforts to come clean to the government and in some cases get lighter prison sentences.

One defendant, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, provided so much information to prosecutors that Mueller this week said he shouldn’t serve any prison time.

In hours of interviews with prosecutors, witnesses have offered up information about pivotal episodes under examination, including possible collusion with Russia and payments during the campaign to silence a porn star and Playboy model who said they had sex with Trump a decade earlier.

In one of the filings, Mueller details how Cohen spoke to a Russian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.'”

The person repeatedly dangled a meeting between Trump and Putin, saying such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well.”

That was a reference to a proposed Moscow real estate deal that prosecutors say could have netted Trump’s business hundreds of millions of dollars. Cohen admitted last week to lying to Congress by saying discussions about a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016 when in fact they stretched into that June, well into the U.S. campaign.

Cohen told prosecutors he never followed up on the Putin invitation, though the offer bore echoes of a March 2016 proposal presented by Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who broached to other advisers the idea of a Putin encounter.

Prosecutors said probation officials recommended a sentence for Cohen of three-and-a-half years in prison. His lawyers want the 52-year-old attorney to avoid prison time altogether.

In an additional filing Friday evening, prosecutors said Manafort lied about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.

The court papers say Manafort initially told prosecutors he didn’t have contact with any people while they were in the Trump administration. But prosecutors say they recovered “electronic documents” showing contacts with multiple administration officials not identified in the filings.

Manafort, who has pleaded guilty to several counts, violated his plea agreement by telling “multiple discernible lies” to prosecutors, they said.

Manafort resigned from his job on the Trump campaign as questions swirled about his lobbying work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in Cohen’s case said that even though he cooperated in their investigation into potential campaign finance violations, he nonetheless deserved prison time. Though he has portrayed himself as cooperative, “his description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others,” prosecutors said.

“After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the Presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty – rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes – does not make him a hero,” they wrote.

Cohen, dubbed Trump’s “legal fixer” in the past, also described his work in conjunction with Trump in orchestrating hush money payments to two women — adult actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — who said they had sex with Trump.

Prosecutors in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance crimes in connection with those payments, said the lawyer “acted in coordination and at the direction” of Trump. Though Cohen had previously implicated Trump in the payments, the prosecutors now are linking Trump to the scheme and backing up Cohen’s allegations.

Federal law requires that any payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing Friday makes clear that the payments were made to benefit Trump politically.

Trump tried to brush off Friday’s revelations, claiming wrongly on Twitter that the news “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”

A court filing also reveals that Cohen told prosecutors he and Trump discussed a potential meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for president. In a footnote Mueller’s team writes that Cohen conferred with Trump “about contacting the Russia government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting.” It never took place.

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Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister in New York and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report

Trump’s new top attorney general pick has downplayed Russia investigation

President Donald Trump insisted when he made Matthew Whitaker his acting attorney general that he wasn’t familiar with Whitaker’s past commentary critical of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe.

But now it might be happening again.

Former Attorney General William Barr has emerged as Trump’s top pick to be the nominee for the full-time attorney general job, The Post is reporting. And picking former President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general would seem a pretty safe and confirmable pick, on its surface.

But much like Whitaker, Barr’s past commentary has downplayed the severity of the allegations against Trump – on the collusion and obstruction-of-justice fronts – and also suggested that the Clintons should be in more trouble.

In fact, in November 2017, Barr told The New York Times that there was actually more basis to investigate Hillary Clinton for the Uranium One deal than there is to investigate Trump for potential collusion with Russia. He went so far as to say the Justice Department was wrong to give Clinton a pass.

“To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” he said.

Earlier that same month, Barr also explicitly called for more investigation of the Clintons, telling The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Matt Zapotosky, “I don’t think all this stuff about throwing (Clinton) in jail or jumping to the conclusion that she should be prosecuted is appropriate.” Then he added: “But I do think that there are things that should be investigated that haven’t been investigated.”

In both stories, Barr declined to judge Trump harshly for calling for specific investigations – even ones affecting him and his political opponents, apparently. Barr suggested that was okay for a president as long as the decision was made with respect to the actual evidence at hand and not for political reasons.

But Barr apparently thinks those conditions have been met on the topic Trump had strongly tried and failed to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate – the Clintons – and that has to be music to Trump’s ears.

Barr has also given Trump a complete pass on one of the central events in the Mueller probe: Trump’s firing of then-FBI Director James Comey. In a Washington Post op-ed, Barr said Trump didn’t just not doing anything wrong, but that he actually “made the right call”:

“It is telling that none of the president’s critics are challenging the decision on the merits. None argue that Comey’s performance warranted keeping him on as director. Instead, they are attacking the president’s motives, claiming the president acted to neuter the investigation into Russia’s role in the election.

“The notion that the integrity of this investigation depends on Comey’s presence just does not hold water. Contrary to the critics’ talking points, Comey was not “in charge” of the investigation.”

It would seem quite the coincidence that Trump seems to be settling on yet another attorney general who seems prepared to take his side on these very personal and political investigative issues in a way Sessions wouldn’t. It’s also notable that Barr seems to believe the line between the presidency and the nation’s top law enforcement official needn’t be drawn so rigidly – something Trump has long craved.

Democratic 2020 presidential campaign revving up quickly

NEW YORK — Democrats are hitting fast forward.

The first major presidential campaign announcements could come before year’s end. The Democratic National Committee plans to announce a debate framework by then featuring 15 to 20 candidates. The first primary debate could happen as early as May, a full three months before the premiere debate of the 2016 cycle.

And long-rumored White House hopefuls are already bowing out.

Like it or not, the 2020 presidential season has arrived. For some potential contenders, there’s an increasing sense of urgency to be in the first wave of declared candidates in what will likely be a large, unwieldy field. And for the party as a whole, there’s a desire to move forward with what’s expected to be a nasty fight — and wrap it up in time to give the eventual nominee strong footing to take on President Donald Trump.

“It starts now, but there will be a lot of ups and downs,” said Democratic consultant Jesse Ferguson, who previously worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “Anyone who thinks the early front-runner will also go the distance hasn’t seen how these campaigns play out.”

This week has offered a preview of the drama that could lie ahead. Former Vice President Joe Biden declared himself “the most qualified person in the country to be president,” billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer courted activists in key states, and at least two prospects — former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and firebrand attorney Michael Avenatti — publicly bowed out of the 2020 contest.

For those preparing candidacies, activity is picking up. While she has yet to make a final decision, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is laying the groundwork for an early launch — potentially by year’s end but more likely in January. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are also lining up for early launches.

Aides to the Democrats addressed their plans on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly disclose internal discussions.

Another well-funded set, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Bloomberg and Steyer, believe they can afford to wait slightly longer to announce their intentions given their fundraising prowess.

Others may need to soon form presidential exploratory committees to access millions of dollars locked in their Senate campaign accounts to pay for travel, consulting and polling related to a possible White House bid. That’s especially true for Warren, Gillibrand, O’Rourke, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

O’Rourke, who smashed fundraising records this year in his failed Texas Senate bid, is discussing a possible 2020 run with his family, according to people with direct knowledge of his thinking. He feels the only drawback to running would be another prolonged period away from his wife and three children.

O’Rourke won’t declare his intentions until after his House term ends on Jan. 3, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a campaign hasn’t been launched.

His camp says he’s been assured that many prospective staffers and donors would wait for him to decide before committing to another candidate, believing he has effectively frozen the field.

O’Rourke has fielded numerous calls from supporters, donors and strategists who have urged him to run, including alumni of former President Barack Obama’s administration. Many have suggested one key question to guide his 2020 decision: Is he excited about any of the other possible candidates? At the moment, O’Rourke doesn’t appear sufficiently enthused about anyone else to not run, according to those familiar with his thinking.

O’Rourke has been invited to visit Iowa and New Hampshire in recent weeks. He hasn’t accepted any such invitation but has not declined them either.

Meanwhile, Hickenlooper isn’t expected to make a formal decision on running until after his term as governor ends Jan. 8. But he’s already started assembling his team and his operation has hired a pollster and national fundraiser.

Senior aides to Sanders, who mounted an aggressive challenge to Clinton in 2016, are laying the groundwork for a bigger campaign organization, according to chief adviser Jeff Weaver.

Sanders’ wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, told The Associated Press that the grueling pace of a presidential contest would not be a deterrent for a second run. She also highlighted Sanders’ philosophy of not attacking other Democrats.

“We’ve never been negative toward an opponent,” she said in an interview last weekend. “And that’s going to be the case this time.”

Biden, who has been less active than other 2020 prospects in preparing to run, is scheduled to appear in Sanders’ home base of Burlington, Vermont, over the weekend as part of a nationwide book tour. Weaver said there were no plans for Sanders and Biden to meet.

Obama is in regular touch with Biden, underscoring the close relationship they forged in the White House.

But there are few Democratic competitors concerned about Biden’s 2020 plans. Would-be challengers note he fared badly in the only two presidential campaigns he ran on his own and generally struggles to raise money.

Booker, who says he will consider his decision over the holidays, has been among the most aggressive prospects.

In addition to aggressively courting activists and prospective staff, the New Jersey Democrat is scheduled to make a series of appearances this weekend in New Hampshire, which traditionally hosts the nation’s first presidential primary election.

Other ambitious Democrats are actively discussing potential White House bids with their friends.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are among those reaching out to experienced political operatives across the country for feedback. Former Obama administration Cabinet member Julian Castro has already indicated he’s likely to run.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is weighing a possible presidential bid. Some Democrats have sought to recruit him to run for the Senate in 2020, but his chief of staff, Tom Lopach, said, “Bullock is not interested” in that campaign.

Among the Democrats not ruling out a run is John Kerry, the former secretary of state and Massachusetts senator who lost the 2004 presidential race. Democrats close to Kerry say he’s done little to start building a campaign infrastructure, but he’s happy to keep his name in the discussion, particularly in the event other elder statesman-like figures — namely Biden — decide not to run.

As the field takes shape, DNC Chairman Tom Perez is working to craft what he says must be a fair process that doesn’t leave the eventual nominee facing internal criticisms of favoritism like those that dogged Clinton in 2016.

A group of DNC officials and advisers, led by Mary Beth Cahill, who managed Kerry’s presidential campaign, is months into private discussions with television networks, previous presidential campaign officials and state party leaders as they craft a plan for Perez.

Several people involved say the party wants the earliest debates to have generous qualifications thresholds, so that longshot-but-legitimate candidates aren’t shut out. Later in the campaign, the thresholds — everything from polling and fundraising to the breadth of a candidate’s campaign operation in early primary states — could be much higher.

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Barrow reported from Atlanta and Weissert reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Elana Schor in Washington, Nicholas Riccardi in Denver and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

Trump expected to pick State spokeswoman for U.N. ambassador

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to announce he will nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, officials familiar with the plans said Thursday.

Two administration officials confirmed Trump’s plans. A Republican congressional aide said the president was expected to announce his decision by tweet on Friday morning. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly before Trump’s announcement.

Trump has previously said Nauert was under serious consideration to replace Nikki Haley, who announced in October that she would step down at the end of this year. If Nauert is confirmed by the Senate, she would be a leading administration voice on Trump’s foreign policy.

Trump told reporters last month that Nauert was “excellent,” adding, “She’s been a supporter for a long time.”

Still, with Trump, no staffing decision is final until he makes the formal announcement, since he has been known to change course in the past.

Nauert did not respond to requests for comment.

She was a reporter for Fox News Channel before she became State Department spokeswoman under former secretary Rex Tillerson.

Plucked from Fox by the White House to serve as State Department spokeswoman, Nauert catapulted into the upper echelons of the agency’s hierarchy when Tillerson was fired in March and replaced with Mike Pompeo. Nauert was then appointed acting undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and was for a time the highest-ranking woman and fourth highest-ranking official in the building.

Nauert, who did not have a good relationship with Tillerson and had considered leaving the department, told associates at the time she was taken aback by the promotion offer and recommended a colleague for the job. But when White House officials told her they wanted her, she accepted.

That role gave her responsibilities far beyond the news conferences she held in the State Department briefing room. She oversaw public diplomacy in Washington and all of the roughly 275 overseas U.S. embassies, consulates and other posts. She was in charge of the Global Engagement Center that fights extremist messaging from the Islamic State group and others, and she has a seat on the U.S. Agency for Global Media that oversees government broadcast networks such as Voice of America.

Just 18 months ago, she wasn’t even in government.

Nauert was a breaking news anchor on Trump’s favorite television show, “Fox & Friends,” when she was tapped to be the face and voice of the administration’s foreign policy. With a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she had come to Fox from ABC News, where she was a general assignment reporter. She hadn’t specialized in foreign policy or international relations.

Shut out from the top by Tillerson and his inner circle, Nauert developed relationships with career diplomats. Barred from traveling with Tillerson, she embarked on her own overseas trips, visiting Bangladesh and Myanmar last year to see the plight of Rohingya Muslims, and then Israel after a planned stop in Syria was scrapped. All the while, she stayed in the good graces of the White House, even as Tillerson was increasingly on the outs.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Nauert in March as “a team player” and “a strong asset for the administration.”

Following Masterpiece Cakeshop case, leaders urge Colorado businesses to be “open to all”

On a frigid Thursday afternoon, local business, elected officials and LGBTQ leaders gathered in the parking lot of a west Denver auto shop to declare that Colorado businesses should be welcoming to people of all backgrounds and identities.

The gathering came after a U.S. Supreme Court case on whether a Lakewood baker had the right to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on religious grounds. The case made Colorado the focus of a national debate over religious liberty versus anti-discrimination law.

The Open to All Colorado initiative is part of a broader national campaign dedicated to promoting inclusiveness and non-discrimination as core principles at local businesses.

Supported and spearheaded by groups including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Good Business Colorado and the LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado, the campaign asks participating business to pledge to be open to all customers, hang a sign in their window or advertise their participation online and commit to having open discussions about their anti-discrimination business practices with customers.

“This is a message about our values as a business community,” Denver Metro Chamber President and CEO Kelly Brough said at Thursday launch event. “This is who we are as a business community. Respectful, open and inclusive and we will be that way forever.”

Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, invoked the Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Right Commission, in his comments Thursday. He noted that the court’s narrow ruling for the plaintiff upheld Colorado’s existing non-discrimination law.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
Gary’s Auto Service on Santa Fe Drive is one of the businesses committed to being part of the Open To All Colorado campaign, a local outgrowth of a national LGBTQ movement dedicated to “the bedrock principle that when businesses open their doors to the public, they should be Open to All.”

“It’s important that all Coloradans know that regardless of who they are that businesses in our state serve everyone on the same terms,” he said.

Open to All is dedicated, according to its website, to “the bedrock principle that when businesses open their doors to the public, they should be Open to All.”

The public education coalition has 200 members, including the American Civil Liberties Union and prominent national LGBTQ rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD. Major companies, including jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co., hotel brand Marriott International and ride-sharing company Lyft, have taken the Open to All pledge, vowing to provide a welcoming, safe environment for people of all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities and physical and cognitive abilities.

The Open to All site includes a page dedicated to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

Jim Campbell, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom and cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, said his client’s business has been and remains open to all.

“It’s not a matter of Jack refusing to serve people, it’s a matter of him declining to make certain cakes that express certain message or celebrate certain events,” that conflict with his deeply held religious beliefs, Campbell said. “He’s been asked to make cakes with anti-LGBTQ messages and he has declined to do those.”

Thursday’s launch was held at Gary’s Auto Service near the intersection of Santa Fe Drive and West 12th Avenue in Denver. The shop’s owner, Dan Carpenter, has taken the pledge. His brother, Jimmy, was gay and died of AIDS.

“It’s simply the right thing to do,” Carpenter said of participating in Open To All Colorado. “There is no place for discrimination in this world.”

Colorado delays new online sales tax enforcement at least until May 31

The Colorado Department of Revenue announced Thursday it is delaying enforcement on its controversial changes to the state’s sales tax collection rules from March 31 until at least May 31.

Officials hope the added months will give more retailers time to voluntarily comply with the drastically different system and give the the Colorado General Assembly more opportunity to weigh in when the new session convenes in January.

Thursday’s news was met with quick relief from small business owners such as Peter Novak. 

Novak, whose Longmont artisan jewelry business RockHill Designs does business in multiple states, said the rules as written are “impossible in some ways”  to comply with. His bookkeeping software keeps track of sales based on zip code, but even addresses in the same zip code can have different tax rates in Colorado.

The new regulations, which took informal effect Saturday, require all in-state and out-of-state businesses that ship taxable products to buyers in Colorado to assess, collect and remit sales taxes based on each buyer’s address. It’s a dramatic shift from the way many Colorado retailers did business previously: Collecting taxes on shipped goods based on the jurisdictions they share in common with their customers, such as the state of Colorado or special taxing entities that cover large areas like RTD.

The state isn’t abandoning the new rules.

Michael Hartman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, said the department wants businesses with the capability to follow the new rules to do so.

The new approach was designed in part to level the playing field among in-state businesses selling the same products, and with out-of-state retailers and e-commerce companies that, despite Colorado’s “Amazon tax,” could simply leave their customers having to pay sales taxes to the state at the end of the year.

The rules have been met with a host of concerns, including how much it would cost local small businesses to upgrade their bookkeeping software and the time it would take to accurately assess taxes for the state’s 344 taxing jurisdictions — a patchwork of cities, counties and special districts that combine to create 683 unique tax rates.

One of business owner Novak’s chief concerns is whether or not he will need to obtain sales tax licenses for each of Colorado’s 71 home-rule cities that collect their own taxes — including Denver, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs — in addition to the single license he already has for the state and the many jurisdictions for which it handles collections.

Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League, emphasized last week that the state’s new rules have no bearing on those 71 home-rule cities. If retailer were shipping goods into those places they should already have licenses and be paying taxes. But it’s clear many businesses were not operating that way.

“In my opinion, they need to have a single sales tax license for the entire state and one system for filing,” Novak said. “Hopefully, legislators will step in and truly simplify things.”

One legislator committed to simplification is Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp. The Arvada Democrat chairs the state’s bipartisan sales and use tax simplification task force. She is already planning a bill that would allow the state to solicit bids from software companies that can provide a one-stop sales tax portal and she has other legislation in mind.

Kraft-Tharp applauded the Department of Revenue’s decision to delay enforcement of its new rules. She said there are some retailers out there who don’t even know the rules have changed yet.

“I have faith in Director Hartman that he is going to listen and work on making this an easier system,” Kraft-Tharp said.

Among the business groups that came out with concerns about the rules and the impact that could have on local business were the Colorado Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

In a statement Thursday, the federation’s Colorado director, Tony Gagliardi, called the two extra months of breathing room a “welcome holiday present” but expressed concern for what lies ahead when it comes to addressing the state’s highly complex sales tax system.

“Simplifying and harmonizing its sales tax structure is Colorado’s biggest public policy challenge by far,” Gagliardi wrote.

Bushes depart on first presidential funeral train since 1969

SPRING, Texas — The locomotive was painted to resemble Air Force One, but George H.W. Bush joked that if it had been around during his presidency, he may have preferred to ride the rails rather than take to the skies.

“I might have left Air Force One behind,” Bush quipped during the 2005 unveiling of 4141, a blue and gray locomotive commissioned in honor of the 41st president and unveiled at Texas A&M University.

On Thursday, that same 4,300-horsepower machine left a suburban Houston railyard loaded with Bush’s casket for his final journey after almost a week of ceremonies in Washington and Texas. The train then embarked on a slow roll to his presidential library in College Station, passing thousands of people who stood along the tracks. Many of them held up their phones for pictures and watched from highway overpasses.

One of the first small towns to greet the train was Pinehurst, where Andy Gordon, took his 6-year-old daughter, Addison, out of school so she and her 3-year-old sister, Ashtyn, could witness the moment firsthand.

“Hopefully, my children will remember the significance and the meaning of today,” said Gordon, 38. In Addison’s hand were two small American flags.

At one point, state troopers hovering in a helicopter ordered people to get off the tracks as the train approached. Some onlookers left coins on the tracks to be flattened into keepsakes.

More than two hours after departing, the train rolled to a stop in College Station, where Bush was to be laid to rest at a private ceremony next to his wife, Barbara, who died in April, and his daughter Robin, who died at age 3 in 1953. Family members, including former President George W. Bush, were also aboard the 12-car train that was greeted by student cadets and mourners upon arriving at Texas A&M University.

The train’s sixth car, a converted baggage hauler called “Council Bluffs,” was fitted with transparent sides to allow the mourners lining the tracks views of Bush’s flag-draped coffin. The train rolled past the flashing lights of firetrucks, some hoisting American flags from their ladders, and past state troopers who saluted from the side of the tracks.

It is the eighth presidential funeral train in U.S. history and the first since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s body traveled from the National Cathedral in Washington through seven states to his Kansas hometown of Abilene 49 years ago. Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train was the first, in 1865.

Robert F. Kennedy was never president, but he was running for the White House when he was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968. His body was later transported to New York City for a funeral Mass and then taken by private train to Washington for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands of mourners lined the tracks for the 200-plus-mile journey.

Union Pacific originally commissioned the Bush locomotive for the opening of an exhibit at his library titled “Trains: Tracks of the Iron Horse.” It was one of the few times the company has painted a locomotive any color other than its traditional yellow. After a brief training session during 4141’s unveiling 13 years ago, Bush took the engineer’s seat and helped take the locomotive for a 2-mile excursion.

“We just rode on the railroads all the time, and I’ve never forgotten it,” Bush said at the time, recalling how he took trains, and often slept on them, during trips as a child with his family. He also called the locomotive “the Air Force One of railroads.”

Bush, who died last week at his Houston home at age 94, was eulogized Wednesday at a funeral service at the National Cathedral and again Thursday at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

The funeral train has been part of the official planning for his death for years, Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said.

Union Pacific was contacted by federal officials in early 2009 and asked, at Bush’s request, about providing a funeral train at some point, company spokesman Tom Lange said.

“We said, ‘Of course and also we have this locomotive that we would want to have obviously be part of it,'” Lange said. He noted that trains were the mode of transportation that first carried Bush to his service as a naval aviator in World War II and back home again.

Eisenhower was the last president to travel by train regularly. A key reason was his wife, Mamie, who hated to fly. During the 1952 campaign, Eisenhower traveled more than 51,000 miles and made 252 stops. And while he often flew, his wife rode the train the whole time, Union Pacific said.

Still, when Bush beat Democrat Michael Dukakis and won the presidency in 1988, both candidates used trains to make some campaign stops. Bush also occasionally traveled by train in 1992, when he was defeated by Democrat Bill Clinton, including making Midwest stops aboard a train dubbed “The Spirit of America.”

Denver tried to bring Amazon HQ2 to RiNo, Broadway and three other sites

Denver city officials wanted to bring “HQ2,” the proposed second headquarters for Amazon, to several fast-growing neighborhoods around Denver.

They failed, of course, as Amazon is instead splitting its new offices between the New York City and Washington, D.C., areas. But the city’s selections show where leaders see opportunities for new development.

The city of Denver proposed sites in the following areas, according to a September 2017 map released by city officials last week:

  • The northeast side of the River North district. The site was near the 38th and Blake transit station, where developers and city officials have grand plans.
  • The Central Business District and Central Platte Valley. This site appeared to be near the Platte River and the current Elitch Gardens site. It is not clear whether the potentially huge River Mile development was involved. A representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
  • Interstate 25 and Broadway, a rapidly redeveloping area near a rail station.
  • Peña Station, a transit-oriented development area near Denver International Airport where Panasonic is working on a “smart city” concept.
  • A transit-oriented development area near Stapleton, which appears to be around the Central Park Boulevard station.
A map of sites pitched by Denver officials for Amazon HQ2. City staff redacted some details. (City and County of Denver)

Denver didn’t pitch Amazon alone. It joined in a regional effort with the private Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. The EDC pitched a total of 30 sites to Amazon, with a focus on eight, but has not disclosed their locations.

Denver officials declined to give the exact addresses of their proposals, citing the confidentiality of certain commercial data under the Colorado Open Records Act.

“The areas highlighted were indicative of the variety of choices available in our community, including both existing real estate and planned development ranging from a downtown setting, progressive urban lifestyle/innovation areas and technology employment centers to new urban experience areas,” wrote Derek Woodbury, spokesperson for the city’s Office of Economic Development, in an email.

“All areas offer excellent access to multiple modes of transportation, the metropolitan area’s workforce, and the tech and innovation community.”

The city never discussed specific incentive values for Amazon, according to economic development chief Eric Hiraga. Instead, he said, officials provided a standard “menu” of different types of incentives to discuss with Amazon.

The city provided details of the sites in response to records requests by The Denver Post and other media organizations.

Colorado Governor-elect Jared Polis turns to familiar faces for key hires

Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis is tapping several top Hickenlooper advisers and staffers from his congressional office — and even one of his primary opponents — to fill several key administration positions.

Polis’ transition team announced these senior staff hires Thursday afternoon:

The incoming governor’s transition team is continuing to fill Cabinet positions, reviewing more than 700 applications.

The Spot: Denver politics are about to take center stage and what’s coming in 2019 for marijuana

Let’s get something out of the way: I am not Nic Garcia. Your usual host is vacationing, and hopefully taking a break from Colorado’s news cycle.

Instead, you’re stuck with Andrew Kenney. You can call me Andy. The Post hired me a few months ago to cover Denver — so, I’m going to tell you what’s on the agenda for 2019 for the metro area.

If you’re not interested in Colorado’s largest city, scroll on for your usual dose of statewide politics. (And if you’re Nic, put down the phone.)

So many candidates

Denver is holding municipal elections in May, and so far there are 57 candidates — including 10 challengers to Mayor Michael Hancock. The filing deadline isn’t until March 13, but it’s already a bumper crop. We’ve heard plenty of sharp criticism of Hancock, especially about his handling of development and his lascivious text messages to a police officer in 2012. But I’ve also met candidates and voters who were swept into local politics by their newfound interest in progressive issues.

Addiction and mental health

In other Denver news, the city heard a warning shot this week from federal authorities. The City Council wants to allow a “supervised use” facility for drug use, but the feds said that would be rather illegal. Denver won’t move ahead unless state legislators agree — so this will be a very closely watched issue in the session ahead.

The rest of the state also will be watching Denver’s rollout of $45 million per year in mental health and addiction treatment spending. Will the “Caring 4 Denver” initiative make an impact?

The tax question

Statewide tax proposals were demolished by voters this month — but cities on the Front Range, especially Denver, approved plenty of local hikes. We’ll see new discussions of how cities will pay their way — and they may start to work together. “I think we’re always going to start with regional options for regional challenges,” said the city of Denver’s CFO, Brendan Hanlon. “I think that is the priority, and probably the best and most efficient way to start.”

Transportation is the most obvious target for regionalization, he said. However, that regional approach may cause some real jitters on the Western Slope. If Front Range counties team up on new transportation funding in the years ahead, it may sap Front Range voters’ interest in a statewide tax increase.

The Olympics

Cities are running away from the Olympics — and that’s why Denver’s boosters smell an opportunity. I explained their unusual pitch for the 2030 Winter Games in an article this week. If the city wins a crucial U.S. Olympic Committee vote, which could happen this month, the state will be in for a whole lot of Olympic arguing.

Cannabis changes

Gov. John Hickenlooper annoyed cannabis advocates by vetoing three marijuana-related bills this year. In 2019, though, new legislators and Gov.-elect Jared Polis may open the door for significant changes. One bill could bring major new money into the industry, accelerating the mergers and acquisitions that produce big companies. Other viable proposals could allow delivery services for cannabis, or you could vape weed in a “tasting room.”

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Countdown

29 days until the General Assembly convenes, 33 days until Jared Polis is sworn in as governor

Your political must reads

  • The Democratic senator who was accused of using a women’s restroom will resign. Denver Post
  • Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton wishes his cousin President George H.W. Bush “could live forever.” Denver Post
  • Hickenlooper failed in his final effort to change the Gallagher amendment. Denver Post
  • Colorado regulators may require larger distances between schools and drilling. Denver Post
  • Former Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi writes that Democrats — including “professional moderate” Gov. John Hickenlooper — are revving up for what could be the “silliest” election of our lifetime. Washington Examiner
  • Washington Post columnist and CNN analyst: “Now that I’ve left the Republican Party, I am often asked why I simply haven’t become a Democrat.” Washington Post
  • Denver courts are part of a federal plan to speed up family immigration cases. CPR
  • Here’s what educators have to say to Jared Polis. Chalkbeat

Capitol Diary

Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats encourage Hick to play up family ties

By Nic Garcia

I spent a good chunk of last week talking to folks from Iowa and New Hampshire — two critical states in the Democratic nomination process — about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chances. ICYMI, Hick has a chance.

One piece of advice from both Iowa and New Hampshire that didn’t make it into the article is that Hickenlooper should regularly mention his family ties to both early presidential nominating states.

“Hickenlooper is a very familiar name,” said Chris Henning, the Democratic chair of Greene County.

Hickenlooper’s great-uncle Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper was Iowa’s governor briefly between 1943 and 1944. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1945. The Republican — yes, Republican — Hickenlooper served until 1969.

Bourke Hickenlooper didn’t make many headlines in Congress. However, he was described as a “tenacious anti-Communist crusader,” according to this biography from the University of Iowa.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s own Hickenlooper has a family home off Squam Lake in New Hampshire that he regularly visits during the summer.

Getting to know you

Most weeks we introduce you a different member of the Colorado political community. This week, meet Michal Rosenoer of Emerge Colorado.

Who are you and what do you do in Colorado politics?

I’m Michal Rosenoer and I’m the executive director of Emerge Colorado. We recruit and train Democratic women from across the state to run for office and give them the network and skills they need to win. Right now we have over 300 alumnae across the state and a win rate of 90 percent. When we talk about flipping the state Senate blue in 2018, we’re talking about the campaigns of Emerge women. Emerge is truly changing the face of politics in Colorado.

How did you end up in your current role, and why do you enjoy what you do?

I moved to Durango in 2014 to manage the Western Slope community organizing and electoral field programs for Conservation Colorado. After going through Emerge myself in 2017, I decided that I wanted to focus on elections full time. While I love policy work, it’s been hard since 2016 to watch the Trump administration roll back so much of Colorado’s progress, especially regarding environmental protections. Waking up every day and getting to support women candidates, many of whom are running for the first time, or would be the “first” to serve in that position, is a great antidote to the daily anguish of living under Trump’s reign.

What’s on your mind regarding local and/or national politics?

Americans seem to be worshiping at the cult of personality right now regarding political figures. Rather than focusing on character and experience, everyone seems to be the most enthralled by candidates who are shiny and new, have big personalities, and run a quippy Twitter account. I’d rather see us focus on the smartest, most compassionate, hard-working people in the room. In my experience, the culture of personality hurts great candidates across the gender spectrum, but especially women. We somehow have to balance the impossible task of being supremely qualified but approachable, funny but not rude, and smart but not smarter-than-you. But honestly, what’s new?

What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to politics?

The Twitter-fication of politics annoys me in that it removes space for nuance in important conversations. Whether it’s dealing with sexual assault allegations or deciding which candidate to support, our experiences and thoughts can rarely be summarized appropriately in just one or two sentences. Also, reporters who write about women in politics but don’t quote women equitably in their stories. They should be banished to an office with fluorescent lighting where the only thing they are allowed to do is drink watered-down decaf while reading comments on their articles written by anonymous trolls on #copolitics.

Who is your political hero and why?

The black women behind Black Lives Matter, specifically the three co-founders — Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi — are absolute heroes. They have built an incredibly powerful, generation-defining movement while facing ongoing structural oppression, ridicule, violence and emotional trauma. But still, they rise.

What’s your favorite part of Colorado?

When I first moved here I worked on the campaign to protect the Hermosa Creek Wilderness Area just north of Durango. While the 416 Fire this summer changed that landscape in ways we can’t yet understand, it will always be the first place in Colorado I built a real connection with. Plus the wild mushroom foraging in Hermosa is incredible, and who doesn’t like free food?

What’s the best way for someone to get hold of you if they want to talk politics?

I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter, but I’m always happy to trade hot takes. You can find me there or follow the Emerge Colorado account. We are a one-woman shop so I check the DMs on both. My work email is michal@emergeco.org, so feel free to connect with me that way, too. Generally I love talking to people about political issues in their backyard, about who may be a great candidate from their neighborhood, or just trading puppy gifs, so don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Who would you like to nominate to answer these questions next?

  • Carla Castedo, Colorado director of Mi Familia Vota
  • Joelle Martinez, director of Latino Leadership Institute
  • Dusti Gurule, director of COLOR

Republican officials had early warnings of voting irregularities in North Carolina, congressman says

BLADENBORO, N.C. – When GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss.

The congressman turned to a group of friends and family who had gathered with him on election night at a steakhouse near Charlotte, North Carolina, and blamed the “ballot stuffers in Bladen,” according to three people at the gathering.

Pittenger’s concern stemmed from the vote tallies in rural Bladen County, North Carolina, where his challenger, a pastor from the Charlotte suburbs named Mark Harris, had won 437 absentee mail-in votes. Pittenger, a three-term incumbent, had received just 17.

In the days immediately after the race, aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred, according to people familiar with their discussions.

GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’ general-election campaign against a well-funded Democratic opponent, the people said.

Their accounts provide the first indication that state and national Republican officials received early warnings about voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, now the subject of multiple criminal probes.

A spokesman for the NRCC denied that Pittenger’s campaign raised the possibility of fraud in the primary.

Allegations of fraud in November’s general election have now put the outcome of the 9th Congressional District race in limbo. State investigators are examining the activities of a political operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, who ran a get-out-the-vote effort for the Harris campaign during the primary and general elections.

While the investigation continues, the elections board has declined to certify the 9th District race, in which Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, according to unofficial results.

On Thursday, McCready told television station WSOC that he was withdrawing his concession and accused Harris of bankrolling “criminal activity.”

Dowless, who has worked on political campaigns in Bladen for at least a decade, touts his ability to mobilize voters to cast ballots by mail, according to people who know him. He has been under scrutiny by state officials since 2016, when allegations surfaced about illegal ballot harvesting in that year’s campaigns, leading to a public hearing.

Dowless, who told the Charlotte Observer that he did not commit any wrongdoing, declined to comment Thursday. “I’m just not giving any comment at this time,” he told reporters and photographers in front of his house in Bladenboro, adding, “No disrespect to anybody.”

Pittenger said Dowless tried to sell him his services in 2016 but that he declined to hire the operative.

“I just knew I didn’t want to be involved with him,” Pittenger said. “Dowless’s efforts were widely known, and we did share our concerns with several people,” declining to elaborate on who he spoke to or what he said.

Since reports of irregularities in the 9th District emerged last month, GOP leaders in the state – including Dallas Woodhouse, the state GOP executive director – initially played down concerns that laws were broken. They repeatedly cast the situation in political terms, asserting that any voting irregularities were not widespread enough to change the outcome of the election.

In recent days, amid mounting allegations of a ballot-harvesting operation, state Republicans have shifted their rhetoric. Woodhouse told The Post on Thursday that if the state elections board can “show a substantial likelihood” that possible fraud could have changed the outcome of November’s vote, “then we fully would support a new election.”

In an interview this week, Woodhouse initially said he did not recall fielding complaints from Pittenger aides of possible fraud after the primary. But he called back a few moments later to say that he did remember hearing of anomalies – and took “a cursory look at the end of that race at the vote totals.”

He recalled concluding that Harris had won the overall vote with a strong showing from evangelical voters, but he said: “We did not look real specifically at absentee ballots.”

“If somebody said something about the absentee ballots, it is just very possible that it didn’t register with us,” Woodhouse said. “We had a lot of campaigns and a lot of people expressing concerns at the end of the election, and we were trying to quickly move on to the general election.”

NRCC spokesman Matt Gorman denied that anyone affiliated with the Pittenger campaign brought up possible fraud to anyone at the committee, including Tyler Foote, who ran the southeast region for the NRCC.

“We had them on the phone numerous times, and there was no mention of fraud,” Gorman said. “It’s unfortunate that there’s a revisionist history going on.”

Foote did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He has been named Harris’ incoming chief of staff, although whether Harris will be seated in Congress in January remains uncertain.

Pittenger said he did not recall being told of fraud complaints his advisers made to Woodhouse and Foote, and he declined to confirm that he blamed “ballot stuffers” on election night.

But he said there was “a lot of angst” among his campaign aides, who “were all upset about what happened.”

“I think there were a lot of frustrated feelings inside the room as we saw the results come in,” he said.

The state elections board is investigating irregularities in mail-in balloting in the 9th District general election – many of them in Bladen County, which had the highest share of mail-in votes in the district, state records show.

Investigators have spoken with witnesses who link Dowless to an effort to collect absentee ballots from voters and are examining whether he or his associates filled out ballots or discarded them, according to people familiar with the probe. It is illegal to collect or tamper with someone else’s ballot.

Multiple voters said in interviews that they handed over their ballots – some of which were not fully filled out and were left unsealed – to people who showed up at their doors and offered to collect them. Two Bladen County women said they worked for Dowless and went door to door asking voters to turn over their ballots, WSOC-TV in Charlotte has reported.

This week, the elections board issued subpoenas to the Harris campaign and its general consultant, Red Dome Group, as well as the local sheriff, James A. McVicker, a Republican who won reelection last month and also hired Dowless to run his absentee-ballot program, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

The Wake County district attorney’s office in Raleigh and the State Bureau of Investigation are also conducting probes, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, D, told The Post.

If the board concludes that the irregularities tainted those results, it could toss them and call for a new election. The board has announced plans for a hearing by Dec. 21.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the incoming House majority leader, said this week that Democrats might refuse to seat Harris until “substantial” questions about the integrity of his election are resolved. On Thursday, incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was more cautious, saying that House Democrats were awaiting the determination of North Carolina elections officials.

Since the November election, Pittenger, 70, a real estate investor who lives in Charlotte, has hinted openly at his suspicions of wrongdoing. “Look at the votes. Follow the money,” he told the Charlotte Observer last week.

Pittenger also told Spectrum News that he was “fully aware” of voting irregularities in the district, adding that there were “some pretty unsavory people out there, particularly in Bladen County. And I didn’t have anything to do with them.”

Pittenger told The Post that after speaking to Dowless for “five or 10 minutes” in 2016, he knew he did not want to bring him onto his campaign.

“I didn’t want to do business with him after I met him,” Pittenger said. “I just didn’t like the way it sounded. But he went other places, and I knew that was going to be an issue. But nonetheless, I was willing to live with” the possibility that his opponents might hire the operative.

In the 2016 GOP primary, Dowless ended up working for Pittenger challenger Todd Johnson, a Union County insurance salesman, campaign finance records show. Johnson won an overwhelming number of mail-in ballots in Bladen County that spring: 211. Harris, who was also a candidate that year, logged four votes. Pittenger got just one, records show.

Two years later, Pittenger ignored the advice of his advisers to hire Dowless and have him do no work, just to keep him from working for his opponent, according to two people close to the campaign.

Instead, Dowless was hired by the Harris campaign. John Branch, Harris’ attorney, and Andy Yates of Red Dome, his campaign consultant, confirmed in statements this week that Dowless was paid for a field effort but said they were not aware of any illegal activity.

The campaign “at all times believed he was working within the confines of North Carolina law,” Branch said.

In the May 8 primary, Harris beat Pittenger by 828 votes – with half of his margin coming from mail-in ballots in Bladen.

“Bladen County was a factor” in the loss, Pittenger said, calling the situation “disconcerting.”

In last month’s general election, Harris drew 420 mail-in votes from Bladen compared with 258 for McCready, his Democratic opponent, state records show. Investigators are examining whether additional mail-in votes were discarded and whether the alleged ballot-harvesting operation extended beyond Bladen, according to people familiar with the probe.

State records show that a large number of absentee ballots across the 9th District – more than 3,400 – were requested by voters but never returned.

By the time advisers to Pittenger expressed their frustration to Woodhouse and Foote, the campaign was unwinding, Pittenger had few resources to put up a fight and was under pressure from other Republicans to rally around Harris, according to people familiar with the situation.

By June 30, Pittenger’s campaign had just $9,179 on hand and about $792,000 in debt, much of it carried over from his first race in 2012, according to campaign finance records. Harris had $295,658 in cash, while McCready, who faced a weak opponent in his primary, was heading into the general election with $1.8 million in his campaign coffers.

“In order to beat Dan McCready, as strong a candidate as Dan McCready was, the general-election campaign needed to start right away,” said a person familiar with the thinking in Pittenger’s campaign and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. “There wasn’t time to go into a recount and use those financial resources. All the campaigns were financially strapped. The only way to beat Dan McCready was to put our weapons down within the party. Robert, being a good Republican, agreed that if he continued to try to raise an issue with this, it would only hurt the Republicans’ abilities to win in the fall.”

Pittenger was also hampered by poor rapport with his aides and other Republicans in North Carolina and Washington, so there was little appetite to take up a fight on his behalf, according to people familiar with the situation.

The congressman initially declined to endorse Harris, saying that he wanted an apology for what he described as “baseless attacks” on his voting record by the pastor. Pittenger did not mention election irregularities. At the end of May, however, Pittenger issued a statement supporting Harris. People familiar with his views said he did so reluctantly, under pressure from GOP leaders.

Kevin Seifert, political director for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., denied that, saying he had expressed sadness at Pittenger’s defeat. “We never told him to get in line,” he said. “It was a hard-fought race.”

Now, Pittenger said, he’s gratified by the intensifying scrutiny on Dowless and his tactics.

“I always told my people, ‘They hadn’t been able to catch him,’ ” he said. “I never had a lot of hope seeing a lot of resolution with this guy. I’m glad they’re moving toward this now. I think it’s a healthy thing to nip this thing in the bud and remove him from further campaigns.”

Reinhard reported from Washington. Justin Kase Conder in Bladenboro and Alice Crites, Mike DeBonis, Paul Kane and John Wagner in Washington contributed to this report.

Pot delivery one possibility as Colorado prepares for a year of change in marijuana industry

Few people in Colorado have frustrated the cannabis industry more than Gov. John Hickenlooper this year.

When lawmakers decided to let people vaporize weed in dispensary “tasting rooms,” Hickenlooper vetoed it. The next day, he rejected a bill to allow more investment in cannabis companies, and another that would have opened medical marijuana to people with autism.

Hickenlooper had reasons for each veto, saying that he wanted to proceed cautiously. In the industry, though, it was seen as one last whammy from a governor who opposed legalization.

“The governor is facing a different world ahead of him, running for president. He’s been trying for a significant time to distance himself from the marijuana issue,” said Peter Marcus, a former politics journalist who now represents Terrapin Care Station.

“I think he was just sending a bit of a message. ‘I’m not the marijuana governor.’ ”

But that all changes in January.

“New-age Budweisers”

Gov.-elect Jared Polis describes himself as “the only candidate” who helped pass marijuana legalization. And the state legislature is looking much more Democratic. That means cannabis advocates — who were already winning Republican votes — now can aim higher.

“I think this is a really good time and ripe opportunity to make sure we regulate this like the drug it is — and not the drug some people fear it to be,”  said state Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Boulder County Democrat.

Together, a slate of proposed changes could open the industry’s next era — one with more money, larger companies and more ways to use the product.

“I think you’re going to start to see the new-age Budweisers and Coors Lights — the bigger companies that are going to be the name and the brand that we’re all going to know,” said Albert Gutierrez, CEO of MedPharm Holdings, a cannabis research and cultivation company.

“You’re going to probably have more variety from these companies, whether they’re offering drinks or chocolate bars. But these companies are going to be the household names that people are going to come to know over the next 30, 50, 100 years,” he said.

Meanwhile, critics are raising alarms that legal marijuana is exposing kids to higher levels of THC, and offering them stealthy new ways to consume it.

“We should all be able to agree that Colorado’s increasingly potent marijuana products are harmful to youth and that we have a collective responsibility to protect Colorado kids,” wrote Henny Lasley, the co-founder of Smart Colorado, in an email.

The group wants Polis and the legislature to “adopt common-sense protections for youth” including limits on Colorado’s increasingly potent THC products. They’re also concerned about potentially stealthy products such as cannabis inhalers, which are the subject of new state rules.

Likely targets

The proposals that Hickenlooper vetoed are likely to return this year. They are:

More access to investment. One bill last year would have allowed publicly traded companies to invest in and own cannabis businesses, and it would further loosen limits on out-of-state investment. More than a dozen other states already allow similar investment, according to state Rep. Dan Pabon.

“Most of our financing is coming from people who are lending money, and it’s not cheap money,” said Christian Sederberg, an attorney involved in the finance bill. “It creates an environment where it’s difficult for people to grow their businesses, hire more people, modernize their infrastructure.”

While Colorado cannabis is a $1.5 billion industry, industry insiders claim companies are stretched thin because they can’t take federal tax deductions or access major capital markets. Meanwhile, they’re competing for new markets such as Canada.

Marijuana revenue and sales are growing, but prices have been dropping as the market matures, Sederberg said.

“That will cause a number of mom-and-pop shops … to want to merge with folks that have lower-cost production, higher-level efficiency,” said Dean Heizer, chief legal strategist for LivWell, one of the state’s largest cannabis companies.

New investors will facilitate those mergers, buyouts and consolidations, he explained, though he doesn’t expect a “radical evolution.”

Previously, Hickenlooper said he vetoed the bill because it was “premature,” in part because the U.S. Congress hasn’t updated financial laws to include marijuana companies, and companies can’t get access to most banking services. The governor also cited concerns about keeping criminal enterprises out of the legal market.

Looser rules on social use. HB 1258 was supposed to solve one of the biggest complaints about legal marijuana: There are few places to legally use it.

The bill would have allowed marijuana retailers to open up “tasting rooms,” where customers could buy and vape small servings of the drug. Local governments would have decided whether or not to allow the rooms.

“It was the first cannabis public consumption law passed through a legislature in America,” said Marcus, whose employer supported the bill.

Hickenlooper argued that tasting-room customers would be using cannabis “openly or publicly,” which is forbidden in Colorado’s legalization language, among other concerns.

That “openly or publicly” language has confounded and irritated cannabis lawyers and entrepreneurs alike. This past June, Denver police ticketed tourists who were consuming on a cannabis tour bus, prompting a fight over what’s “public.”

Singer argues that was never the intent of the amendment, and he said the legislature could re-examine it alongside a new tasting-room bill.

“It was (supposed to be) the idea of people not just smoking in other people’s faces,” he said.

Medical marijuana for autism. Last year’s HB 18-1263 would have allowed people with autism spectrum disorder to get medical marijuana, which is cheaper and can be prescribed for children.

The bill passed by strong margins, but it faced opposition from psychiatrists and the head of the state Health Department. Hickenlooper cited those concerns when he vetoed the bill, saying it could encourage “more young people to look at this as an antidote for their problems.”

The governor also ordered a state study of the treatment.

Stretch goals

And then there are the loftier goals:

Delivery. HB 18-1092 would have created a “pilot program” for marijuana delivery in willing cities. It initially included both recreational and medical cannabis, with the test lasting two years.

“We have liquor delivery. We have prescription drug delivery,” Rep. Singer said. “We have patients who can’t even get to a dispensary because they’re too sick.”

Republicans killed the bill on a party-line Senate committee vote. It faced criticism from law enforcement, which asked whether couriers could be targets.

This year, “it’s something where we have to take the temperature of folks,” Singer said. “We’ve got this whole new blank slate of (legislators) that don’t have a voting record right now.”

Microbusinesses. California recently created a new option for entrepreneurs. The “microbusiness” model in that state allows businesses to grow, process and sell cannabis on one small site, kind of like a small beer brewery.

In Colorado, Singer and Rep. Leslie Herod are interested in a variant: They could allow small businesses to operate under the licensing umbrella of a bigger company.

“What we’ve unfortunately found out is that it’s the people with access to capital who are the people who are succeeding in our new legal regimen,” he said.

“Hopefully, this is an opportunity to ensure that the same people who were victimized in the drug war have the opportunity to participate in this market.”

Smaller adjustments

It’s not just about introducing new laws. The state’s regulatory programs for medical and retail marijuana are scheduled to “sunset,” or expire, in 2019. That means legislators and government staff are working to revise and renew the rules.

A state report includes these suggestions:

  • Streamline licensing and ownership rules.
  • Give a state agency more power to shut down unlicensed operations.
  • Allow dispensaries to sell hemp products for human consumption.
  • Require testing of CBD products, similar to THC products.
  • Loosen criminal background restrictions.
  • Unify some of the rules about cultivating retail and medical cannabis.

None of these discussions will grab as much attention as the legalization of retail marijuana five years ago. But they will shape how the cannabis industry looks in the next five years, and which role Colorado plays in an expanding national market for the drug — for better or for worse.

Jefferson Parkway finalists to be selected in December

The Jefferson Parkway, the controversial 10-mile tollway that would nearly complete the beltway around metro Denver, is set to take a big step forward this month with the selection of finalist firms to design, build and operate the road connecting Broomfield to Golden.

Thursday marks the deadline by which companies must notify the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority that they are interested in being a contender to land the $200 million project as part of a public-private partnership. The authority’s board of directors is scheduled to choose no more than three finalists Dec. 20.

“Jefferson Parkway is on the way to being built,” Bill Ray, executive director of the authority, said this week.

After the Dec. 20 selection, he said, the authority will issue a request for proposals from the three finalist firms in the spring. They will likely have until the fall of 2019 to submit responses. Construction, if all goes well, would begin in the spring of 2020.

“This is going to be a very complex document,” Ray said of the RFP. “It’s not a trivial process.”

The selection of a list of finalists that would finance, design and build the highway that would run past Rocky Mountain Regional Airport, down the east side of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and through Arvada’s Leyden Rock neighborhood out to State Highway 93 is a significant step in what has been a decade-long process to get the road built, Ray said.

“What this says is that the marketplace is indicating its belief in the future success of the Jefferson Parkway as a public-private partnership,” he said.

The parkway, which would be a tolled road akin to the Northwest Parkway and E-470, has been the subject of multiple lawsuits over the last few years, as Superior, Golden and environmental groups have challenged it on environmental grounds. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the parkway in 2015.

The proposed project also ran into trouble with the Federal Aviation Administration last year over its proximity to the ends of runways at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport.

Boulder says no to big home ban, but council urges action

Boulder will not pursue a moratorium on homes of a certain size, city council decided Tuesday night, but will act quickly to develop regulations that will encourage smaller dwellings and may include a cap on how big houses can be.

Council began exploring the issue — which has been a stated concern for the past few years — in September. Two weeks later, an emergency vote and public hearing was scheduled at councilwoman Lisa Morzel’s request. If passed, it would have temporarily banned homes over 3,500 square feet in lower-density zoning districts.

A moratorium was abandoned after pushback over the lack of public process, but with a promise that the topic would be revisited. Staff brought back the option Tuesday, along with two ways to tackle large homes over the long term: the initial plan of public engagement, board feedback and council action, with implementation by fall 2109 ; or a two-phase approach that would stretch through December 2019.

That would put the large homes discussion on the plate of a new council, something current members felt would hinder progress. At least one sitting council person will be absent: Morzel, who is term-limited.

A majority of the council also did not feel comfortable reviving the moratorium or pursuing, as staff phrased it, other “interim regulation.”

Read more at dailycamera.com.

Denver may force scooters into bike lanes and make other changes (after a guy got slapped)

Lyft has been encouraging scooter riders to break the law.

When users first try to ride one of the company’s two-wheelers in Denver, they’re presented with a tutorial. Among other safety tips, the app has recently told riders to stick to the bike lanes.

The city of Denver, however, says that scooters can only be used on sidewalks. It’s because of a confusing quirk in state law that has frustrated riders and pedestrians, and it even got a guy slapped.

Now, the city may change where people ride scooters and tweak the “pilot” program that has allowed several companies to deploy hundreds of scooters and bikes here.

A proposed law would establish the following rules for scooter riders:

  • Use bike lanes whenever possible.
  • Stay at or below 15 mph in bike lanes.
  • Ride in the road when bike lanes aren’t available — unless the speed limit exceeds 30 mph.
  • Stay to the right on roadways, unless it’s unsafe.
  • Only use the sidewalk when other options aren’t available.
  • Stay below 6 mph on sidewalks.

Under the proposal, riders would generally have to obey traffic laws and signals. They would have to yield to pedestrians, and only one person would be allowed per scooter.

“I wanted to get it done as fast as I could, because there’s just so much concern that people have for the fact that they’re on sidewalks,” said Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman of the bill she and Councilman Paul Kashmann are proposing. She is still working with police to determine penalties for scooter scofflaws.

The bill also requires lights, reflectors and reflective material for scooters. That applies both to the dockless companies’ scooters and to personal scooters.

The council’s land use and transportation committee will debate the bill next week before it heads to a likely vote before the full council. Susman hopes that the state legislature will revisit its own laws this upcoming year, too.

More changes coming

The Department of Public Works also may consider changes to its rules for dockless vehicles, according to Susman.

One prime topic: The city requires companies to regularly relocate scooters to transit stops. If you leave one outside your house, for example, Bird’s workers might haul it back to a bus stop.

That’s frustrating for users who want to start their rides closer to home, Susman said. She wants companies to place scooters where demand is highest.

“I’m not convinced that (a scooter) is the ride to transit or from transit,” she said. “It is transit.”

The city also could loosen its limits on the scooter population. Currently, the city allows a total of 1,750 dockless scooters and 1,000 dockless bikes between five companies — Lime, Bird, Lyft, Spin and Razor.

Instead, Susman is interested in a “dynamic” system. If data showed high scooter usage, a company might be allowed to add a vehicle. But if a particular scooter was used too rarely, the company might have to remove it from the fleet.

“Cities make rules that make it easy for the city but harder for the user,” she said. “You have to think about the user, and how they use it.”

A representative for Lyft didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Heather Burke, a spokesperson for Denver Public Works, said the department is focused on the bike-lane bill at the moment.

“Our primary concern right now is safety and finding a place for electric scooters aside from the sidewalk,” she wrote in an email.

George W. Bush eulogizes “best father” at solemn state funeral

Former President George W. Bush choked back tears eulogizing “the best father a son or daughter could ever have” as official Washington turned out to honor the late President George H.W. Bush with the full pageantry of a state funeral.

Bush paused and tapped his father’s flag-draped casket twice as he walked up to the altar at Washington National Cathedral to offer a personal remembrance of the 41st president as a political leader of unrelenting optimism and steadfast personal character.

“He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage, and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country,” Bush said.

President Donald Trump listened from the front pew with his arms crossed, seated beside his three Democratic predecessors and their wives. He wasn’t invited to speak.

Trump, who was joined by his wife Melania, shook hands with Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama as he entered the service but ignored Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. George W. Bush, who sat across the aisle with his family, paused and greeted Trump and all the former presidents.

“Looking forward to being with the Bush family,” Trump tweeted shortly before the service. “This is not a funeral, this is a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life. He will be missed!”

Left unsaid were the years of criticism and attacks the president has leveled against the Bush family, as well as the Bush family’s at times barely disguised contempt for Trump, whose approach to leadership runs at odds with the “kinder, gentler” conservatism the late president espoused.

It was the first time Trump was in close proximity to the Obamas and the Clintons since his inauguration nearly two years ago. He has since issued countless attacks on Twitter and at political rallies attacking both former first couples.

Trump wasn’t welcome at the last two occasions that brought former presidents together. Former first lady Barbara Bush, who died earlier this year, made clear she didn’t want the president at her funeral. He also wasn’t invited to the funeral for Republican Senator John McCain, who died in August.

Trump’s disparagement of the Bush family and its governance is voluminous.

As recently as July, at a campaign rally in Montana, Trump mocked one of President H.W. Bush’s signature phrases. “Thousand points of light, what the hell is that?” he asked the crowd. “Has anyone ever figured that one out?”

At a 2016 primary debate, Trump criticized George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in an attack on his brother Jeb, who challenged Trump for the nomination. ” George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes, but that one was a beauty,” Trump said.

Decades earlier, while the elder Bush was in office, Trump hit at a fundamental difference between them: “I like George Bush very much and support him and always will. But I disagree with him when he talks of a kinder, gentler America. I think if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist,” Trump told Playboy in 1990.

The disdain was reciprocated.

According to biographer Jon Meacham, Trump told Bush adviser Lee Atwater in 1988 that he’d be available to be Bush’s running mate. Bush “thought the overture ‘strange and unbelievable,'” Meacham wrote.

In 2011, when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd mentioned Trump’s birther campaign against Obama to the elder Bush, Bush responded: “He’s an ass.”

With the country — and the world — watching, the president and the Bush family are staging a public detente that belies their history. Whatever his feelings about the former presidents, Trump dutifully swallowed them this week. He has behaved in presidential fashion by declaring Wednesday to be a national day of mourning during which the federal government is closed, giving most federal employees have the day off, and traveling to the Capitol Monday evening to silently pay his respects at the late president’s casket.

Trump invited former President George W. Bush and his family to stay at Blair House, the official guest residence across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, and crossed the street on Tuesday to pay them a visit. Melania Trump gave former First Lady Laura Bush a tour of the White House Christmas decorations on Tuesday.

But Trump wasn’t invited to deliver a eulogy at the the funeral Wednesday at the National Cathedral.

“What people want to talk about is, ‘Well, why isn’t the president giving the eulogy?'” former Florida governor Jeb Bush — whom Trump famously derided during the 2016 Republican primary as “low energy” — said Tuesday, hinting at the tension and defusing it with a joke.

“It’s because we have a unique circumstance here; my brother was president. First dibs, as we used to say,” Bush said.

Jeb Bush, speaking at a Wall Street Journal event in Washington, added that Trump “couldn’t have been nicer” in his condolence calls to him and to George W. Bush.

Trump’s public statements about the late president since his death have been brief and positive, albeit with a hint at their cool relationship. At his first public appearance Saturday after Bush’s death was announced, Trump offered his condolences only after being asked about Bush’s death by a reporter.

“He was a very fine man,” Trump said of his predecessor. “He was just a high-quality man who truly loved his family.”

He added, tellingly: “One thing that came through loud and clear, he was very proud of his family and very much loved his family.”

But he brushed aside a question about whether he regretted any of his public disparagement of the Bushes. “Thank you very much, everybody,” he said curtly, signaling that he wouldn’t answer the question.

Lawmaker pushes for police standards after Aurora officer shot and killed homeowner defending home

DENVER — A Colorado lawmaker is crafting state legislation governing when police officers can return to work after a fatal shooting following the highly publicized death of a homeowner killed by police during a break-in at his house.

The case has raised criticism about how police handled the chaotic encounter with Richard “Gary” Black. The 73-year-old was holding the gun he used to fatally shoot an intruder who attacked an 11-year-old boy in the middle of the night when a police officer shot him.

Prosecutors said this week the officer will not face charges in Black’s death, but questions remain over whether he returned to work on the graveyard shift too soon after another shooting.

Aurora Police Officer Drew Limbaugh, who had three years’ experience, had killed another man who pointed a gun at police on June 27, and returned to duty about two weeks later. An attorney for Black’s family thinks that was too soon.

“Any officer should be given time to recover, time to heal,” said Siddhartha Rathod. “Police officers are not military personnel. The job is to protect and serve.”

State Sen. Rhonda Fields said she wants to create statewide requirements for evaluating when officers can return to work. Fields, the assistant majority leader, became an activist after the 2005 murder of her son, Javad and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, and later ran for the Legislature. Fields has met with organizations representing police chiefs and sheriffs about her plans. She dropped a broad requirement that officers stay off duty for a set number of days after receiving pushback from the officials.

Fields said they worried that would hamper smaller departments, especially in rural areas. Instead, she is considering a number of specific requirements, including psychiatric care and training on a gun range or in a simulator.

Some departments, including Denver Police, already use a similar process, she said.

In Aurora, a police unit created two years ago creates an individual plan for each officer returning to work after a shooting. A return plan may include counseling from peers or psychologists, simulator or live firearms training, stress management techniques or other specific training.

Police Chief Nick Metz defended Limbaugh’s return to work after the shooting, saying Aurora far exceeded a national police chiefs’ association recommended for three days off after a shooting. Metz said Limbaugh met with psychologists, received help through a peer support program and went through shooting range exercises with trainers before returning to work after the first shooting.

“The reality is … we can’t control what our officers are going to run into, whether it’s 10 days after a shooting or two years after a shooting,” Metz said. “The situation dictates their response. And I believe this officer was ready to go back.”

Prosecutors in Arapahoe County determined that Limbaugh’s decision to shoot during the earlier encounter was justified. They said a man wanted for firing a gun into the air pointed a handgun at Limbaugh and another officer during a foot chase. The suspect attempted to fire at police but the gun malfunctioned, prosecutors said.

Based on witness interviews and more than 90 videos captured by officers’ body cameras, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young said this week that Limbaugh will not face charges for shooting Black. The officer did not know who Black was and fired when the homeowner refused police commands to drop his handgun, Young said.

But the attorney for Black’s family said prosecutors failed to note that Limbaugh and others officers never identified themselves as police.

Body camera footage released this week shows Black moving out of a darkened hallway to a lighted living room while police shouted at him from outside the front door, where it was still dark. Police shouted “drop the gun,” ”let me see your hands” and “get your hands in the air” before Black raised his hand holding a flashlight. Limbaugh fired three times.

After police entered the lighted home, Black told them that his son, grandson and “the perpetrator” were in the bathroom.

Black had shot the intruder earlier and later heard unidentified people ordering him to put down a gun he legally owned, he said. “No reasonable person should have dropped that firearm,” Rathod said.

“Had this officer been given the time to recover from the prior shooting, would he have announced himself and said ‘Police’? Would that one word have saved Mr. Black’s life? We won’t know.”

“Denverization” is a thing — and not a good thing — in Kansas City

Ever heard of “Denverization”?

In Kansas City, Mo., it’s a 13-letter word for gentrification, and it doesn’t come with Mile High City perks such as plentiful sunshine and nearby ski slopes.

The Kansas City Star published an editorial last week under the headline “Stop the Denverization of Kansas City. Troost doesn’t need to be hipster-friendly.” The editorial decries city policy that has allowed for new money and development to pour into the city’s East Side without any giveback from builders or protection for low-income residents now being priced out of their once-overlooked, minority neighborhoods.

“The East Side badly needs economic development, so what’s wrong with that?” the editorial asks. “Only that without any serious and legally binding housing policy, Kansas City is allowing its affordable housing crisis to deepen.”

Sound familiar?

K.C. Star opinion writer Melinda Henneberger penned the editorial. It references Denver just once, in the final paragraph, where it talks about creating housing with “mountain-view prices, Rockies not included.”

It doesn’t define Denverization. It doesn’t need to because the word is already part of the Kansas City lexicon, Henneberger says.

“I used that term because it’s one people on the East Side here actually use; I first heard it maybe six months ago at a community meeting at a library there,” she said in an email. “They call it ‘Denverization’ because so many of those priced out in your town are moving to ours, where they are in turn pushing others out.”

In other words, it’s a domino effect of pricing pressure many a Coloradan might link back to the oft-decried Californification of their state. The median home price in Kansas City is $195,000, according to Zillow, less than half of Denver’s $468,495. In Los Angeles, it’s $799,000.

The revitalization of Troost Avenue includes ...
Keith Myers, Kansas City Star
The revitalization of Troost Avenue includes new apartments going up between 26th and 27th streets. (Photo by Keith Myers/Kansas City Star)

Henneberger’s column isn’t the first place “Denverization” has appeared. The Colorado Springs Business Journal used it in a 2006 opinion piece lashing out at plans for a downtown skyscraper. More recently, the Colorado Springs Independent has used it to describe an in-migration of Denver restaurants in the local food scene.

For some Kansas City residents, Denverization is less savory.

The epicenter of Denverization is Troost Avenue, a north-south thoroughfare that The Star has reported on a lot recently. Troost has been the dividing line between affluent white neighborhoods on the west and poor black neighborhoods on the east for generations  Only now, with young professionals (see: hipsters) being priced out of downtown Kansas City, new, more expensive housing is going up on the East Side.

Henneberger’s concern is that the city is asking nothing of developers when it comes to commitment to affordable housing. Nearly all of the hundreds of new apartments going up along Troost will command market-rate rents.

In Denver, high-percentage minority neighborhoods such as Highland and Five Points over the last decade have become redevelopment hotbeds. The result has been displacement of some low-income residents, many of them black and Latino.

However, Denver has required developers to make affordability commitments. Its now-defunct inclusionary housing ordinance previously required large, new for-sale housing developments to set aside 10 percent of their units for low-income buyers. In place of that, the city has an affordable housing fund that draws from sources including development fees to support housing affordability.

But many have argued the city doesn’t do enough. Lisa Calderón, who is running for Denver mayor in May’s election, shared The Star’s Denverization column on her campaign Facebook page last week.

“Our city is becoming a model for what not to do,” Calderón wrote.

Mueller recommends no prison for Flynn, citing cooperation

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser provided so much information to the special counsel’s Russia investigation that prosecutors say he shouldn’t do any prison time, according to a court filing Tuesday that describes Michael Flynn’s cooperation as “substantial.”

The filing by special counsel Robert Mueller provides the first details of Flynn’s assistance in the Russia investigation, including that he participated in 19 interviews with prosecutors and cooperated extensively in a separate and undisclosed criminal probe.

It was filed two weeks ahead of Flynn’s sentencing and just over a year after he became the first of five Trump associates to accept responsibility by pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Though prosecutors withheld specific details of Flynn’s cooperation because of ongoing investigations, their filing nonetheless underscores the breadth of information Mueller has obtained from people close to Trump as the president increasingly vents his anger at the probe — and those who cooperate with it.

This week, Trump lashed out at his former legal fixer, Michael Cohen, saying he is making up “stories” to get a reduced prison sentence after his latest guilty plea to lying to Congress. Trump also praised longtime confidante Roger Stone for saying he would “never testify against Trump,” adding in his tweet, “Nice to know some people still have ‘guts!'”

It’s unclear if Trump will now turn his fury on Flynn, whom Trump grew close to during the 2016 campaign and who has drawn the president’s sympathy since he came under investigation.

Trump has repeatedly lamented how Flynn’s life has been destroyed by the special counsel’s probe. At one point, he tried to protect Flynn by asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into his alleged false statements, according to a memo Comey wrote after the February 2017 encounter.

That episode, which Trump has denied, is among those under scrutiny by Mueller as he probes whether the president attempted to obstruct the Russia investigation.

Federal sentencing guidelines recommend between zero and six months in prison for Flynn, leaving open the possibility of probation.

Mueller’s office said Flynn’s cooperation merits a sentence at the bottom end of that range. But prosecutors also say the long military and government service that sets him apart from all other defendants in the investigation makes his deception even more troublesome.

“Senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards,” they wrote. “The defendant’s extensive government service should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false information to the government, as well as the rules governing work performed on behalf of a foreign government.”

Flynn’s case has stood apart from those of other Trump associates, who have aggressively criticized the investigation, sought to undermine it and, in some cases, been accused of lying even after agreeing to cooperate.

Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, stands accused of repeatedly lying to investigators since his guilty plea last September. Another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, is serving a 14-day prison sentence and, though he pleaded guilty to the same crime as Flynn, was denied probation because prosecutors said his cooperation is lacking.

But Flynn has largely remained out of the public eye, appearing only a handful of times in media interviews or campaign events, and dutifully avoided criticizing the Mueller probe despite widespread encouragement from his supporters to go on the offensive. He has instead spent considerable time with his family and worked to position himself for a post-conviction career.

Flynn’s false statements stemmed from a Jan. 24, 2017, interview with the FBI about his and others’ interactions with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., as the Obama administration was levying sanctions on the Kremlin in response to election interference.

In Tuesday’s filing, Mueller’s office blamed Flynn for other senior Trump transition officials making misleading public statements about his contacts with Russia, an assertion that matches the White House’s explanation of Flynn’s firing.

“Several senior members of the transition team publicly repeated false information conveyed to them by the defendant about communications between him and the Russian ambassador regarding the sanctions,” the filing said.

As part of his plea deal, Flynn said members of Trump’s inner circle, including his son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner, were involved in — and at times directing — his actions in the weeks before Trump took office.

According to court papers, in mid-December 2016, Kushner directed Flynn to reach out to several countries, including Russia, about a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements. During those conversations with Kislyak, Flynn asked Russia to delay or vote against the resolution, a request the Kremlin ultimately rejected.

Flynn also admitted that later in December 2016 he asked Kislyak not to retaliate in response to the Obama administration sanctions, something he initially told FBI agents he didn’t do. Flynn made the request after discussing it with deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, who was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and being told that Trump’s transition team did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

Flynn was forced to resign his post on Feb. 13, 2017, after news reports revealed that Obama administration officials had warned the Trump White House about Flynn’s false statements. The White House has said Flynn misled officials– including Vice President Mike Pence — about the content of his conversations.

Flynn also admitted to making false statements about unregistered foreign agent work he performed for the benefit of the Turkish government. Flynn was under investigation by the Justice Department for the work when he became national security adviser.

___

Follow Chad Day and Eric Tucker on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChadSDay and https://twitter.com/etuckerAP

Good boy: Sully the service dog visits George H.W. Bush’s casket

WASHINGTON — It’s often said that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

For the last six months, Sully the service dog was President George H.W. Bush’s. The yellow Labrador Retriever visited the president’s casket in the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday alongside people in wheelchairs who benefited from the Americans With Disabilities Act that Bush signed in 1990.

John Miller, the president and CEO of America’s VetDogs, said the Bush family contacted Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after the late president’s wife of 73 years, Barbara, died in April. America’s VetDogs chose Sully in part for his calm temperament.

“After Mrs. Bush’s death, general companionship was a big part of Sully’s job,” Miller said in a phone interview. “One of the things that I think was important to the president was the rest command, where Sully would rest his head on the president’s lap.”

Sully is 2 years old. He was named for retired airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, who became famous for landing a damaged passenger jet on the Hudson River in 2009, saving everyone aboard.

Sully the dog achieved worldwide fame after a Bush family spokesman tweeted a photo of Sully laying by Bush’s flag-draped casket with the caption: “Mission completed.”

The pup traveled to Washington with the funeral retinue. And on Tuesday morning, officials issued a two-minute warning for Sully’s arrival in the Rotunda. Sully padded in, his leash held by Valerie Cramer, America’s VetDogs service dog program manager.

At her command, he lay down — and threw a glance over his shoulder at the photographers scrambling to get his photo. He didn’t seem fazed. Cramer then led him around the casket to sit among the others. After a few minutes, the procession headed out.

Sully is headed back to America’s VetDogs in Smithtown, New York, where he was born and trained, Miller said. Then he’ll go for training at Walter Reed to help brace, retrieve and otherwise help the veterans there get care. Sully will be working with two dogs already in service at the veterans’ hospital, Sgt. Dillon and Sgt. Truman.

The dogs provided by America’s VetDogs are provided free of charge for a service that can cost upward of $50,000 to breed, train and place them, Miller said.

Feds threaten reprisals if Denver proceeds with supervised drug-use site

The feds aren’t happy with Denver’s controversial new plan for drug treatment.

In recent weeks, the Denver City Council and Mayor Michael Hancock approved a law that would allow the city to host a supervised drug-use facility. If state lawmakers also approve, Denver could become the first U.S. city where people can use heroin and other drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.

The idea is that supervision can prevent overdose deaths and help people get services. But the sites remain illegal under federal law, as the city was reminded in a letter Tuesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the local field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The law enforcement officials compared supervised facilities to “so-called crack houses,” claiming that they will “attract drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals, ultimately destroying the surrounding community.” They also said there’s no evidence the sites reduce drug deaths or that users seek treatment, and warned that they “normalize serious drug use.”

People involved in the facilities face penalties including “forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail,” the letter states.

Jason Dunn was sworn in as the U.S. attorney for Colorado in October. But the federal office already was signaling a tough stance on drug issues: Bob Troyer, who preceded Dunn, warned that the office would take a more aggressive approach to cannabis businesses.

Councilman Albus Brooks quickly responded to defend the new law Tuesday.

“While we recognize the role of the federal government, we cannot wait for federal action while the death toll rises. These people are not simply addicts. They are our neighbors, friends, and family members who are experiencing addiction,” he said in a written statement.

Denver’s local health department, Brooks said, has the power to “address and regulate this type of emergency.” His statement cited studies that found supervised sites have no effect on local crime and that they reduce emergency calls and save lives.

One study of the Insite facility in Vancouver found a significant drop in overdose deaths for people living near the facility, but no change in the rest of the city. The area around Insite is crowded with people who are living outside, according to WHYY. There have been no overdose deaths reported at the site. There are more than 90 supervised sites worldwide, the study said.

A broader review of 75 studies found that the sites were effective in “promoting safer injection conditions, enhancing access to primary health care, and reducing the overdose frequency,” with no apparent increase to “drug injecting, drug trafficking or crime in the surrounding environments.”

Hancock already has signed the Denver law, and state legislators say they’re likely to take up the question this session.

Denver will help expunge marijuana convictions for 10,000-plus people

Colorado may be the mecca of legal marijuana, but the state’s old drug laws still loom large. More than 10,000 people in Denver alone were convicted of low-level cannabis crimes just between 2001 and 2013.

Those offenses — such as possessing the drug or paraphernalia — would not be illegal today, but they still haunt many people’s criminal records.

Now, the city of Denver will help anyone convicted in municipal court in the past to clear those records. Mayor Michael Hancock has ordered a “citywide effort” to vacate and expunge low-level marijuana convictions for residents.

“For too long, the lives of low-income residents and those living in our communities of color have been negatively affected by low-level marijuana convictions,” he said in a news release Tuesday morning. “This is an injustice that needs to be corrected, and we are going to provide a pathway to move on from an era of marijuana prohibition that has impacted the lives of thousands of people.”

People already can try to expunge records on their own, but the city now will proactively help them, said Theresa Marchetta, Hancock’s spokesperson. The city’s effort won’t help those convicted in state court.

Last week, the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office announced that it would vacate and seal thousands of marijuana possession convictions. Denver officials haven’t said whether they’ll take a single action to clear thousands of cases, or whether they might help people clear their records individually.

The announcements are part of a years-long evolution of Colorado’s justice system, according to trial lawyer Colin McCallin. Until a few years ago, it was exceedingly difficult and costly to clear criminal charges — much less convictions — from a person’s record, he said.

In 2017, a new state law allowed people to seal records of misdemeanor use and possession convictions, though they’re still required to pay filing fees.

Denver and other cities also have opened the door for people to clear some low-level convictions from their record. “There’s already some mechanisms in place for a person with a low-level conviction to seal their conviction,” said McCallin, who previously worked with the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Hancock hasn’t announced the exact details of the new program, but McCallin says there are several ways it could go, “depending on how proactive the Denver city government would be on this.”

The city could simply provide help for people who want to use the existing process, which typically involves a $65 filing fee. Or the Denver City Attorney’s Office could “take the proactive step of filing their own request to seal en masse all of those cases,” he said. The mayor also could issue an executive order, McCallin added.

But he cautioned that the effort could require the support of state agencies like the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and it could raise tough questions.

“What is going to be considered a low-level offense for marijuana? Does it matter how many offenses a person has?” he asked.

One thing is clear, he said: There’s plenty of room for the city to help. “I’m sure there are a ton of people out there who have these convictions who weren’t even aware that they can go to court and petition to get that expunged.”

Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana in 2012.