Politics – Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel https://www.centralmaine.com Features news from the Kennebec Journal of Augusta, Maine and Morning Sentinel of Waterville, Maine. Thu, 22 Mar 2018 17:59:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 John Dowd, lead Trump lawyer in Russia probe, leaves team https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/22/john-dowd-lead-trump-lawyer-in-russia-probe-leaves-team/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/22/john-dowd-lead-trump-lawyer-in-russia-probe-leaves-team/#respond Thu, 22 Mar 2018 16:08:38 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=818186 President Donald Trump’s lead lawyer in the Russia investigation has left the legal team.

Attorney John Dowd is confirming his decision in an email to The Associated Press.

Dowd says he “loves the president” and wishes him well.

Another Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, also is confirming Dowd’s departure.

The move comes several days after Trump added a new lawyer to his team — former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/22/john-dowd-lead-trump-lawyer-in-russia-probe-leaves-team/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/AP18081560262913.jpgAttorney John Dowd on Saturday called on the Justice Department to immediately shut down the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.Thu, 22 Mar 2018 12:08:38 +0000
Trump, Biden trade fighting words https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/22/septuagenarian-smackdown-trump-biden-trade-fighting-words/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/22/septuagenarian-smackdown-trump-biden-trade-fighting-words/#respond Thu, 22 Mar 2018 16:07:57 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/22/septuagenarian-smackdown-trump-biden-trade-fighting-words/ WASHINGTON – President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are in a rhetorical smackdown over who could clean the other’s clock in a brawl.

Trump, reacting to comments Biden made about him earlier in the week at an anti-sexual assault rally, tweeted Thursday: “Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!”

At the University of Miami on Tuesday, Biden cited lewd comments the Republican president made in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women without their permission.

“If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him,” said Biden, a Democrat. He also said any man who disrespected women was “usually the fattest, ugliest S.O.B. in the room.”

Biden, 75, made similar comments in the closing days of the 2016 campaign. He has kept open the possibility of a 2020 bid for president and is gearing up to play a big role campaigning for Democrats running in this year’s midterm elections.

Trump, 71, dismissed the prospect of a Biden run recently at the annual Gridiron Dinner with Washington journalists, calling him “Sleepy Joe” and saying he could “kick his ass.” Trump also attacked Biden on Twitter in 2016, calling him “Our not very bright Vice President.”

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/22/septuagenarian-smackdown-trump-biden-trade-fighting-words/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/AP18080600312883.jpgFILE - In this March 6, 2018 file photo, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in support of Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate for the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District in Collier, Pa. Biden says he would “beat the hell” out of President Donald Trump in high school if Trump disrespected women. He spoke Tuesday at an anti-sexual assault rally at the University of Miami. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)Thu, 22 Mar 2018 12:59:45 +0000
LePage wants to more than double pay of Maine’s next governor https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/lepage-offers-bill-to-more-than-double-the-pay-of-the-states-next-governor/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/lepage-offers-bill-to-more-than-double-the-pay-of-the-states-next-governor/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 21:13:58 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/lepage-offers-bill-to-more-than-double-the-pay-of-the-states-next-governor/ AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has again submitted a bill to boost the salary for Maine’s next governor, which at $70,000 a year is the lowest of all 50 states.

LePage’s proposal, announced Wednesday, would more than double that salary, boosting it to $150,000 a year.

“The Governor of the State of Maine is the Chief Executive of our state, and the compensation for the office should be competitive to attract the best talent,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “Maine deserves a governor with executive leadership experience who is in the prime of their career. Leaders who would make excellent governors have told me they won’t consider running because of the pay cut. Competitive compensation is good public policy.”

Previous efforts to boost the governor’s salary, which hasn’t changed in over 30 years, have failed. The most recent effort occurred in 2017, with a bill offered by Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock.

LePage has also previously complained to talk show radio hosts that his salary is so low he feels like a “priest or a nun.” In 2016 LePage proposed increasing the governor’s salary to $150,000 and, in a separate bill, proposed increasing the pay for state lawmakers by 25 percent while also cutting the number of seats in the Legislature.

LePage proposed 100 or fewer seats in the House and 25 or fewer in the Senate, a move that would have required a change to the state’s constitution. The House now has 151 members, while the Senate has 35. Legislators serve two-year terms and receive stipends of $14,074 a year for the first session and $9,982 a year for the shorter, second session.

Most of LePage’s senior staff members make far more than their boss, although the governor is afforded living expenses and a home next to the State House.

The governor’s current salary is about $17,000 above Maine’s median household income of $53,079. Under state law, governors also are allotted a $35,000 annual personal expense account that is not subject to audit by the Legislature, bringing the governor’s total compensation package to over $100,000 a year. Governors also live without rent, utility or food expenses while at the official residence.

Beyond the expense account, governors are also afforded sizable benefit packages. In 2016, LePage’s annual compensation package included a $15,809 health insurance plan, $3,717 toward his retirement, $814 for life insurance and a $315 dental insurance policy.

LePage appears to be sweetening the deal for lawmakers, who would have to vote on a pay increase for the next governor, by increasing their meal and lodging allowances. His bill would raise the meal and lodging allowances from $70 a night to $125 a night. The current lodging expense is capped at just $38 a night, which LePage called “outdated.”

“While serving as an elected official is meant to be an act of public service, we should not expect legislators who travel great distances to Augusta to represent their communities to have to dig into their own pockets to cover the costs of staying overnight rather than drive several hours back home each day,” LePage said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:


Twitter: thisdog

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/lepage-offers-bill-to-more-than-double-the-pay-of-the-states-next-governor/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/01/1317369_750165-blainehousefront.jpgTwenty-three candidates are hoping to move into the Blaine House in Augusta. Midnight Tuesday was the deadline for filing campaign finance reports detailing the latter half of 2017.Thu, 22 Mar 2018 06:24:23 +0000
LePage’s bill to limit local control of pesticide use appears headed for defeat https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/lepages-bill-to-limit-local-control-of-pesticide-use-appears-headed-for-defeat/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/lepages-bill-to-limit-local-control-of-pesticide-use-appears-headed-for-defeat/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 20:59:36 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/lepages-bill-to-limit-local-control-of-pesticide-use-appears-headed-for-defeat/ AUGUSTA — A bill proposed by Gov. Paul LePage that would prevent Maine municipalities from limiting or banning pesticide use appears headed for defeat after a legislative committee voted 9-2 against it Wednesday.

About 20 people, fairly evenly split between opposing viewpoints, spoke at a two-hour-plus hearing by the State and Local Government Committee. Supporters of the bill said local pesticide regulation is unnecessary and bad for business, while opponents believe pesticides are dangerous and need to be regulated more stringently.

Among those who spoke against the bill were residents of some of the 30 Maine municipalities that have passed local ordinances to restrict pesticide use. Some of these ordinances date back more than a decade, but others are so new they haven’t gone into effect yet.

Portland agreed to a ban on synthetic pesticides this year, and just last week, Porter became the 30th town in the state to establish local pesticide regulation.

Pesticide use has been linked to human health problems, including cancers, but also to the well-being of ecosystems, from pollinators to fresh- and salt-water creatures affected by runoff containing pesticides.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association spoke against the bill, as did environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Friends of Casco Bay.

Those who spoke in favor included farmers Penny Jordan of Cape Elizabeth and Lisa Turner of Freeport, as well as the executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau, Julie Smith.

Proponents of the bill, L.D. 1853, which was presented by state Sen. Tom Saviello, a Republican from Wilton, said the existing municipal ordinances and others like them would jeopardize businesses, including conventional farms that rely on pesticides for higher, more market-ready yields of fruits and vegetables.

“What is at stake are hundreds of good jobs,” said Bob Mann, a lobbyist for the National Association of Landscape Professionals. He said pesticide use should be determined at the state or federal level. Maine, which adheres to the home-rule principle, whereby local governments can self-regulate, is “fertile ground for anti-pesticide activism,” Mann said.

But members of the committee cited home rule in voting against LePage’s bill.

“I don’t think anyone around this horseshoe wants anyone to go out of business,” said state Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, gesturing at the committee’s table. But, he added, “Home rule is a very important thing to me.”

Pickett said he’d already voted against a similar bill in the last session. The bill under consideration closely replicates another pesticide bill LePage unsuccessfully pushed in 2017 that strongly resembled model legislation crafted by the conservative, business-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC. In May 2017, the same committee voted unanimously against LePage’s original attempt to limit the rights of municipalities to ban pesticides.

“I thought if there was a bill that would come back before us again it would be different,” Pickett said. “But we virtually had almost a duplicate bill and that troubled me.”

Two of 11 committee members present voted in favor of the bill: Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, and Lester Ordway, R-Standish. Keim proposed it pass with an amendment allowing for the Maine Board of Pesticides Control to have time to review and advise local ordinances relating to pesticides. Ordway was in favor of it passing without an amendment. The committee will review Keim’s amendment before making a final recommendation to the full Legislature.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:


Twitter: MaryPols

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Health care fixes that secured Sen. Collins’ vote on tax bill are in jeopardy https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/health-insurance-stabilization-championed-by-sen-collins-could-be-collapsing/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/health-insurance-stabilization-championed-by-sen-collins-could-be-collapsing/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 16:57:53 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/health-insurance-stabilization-championed-by-sen-collins-could-be-collapsing/

Maine Sen. Susan Collins agreed to vote for the president’s tax reform bill in exchange for a promise that the Senate would vote on her bill to stabilize the ACA marketplaces, but now it looks like the bill won’t pass. Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

The Affordable Care Act stabilization measures that Maine Sen. Susan Collins sought in return for her vote to pass the Republican tax reform bill appear to be in danger of collapsing. Democrats and conservative Republicans have failed to reach a consensus on a stabilization bill that Congress would approve.

Collins and several other moderate Republicans tried to rally support for the bill – which would be attached to must-pass spending legislation expected to go before Congress this week – at a news conference Wednesday in Washington.

The Hill, a Washington newspaper, and other national media outlets reported this week that it is unlikely that the ACA stabilization proposals would be included in the House version of the omnibus spending bill. The House and Senate must agree on an identical bill for it to be approved and go to President Trump for his signature.

Collins’ goal is to shore up the ACA’s individual marketplace, which has been weakened under Trump. The marketplace is where those who can’t obtain insurance through an employer – often part-time or self-employed workers – can purchase government-subsidized insurance. About 75,000 Mainers have ACA marketplace insurance.

Last summer, Collins was one of three Republicans to buck the party and vote to save the ACA from repeal efforts in Congress. Since then, the Trump administration, which is opposed to the ACA, has worked to undermine President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. For instance, Trump announced in October the end of subsidies to health insurance companies – known as cost-sharing reduction payments, or CSRs – that help pay out-of-pocket medical costs of low-income people.


Collins has repeatedly said the ACA needs to be fixed, not repealed without a suitable replacement. On Wednesday, she said it would be “incredibly disappointing” to see efforts to stabilize the ACA marketplaces fail.

“Are we going to miss this opportunity?” Collins said at the news conference. “Inaction will only exacerbate premium spikes and the market instability we’ve already seen.”

In December, Collins said she would support the controversial, Republican-led $1.5 trillion tax cut bill in exchange for promises by Republican leaders that the ACA stabilization measures she had lobbied for would be approved. The tax reform bill aims to stimulate the economy by lowering corporate tax rates, but with fewer tax dollars coming in, the bill would increase the national debt by $1 trillion over 10 years, according to official estimates.

Collins sought the ACA stabilization measures because the tax bill also revoked the ACA’s individual mandate, which health care experts warned would result in more uninsured Americans and a weakening of the health insurance marketplace. The individual mandate required people to purchase insurance or pay a penalty.

Collins and the other Republicans at Wednesday’s news conference, including Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, touted the stabilization bill’s three-year, $10 billion-per-year reinsurance plan and the restoration of cost-sharing reduction payments.

Health care experts have praised the reinsurance portion of the bill, but questioned the effectiveness of restoring CSR payments. Reinsurance programs reduce risk for insurance companies by providing funds to insurers for high-risk enrollees, keeping premium costs lower than they otherwise would be. Collins argued that premiums would decrease if the stabilization measures were approved.

But the official Congressional Budget Office report on the measure, released this week, showed that although those earning more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level – about $81,000 for a family of three – would see their premiums decrease, many earning under that amount who qualify for subsidies under the ACA would see premium increases.

“If an ACA stabilization package funded CSRs and created a new reinsurance program, the net effect would be to increase premiums for low-income people and decrease premiums for middle- and higher-income individual market enrollees,” Larry Levitt, a vice president for health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, said in a tweet Wednesday.

Premiums for many actually declined this year after most states created a workaround in response to the elimination of the CSR payments. In Maine and many parts of the country, lower-income families could select a zero-premium bronze plan. Those that did saw up to an 85 percent premium decrease for a low-income 40-year-old, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The no-premium plan would no longer be available if the CSR payments are restored. Other plans, while not offering zero premiums, also were significantly less in 2018 compared with 2017, and those premium declines would be unwound by the ACA stabilization measure, the CBO said.


Annie Clark, Collins’ spokeswoman, said that the workarounds implemented by many states are not sustainable for the insurance markets, and in many cases will cost more for patients who have to use their health insurance.

“Free or low-cost bronze plans are only a good deal for low-income Americans if they never get sick or injured. If they do, it could cost them hundreds or even thousands of dollars more out of pocket,” Clark said, pointing to examples in which patients would have zero premiums but $5,500 deductibles, or pay premiums but have only a $500 deductible.

“In addition to reducing the cost of health care for low-income Americans, restoring funding for CSRs, combined with reinsurance, would lower premiums for plans across all metal levels by up to 40 percent,” she said. “This would benefit Americans who do not qualify for subsidies, stabilize the health care markets and reduce costs to taxpayers.”

Ann Woloson, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a Maine-based health advocacy group, said Collins’ efforts are noteworthy, but the bill ultimately falls short because it fails to maintain low premiums for people who receive subsidies, and because it would result in more than 500,000 additional Americans becoming uninsured, according to CBO estimates.

“She’s been fighting really hard for a way to stabilize the ACA marketplaces, and that’s greatly appreciated,” Woloson said. “Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t do it.”

Woloson said it would be better to regroup and try again than to approve a measure that helps some ACA customers, hurts others and results in fewer people having health insurance.

That appears to be the calculation that Democrats are making as their support fades. While Republicans control the House, Senate and the presidency, conservatives, especially in the House, are not likely to vote for the omnibus bill because of the domestic spending increases in it, so some Democratic votes may be necessary for the bill to pass the House. The government would shut down this weekend if Congress doesn’t act.

Mitchell Stein, a Maine-based independent health policy consultant, said the unintended consequence of Trump ending cost-sharing reduction payments was that most people getting marketplace coverage saw a premium decrease, so reversing that decision through a law doesn’t make sense.


One prominent ACA stabilization advocate, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, appeared to be walking away from the deal. Murray argued that conservative House Republicans who are insisting that provisions limiting access to abortion be inserted into the bill are deep-sixing the effort.

“Unfortunately, Republicans are once again putting politics ahead of patients and families with a bill that would undermine care for people with pre-existing conditions and impose harmful, last-minute restrictions on abortion coverage,” Murray said in a tweet Tuesday.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England slammed the abortion provisions Monday, saying the proposal is “dangerous and part of a larger strategy to eliminate insurance coverage for abortion services.”

But Collins said the abortion restrictions – called the Hyde amendment, which forbids federal funds from being used to pay for abortions – have been included in every major government health care program, such as Medicare and Medicaid, for more than 40 years.

“It is a common provision that is always included and it is nothing new,” Collins said in response to questions from reporters. “This is nothing that is radical.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:


Twitter: joelawlorph

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/health-insurance-stabilization-championed-by-sen-collins-could-be-collapsing/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1350940_105963-SenCollins0322.jpgMaine Sen. Susan Collins is joined Wednesday by fellow moderate Republicans as she rallies support on Capitol Hill for measures to stabilize the ACA individual marketplaces.Thu, 22 Mar 2018 00:37:18 +0000
Negotiators agree on spending bill that leaves out ‘dreamers,’ Collins’ health care measure https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/final-spending-bill-leaves-out-dreamers-major-wall-money/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/final-spending-bill-leaves-out-dreamers-major-wall-money/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 16:46:25 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/final-spending-bill-leaves-out-dreamers-major-wall-money/ WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders reached a tentative $1.3 trillion spending deal Wednesday to keep government agencies operating through September, unveiling legislation that would make good on President Trump’s promises to increase military funding while blocking much of his immigration agenda.

The release of the 2,000-plus-page bill Wednesday evening, after a two-day delay, touched off a legislative sprint as lawmakers try to pass it before Friday night, the deadline to avoid a government shutdown. And with a key senator unwilling to say whether he would agree to accelerate the deal’s consideration, it remained uncertain whether they would be able to meet the challenge.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., meets with reporters on Tuesday. Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

There were other plot twists as the deal came together: As aides hashed out its final details on Wednesday afternoon, Trump’s support for the emerging compromise was suddenly cast into doubt, forcing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to rush to the White House early Wednesday afternoon to allay the president’s concerns.

After the meeting, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Trump had spoken to Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “about their shared priorities secured in the omnibus spending bill” and confirmed their mutual support for the legislation.

In the broadest strokes, the bill gives Republicans a major win by delivering a $78 billion increase in military spending over 2017 levels, while Democrats won a $52 billion increase for domestic programs. The haggling that delayed the legislation’s release concerned smaller-bore provisions sprinkled throughout the bill.

One hotly litigated matter concerned funding for Gateway, a major New York-area infrastructure project. At Trump’s behest, Republicans succeeded in eliminating some provisions favoring the $30 billion project that includes building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. But project backers said it would still be eligible for hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

The dickering played out for hours Wednesday, even after top congressional leaders left a morning meeting on a snowbound Capitol Hill declaring that a deal was at hand.

“We’re feeling very good about this,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “We’ve accomplished many, many, many of our goals.”

Democrats pressed particularly hard to block Trump’s requests to fund a new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to beef up immigration enforcement capacity.

The bill includes $1.6 billion in funding for construction of a border wall, but that number is far short of the $25 billion in long-term funding that the administration sought. Democrats also won tight restrictions on how that money can be spent.

The scant border wall funding, aides said, accounted for Trump’s cold feet Wednesday. He pushed in recent days for much more extensive funding and expressed his willingness to cut a deal, in exchange, with Democrats to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Trump moved to cancel last year. But the talks went nowhere.

The spending bill faces opposition from many conservative Republicans, but they are unlikely to be able to derail the bill given its likely support among Democrats and more moderate Republicans.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the Freedom Caucus and a Trump ally, was described by a White House official as one of the key influencers of the president’s position.

Meadows slammed the proposal during a Wednesday panel discussion on Capitol Hill, saying that “wins for conservatives will be few and far between.”

“Are we going to continue to fund sanctuary cities? Are we going to continue to fund Planned Parenthood? Are we going to continue to raise the debt to levels that quite frankly are unsustainable and bankrupt our country?” he said. “There is really no wall funding. People will try to spin it as there is wall funding, but the [$1.6 billion] has been in there for some time.”

One late-breaking deal surrounded gun laws. Democrats agreed to add bipartisan legislation to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun buyers, while Republicans agreed to add language making clear that federal funds can be spent on research into gun violence – clarifying a long-standing restriction that has been interpreted as preventing such research.

The package also includes a fix for a provision in the new tax law that favored farmer-owned cooperatives over traditional agriculture corporations, threatening the viability of some corporations by shifting sales to cooperatives. In exchange for agreeing to the fix sought by Republicans and farm groups, Democrats won an increase in a low-income housing tax credit.

Omitted was a health-care measure sought by Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Maine, and Lamar Alexander, Tenn., which would have allowed states to establish high-risk pools to help cover costly insurance claims, while restoring certain payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act. Trump, who ended the “cost sharing reduction” payments last fall, supported the Collins-Alexander language. But Democrats opposed it because they claimed it included language expanding the existing prohibition on federal funding for abortions.

While a Democratic push to win provisions protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not succeed, the bill does include hundreds of millions of dollars to combat potential interference from Russia or others in the November midterm elections. The federal Election Assistance Commission will receive $380 million to dole out to states to improve their election-related cybersecurity. And the FBI is set to receive $300 million in counterintelligence funding to combat Russian hacking.

Trump succeeded in partially blocking efforts to direct $900 million in planned seed funding to the Gateway project, which has been a key priority for lawmakers of both parties, including Schumer and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.

Trump, according to several officials familiar with his thinking, was determined not to hand Schumer a win while Democrats stood in the way of his administration’s priorities, and he maintained for weeks that he would veto any bill that included the project. Still, a Democratic aide said the project could still benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars in Transportation Department funding, though in some cases it would have to compete with other projects.

In the final wall compromise, strings are attached to the $1.6 billion that will be available for physical barriers along the Mexican border. Most of the funding, officials said, can be used only for repairs or for “secondary” barriers along border stretches where there is already a wall. The rest can be used for 33 miles of new barriers, but there are restrictions on the type: Only levees or existing “bollard” fencing can be built, rather than the concrete prototypes Trump appears to favor.

The bill also rejects a Trump administration request for more immigration enforcement officers and an increase in funding for detention facilities. Language in the bill, two officials said, holds the level of enforcement agents flat and does not allow the administration to add detention beds. However, a Republican official said the administration could still move money between accounts to fund more enforcement.

An effort to trade a much larger amount of border wall money for protections for certain young immigrants fell apart Tuesday. Trump continued to push for a last-minute deal as recently as Monday, but Democrats resisted the terms of the White House offer.

A House vote on the spending bill had been tentatively expected Thursday, but by Wednesday night that looked likely to slip into Friday morning. That would leave scant margin for error in the Senate, where unanimous consent from all members would be needed to waive procedural rules and set up votes before the Friday midnight deadline.

That means any one senator could delay the proceedings and force a brief shutdown, much as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., did in February, when he held up consideration of a previous budget bill.

Paul said Wednesday that he had not decided how he would handle the new bill, telling reporters that he would wait to read it first. But he made clear that he was unlikely to be pleased by its contents.

“I think it is safe to say that there are many voices in the Senate, including many Republicans, who are not real happy about having a thousand-page bill crammed down our throat at the last minute without time to read it,” he said. “It’s a really terrible, rotten, no-good way to run your government.”

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/final-spending-bill-leaves-out-dreamers-major-wall-money/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/ryan.jpgSpeaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., meets with reporters following a closed-door Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Ryan says he's hoping bargainers can resolve the final disputes in a government-wide spending bill in time for Congress to begin voting Thursday on the measure. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Wed, 21 Mar 2018 21:14:42 +0000
Poliquin ‘stress test’ bill for financial assets passes in House https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/poliquin-stress-test-bill-for-financial-assets-passes-house/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/poliquin-stress-test-bill-for-financial-assets-passes-house/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 16:40:59 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/poliquin-stress-test-bill-for-financial-assets-passes-house/ For U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, it is the little things that count. The sorts of bills often ignored. The stuff that is not flashy.

The second-term Republican from Maine’s sprawling 2nd District convinced the House on Tuesday to pass easily a measure that would exempt most nonbank financial institutions from the stress tests required under existing federal law.

“This is going to be a great day for America, a great day for Maine,” Poliquin told colleagues shortly before they approved the bill, one of a half dozen he’s pushed through the House in this session.

Complicated stress test scenarios that try to assess the stability of assets held by managers and banks, the lawmaker said Tuesday, do not fit every type of institution.

Calling the existing law “costly, cumbersome and unnecessary,” Poliquin told colleagues that changing the “one size fits all” law benefits everyone who relies on mutual funds and other places where people put their money besides banks. The extra testing adds costs that aren’t needed, he said.

“The higher the expense, the lower the rate of return,” Poliquin said. What that leads to, he said, is a smaller nest egg.

U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said on the House floor that Poliquin “changed his bill many times” to win over a broad coalition in the House, including working out an agreement to win over U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Poliquin said he “really appreciated” her willingness to work with him on details of an amendment she sought.

Hensarling called the Maine legislator “one of our most hard-working members” on the Financial Services Committee “who cares passionately for his constituents.”

The stress test legislation is typical of the far-from-the-limelight topics that Poliquin has pushed since entering Congress after the 2014 election.

Another of his bills, aimed at spurring economic growth in Old Town, passed in both the House and Senate this year. It’s on its way to President Donald Trump’s desk this week.

All told, Poliquin has pushed through six bills in his second term, an unusually productive tally for a member of Congress who hasn’t been around long.

Perhaps not surprisingly, his Democratic foes are not impressed.

“Six bills in three and half years makes one wonder how Mr. Poliquin spends his time fighting for working Mainers,” said Craig Olson, one of four Democrats vying in the June 12 primary for the opportunity to challenge Poliquin the general election this fall.

“It appears as though he doesn’t venture much outside his wheelhouse, handing another win to Wall Street interests that feed his campaign coffers by easing Dodd-Frank restrictions put in place during the bailout,” Olson said Tuesday.

“Deregulating Wall Street doesn’t help Maine or the 2nd District,” said Democratic congressional candidate Lucas St. Clair. Instead, he said, “it helps Wall Street and puts our economy at risk.”

St. Clair said that “if Congressman Poliquin wanted to be productive for Mainers, he wouldn’t have voted to take health insurance away from more than 100,000 Maine people” with his vote last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a move squelched in the U.S. Senate.

Poliquin sought to pursue a more market-based health care system, expressing concern that the ACA was in danger of collapsing.

Another of his potential opponents, Democrat Jonathan Fulford, said Poliquin “has supported and voted for laws that would leave many Mainers without health care and raised the retirement age, forcing people to work longer. He has done this while also giving massive tax breaks to the very rich and large corporations increasing our national debt for their profit.”

Poliquin has argued consistently that his focus always has been on getting more jobs for Maine.

In addition to the stress test measure that passed Tuesday and the proposal to help Old Town, Poliquin has shepherded four other bills through the House in the past year. All four of them awaiting action in the Senate.

One seeks to clarify boundary issues at Acadia National Park that have affected clammers and wormers. Another would ensure that veterans buried in Native American cemeteries receive headstones from the federal government.

Poliquin also won support in the House for a bill that would publicize the assets held by Iranian leaders, a proposal the Trump administration has said is unconstitutional.

The other bill approved by the House would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to help small businesses access capital markets.

The Old Town bill headed to Trump’s desk, Poliquin said, “makes a critical fix to an outdated law that will help spur economic growth and job creation in the heart of Maine. It’s the product of months of hard work and close coordination between town and local leaders in Old Town and leadership in the House and Senate.”

With strong backing from Maine’s two senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, who introduced a companion bill, the measure removed an obsolete deed restriction on a parcel of land next to the Old Town Airport, allowing development on the parcel that could bring new jobs to the area.

“Nothing is easy to get done in Washington and I’m thrilled that through hard work and strong will we were able to get this across the finish line,” Poliquin said in a prepared statement.

Poliquin’s office touted his record by comparing it with that of former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, who successfully passed 11 bills in his 12 years in Congress, two of them renaming rural post offices.

His predecessor, U.S. Rep. John Baldacci, a Democrat, didn’t get any bills passed, Poliquin’s office pointed out.

Poliquin also has focused attention on issues outside of Capitol Hill but important to his district.

He helped to convince the International Trade Commission to rule in favor of Maine companies challenging unfair foreign competition.

The congressman lobbied successfully last year in cases involving Auburn Manufacturing in Auburn and Columbia Forest Products in Presque Isle.

Brent Littlefield, Poliquin’s campaign consultant, said that even in his first term, the rookie member of Congress succeeded in getting a bill dealing with child care signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Poliquin also secured amendments to other measures that helped Maine paper manufacturers and provided more funding for closed military bases, Littlefield said.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/poliquin-stress-test-bill-for-financial-assets-passes-house/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/817733_331201-poliqin-onfloor.jpgU.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin on the House floor Tuesday.Wed, 21 Mar 2018 20:20:31 +0000
Senators, including Collins and King, press Trump officials on guarding ballots https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/senators-including-collins-press-trump-officials-on-safeguarding-2018-ballots/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/senators-including-collins-press-trump-officials-on-safeguarding-2018-ballots/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 15:32:15 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/senators-including-collins-press-trump-officials-on-safeguarding-2018-ballots/ WASHINGTON — Maine’s U.S. senators were among the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who chided the current and former secretaries of Homeland Security on Wednesday for not more strongly warning the American public about past Russian intrusions in state election systems and for a lack of urgency to protect balloting this year, which is already underway.

Kirstjen Nielsen, President Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security, testified alongside Jeh Johnson, secretary under former President Barack Obama, as the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an effort to protect the country’s election security after Russian agents targeted election systems in 21 states ahead of the 2016 general election.

There’s no evidence that any hack in the November 2016 election affected election results, but the attempts rattled state election officials and prompted the federal government and states to examine the way votes are counted.

Senators on the panel have criticized both administrations for not moving quickly enough to stem the Russian threat, and continued to do so at the hearing. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, critiqued Nielsen’s opening statement, which described a series of efforts the department had already announced.

“I hear no sense of urgency to really get on top of this issue,” Collins said, noting that “we are already in an election year.”

Collins noted that many state election officials have remained without security clearances, making it harder for the department to share information with them.

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he spent an hour Tuesday reading a classified report on alleged Russian election meddling.

“And all along we’ve been talking about the Russians penetrating our systems and messing around with our elections. That’s not sufficient,” King said during the questioning section of Wednesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. “What I learned yesterday was horrifying. What we saw wasn’t messing around or penetrating, it was a sophisticated, thorough, comprehensive, malign and malicious attack on our electoral system.”

“What worries me is that although the intelligence is uniform that no votes were changed, they weren’t doing it for fun in 2016. What it looks like is a test, and it was incredibly, as I say, thorough and comprehensive. This problem is not being treated with the urgency that it deserves,” King said.

In an appearance on Maine Public Wednesday night, King also reiterated his call for a national strategy to deter cyber attacks and to make it clear to perpetrators that there will be consequences if they try to interfere in U.S. elections.

Nielsen defended her agency’s attempt to speed up communications and intelligence sharing, saying the department has been working to grant security clearances to up to three election officials in each state. Nielsen said Wednesday that just 20 of those officials have been granted full clearances.

“We are doing our best to speed up the process,” she said.

Communication and intelligence sharing by the federal government has been a key concern among state and local election officials. Those officials complained that it took the federal government nearly a year to inform them whether their states had been targeted by Russian hackers.

Collins, who has introduced legislation with other members of the committee to improve election cybersecurity, also pressed Johnson, asking if he should have issued stronger warnings in 2016 as it became clear that Russians were trying to intrude into the systems.

Johnson defended the way he alerted state and local election officials, noting that in the late summer and fall of 2016 he was repeatedly issuing public warnings for those officials to get cybersecurity assistance from the department.

“We were beating the drum pretty hard,” Johnson said.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, also lambasted the Obama administration’s response, saying it was not sufficient to warn the public “in any way, shape or form.”

The hearing follows a Tuesday news conference in which committee members from both parties said government efforts to protect state and local elections from Russian cyberattacks haven’t gone far enough. Federal warnings last time did not provide enough information to state election officials or in some cases go to the right people, the senators said, though they reiterated that there was no evidence votes were changed.

Top U.S. intelligence officials have said they’ve seen indications Russian agents are preparing a new round of election interference this year.

The committee is recommending that states make sure voting machines have paper audit trails and aren’t capable of being connected to the internet. Senators also are pushing for better communication among the various U.S. intelligence agencies and federal, state and local governments about cyber threats and vulnerabilities in computer systems.

The committee’s recommendations preview an election security report expected to be released in full in the coming weeks. It is the first of four reports planned as part of the panel’s wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, released the recommendations ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. They come as Congress is eyeing $380 million in state grants for election security in a wide-ranging spending bill expected to be unveiled as soon as Wednesday. The bill also contains $307 million for the FBI to go after Russian cyberattacks.

Senators are also urging state and local election officials to take advantage of resources provided by the Homeland Security Department, such as comprehensive risk assessments and remote cyberscanning of their networks to spot vulnerabilities. Overall, experts say far too little has been done to shore up those vulnerabilities in 10,000 U.S. voting jurisdictions that mostly run on obsolete and imperfectly secured technology.

As of last month, just 14 states had requested risk assessments and 30 had asked for remote cyberscans of their networks, according to Homeland Security officials. But even that was straining resources, since many of those risk assessments have not been completed.

Warner has said he thinks the process to prevent any compromise of election systems needs to be more robust, especially since President Donald Trump has not addressed the matter as an urgent problem.

“Every one of Mr. Trump’s appointees in law enforcement and national security acknowledge what an ongoing threat Russia is,” Warner said Tuesday. “It’s pretty amazing to me we’ve had the director of the FBI, the director of national intelligence and the head of the NSA say in public testimony within the last month that they’ve received no direction from the White House to make election security a priority.”

Nielsen defended Trump at the hearing, saying, “the line he is drawing is that no votes were changed. That doesn’t mean there’s not a threat.”

She added: “We think the threat remains high.”

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Cumberland County district attorney won’t seek term No. 8 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/cumberland-county-da-wont-seek-re-election/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/cumberland-county-da-wont-seek-re-election/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 15:09:23 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/cumberland-county-da-wont-seek-re-election/ Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson will not seek re-election for an eighth term in office.

Anderson took office in January 1991, and was the first woman to hold the job. Before winning her first election in 1990, she tried murder cases as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., and then had a law practice in Portland.

Five candidates have filed to run for Anderson’s job as the county’s top prosecutor, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office.

Republican Randall Bates, a former Yarmouth town councilor, was the only Republican candidate to file nomination papers for the June 12 primary.

Four Democrats filed for their party’s primary, also to be held June 12:

Jon Gale of Portland has been a defense attorney since 2004 and was a prosecutor for several years before that. He defended one of the protesters arrested July 15, 2016, in a demonstration on Commercial Street in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Gale helped craft a plea agreement for the 17 people arrested. The agreement eventually fell apart, but Anderson’s attempt to pursue charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a public way was denied in Cumberland County Superior Court in May 2017.

Cape Elizabeth resident Patrick Gordon has served as a prosecutor in Aroostook and York counties and now specializes in family law for Fairfield & Associates, according to the firm’s website.

Brunswick resident Seth N. Levy is a defense attorney who specializes in defending veterans, according to his website.

Frayla Tarpinian of Windham is now the head of the Kennebec County district attorney’s Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse Unit. She has also had her own practice in Windham, according to www.frayla.com.

Independent candidates who might enter the race have until June 1 to file nomination papers with the secretary of state. The general election is Nov. 6.

David Harry can be contacted at 781-3661 ext. 110 or at:


Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Read this story in The Forecaster.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/cumberland-county-da-wont-seek-re-election/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1350893_221526_20150507_moskowitz_6.jpgAUGUSTA, ME - MAY. 7: Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson testifies in favor of District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz at his renomination hearing on Thursday May 7, 2015 before the legislature's Judiciary Committee at the State House in Augusta. (Photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)Wed, 21 Mar 2018 22:30:42 +0000
White House: Leaking Trump’s briefing notes for his Putin call is ‘fireable’ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/white-house-leaking-trumps-briefing-notes-for-putin-call-is-fireable/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/white-house-leaking-trumps-briefing-notes-for-putin-call-is-fireable/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 15:01:27 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/white-house-leaking-trumps-briefing-notes-for-putin-call-is-fireable/ WASHINGTON — The White House says it’s a “fireable offense and likely illegal” to leak President Trump’s briefing papers.

The warning came after news outlets reported that aides had included a warning in Trump’s briefing papers advising him not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election win, but he did so anyway.

The White House said in an official statement Wednesday: “If this story is accurate, that means someone leaked the President’s briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal.”

The White House wouldn’t confirm that Trump was warned “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Putin, as a senior administration official told the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

It was unclear whether Trump read the talking points prepared by his national security team before Tuesday’s call. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster briefed the president in person before the call.

Some Republican lawmakers criticized Trump for congratulating Putin on his re-election.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said, “An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.” McCain’s Arizona colleague, Sen. Jeff Flake, labeled Trump’s congratulatory call “odd” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said calling Putin “wouldn’t have been high on my list.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted that President Obama made a similar call at the time of Putin’s last electoral victory. Huckabee said, “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.”

In the call Trump didn’t raise Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections or its suspected involvement in the poisoning of a former spy in Britain.

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Documents show Cambridge Analytica has links to Blackwater founder and China https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/documents-show-cambridge-analytica-has-links-to-blackwater-founder-and-china/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/documents-show-cambridge-analytica-has-links-to-blackwater-founder-and-china/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 11:33:55 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/21/documents-show-cambridge-analytica-has-links-to-blackwater-founder-and-china/ LONDON — Company filings show that Trump-affiliated data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica has a link to a Chinese security and logistics company run by Erik Prince, the former mercenary who founded private military company Blackwater.

British corporate records show that Alexander Nix, the suspended chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, is also director of a company called Emerdata Ltd. that was incorporated in August 2017.

Other Emerdata directors include people associated with Cambridge Analytica, along with Johnson Ko Chun Shun, who was appointed in January.

Ko is also deputy chairman of Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group, whose chairman is Prince.

FSG has attracted attention because of concerns Prince plans to provide special forces veterans to assist Chinese companies investing in risky locations overseas.

China’s biggest state-owned company, Citic, is a major FSG shareholder.

This story will be updated.

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Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s collection of Facebook data, former employee claims https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bannon-oversaw-cambridge-analyticas-collection-of-facebook-data-former-employee-claims/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bannon-oversaw-cambridge-analyticas-collection-of-facebook-data-former-employee-claims/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:53:33 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/03/20/bannon-oversaw-cambridge-analyticas-collection-of-facebook-data-former-employee-claims/ LONDON — Conservative strategist Steve Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s early efforts to collect troves of Facebook data as part of an ambitious program to build detailed profiles of millions of American voters, a former employee of the data-science firm said Tuesday.

The 2014 effort was part of a high-tech form of voter persuasion touted by the company, which under Bannon identified and tested the power of anti-establishment messages that later would emerge as central themes in President Trump’s campaign speeches, according to Chris Wylie, who left the company at the end of that year.

Among the messages tested were “drain the swamp” and “deep state,” he said.

Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Trump’s 2016 campaign, is now facing questions about alleged unethical practices, including charges that the firm improperly handled the data of tens of millions of Facebook users. On Tuesday, the company’s board announced that it was suspending its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after British television released secret recordings that appeared to show him talking about entrapping political opponents.

More than three years before he served as Trump’s chief political strategist, Bannon helped launch Cambridge Analytica with the financial backing of the wealthy Mercer family as part of a broader effort to create a populist power base. Earlier this year, the Mercers cut ties with Bannon after he was quoted making incendiary comments about Trump and his family.

In an interview Tuesday with The Washington Post at his lawyer’s London office, Wylie said that Bannon – while he was a top executive at Cambridge Analytica and head of Breitbart News – was deeply involved in the company’s strategy and approved spending nearly $1 million to acquire data, including Facebook profiles, in 2014.

“We had to get Bannon to approve everything at this point. Bannon was Alexander Nix’s boss,” said Wylie, who was Cambridge Analytica’s research director. “Alexander Nix didn’t have the authority to spend that much money without approval.”


Bannon, who served on the company’s board, did not respond to a request for comment. He served as vice president and secretary of Cambridge Analytica from June 2014 to August 2016, when he became chief executive of Trump’s campaign, according to his publicly filed financial disclosure. In 2017, he joined Trump in the White House as his chief strategist.

Bannon received more than $125,000 in consulting fees from Cambridge Analytica in 2016 and owned “membership units” in the company worth between $1 million and $5 million, according to his financial disclosure.

Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment about Bannon’s role.

It is unclear whether Bannon knew how Cambridge Analytica was obtaining the data, which allegedly was collected through an app that was portrayed as a tool for psychological research but was then transferred to the company.

Facebook has said that information was improperly shared and that it requested the deletion of the data in 2015. Cambridge Analytica officials said that they had done so, but Facebook said it received reports several days ago that the data was not deleted.

Wylie said that both Bannon and Rebekah Mercer, whose father, Robert Mercer, financed the company, participated in conference calls in 2014 in which plans to collect Facebook data were discussed, although Wylie acknowledged that it was not clear they knew the details of how the collection took place.

Bannon “approved the data-collection scheme we were proposing,” Wylie said.

The Mercers did not respond to a request for comment.

The data and analyses that Cambridge Analytica generated in this time provided discoveries that would later form the emotionally charged core of Trump’s presidential platform, said Wylie, whose disclosures in news reports over the past several days have rocked both his onetime employer and Facebook.

“Trump wasn’t in our consciousness at that moment; this was well before he became a thing,” Wylie said. “He wasn’t a client or anything.”


The year before Trump announced his presidential bid, the data firm already had found a high level of alienation among young, white Americans with a conservative bent.

In focus groups arranged to test messages for the 2014 midterms, these voters responded to calls for building a new wall to block the entry of illegal immigrants, to reforms intended the “drain the swamp” of Washington’s entrenched political community and to thinly veiled forms of racism toward African Americans called “race realism,” he recounted.

The firm also tested views of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The only foreign thing we tested was Putin,” he said. “It turns out, there’s a lot of Americans who really like this idea of a really strong authoritarian leader and people were quite defensive in focus groups of Putin’s invasion of Crimea.”

The controversy over Cambridge Analytica’s data collection erupted in recent days amid news reports that an app created by a Cambridge University psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, accessed extensive personal data of 50 million Facebook users. The app, called thisisyourdigitallife, was downloaded by 270,000 users. Facebook’s policy, which has since changed, allowed Kogan to also collect data – including names, home towns, religious affiliations and likes – on all of the Facebook “friends” of those users. Kogan shared that data with Cambridge Analytica for its growing database on American voters.

Facebook on Friday banned the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie for improperly sharing that data.

The Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into Facebook to determine whether the social media platform violated a 2011 consent decree governing its privacy policies when it allowed the data collection. And Wylie plans to testify to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as part of their investigation of Russian interference in the election, including possible ties to the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Channel 4 News aired a video Tuesday in which Nix was shown boasting about his work for Trump. He seemed to highlight his firm’s secrecy, at one point stressing the need to set up a special email account that self-destructs all messages so that “there’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing.”

The company said in a statement that Nix’s comments “do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation.”

Nix could not be reached for comment.


Cambridge Analytica was set up as a U.S. affiliate of British-based SCL Group, which had a wide range of governmental clients globally, in addition to its political work. Wylie said that Bannon and Nix first met in 2013, the same year that Wylie – a young data whiz with some political experience in Britain and Canada – was working for SCL Group. Bannon and Wylie met soon after and hit it off in conversations about culture, elections and how to spread ideas using technology.

Bannon, Wylie, Nix, Rebekah Mercer and Robert Mercer met in Rebekah Mercer’s Manhattan apartment in the fall of 2013, striking a deal in which Robert Mercer would fund the creation of Cambridge Analytica with $10 million, with the hope of shaping the congressional elections a year later, according to Wylie. Robert Mercer, in particular, seemed transfixed by the group’s plans to harness and analyze data, he recalled.

The Mercers were keen to create a U.S.-based business to avoid bad optics and violating U.S. campaign finance rules, Wylie said. “They wanted to create an American brand,” he said.

The young company struggled to quickly deliver on its promises, Wylie said. Widely available information from commercial data brokers provided people’s names, addresses, shopping habits and more, but failed to distinguish on more fine-grained matters of personality that might affect political views.

Cambridge Analytica initially worked for 2016 Republican candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, who was backed by the Mercers. The Trump campaign had rejected early overtures to hire Cambridge Analytica, and Trump himself said in May 2016 that he “always felt” that the use of voter data was “overrated.”

After Cruz faded, the Mercers switched their allegiance to Trump and pitched their services to Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale. The company’s hiring was approved by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was informally helping to manage the campaign with a focus on digital strategy.

Kushner said in an interview with Forbes magazine that the campaign “found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences. . . . We brought in Cambridge Analytica.” Kushner said he “built” a data hub for the campaign “which nobody knew about, until towards the end.”

Kushner’s spokesman and lawyer both declined to comment Tuesday.

Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, has an ongoing contract with the State Department’s Global Engagement Center. The company was paid almost $500,000 to interview people overseas to understand the mind-set of Islamist militants as part of an effort to counter their online propaganda and block recruits.

Heather Nauert, the acting undersecretary for public diplomacy, said Tuesday that the contract was signed in November 2016, under the Obama administration, and has not expired yet. In public records, the contract is dated in February 2017, and the reason for the discrepancy was not clear.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bannon-oversaw-cambridge-analyticas-collection-of-facebook-data-former-employee-claims/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1350662_243487_ap17181806012441.jpgStephen BannonWed, 21 Mar 2018 07:56:56 +0000
Senate approves $5.5 million for prison LePage wants to close https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/senate-approves-5-5-million-for-prison-lepage-wants-to-close/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/senate-approves-5-5-million-for-prison-lepage-wants-to-close/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:52:54 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/senate-approves-5-5-million-for-prison-lepage-wants-to-close/ AUGUSTA — A minimum-security prison that Gov. Paul LePage emptied without legislative approval could receive another year of funding under a bill considered by the Maine Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate approved a bill Tuesday to provide $5.5 million for the Downeast Correctional Facility starting in June, but a similar bill lacked sufficient support in the House last week. Both chambers must pass the legislation before it can be sent to the governor to sign into law.

The minimum-security prison has long been on the state’s chopping block, while supporters argue that it provides jobs and inmates’ free labor to the surrounding rural community. The prison, with about 150 beds, has an annual state budget of about $5 million.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ruled last week that LePage lacked authority to close the prison in February, but she stopped short of ordering all of the inmates to be returned. The judge left it up to the Department of Corrections to determine staffing and the number of inmates.

The Republican governor said Monday that he will comply with the court order by adding a “minimal” number of staffers and inmates to the facility through June, when current funding runs out.

David Webbert, a lawyer for laid-off prison workers, said the governor’s plan is too limited.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/senate-approves-5-5-million-for-prison-lepage-wants-to-close/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/05/Downeast-correctional.jpgGov. Paul LePage wants to shut down the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport.Tue, 20 Mar 2018 21:18:18 +0000
Lawmakers uphold veto of Bar Harbor port authority bill https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/lawmakers-uphold-veto-of-bar-harbor-port-authority-bill/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/lawmakers-uphold-veto-of-bar-harbor-port-authority-bill/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:28:04 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/lawmakers-uphold-veto-of-bar-harbor-port-authority-bill/ BAR HARBOR — The Maine Legislature has sustained Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to create a port authority in Bar Harbor.

Opponents of the bill feared the possibility of a large cruise ship pier coming to the area. LePage vetoed the bill earlier this month, and lawmakers sustained that veto on Tuesday.

LePage called the proposal a needless creation of bureaucracy. Officials in Bar Harbor have argued that creating a port authority could help prevent congestion and debt.

Friends of Frenchmen Bay, a local group that opposed creation of the authority, cheered the decision. Spokeswoman Pamela McCullough said the proposal “would have benefited only the out-of-state cruise ship industry.”

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‘Sex and the City’ star Cynthia Nixon makes first campaign appearance of governor’s bid https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/sex-and-the-city-star-cynthia-nixon-makes-first-campaign-appearance-of-governors-bid/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/sex-and-the-city-star-cynthia-nixon-makes-first-campaign-appearance-of-governors-bid/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:18:34 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/sex-and-the-city-star-cynthia-nixon-makes-first-campaign-appearance-of-governors-bid/ NEW YORK — Newly announced New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon on Tuesday criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo, her Democratic primary opponent, for favoring corporations and the rich over average New Yorkers.

The liberal activist and “Sex and the City” actress took aim at Cuomo in her first official campaign appearance, telling the audience at the Bethesda Healing Center in Brooklyn that she had just made it to the event “in the nick of time” because of subway delays that she blamed on “Cuomo’s MTA.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority oversees the subways, and Cuomo controls the MTA. An MTA spokesman said on Twitter there had been a sick passenger.

Nixon went on to criticize inequality in the state, which she blamed on policy choices like tax cuts for corporations and wealthier New Yorkers, and called out corruption in state government.

“If Washington is a swamp, Albany is a cesspool,” she said. She cited a former Cuomo top aide, Joseph Percoco, who was convicted this month on federal bribery and fraud charges.

Cuomo was not accused of any wrongdoing, but the trial put a spotlight on Albany’s pay-to-play culture.

Nixon said she voted for Cuomo eight years ago in hopes of his being a “real Democrat” but that “New York’s eight years under the Cuomo administration have been an exercise in living with disappointment, dysfunction, and dishonesty.”

She said the state could have tackled a range of issues, from fully funding public schools to fixing the beleaguered subway system and enacting campaign finance reform.

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Rep. Poliquin sells house in Oakland, remains in 2nd District https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/rep-poliquin-sells-house-in-oakland-remains-in-2nd-district/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/rep-poliquin-sells-house-in-oakland-remains-in-2nd-district/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:04:23 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/rep-poliquin-sells-house-in-oakland-remains-in-2nd-district/ OAKLAND, Maine — Maine’s Republican congressman has sold his house in the 2nd Congressional District, but is continuing to live on the property through a rental agreement.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin moved into the home in Oakland before running for his first term in the U.S. House, in 2014. The town assessor says his home sold for $450,000 on Jan. 3 to Gary and Elizabeth Ouellette of Winslow.

An adviser says Poliquin is leasing back an apartment on the property. He brokered that deal during the sale of the home.

A spokesman said last year that Poliquin was looking to downsize. The assessor says the Oakland property included two structures, a two-story house and a lakeside camp.

Poliquin represents Maine’s sprawling, northern 2nd Congressional District. He also owns a home in Georgetown, which is in the 1st Congressional District.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/rep-poliquin-sells-house-in-oakland-remains-in-2nd-district/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/Poliquin-e1515171943655.jpgWed, 21 Mar 2018 12:47:35 +0000
Bill would tighten rules for Maine’s ballot-question process https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bill-would-place-new-constraints-on-maines-citizen-initiative-process/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bill-would-place-new-constraints-on-maines-citizen-initiative-process/#respond Tue, 20 Mar 2018 22:00:47 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/03/20/bill-would-place-new-constraints-on-maines-citizen-initiative-process/ AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers are considering a bill to tighten regulations on those who gather voters’ signatures under the state’s citizen initiative process, including more disclosure of where their funding is coming from.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, among other things would require those giving more than $100,000 to a ballot question committee to disclose their top five donors. The measure, which was heard before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday, would also require petitioners to disclose if they were being paid and prohibit a notary public who is working with a campaign from notarizing voter signatures before they are turned in.

Supporters of the bill say it would bring more transparency to a ballot-question process that, in their view, has been hijacked by well-heeled, special-interest groups from outside of Maine as a way of getting their policy preferences enacted.

“Because these measures can go straight to the ballot, these disclosures will provide critical information to Maine voters,” Luchini said. He noted that the committee had dealt extensively with a campaign in 2017, financed largely by international gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott, to bring a casino to York County.

Scott, his sister Lisa Scott and various business partners spent over $10 million on the failed effort, but the source of those funds was not always clearly defined and the various ballot question and political action committees behind the effort are facing record-level fines of $500,000 for violations of state finance disclosure laws.

“There was a lot of attempts to disguise the true source of that money,” said Luchini, the House chairman of the committee. “What this bill is trying to do is get at that situation where you can prevent dark money from flowing in and being hidden by those who wish to put a law on the ballot.”

Since 2016, voters have been asked to decide seven different ballot questions, including the York County casino, background checks for private gun sales, raising Maine’s minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and tacking a 3 percent surcharge on household income over $200,000 to help fund public education. Some of the measures were approved, some were rejected and some were altered after the fact by the Legislature.

Opponents of the bill included the left-leaning nonprofit Maine People’s Alliance. It has successfully backed four ballot initiatives in the last five years, including the minimum wage hike and the expansion of Medicaid.

Taryn Hallweaver, the legislative director for the MPA, said there were a number of legal, technical and practical issues with the bill. Hallweaver said requiring petitioners who gather signatures to disclose whether they were being paid to do so may be in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

“The deputy secretary of state has already weighed in on this that there are constitutionality issues with this,” she said.

Hallweaver also said MPA used “unionized salaried canvass members,” many of whom lived in Maine or grew up in Maine, and that the canvassers and volunteers were trained to explain issues thoroughly to those who were signing petitions.

But others, including Peter Gore, the vice president of government relations for the Maine Chamber of Commerce, said many petitioners were professionals who were brought to Maine by a campaign to work for the money and not for the cause. He said the bill would add transparency to Maine’s ballot question process.

“We believe it will help Maine people understand who is behind these efforts and decide for themselves whether those promoting their passage represents a true grassroots effort or outside well-funded special interests who may put their policy goals above the ordinary Maine person,” Gore said. “And ordinary Maine people are not always those gathering signatures or working on the question.”

Gore accused the MPA of hiring people from Las Vegas to gather signatures for a ballot question in November on taxing high-wage earners to raise $310 million to fund home health services for Maine’s elderly and disabled. That effort was largely bankrolled with a $350,000 infusion of cash from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change Action and the Open Society Policy Center, also based in D.C., a nonprofit funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Hallweaver denied that the MPA hired people from Las Vegas to work on the campaign.

“We don’t really condone that practice,” she said.

Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said the ballot measure process was there as an outlet for citizens to move popular policies forward when the Legislature was unable to do so because of political gridlock.

But questions over who is truly funding ballot question efforts in Maine should be answered for voters, said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He supports Luchini’s effort.

“The reason this is unfair to Maine residents is small special interests based in Maine can pull money from all 49 states and thousands of like-minded state and national groups and then buy our media outlets,” Trahan said. “Small groups of citizens in the state are then tasked with raising money from a relatively small in-state population.”

The committee will hold a future work session on the bill before voting on whether to recommend it for approval by the full Legislature in the weeks ahead.


https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bill-would-place-new-constraints-on-maines-citizen-initiative-process/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/1123272_88221-20161213_MaineCare.jpgTina Kartika, 24, of Portland signs a petition to put Medicare expansion on the Maine ballot. George Frangoulis of Portland, working for the Maine Peoples Alliance, was gathering signatures Tuesday in Monument Square.Tue, 20 Mar 2018 23:52:59 +0000
Kennebec County to join opiate lawsuit against drug companies in nationwide effort https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/kennebec-county-to-join-opiate-lawsuit-against-drug-companies-in-nationwide-effort/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/kennebec-county-to-join-opiate-lawsuit-against-drug-companies-in-nationwide-effort/#respond Tue, 20 Mar 2018 21:34:27 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/kennebec-county-to-join-opiate-lawsuit-against-drug-companies-in-nationwide-effort/ AUGUSTA — Kennebec county commissioners voted Tuesday to sign on to a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that make and distribute opiates, a decision already made by several town, city and county governments in Maine that’s also part of a nationwide effort.

Roger Katz, an attorney with the Augusta law firm Lipman & Katz and a Republican state senator, said in a presentation to the commissioners the lawsuit alleges the companies withheld critical information about the drugs.

“There’s a pretty significant body of evidence that the manufacturers were aware of the addictive quality of the drugs,” Katz said, “and they did not disclose it.”

Katz likened this lawsuit to the suit against the four largest U.S. tobacco companies, which for years denied that nicotine was addictive and that smoking cigarettes caused cancer.

Two decades ago, those suits were settled in the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement. As part of those settlements, the companies were required to pay states for the medical costs of residents with smoking-related illnesses.

In this case, Katz said the allegations in the suit being brought by Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, of New York City, and Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette LLP, of Auburn, are that the companies suppressed the knowledge of the risks of the drugs, and public entities have suffered.

“As a result of the misrepresentations of the drug companies, many people have become addicted, many have turned to illicit drugs and many have become a burden to the county — i.e., jails — because of crimes committed to support their addictions,” he said.

In addition to dealing with medical problems that surface among inmates who have been using opioids, the county pays other costs associated with addiction.

Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said one of the county’s costs is holding the Crimonogenic Addiction & Recovery Academy at the jail. The goal of the CARA program is addressing inmates’ substance abuse and criminal thinking patterns.

While the county receives a subsidy from the state of Maine, Kennebec County government funds the balance of the program’s cost, he said.

Costs are also tallied at the county’s Probate Court.

Register of Probate Kathleen Ayers said the county pays for indigent legal fees and for guardians ad litem, a person appointed by the court to advocate for a child’s best interests in certain cases.

“There are a lot of kids who have lost a parent,” Ayers said.

In his presentation to the commissioners, Katz said Kennebec County government would bear no cost for taking part, and forensic experts would be brought in to assess the actual costs of opioid addiction to Kennebec County.

Katz said the lawsuit would be filed in state court.

“We hope the judge would find the companies liable and assess damages,” Katz said.

In December, the Waterville City Council voted to authorize city officials to engage the services of Napoli Shkolnik, and Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette, of Auburn, for prosecuting legal claims against manufacturers and distributors of opioids arising out of the manufacturers’ and distributors’ fraudulent and negligent marketing and distribution of the drugs.

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said Tuesday that Augusta elected officials also are considering joining the lawsuit.

“I am expecting it to come up within the next couple of weeks,” Bridgeo said. “As part of our consideration, the mayor has asked a couple of councilors who are attorneys to look over the engagement letter, and we’re still in that part of the process.”

Auburn, Bangor, Biddeford, Lewiston and Portland are among the Maine cities that have agreed to be part of the lawsuit so far. Katz said most other counties also have signed on.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632


Twitter: @JLowellKJ

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/kennebec-county-to-join-opiate-lawsuit-against-drug-companies-in-nationwide-effort/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/817379_574738_20170105_riverview_3.jpgRoger Katz, an attorney with the Augusta law firm Lipman & Katz and a Republican state senator, said in a presentation Tuesday to Kennebec County commissioners that a state lawsuit alleges pharmaceutical makers and distributors withheld critical information about the addictive properties of their opioid painkillers. Commissioners voted to join the lawsuit.Tue, 20 Mar 2018 17:52:59 +0000
LePage accuses lawmakers of ‘witch hunt’ over diversion of state-owned timber https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/lepage-accuses-committee-of-witch-hunt-over-lumber-issue/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/lepage-accuses-committee-of-witch-hunt-over-lumber-issue/#respond Tue, 20 Mar 2018 20:58:41 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/lepage-accuses-committee-of-witch-hunt-over-lumber-issue/ AUGUSTA — A fired-up Gov. Paul Le-Page said Tuesday that political tensions over U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber had no role in a decision to divert state-owned logs away from mills owned by a family critical of his position.

LePage told lawmakers they owed him and Maine Forest Service Director Doug Denico apologies for what he said were “totally fictional and outrageous” allegations about potential retribution against the owners of several Maine mills. Responding to a legislative committee’s detailed request for information, LePage accused some lawmakers of waging “an inquisition” against his administration for wood-flow issues that he said were made to address an emergency situation in one mill, not to hurt another.

“Your letter is nothing more than a political witch hunt,” LePage told members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “You are making outrageous accusations demanding that members of the executive branch come before you to answer them.”

Lawmakers are seeking clarity on the Maine Bureau of Public Lands’ decision last month to stop shipping timber from state-owned lands to mills owned by the Brochu family. Jason and Chris Brochu publicly criticized the governor last fall for pushing to end trade tariffs on lumber imports from New Brunswick and Quebec – tariffs that LePage says harm the region’s closely entwined forest products industry but that supporters say help level the playing field against Canadian subsidies.

Sen. Tom Saviello, a Wilton Republican who has often clashed with LePage, said it was “a terrible juxtaposition” that the shipments stopped following the Brochus’ criticism and after the governor met with Canadian and Trump administration officials on the tariffs.

“We have not accused anybody of breaking the law,” Saviello said in opening Tuesday’s tension-filled meeting. “We just want the information so we can make a better decision about whether we need to reform legislation or not.”

LePage refuted any connection. Wood was shifted from the Brochus’ Moose River Lumber and Pleasant River Lumber mills, LePage said, because the Stratton Lumber mill – which is owned by a Canadian company – was facing a supply emergency after a piece of logging equipment was damaged by a fire.

“Folks, I have had zero involvement,” LePage said. “I have bigger fish to fry than to worry about what wood goes to any one mill.”

Instead, LePage said “wood is routed where it is needed” and that his administration would work with the Moose River and Pleasant River mills before the stoppage had long-term effects.


It’s no secret that LePage has close ties to the forest products industry in neighboring Canadian provinces, and some say the relationship is too cozy.

The governor lived in New Brunswick and worked for lumber companies north of the border after college. He has strongly criticized the Trump administration’s decision to impose tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber because of those ties – and two-directional commerce – between Maine and neighboring provinces. Canadian companies such as New Brunswick-based Irving Woodlands own land as well as mills in this state, and Maine mills purchase Canadian wood even as some other Maine landowners ship raw wood to mills across the border.

The dispute between LePage and the Brochus has been brewing for months.

Last September, LePage said in his weekly radio address that “corporate greed from a coalition of big lumber companies” had sent wood prices “skyrocketing” at a time when families affected by hurricanes Irma and Harvey needed to rebuild. LePage used the radio address to once again call for an end to tariffs on softwood imports from neighboring New Brunswick, noting that Maine’s “cross-border commerce is intertwined with our Canadian neighbors.”

“Our lumber trade flows back and forth between Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick,” LePage said. “Some Maine companies own mills and forestland on both sides of the border. We are already seeing job losses as companies try to avoid the tariffs.”


Those comments – and, in particular, his assertion of “corporate greed” within the U.S. lumber industry – prompted the Brochus to write in response that LePage was pushing “a Canada-first trade policy, risking the jobs of hundreds of thousands of American workers.”

“The U.S. government has been working to protect the industry from Canada’s abuses and level the playing field,” Jason and Chris Brochu wrote in an op-ed published in the Bangor Daily News. “Unfortunately, the governor is not on the same page and appears unconcerned with the sawmills in Maine and the good American jobs that are impacted by unfair trade practices.”

LePage then responded by accusing the Brochus of “hiding behind a national coalition of corporations,” while adding that the brothers “are free to act out of personal greed and self-interest.”

So when shipments of state-owned logs to the Moose River and Pleasant River mills were halted in February, some people questioned whether the stoppage was tied to the tariffs dispute. Those questions further inflamed the long-standing tensions between the Legislature and the governor – tensions that were on full display Tuesday as LePage repeatedly interrupted lawmakers’ questions and bluntly told the committee that some members were dishonest.

The committee had sent the LePage administration 26 questions about the handling of wood cut on state-owned lands, the decision to stop shipments to the Brochu mills, and exports of state-owned wood to Canadian mills. LePage said he was reviewing the answers to those questions and would deliver them to the committee at a later date.


Committee co-chairman Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, read a March 9 email from a LePage senior policy adviser that the administration would have answers by Tuesday’s meeting. But the governor, in turn, accused lawmakers of violating his administration’s “protocol” that all requests for information flow through his office. That prompted another terse exchange between LePage and Rep. Roland “Danny” Martin, D-Sinclair, who served as Gov. John Baldacci’s commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Martin, who also served three terms in the Legislature before joining the Baldacci administration, said LePage is the only governor he is aware of “that does not allow your commissioners or your directors to cooperate with oversight committees.”

“We could have avoided your appearance here and the discussion this afternoon had you simply allowed or authorized either the commissioner or director to respond to our simple questions,” Martin said.

Tuesday’s hearing won’t be the end of the matter.

The committee voted to request that the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability review the questions raised by the decision to stop supplying wood to the Moose River and Pleasant River mills. As the Legislature’s watchdog agency, OPEGA has the authority to subpoena administration officials and staffers to answer questions.

LePage said that unlike traditional legislative committees, those testifying before OPEGA will be doing so under oath.

“I don’t trust you,” he told lawmakers.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:


Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/lepage-accuses-committee-of-witch-hunt-over-lumber-issue/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1350489_267330-Gov.PaulLePage.jpg"You are making outrageous accusations demanding that members of the executive branch come before you to answer them."Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:36:00 +0000
Bill to allow guns in cars on school grounds is unanimously rejected by Maine House https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bill-to-allow-guns-in-cars-on-school-grounds-is-unanimously-rejected-by-maine-house/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bill-to-allow-guns-in-cars-on-school-grounds-is-unanimously-rejected-by-maine-house/#respond Tue, 20 Mar 2018 17:52:15 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/bill-to-allow-guns-in-cars-on-school-grounds-is-unanimously-rejected-by-maine-house/ AUGUSTA — Legislation that would have allowed firearms onto school grounds in Maine, provided they were locked in an occupied vehicle and unloaded, was unanimously rejected by the Maine House on Tuesday.

The bill, offered by Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, was introduced prior to a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives, and was originally meant to allow parents who hunt to be able to pick up or drop off their children at school without having to remove their weapons from their vehicles.

But Martin, in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, asked that the bill be rejected, saying the measure was being politicized and the timing for relaxing gun laws on school grounds was not right.

The measure would have allowed the owner of a firearm to bring the weapon on to school grounds provided it was locked in a gun rack or case and was unloaded, while the firearm’s owner remained in the vehicle with the weapon.

The legislation was opposed by the Maine School Boards Association, Maine School Superintendents Association, the Maine Principals’ Association, and the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, among others.

“This legislation left school officials with the potentially fatal responsibility of identifying whether or not a gun is unloaded and locked during school drop-off time with the lives of countless parents and children hanging in the balance,” House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said in a prepared statement. “As we begin the difficult and critical work of improving school safety and working to prevent gun violence, this bill would have taken us a step backwards.”

The bill faces additional votes in the Maine Senate, but without House support is unlikely to move forward.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:


Twitter: thisdog

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Sources: Mississippi governor to name Hyde-Smith to Senate vacancy https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/sources-mississippi-governor-to-name-hyde-smith-to-senate-vacancy/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/sources-mississippi-governor-to-name-hyde-smith-to-senate-vacancy/#respond Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:32:27 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/sources-mississippi-governor-to-name-hyde-smith-to-senate-vacancy/ WASHINGTON — Three Mississippi Republicans say the state’s governor will appoint Cindy Hyde-Smith to fill the Senate vacancy that will soon be created when veteran Sen. Thad Cochran retires.

Hyde-Smith is the state’s agriculture commissioner. She will be Mississippi’s first female U.S. senator.

Once appointed, Hyde-Smith would immediately run for re-election for the nearly three years remaining in Cochran’s term. That special election will be Nov. 6.

Hyde-Smith is expected to be backed by the national and Mississippi GOP establishment against challenges from insurgent Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel and Democrats.

One source said Gov. Phil Bryant was expected to announce his selection of Hyde-Smith as early as Wednesday.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record before the announcement.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/20/sources-mississippi-governor-to-name-hyde-smith-to-senate-vacancy/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1342716_Senator_Resignation_81155.j.jpgSen. Thad CochranTue, 20 Mar 2018 11:58:12 +0000
Maine Democrats defend Mueller’s investigation https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/maine-democrats-defend-muellers-investigation/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/maine-democrats-defend-muellers-investigation/#respond Mon, 19 Mar 2018 23:45:14 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/2018/03/19/maine-democrats-defend-muellers-investigation/ Although President Trump called a special prosecutor’s probe “a total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest” in a tweet Monday morning, Maine Democrats vying for a seat in Congress this year uniformly back Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“Mueller must be allowed to finish the investigation for the sake of our democracy,” said Jonathan Fulford, a Monroe builder who is among the Democrats who hope to unseat two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District.

If necessary, Congress “needs to step in and protect the integrity of the investigation,” said state Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston, who also is vying for the chance to take on Poliquin in the general election. He said the probe “needs to be taken very, very seriously” by everyone and not turned into something partisan.

Poliquin said last fall it is important that people have faith in the investigation and to let it play out, an assertion his office reiterated Monday.

After several days of strongly worded statements by Trump on Twitter attacking Mueller and his prosecutorial team, there is growing speculation in political circles that the president might act to have the special counsel fired. He has fired others after first castigating them online.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein, a Portland educator, said that “firing Robert Mueller would be an abuse of presidential power and would set off a constitutional crisis that should trigger immediate impeachment proceedings.”

The incumbent whom Ringelstein hopes to replace, first-term independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, also said that if the president tries to terminate the investigation prematurely, “it will be a true constitutional crisis.”

King told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Mueller is “as straight an arrow as there is in America. He’s a former Marine. He’s a prosecutor. I think he’s a Republican. He was – when he was appointed, everybody said, hooray, this is the right guy.”

Now that he is doing his job – already bringing in several guilty pleas and levying 19 felony charges – the administration keeps “trying to undercut” the probe, King said. “This is a serious investigation,” he said, and should not be cut short.

Craig Olson, an Islesboro bookstore owner who is in the race for Poliquin’s seat, said that if Trump “truly believes the elections were free of interference he has nothing to lose by allowing Special Counsel Mueller to complete his investigation.”

“If he fires Special Counsel Mueller, then one must wonder what information or whom he is trying to protect,” Olson said.

Olson said if the president fires Mueller, “then Congress must order another investigation of the Trump administration bringing the administration that much closer to impeachment proceedings.”

Another 2nd District hopeful, Democrat Lucas St. Clair, said Mueller “should be allowed to finish his work and to follow the evidence where it may lead without political interference.”

He said it is critical that Congress “fulfill its responsibility to hold the president accountable as a co-equal branch of government. If the president takes action to stop the investigation, including firing Mueller, Congress must act. Our country is based on the rule of law, and no person – not even the president – is above the law.”

“If the president attempts to fire Mueller, than it will be up to Congress to ensure that his investigation continues and that he can continue his work,” St. Clair said, adding that history will judge the House poorly if it allows Trump “to circumvent the law and end Mueller’s investigation.”

Ringelstein said that Trump “is a clear and present danger to the rule of law in America and we must not take the praise he heaps on dictators lightly.”

“If I were in office today,” he said, “I would socialize with enough senators – both Democratic and Republican – to guarantee we have the two-thirds requirement to remove this aspiring tyrant from the presidency and ensure a peaceful transition.”

Last fall, Poliquin said it “is important this work remains bipartisan to ensure the American people have confidence in any conclusion.”

“Any indictments could be concerning, but we must let the court process work as it relates to their specific findings,” Poliquin said at the time.

Brendan Conley, his spokesman, said Monday that Poliquin’s position hasn’t changed. “He will thoroughly review any findings and conclusions from the independent investigations,” Conley said.

Golden said he does not fault Poliquin for largely steering clear of the issue. He said the Republican does not serve on the Intelligence Committee and is not privy to some of the information that King, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and others may have seen.

He said he understands why people want their congressman to speak out, but sometimes it is important to show “responsible leadership” that avoids contributing to the partisanship surrounding difficult issues.

Independent congressional candidate Tiffany Bond said that “investigations should have party-neutral treatment.”

“I do not think it is appropriate for the subject of any investigation to be making public comments related to the matters under review until there is a natural conclusion driven by case facts, and free from any outside influence,” Bond said. “It is appropriate to have special counsel provisions codified in law that protect our democracy. It appears our Congress has lost its way on their duties and responsibility to constituents.”

Steve Collins can be contacted at:


https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/maine-democrats-defend-muellers-investigation/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1313586_587420-Mueller.jpgXXx Robert Mueller .... asdf;hksdf as;d asfhl sdaf;lhasdf sd safaflh; sdaf;lhsad sadfl skay;h.Tue, 20 Mar 2018 00:10:14 +0000
Bill to save Maine child abuse prevention program attracting bipartisan support https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/bill-to-save-child-abuse-prevention-program-attracting-bi-partisan-support/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/bill-to-save-child-abuse-prevention-program-attracting-bi-partisan-support/#respond Mon, 19 Mar 2018 21:41:48 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/bill-to-save-child-abuse-prevention-program-attracting-bi-partisan-support/ A bill that would save a $2.2 million child abuse prevention program is making its way through the Legislature, after the deaths of two Maine girls from child abuse in the last four months.

The LePage administration had announced in February that it would end the prevention program in September.

Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, D-Rockland, said she’s aiming for a bipartisan coalition to muscle through the bill, which would establish a six-month moratorium on eliminating the program.

Senate President Michael Thibodeau, a Republican running for governor, is signing onto the bill as a co-sponsor, said his spokeswoman, Krysta West. A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Paul LePage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thibodeau has been urging LePage to get personally involved in finding solutions to Maine’s system of protecting children, after the deaths of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs and 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset. The parents or caregivers of both children have been charged with depraved indifference murder for their deaths.

LePage told reporters last week that he sees “major holes” in Maine’s child protection system and he’s been working on the issue for weeks with Maine Department of Health and Human Services officials. Lawmakers also tasked the Legislature’s watchdog agency with reviewing the deaths and the system.

Marissa Kennedy had been beaten by her mother, Sharon Carrillo, 33, and her stepfather, Julio Carrillo, 51, for months before dying at home on Feb. 25, police have said.

Maine DHHS officials told nonprofit agencies in early February that they were pulling funding from the child abuse prevention program – effective Sept. 30 – because it duplicates other programs and is not evidence-based.

But those operating the Community Partnerships for Protecting Children program – which includes Opportunity Alliance in South Portland – argued that the prevention program is the most effective of its kind, based on scientific research and is not duplicating other state programs.

“We need this program,” Beebe-Center said. “It’s a grass-roots, boots-on-the-ground program. It’s just common sense that it’s better if you can prevent something from happening.”

The moratorium on defunding the program would end on April 1, 2019, ensuring that the decision on whether to continue state support would fall to LePage’s successor. Seven Democrats and five Republicans have qualified for the June 12 primary ballot in the gubernatorial election.

Beebe-Center’s bill was approved unanimously for introduction on March 6 by the Legislative Council, a difficult hurdle during the off-year session of the Legislature. Most of the bills that the Legislature considers in the off-year session are carry-overs from the previous year or emergency legislation. The bill will now get hearings and votes in the coming weeks.

The abuse prevention program started in Greater Portland in the mid-2000s but in the past two years has expanded to all of southern Maine, Lewiston, Augusta, Bangor and Belfast, thanks to additional funding by the state.

In addition to Opportunity Alliance, the other nonprofits contracted to operate the program include Penquis in Bangor, Community Concepts in Augusta and Broadreach Family and Community Services in Belfast.

In southern Maine, where the program has been established for about a decade, the program partners with about 60 groups, including schools, nonprofits, law enforcement, local governments, churches and others to identify and help families at risk of abuse and neglect. The groups have monthly meetings to talk about children most at risk and share information.

Debra Dunlap, regional director of the program for southern Maine for Opportunity Alliance, said there needs to be a pause so state officials can better see how the program works, especially in areas where it launched within the past two years.

“The whole point of CPPC is it helps to get different systems and groups working together to keep kids safe,” Dunlap said.


https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/bill-to-save-child-abuse-prevention-program-attracting-bi-partisan-support/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1349950_438039_kendall_chick_mariss.jpgKendall Chick, 4, of Wiscasset and Marissa Kennedy, 10, of Stockton Springs. Police say both children died after being beaten for months.Mon, 19 Mar 2018 22:07:53 +0000
LePage picks agency veteran to lead MaineHousing https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/agency-veteran-lepages-new-pick-for-state-housing-authority/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/agency-veteran-lepages-new-pick-for-state-housing-authority/#respond Mon, 19 Mar 2018 20:58:37 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/agency-veteran-lepages-new-pick-for-state-housing-authority/ A longtime veteran of the Maine State Housing Authority has been nominated by the governor to be the agency’s next chief.

Dan Brennan, MSHA senior director of programs, is Gov. Paul LePage’s second nominee for the post. His first pick, George Gervais, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, failed to get the support of the Maine Senate for the appointment.

Brennan has worked at the agency for 25 years, according to a statement from LePage announcing the nomination.

“Dan has a strong understanding of MaineHousing’s programs,” said LePage. “He will ensure that the agency follows its strategic plan to serve people in need in the most effective manner.”

LePage also took a swipe at Senate Democrats who spiked Gervais’ nomination.

“This agency must have a director, and I will not play political games – as the Democrats have by rejecting qualified nominees – or divert our attention from Maine’s real challenges.”

Brennan oversees the agency’s production and program departments, including multifamily development and asset management, first-time homebuyer loans, energy assistance and home repair, homeless assistance and housing-choice vouchers. He began his career there as the agency’s first internal auditor.

His nomination will be considered by the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, which oversees the housing authority.

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Under court order, LePage to reopen Downeast prison with minimal inmates, staff https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/lepage-to-reopen-downeast-prison-with-minimal-inmates/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/lepage-to-reopen-downeast-prison-with-minimal-inmates/#respond Mon, 19 Mar 2018 19:42:46 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/lepage-to-reopen-downeast-prison-with-minimal-inmates/ AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Corrections will reopen the Downeast Correctional Facility “with minimal staff and a minimal number of inmates” by week’s end in response to a court order, the LePage administration announced Monday.

Gov. Paul LePage said he met with Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick on Monday morning to discuss the issue, less than a week after a Superior Court judge ruled that the administration overstepped its authority by closing the Washington County prison without legislative approval.

“He has informed me that he will comply with the court’s order and will do so in the most fiscally responsible manner by the end of the week,” LePage said in a statement.

The statement from the governor’s office said the department “will operate the facility with minimal staffing and a minimal number of inmates, and continue preparations to close the facility when the appropriation expires” on June 30. LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz declined to provide specifics about how many prison staff and inmates will be brought back to the Machiasport facility.

But an attorney for unionized prison workers called LePage’s plan “a completely unacceptable response” five days after the court order and said he will file a motion Tuesday to hold Fitzpatrick in contempt of court.

“It’s like (LePage) is saying, ‘I’m going to do as little as possible and dare the court to enforce it,’ ” said David Webbert, whose law firm, Johnson, Webbert & Young, represented unions in the court case. “They should have put employees back on pay within a day of the order. He is not telling us what he is going to do, so that is not in compliance with the court order.”

On March 14, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy concluded that the LePage administration exceeded its legal authority when it effectively closed the prison last month by transferring all inmates and laying off nearly 40 prison staff members. The prison’s existence is written into statute, and lawmakers provided funding for the 150-bed facility through the fiscal year that ends June 30.

But while Murphy ordered the department to continue operating the prison, she deferred to Fitzpatrick on how to carry out that mandate.

“The court has concluded that it has the authority to enforce the statute, including to mandate the continued operation of DCF in accordance with (state law),” Murphy wrote in her ruling. “However, the details of everyday operation of DCF have been statutorily delegated to the commissioner by the Legislature. Moreover, courts are not well situated to make determinations concerning the details of everyday operation of the DCF and to do so could also violate the separation of powers.”

Last week, Webbert’s firm demanded that the LePage administration reopen the prison or provide laid-off employees with back pay based on the judge’s ruling.

Rabinowitz said staff will be recalled based on seniority and the terms of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the administration and the workers’ union. Likewise, Fitzpatrick and Corrections Department staff will consider a number of factors – potentially including the needs of local businesses that relied on work-release inmates for staffing – when deciding which inmates to send back to Machiasport.

“The intent here is to comply as soon as possible” with the court order, Rabinowitz said.

The governor has been attempting for years to close a prison he views as inefficient and increasingly unnecessary. Washington County officials have fiercely protected the prison, which provides steady and good-paying jobs in an economically troubled area of the state. Additionally, several Down East businesses – including wreath-makers, blueberry operations and lobster dealers – have come to rely on the prison’s work-release program for staffing difficult-to-fill positions.

Washington County officials filed suit against the LePage administration to prevent it from dismantling the prison after prisoners were transferred to other facilities during a controversial pre-dawn operation. The Maine State Employees Association SEIU Local 1989 union as well as Maine Attorney General Janet Mills joined the lawsuit against LePage, arguing the governor violated the state constitution by closing a prison funded by the Legislature and caused “irreparable harm” to workers and the local community in the process.


https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/lepage-to-reopen-downeast-prison-with-minimal-inmates/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1348583_28647_downeast_correctional1.jpgGov. Paul LePage wants to shut down the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport. Photo from Machiasport.orgTue, 20 Mar 2018 07:27:23 +0000
Trump calls for death penalty to get tough on opioid traffickers https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/trump-to-address-audience-in-manchester-on-americas-opioid-crisis/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/trump-to-address-audience-in-manchester-on-americas-opioid-crisis/#respond Mon, 19 Mar 2018 17:37:47 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/trump-to-address-audience-in-manchester-on-americas-opioid-crisis/ MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Trump told a crowd of about 400 people here Monday that a get-tough approach with the death penalty for major traffickers is the key to beating back the opioid crisis that claims thousands of American lives each week, including an average of more than one Mainer every day.

Trump emphasized cracking down on drug dealers during a nearly 50-minute speech at Manchester Community College. He also outlined a renewed effort to educate the public on the risks of illegal drug use, announcing a new government website and a plan for a new anti-drug advertising campaign.

The president also highlighted a new push to rein in the manufacturers of powerful painkilling drugs that are at the heart of the crisis, saying the Department of Justice is prepared to bring new civil legal actions that would help limit the abuse of prescription drugs.

He said doctors would play a key role, and he vowed that the number of painkiller prescriptions would be cut by one-third under his administration.

Twice during the speech, Trump promised he would pursue the death penalty for the most serious traffickers, while saying he has warned China and Mexico to stop sending illicit shipments of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, to the U.S.

“Together we will end the scourge of drug addiction in America once and for all,” Trump told the cheering audience. “We will win. We will beat it. We will be tough. We will be smart. We will be kind. We will be loving. We will do whatever we have to, but we are going to win.”


Trump highlighted several personal stories of overdose deaths from New Hampshire, and he praised individual law enforcement officers for their efforts in investigating and arresting drug dealers.

Without mentioning specifics, he also said that in speaking to leaders of other countries, he has learned that they don’t have as much of a drug problem as the U.S. because they use the death penalty to punish dealers.

“Take a look at some of these countries where they don’t play games. They don’t have a drug problem,” Trump said. “We have court cases that last 10 years and then they get out in the end. We have got to be tough. We have to be smart. We have to change the laws. But the ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty.”

He also said, “We can have all the blue-ribbon committees we want, but if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers we are wasting our time, and that toughness includes the death penalty. Some of these drug dealers will kill thousands of people during their lifetime and destroy many more lives than that.”

At the same time, Trump acknowledged, “Maybe our country is not ready for that.”

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement Monday opposing Trump’s proposal and noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected death sentences in cases where there has been no murder.

“This approach is also disturbingly reminiscent of the war on drugs, which set back American drug policy for decades and codified harm to black and brown people – laws we have just begun to reverse,” said Jessalyn McCurdy, deputy director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office. “And like the war on drugs – with a focus on extreme punishments instead of the root causes of drug use, and no provisions to address racial disparities – the White House’s proposal will almost certainly fail to solve the actual crisis facing the country.”

Trump also announced a new program by Adapt Pharma, maker of the lifesaving overdose antidote naloxone, known largely by its brand name Narcan. Trump brought Mike Kelly, the company’s president, to the stage to announce the company would be providing free doses of the antidote to U.S. high schools, colleges and universities.

Kelly said the company would provide four boxes of the drug to colleges and universities, and two boxes to every high school that wanted it. He said the company also would provide educational materials on the antidote and about “the dangers of opioids and the risks and the benefits of having Narcan nasal spray near where opioids are.”


First lady Melania Trump introduced her husband at the Manchester event and said the crisis was one she had taken a personal interest in. Melania Trump made specific mention of programs aimed at helping drug-affected newborns. “I’m proud of this administration’s commitment to battling this epidemic,” she said.

President Trump largely stuck to his opioids message Monday, although he did enter political territory when he charged that Democrats had resisted his effort to build a wall on the southern U.S. border with Mexico, where he said 90 percent of the heroin smuggled into the U.S. originates. He asserted that “Democrats will eventually agree to build a wall and keep the damn drugs out.”

Opioids – which include prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl – killed more than 42,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, more than any year on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump has declared that fighting the epidemic is a priority for his administration, but critics say the effort has fallen short.

Last October, Trump declared the crisis a national public health emergency, short of the national state of emergency sought by a presidential commission he put together to study the issue.

“We call it the crisis next door because everyone knows someone,” Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said in Sunday’s media briefing, the Associated Press reported. “This is no longer somebody else’s community, somebody else’s kid, somebody else’s co-worker.”

In August, Trump angered many in New Hampshire when he referred to the state as a “drug-infested den” in a phone conversation with the president of Mexico, according to a transcript of the call published by The Washington Post.


Trump sought to blame Mexico for producing the heroin that was causing overdoses in New Hampshire, but public health data shows that most of the deaths are being caused by fentanyl and its derivatives, which are synthetic opioids produced primarily in China.

Drug overdoses killed 481 people in New Hampshire in 2016, a rate of 39.0 deaths per 100,000 people, third behind Ohio (39.1) and West Virginia (52.0), according to data from the federal CDC. Maine was 11th on the list with 28.7 deaths per 100,000 people, just behind Rhode Island (30.8) and in front of Connecticut (27.4).

Trump administration officials made note of the opioid epidemic’s impact on Maine when Conway and then-Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price visited the state in May 2017. The state saw a record 418 drug overdose deaths in 2017, an 11 percent increase over the previous year.

Opioids, including prescription and illicit drugs, were responsible for 354 of the deaths, and fentanyl supplanted heroin as the deadliest substance. Unlike heroin, which is manufactured from poppy plants, fentanyl can be made in a laboratory and is easier to smuggle because it’s sold in tiny doses.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:


Twitter: thisdog

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/trump-to-address-audience-in-manchester-on-americas-opioid-crisis/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/863466-20180319_Trump991.jpgMANCHESTER, NH - MARCH 16: President Donald Trump at Manchester Community College Monday, March 19, 2018. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Tue, 20 Mar 2018 06:43:34 +0000
Federal judges, Supreme Court reject Republican challenges to Pennsylvania district maps https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/federal-judges-reject-republican-challenge-to-pennsylvania-district-maps/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/federal-judges-reject-republican-challenge-to-pennsylvania-district-maps/#respond Mon, 19 Mar 2018 17:31:51 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/federal-judges-reject-republican-challenge-to-pennsylvania-district-maps/ HARRISBURG, Pa. — A panel of federal judges on Monday dismissed a legal challenge by Republican congressmen to a district map imposed last month by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Republican leaders’ request to put that new Pennsylvania congressional map on hold — meaning the districts drawn by the court will be used for November’s election.

The decision does not end litigation over the matter, but it makes it much more likely that this year’s congressional elections in Pennsylvania will be conducted under district lines widely viewed as more favorable to Democrats than a 2011 map the state court threw out in January.

The earlier map has been a campaign winner for Republicans, leading them to a 13-5 edge in the state’s congressional delegation for all three elections in which it was used.

The three-judge panel issued its decision with just one day left for the state’s congressional candidates to circulate petitions to get on the May 15 primary ballot. It said it had no authority to act in the matter except to dismiss the case.

“The plaintiffs invite us to opine on the appropriate balance of power between the Commonwealth’s legislature and judiciary in redistricting matters, and then to pass judgment on the propriety of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s actions under the United States Constitution,” the judges wrote. “These are things that, on the present record, we cannot do.”

The Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court had ruled in January that a map Republicans crafted in 2011 amounted to an unconstitutional gerrymander.

After lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf did not produce a replacement, the court enacted its own map last month and gave candidates extra time for petition gathering.

Monday’s decision comes in a federal case brought a month ago by eight sitting Republican congressmen and two Republican state senators. They argued the state justices infringed on the Legislature’s prerogative and did not give lawmakers enough time to come up with a replacement.

In a separate case, two senior Republicans in the state Legislature who were on the losing end of the state Supreme Court decision made the request before the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay, which would result in the use of the 2011 map for this year’s congressional elections in Pennsylvania. They wanted the new map put on hold while they pursue an appeal to the nation’s highest court, but were rebuffed.

A group of 18 Democratic voters sued in state court last year to challenge the 2011 map, a case the state Supreme Court put on a fast track before throwing out the former district lines.

All five Democrats on the state Supreme Court said the map violated the state constitution, but one of the Democrats joined both Republicans in objecting to the majority’s determination to enact a new map for this year’s races.

More than two dozen candidates had filed petition paperwork by mid-day Monday, according to state elections bureau data. The deadline to submit at least 1,000 voter signatures to get on the primary ballot is Tuesday.

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White House staff says Trump isn’t considering firing Mueller https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/white-house-staff-says-trump-isnt-considering-firing-mueller/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/white-house-staff-says-trump-isnt-considering-firing-mueller/#respond Mon, 19 Mar 2018 12:09:04 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/white-house-staff-says-trump-isnt-considering-firing-mueller/ WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is not considering firing the special counsel investigating Russian election interference, a top White House lawyer said, after a cascade of Trump tweets revived chatter that the deeply frustrated president may be preparing to get rid of the veteran prosecutor.

The late-Sunday statement from White House lawyer Ty Cobb came after top congressional Republicans warned of repercussions if Trump fired special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia and Russian meddling in the presidential election.

In a series of weekend tweets, Trump jabbed directly at Mueller by name for the first time. The president challenged the investigation’s existence and suggested political bias on the part of Mueller’s investigators. Trump has long been frustrated by the lengthy and intensifying probe, and insists his campaign did not collude with Russia to influence the election in his favor.

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” he said in a late Saturday tweet he ended with “WITCH HUNT!”

Likely contributing to Trump’s sense of frustration, The New York Times reported last week that Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump Organization for Russia-related documents. Trump had said Mueller would cross a red line with such a step.

“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?” he tweeted Sunday.

Some of Mueller’s investigators indeed have contributed to Democratic political candidates, but Justice Department policy and federal service law bar discrimination in the hiring of career positions on the basis of political affiliation. Mueller is a Republican.

The tweets revived talk that Trump may, in an attempt to end the investigation, move to have Mueller fired. Cobb sought to tamp down the speculation.

“In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller,” he said.

Earlier Sunday, members of Congress, including some top Republicans, warned Trump to not even think about terminating Mueller.

“If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel, warned Trump that a Mueller firing would be a distraction from the president’s agenda.

“Let it play out its course,” Gowdy said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as wholesome and thorough as possible.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for passage of stalled bipartisan bills designed to protect Mueller, saying Trump “is engaged in desperate and reckless conduct to intimidate his law enforcement agencies of this country and to try and stop the special counsel. That is unacceptable in a democracy.”

Trump cannot directly fire Mueller, who can only be dismissed for cause. Any dismissal would have to be carried out by Rod Rosenstein, the Trump-appointed deputy attorney general who has publicly expressed support for Mueller.

Trump has fumed to confidants that the Mueller probe is “going to choke the life out of” his presidency if allowed to continue unabated indefinitely, according to an outside adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with the president.

Trump has long believed that the entrenched bureaucracy, particularly at the Justice Department and FBI, is out to thwart him. He fumed to one confidant after seeing a promotion for a forthcoming book by James Comey, the FBI director he fired last year, believing Comey will seek to enrich himself by besmirching Trump’s reputation. Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty,” topped Amazon.com’s best-seller list on Sunday.

The president also has long been torn over how to approach the probe. His legal team, namely Cobb, has counseled Trump to cooperate with Mueller. But some former campaign advisers have urged Trump to be combative, warning that the investigation poses an existential threat to his presidency.

Aides and friends say they understand Trump’s frustration.

“When he says it’s a political witch hunt, I think he’s right,” said Christopher Ruddy, CEO of the conservative news website Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend.

Marc Short, Trump’s congressional liaison, said the frustration is “well-warranted” because “there has been no evidence whatsoever of collusion.”

Trump may have felt emboldened after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe on Friday, something Trump had clamored for out of a belief that McCabe was part of the entrenched, anti-Trump bureaucracy. “A great day for Democracy,” Trump tweeted afterward. Trump asserted without elaboration that McCabe knew “all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

The Associated Press later reported that McCabe kept personal memos detailing interactions with Trump that have been provided to Mueller’s office and are similar to notes compiled by Comey. Trump sought to cast doubt on their veracity, tweeting Sunday that he spent “very little time” with McCabe “but he never took notes when he was with me.”

“I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?” Trump tweeted. It wouldn’t be unusual for a senior official to make notes soon after meeting with the president.

The contents of McCabe’s memos are unknown, but they could help substantiate McCabe’s assertion that he was unfairly maligned by a White House he says had declared “war” on the FBI and Mueller’s investigation.

Sessions said he dismissed McCabe on the recommendation of FBI disciplinary officials who said McCabe had not been candid with a watchdog office investigation. An upcoming inspector general’s report is expected to conclude that McCabe had authorized the release of information to the media and was not forthcoming with the watchdog office as it examined the bureau’s handling of an investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails.

McCabe has vigorously disputed the allegations and said his credibility came under attack as “part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally” but also the FBI and law enforcement.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s actions, including Comey’s ouster, constitute obstruction of justice.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/19/white-house-staff-says-trump-isnt-considering-firing-mueller/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1349732_Trump_McCabe_05999.jpg-0c2.jpgPresident Trump talks with reporters during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump is questioning the impartiality of Robert Mueller's investigation and says the probe is groundless, while raising doubts about whether a fired top FBI official kept personal memos outlining his interactions with Trump.Mon, 19 Mar 2018 08:13:11 +0000
Kushner Cos. filed building permit requests for NYC apartments with false data https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/kushner-cos-filed-building-permit-requests-for-nyc-apartments-with-false-data/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/kushner-cos-filed-building-permit-requests-for-nyc-apartments-with-false-data/#respond Sun, 18 Mar 2018 23:49:47 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/kushner-cos-filed-building-permit-requests-for-nyc-apartments-with-false-data/ NEW YORK — When the Kushner Cos. bought three apartment buildings in a gentrifying neighborhood of Queens in 2015, most of the tenants were protected by special rules that prevent developers from pushing them out, raising rents and turning a tidy profit.

But that’s exactly what the company then run by Jared Kushner did, and with remarkable speed. Two years later, it sold all three buildings for $60 million, nearly 50 percent more than it paid.

Now a clue has emerged as to how the firm of President Trump’s son-in-law was able to move so fast: The Kushner Cos. routinely filed false paperwork with the city declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned across the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

Although none of the documents during a three-year period when Kushner was CEO bore his personal signature, they provide a window into the ethics of the business empire he ran before he went on to become one of the most trusted advisers to the U.S. president.

“It’s bare-faced greed,” said Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, a tenants’ rights watchdog that compiled the work permit application documents and shared them with the Associated Press. “The fact that the company was falsifying all these applications with the government shows a sordid attempt to avert accountability and get a rapid return on its investment.”

Kushner Cos. responded in a statement that it outsources the preparation of such documents to third parties that are reviewed by independent counsel, and “if mistakes or violations are identified, corrective action is taken immediately.”

“Kushner would never deny any tenant their due-process rights,” the statement said, adding that the company “has renovated thousands of apartments and developments with minimal complaints over the past 30 years.”

For the three Queens buildings in the borough’s Astoria neighborhood, the Kushner Cos. checked a box on construction permit applications in 2015 that indicated the buildings had zero rent-regulated tenants. Tax records filed a few months later showed the company inherited as many as 94 rent-regulated units from the previous owner.

In all, Housing Rights Initiative found the Kushner Cos. filed at least 80 false applications for construction permits in 34 buildings across New York City from 2013 to 2016, all of them indicating there were no rent-regulated tenants. Instead, tax documents show there were more than 300 rent-regulated units. Nearly all the permit applications were signed by a Kushner employee, including sometimes the chief operating officer.

Had the Kushner Cos. disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter oversight of construction crews by the city, including possibly unscheduled “sweeps” on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants and getting them to leave.

Instead, current and former tenants of the Queens buildings told the AP that they were subjected to extensive construction, with banging, drilling, dust and leaking water that they believe were part of targeted harassment to get them to leave and clear the way for higher-paying renters.

“It was noisy, there were complaints, I got mice,” said mailman Rudolph Romano, adding that the Kushner Cos. tried to increase his rent by 60 percent. “They cleaned the place out. I watched the whole building leave.”

Tax records show those rent-regulated units that numbered as many as 94 when Kushner took over had fallen to 25 by 2016.

In Kushner buildings across the city, records show frequent complaints about construction going on early in the morning or late at night against the rules, improper or illegal construction, and work without a permit.

At a six-story walk-up in Manhattan’s East Village that was once home to the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, the Kushner Cos. filed an application to begin construction in late 2013 that, again, listed zero rent-regulated tenants. Tax records a few months later showed seven rent-regulated units.

“All of a sudden, there was drilling, drilling. … You heard the drilling in the middle of night,” said one of the rent-regulated tenants, Mary Ann Siwek, 67, who lives on Social Security payments and odd jobs. “There were rats coming in from the abandoned building next door. The hallways were always filled with lumber and sawdust and plaster.”

A knock on the door came a few weeks later, and an offer of at least $10,000 if she agreed to leave the building.

“I know it’s pretty horrible, but we can help you get out,” Siwek recalls the man saying. “We can offer you money.”

Siwek turned down the cash and sued instead. She said she won a year’s worth of free rent and a new refrigerator. “The Kushners appear to be engaging in what I call the weaponization of construction,” said New York City Council member Ritchie Torres.

Rent stabilization is a fixture of New York City that can bedevil developers seeking to make money off buildings. To free themselves of its restrictions, landlords usually have to wait until the rent rises above $2,733 a month, something that can take years given the small increases allowed each year.

Submitting false documents to the city’s Department of Buildings for construction permits is a misdemeanor, which can carry fines of up to $25,000. But real estate experts say it is often flouted with little to no consequences. Landlords who do so get off with no more than a demand from the city, sometimes a year or more later, to file an “amended” form with the correct numbers.

Housing Rights Initiative found the Kushner Cos. filed dozens of amended forms for the buildings mentioned in the documents, most of them a year to two later. “There is a lack of tools to go after landlords who harass tenants, and there is a lack of enforcement,” said Seth Miller, a real estate lawyer who used to work at a state housing agency overseeing rent regulations. Until officials inspect every construction site, “you’re going to have this incentive for landlords to make life uncomfortable for tenants.”

New York City’s Department of Buildings declined to comment specifically on the Kushner documents but said it is ramping up its monitoring of construction, hiring 72 new inspectors and other staff under laws recently passed by the City Council to crack down on tenant harassment.

“We won’t tolerate landlords who use construction to harass tenants – no matter who they are,” said spokesman Joseph Soldevere. Exactly how much money the Kushner Cos. earned from the buildings mentioned in the documents is unclear. Of the 34 buildings, only the three in Queens and a fourth in Brooklyn appear to have been sold. The company also likely made money by reducing the number of rent-regulated tenants and bringing in those who would pay more.

Jared Kushner, who stepped down as CEO of the Kushner Cos. last year before taking on his advisory role at the White House, sold off part of his real estate holdings as required under government ethics rules. But he retained stakes in many properties, including Westminster Management, the Kushner Cos. subsidiary that oversees its residential properties. A financial disclosure last year showed he still owns a stake in Westminster and earned $1.6 million from the holding. Back in Queens, the mailman Romano was one of the few rent-regulated tenants who fought back. He hired a lawyer who found out he was protected from the Kushners’ 60 percent rent hike by law, something Romano did not know at the time. And his rent, which was set to increase to $3,750, was restored to $2,350.

Romano is still in the building where he has lived for nine years, with his wife, four children and his guests from the construction days – the mice.

“I still haven’t gotten rid of them,” he said.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/kushner-cos-filed-building-permit-requests-for-nyc-apartments-with-false-data/feed/ 0 Sun, 18 Mar 2018 19:57:19 +0000
Sen. Rand Paul vows to ‘do everything’ to keep Pompeo, Haspel from office https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/sen-rand-paul-vows-to-do-everything-to-keep-pompeo-haspel-from-office-2/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/sen-rand-paul-vows-to-do-everything-to-keep-pompeo-haspel-from-office-2/#respond Sun, 18 Mar 2018 22:44:42 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/sen-rand-paul-vows-to-do-everything-to-keep-pompeo-haspel-from-office-2/ WASHINGTON –– Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that he would “do everything to stop” President Trump’s nominations of Mike Pompeo for secretary of state and Gina Haspel for CIA director, but conceded that he may not be able to stop them.

Paul, R-Ky., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he wants someone who’s not “advocating for war,” particularly against Iran and North Korea, rather than Pompeo, the current CIA director.

Trump named Pompeo, a former Republican representative from Kansas, to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The president fired Tillerson last week.

Paul also objected to Haspel’s overseeing of CIA “black sites” where waterboarding occurred in the early 2000s. “I don’t think torture is what America’s about,” Paul said.

Paul also spoke out against Haspel in an article published by Politico Sunday. “Some details may be disputed, but it remains true that Haspel ran a secret center in Thailand where prisoners were tortured,” he wrote. “There is no question that during her career, Haspel participated in and helped develop the program that our own government has labeled torture.”

On CBS he conceded that that he doesn’t “have the power to stop her nomination” if she gets enough votes.

Also on CNN, Sen Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Paul’s opposition makes him “an outlier” in the Republican Party.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/sen-rand-paul-vows-to-do-everything-to-keep-pompeo-haspel-from-office-2/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1349540_rand_paul.jpgSen. Rand PaulSun, 18 Mar 2018 18:55:35 +0000
Sen. Rand Paul vows to ‘do everything’ to keep Pompeo, Haspel from office https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/sen-rand-paul-vows-to-do-everything-to-keep-pompeo-haspel-from-office/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/sen-rand-paul-vows-to-do-everything-to-keep-pompeo-haspel-from-office/#respond Sun, 18 Mar 2018 22:44:42 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/sen-rand-paul-vows-to-do-everything-to-keep-pompeo-haspel-from-office/ WASHINGTON –– Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that he would “do everything to stop” President Trump’s nominations of Mike Pompeo for secretary of state and Gina Haspel for CIA director, but conceded that he may not be able to stop them.

Paul, R-Ky., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he wants someone who’s not “advocating for war,” particularly against Iran and North Korea, rather than Pompeo, the current CIA director.

Trump named Pompeo, a former Republican representative from Kansas, to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The president fired Tillerson last week.

Paul also objected to Haspel’s overseeing of CIA “black sites” where waterboarding occurred in the early 2000s. “I don’t think torture is what America’s about,” Paul said.

Paul also spoke out against Haspel in an article published by Politico Sunday. “Some details may be disputed, but it remains true that Haspel ran a secret center in Thailand where prisoners were tortured,” he wrote. “There is no question that during her career, Haspel participated in and helped develop the program that our own government has labeled torture.”

On CBS he conceded that that he doesn’t “have the power to stop her nomination” if she gets enough votes.

Also on CNN, Sen Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Paul’s opposition makes him “an outlier” in the Republican Party.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/sen-rand-paul-vows-to-do-everything-to-keep-pompeo-haspel-from-office/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1349540_rand_paul.jpgSen. Rand PaulSun, 18 Mar 2018 18:55:35 +0000
Trump lashes out at Mueller in tweets https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/trump-lashes-out-at-mueller-in-tweets/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/trump-lashes-out-at-mueller-in-tweets/#respond Sun, 18 Mar 2018 21:20:33 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/trump-lashes-out-at-mueller-in-tweets/ WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday took out his frustrations over the intensifying Russia investigation by lashing out at special counsel Robert Mueller, signaling a possible shift away from a strategy of cooperating with a probe he believes is biased against him.

In a series of weekend tweets naming Mueller for the first time, Trump criticized the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and raised fresh concerns about the objectivity and political leanings of the members of Mueller’s team.

Trump also challenged the honesty of Andrew McCabe, the newly fired FBI deputy director, and James Comey, the bureau’s former director whom Trump fired last year over the Russia probe.

The president’s aggressive stance followed a call Saturday by his personal lawyer for Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump appointed as deputy attorney general and who now oversees Mueller’s inquiry, to “bring an end” to that investigation.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, which spent the past year conducting a parallel investigation, recently said they had drafted a report concluding no collusion or coordination between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. Committee Democrats vehemently disagreed.

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” Trump was referring to a dossier of anti-Trump research funded by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Likely adding to Trump’s growing frustration, The New York Times reported last week that Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump Organization and requested Russia-related documents. Trump had said Mueller would cross a red line with such a step.

“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?” Trump tweeted Sunday.

Some of Mueller’s investigators indeed have contributed to Democratic political candidates, but Justice Department policy and federal service law bar discrimination in the hiring of career positions on the basis of political affiliation. Mueller is a Republican.

A deeply frustrated Trump has fumed to confidants that the Mueller probe is “going to choke the life out of” his presidency if allowed to continue unabated indefinitely, according to an outside adviser who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations with the president.

Trump has long believed that the entrenched bureaucracy, particularly at the Justice Department and FBI, is out to thwart him, and has pointed to McCabe’s wife’s associations with Democrats, including longtime Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe, as an example. He also fumed to one confidant after seeing a promotion for Comey’s forthcoming book, and believes the former FBI director will seek to enrich himself by besmirching Trump’s reputation.

The president has long been torn over how to approach the Mueller probe. Trump insists that his campaign did not collude with Russia, and his legal team, namely attorney Ty Cobb, has counseled the president to cooperate with Mueller. But some former campaign advisers have urged Trump to be combative, warning him that that the investigation poses an existential threat to his presidency.

Trump’s attacks raised new concerns among members of Congress that he could be seeking to orchestrate Mueller’s firing. Republican and Democratic lawmakers warned Trump to not even think about it.

“If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for the passage of bipartisan bills designed to protect Mueller that have stalled in Congress.

“This president is engaged in desperate and reckless conduct to intimidate his law enforcement agencies of this country and to try and stop the special counsel. That is unacceptable in a democracy,” Durbin said.

Trump cannot directly fire Mueller, who can only be dismissed for cause. Any dismissal of Mueller would have to be carried out by Rosenstein, who has publicly expressed his support for Mueller.

Aides and friends say they understand Trump’s frustration with an investigation that hangs over his presidency.

“When he says it’s a political witch hunt, I think he’s right,” said Christopher Ruddy, CEO of the conservative news website Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend.

Marc Short, Trump’s congressional liaison, said the president’s frustration is “well-warranted” because “there has been no evidence whatsoever of collusion.”

Trump may have felt emboldened after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe on Friday. “A great day for Democracy,” Trump tweeted afterward. Trump asserted without elaboration that McCabe, whose firing he had publicly called for, knew “all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

The Associated Press later reported that McCabe kept personal memos detailing interactions with Trump that have been provided to Mueller’s office and are similar to notes compiled by Comey. Trump sought to cast doubt on their veracity.

“Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?”

It wouldn’t be unusual for a senior official to make notes soon after meeting with the president.

Trump also claimed Comey lied under oath at a Senate hearing by saying he had never been an anonymous source. Comey, who is releasing a book next month, tweeted Saturday after McCabe’s firing: “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”

The contents of McCabe’s memos are unknown, but they could help substantiate McCabe’s assertion that he was unfairly maligned by a White House he says had declared “war” on the FBI and Mueller’s investigation.

Sessions said he dismissed McCabe on the recommendation of FBI disciplinary officials who said McCabe had not been candid with a watchdog office investigation. An upcoming inspector general’s report is expected to conclude that McCabe had authorized the release of information to the media and was not forthcoming with the watchdog office as it examined the bureau’s handling of an investigation into Clinton’s emails.

McCabe has vigorously disputed the allegations and said his credibility had been attacked as “part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally” but also the FBI and law enforcement.

Also over the weekend, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, cited the “brilliant and courageous example” by Sessions and the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility and said Rosenstein should “bring an end” to the Russia investigation “manufactured” by Comey.

In response, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said: “If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.”

Dowd told the AP that he wasn’t calling on Rosenstein to fire the special counsel immediately and hadn’t discussed with him the idea of dismissing Mueller or ending the probe. Dowd also said he was speaking for himself and not the president.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s actions, including Comey’s ouster, constitute obstruction of justice.

Associated Press writers Chad Day and Eric Tucker in Washington and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/trump-lashes-out-at-mueller-in-tweets/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/816522_Trump_McCabe_05999.jpg-0c2.jpgPresident Donald Trump talks with reporters Thursday during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump is questioning the impartiality of Robert Mueller's investigation and says the probe is groundless, while raising doubts about whether a fired top FBI official kept personal memos outlining his interactions with Trump.Sun, 18 Mar 2018 17:28:01 +0000
Watch: Trump needs to back off criticism of Mueller probe, King says https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/angus-king-says-trump-needs-to-back-off-on-mueller-complaints/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/angus-king-says-trump-needs-to-back-off-on-mueller-complaints/#respond Sun, 18 Mar 2018 16:33:41 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/angus-king-says-trump-needs-to-back-off-on-mueller-complaints/ Maine Sen. Angus King said Sunday that President Trump’s criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is a huge mistake and that any attempt by the president to have Mueller fired would trigger a constitutional crisis.

King, speaking from Carrabassett Valley, made his remarks on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” whose moderator, Margaret Brennan, asked him about the latest personnel changes at the CIA and a firing at the FBI.

Earlier Sunday, Trump fired off angry tweets about Mueller’s investigation. The president also attacked former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired Friday night hours before his retirement was to have taken effect and he would have been eligible for full retirement benefits. King said the timing of McCabe’s termination seemed “mean-spirited.”

The president’s tweets followed a call Saturday for an end to the Mueller investigation by John Dowd, Trump’s personal lawyer.

King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been conducting its own investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Brennan asked him about McCabe’s firing by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump’s complaints about the Mueller probe, and also about Gina Haspel, the president’s nominee to head the CIA.

King said he wants to see the Justice Department inspector general’s report before he draws any conclusions about the McCabe firing. Sessions said the report concluded that McCabe had made “unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor – including under oath – on multiple occasions.” McCabe has denied the conclusions.

“But even if you assume for the moment that the report said he did these – he had these violations of code of the FBI, if you will – my problem is the timing and the way it all worked. Just seems mean-spirited to come down on a guy within 48 hours of his scheduled retirement. He had 21 years of exceptional service in the FBI. So it was clearly rushed,” King said.

Asked about Trump’s tweets against Mueller, King said it is a big mistake for the president and dangerous for the country. He said Mueller is as straight an arrow as there is in America, a former Marine, and a Republican.

“For the administration to keep trying to undercut what they’re trying to do, the president keeps saying there’s no story here, they didn’t do anything wrong. If they didn’t do anything wrong, why are they going to such extreme lengths to undermine this investigation, which is being carried out in a very responsible way?” King said.

He said the fact that the investigation has already resulted in three or four guilty pleas and 15 to 20 indictments tells him “there is something going on here, and there’s something serious.”

King said his top question for Haspel – currently the CIA’s deputy director – when she comes before his committee will be about her role in the agency’s harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the destruction of videotapes depicting those interrogation techniques, which some have called torture. He said he wants to know how Haspel feels about the torture that went on, what her view is looking back, and what she would do if Trump ordered a resumption of those techniques.

“Although it is the law of the land that it can’t be done now, you know, is he going to try to change that, is she going to follow orders from a president that tells her to do something that’s contrary to the law because she was involved in this project 15 years ago?” King said.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:


Twitter: bquimby

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/18/angus-king-says-trump-needs-to-back-off-on-mueller-complaints/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1317174_901981-20180115_MLK191.jpgSen. Angus King speaks at the dinner Monday in Portland. "It was an unbelievable moment," he said of hearing Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.Mon, 19 Mar 2018 09:48:38 +0000
McCabe kept memos on Trump dealings; Mueller now has them https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/trump-lauds-firing-of-ex-top-fbi-official-as-great-day/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/trump-lauds-firing-of-ex-top-fbi-official-as-great-day/#respond Sat, 17 Mar 2018 17:03:10 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/trump-lauds-firing-of-ex-top-fbi-official-as-great-day/ WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the onetime FBI deputy director long scorned by President Donald Trump and just fired by the attorney general, kept personal memos detailing interactions with the president that have been provided to the special counsel’s office and are similar to the notes compiled by dismissed FBI chief James Comey, The Associated Press has learned.

The memos could factor into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as his team examines Trump campaign ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice.

McCabe’s memos include details of his own interactions with the president, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation who wasn’t authorized to discuss the notes publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. They also recount different conversations he had with Comey, who kept notes on meetings with Trump that unnerved him.

Though the precise contents are unknown, the memos possibly could help substantiate McCabe’s assertion that he was unfairly maligned by a White House he says had declared “war” on the FBI and Mueller’s investigation. They almost certainly contain, as Comey’s memos did, previously undisclosed details about encounters between the Trump administration and FBI that could be of interest to Mueller.

The disclosure Saturday came hours after Trump called McCabe’s firing by Attorney General Jeff Sessions “a great day for Democracy” and asserted without elaboration that McCabe knew “all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels off the FBI!” In the last year, Trump has repeatedly condemned as emblematic of an FBI that he insists is biased against his administration.

That sent former CIA Director John Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic, into a Twitter tizzy: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you.”

Sessions said he acted on the recommendation of FBI disciplinary officials who said McCabe had not been candid with a watchdog office investigation. McCabe was fired two days before his retirement date on Sunday. The dismissal likely jeopardizes his ability to collect his full pension benefits and, more broadly, could add to the turmoil that has enveloped the FBI since Comey’s firing and as the bureau moves ahead with an investigation the White House has dismissed as a hoax.

An upcoming inspector general’s report is expected to conclude that McCabe, who spent more than 20 years with the FBI, had authorized the release of information to the media and was not forthcoming with the watchdog office as it examined the bureau’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. McCabe has vigorously disputed the allegations and said his credibility had been attacked as “part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally” but also the FBI and law enforcement.

“It is part of this administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the special counsel investigation, which continue to this day,” he added. “Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the special counsel’s work.”

The firing set off dueling tweets between Trump, who called the termination a “great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI,” and Comey, the director he fired 10 months ago.

Trump called Comey “sanctimonious” and said Comey made McCabe “look like a choirboy.” Comey, referencing his highly anticipated book that comes out next month, responded with his own tweet: “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”

Also Saturday, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, cited the “brilliant and courageous example” by Sessions and the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility and said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should “bring an end” to the Russia investigation “manufactured” by Comey.

Dowd told the AP that he neither was calling on Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s inquiry, to fire the special counsel immediately nor had discussed with Rosenstein the idea of dismissing Mueller or ending the probe.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s actions, including Comey’s ouster, constitute obstruction of justice. McCabe could be an important witness, and his memos could be used by investigators as they look into whether Trump sought to thwart the FBI probe. Comey’s own memos, including one in which he says Trump encouraged him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have been provided to Mueller and are part of his investigation.

McCabe, in a statement defending himself, asserted he was singled out by the administration because of the “role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath” of Comey’s firing last May.

He became acting director after that but clashed with the Trump administration, including when he publicly rejected White House assertions that Comey had lost the support of the rank-and-file. He abruptly left the deputy director position in January and went on leave.

The firing arises from an inspector general review into how the FBI handled the Clinton email investigation. That inquiry focused not only on specific decisions made by FBI leadership but also on news media leaks.

McCabe came under scrutiny over an October 2016 news report that revealed differing approaches within the FBI and Justice Department over how aggressively the Clinton Foundation should be investigated. The watchdog office has concluded that McCabe authorized FBI officials to speak to a Wall Street Journal reporter for that story and that McCabe had not been forthcoming with investigators. McCabe denies it.

McCabe became entangled in presidential politics in 2016 after it was revealed that his wife, during her unsuccessful run for state Senate in Virginia one year earlier, received campaign contributions from the political action committee of then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-Va., a longtime Clinton friend. The FBI has said McCabe received the necessary ethics approval about his wife’s candidacy and was not supervising the Clinton investigation at the time of the contributions.

Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/trump-lauds-firing-of-ex-top-fbi-official-as-great-day/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/816346_Clinton_Emails_Inspector_Ge.jpgThen-FBI acting director Andrew McCabe listens during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing June 7 about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington.Sat, 17 Mar 2018 20:10:54 +0000
Trump-linked data analysis firm tapped 50 million Facebook profiles https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/trump-linked-data-analysis-firm-tapped-50-million-facebook-profiles/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/trump-linked-data-analysis-firm-tapped-50-million-facebook-profiles/#respond Sat, 17 Mar 2018 16:18:20 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/trump-linked-data-analysis-firm-tapped-50-million-facebook-profiles/ WASHINGTON  — A data analysis firm employed by President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign tapped the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, allowing it to capitalize on the private social media activity of a large portion of the U.S. electorate, newspapers reported Saturday.

One of the largest data leaks in Facebook history allowed Cambridge Analytica, which had ties to Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon, to develop techniques that formed the basis of its work on the Trump campaign, The New York Times and The Guardian reported.

Facebook said it suspended Cambridge Analytica over allegations that it kept the improperly obtained user data after telling Facebook it had been deleted.

In a blog post, Facebook explained that Cambridge Analytica had years ago received user data from a Facebook app that purported to be a psychological research tool, though the firm was not authorized to have the information. Roughly 270,000 people downloaded and shared personal details with the app.

Cambridge Analytica later certified in 2015 that it had destroyed the information it had received, according to Facebook, although the social network said it received reports “several days ago” that not all the data was deleted. Facebook says it is investigating.

Facebook has also suspended the access of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories; University of Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who created the app in question; and another individual, Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, who also allegedly received user data from the app. Wylie is a former Cambridge Analytics employee who has emerged as a primary source for the Times report.

Cambridge Analytica denied wrongdoing in a statement. It said the parent company’s SCL Elections unit hired Kogan to undertake “a large scale research project in the U.S.,” but subsequently deleted all data it received from Kogan’s company after learning that Kogan had obtained data in violation of Facebook policies. The firm said none of Kogan’s data was used in its 2016 election work for the “avoidance of doubt.”

Kogan did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment. Wylie could not immediately be located.

The Facebook blog post, written by deputy general counsel Paul Grewal, cited the “public prominence” of Cambridge Analytica, called the alleged data retention an “unacceptable violation of trust” and said the social network will take legal action if necessary to hold all parties “responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.”

Cambridge Analytica is probably best known for its political work during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. The company claims to build psychological profiles based on personal details from millions of Americans that can categorize individual voters. It worked for both the primary campaign of Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and Trump’s general-election campaign.

Trump’s campaign Saturday denied using the firm’s data, saying it relied on the Republican National Committee for its data.

“The campaign used the RNC for its voter data and not Cambridge Analytica,” the campaign said in a statement. “Using the RNC data was one of the best choices the campaign made. Any claims that voter data were used from another source to support the victory in 2016 are false.”

Cambridge Analytica is backed by the family of billionaire donor Robert Mercer, a hedge fund manager who also supported the Trump campaign and other conservative candidates and causes, including Bannon, the Trump campaign strategist. Trump campaign officials have downplayed Cambridge Analytica’s role, saying they briefly used the company for television advertising and paid some of its most skilled data employees.

The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Mercer and wooed Bannon with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But Cambridge Analytica did not have the data to make its new products work. So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.

A representative for Bannon did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The company has surfaced in the U.S. probes into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. British officials are also investigating the firm in connection with the June 2016 EU referendum.

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, disclosed an advisory role with Cambridge Analytica last August. SCL later said that position never materialized. Flynn is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference after pleading guilty to a felony charge.

Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix also disclosed last November that the company reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the campaign to request emails related to the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Nix said Assange denied the request, which came after Assange had said publicly that he had the emails. Clinton campaign emails stolen by Russian agents are one focus of the election-interference probes.

Nix has denied any involvement in Russian election meddling.

Revelations that Cambridge Analytica misused social media data could also be of interest to Mueller’s investigation. While much of the thrust of special counsel’s investigation has been tightly held, Mueller has requested that the firm turn over the emails of any employees who worked on the campaign, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal last year.

Mueller is also looking at the role Wikileaks played in acquiring and making public the stolen Clinton campaign emails.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/trump-linked-data-analysis-firm-tapped-50-million-facebook-profiles/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/AP18076418925538.jpgfacebook logo for featured imageSat, 17 Mar 2018 19:11:30 +0000
White House pushes back against reports of tumult, purges https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/white-house-pushes-back-against-reports-of-tumult-purges/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/white-house-pushes-back-against-reports-of-tumult-purges/#respond Sat, 17 Mar 2018 15:37:18 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/white-house-pushes-back-against-reports-of-tumult-purges/ WASHINGTON — The White House is pushing back against talk of a staffing purge, insisting that reports of tumult and imminent departures are overblown.

Chief of staff John Kelly, himself the subject of rumors that his job may be in jeopardy, has assured some staffers that they’re safe, at least for now.

The message he conveyed was an attempt at “reassuring them that there were no immediate personnel changes at this time and that people shouldn’t be concerned,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday.

But days after President Donald Trump’s secretary of state was ousted, many close to Trump think more upheaval is coming soon.

Trump has been moving toward replacing national security adviser H.R. McMaster but has not settled on exact timing or a successor, according to four people with knowledge of White House deliberations. Kelly has also worn on the president, Trump confidants said. And Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, under fire for ethics violations, appears to be grasping to keep his job.

Sanders gave multiple reassurances about McMaster – first in a tweet Thursday and then from the briefing room podium the next day. She said Trump had indicated that no changes were coming.

McMaster said Sanders had “set it straight” but struck a slightly different tone.

“Everybody has got to leave the White House at some point,” he told a reporter from ABC News outside the West Wing. “I’m doing my job.”

But the air of stability the White House tried to project felt more like a pause than a permanent shift.

Trump is privately weighing still more changes, expressing frustration with some aides and sifting through possible replacements. Reports of tumult in the administration were at such a feverish pitch that the president on Thursday reflected on the latest staff departures during an Oval Office conversation with Kelly and Vice President Mike Pence.

With a laugh, Trump said: “Who’s next?”

It’s a question that has the whole White House on edge.

Kelly has told confidants that he believes he can weather the current storm. But he has grown increasingly frustrated with the constant turmoil in the West Wing, believing at times that Trump intentionally fuels the chaos to keep his staff on its toes and his name in headlines, according to a person familiar with Kelly’s thinking. The person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

This account of the tensions in the White House is based on conversations with more than a dozen officials inside the White House and familiar with West Wing deliberations, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal matters.

After more than 14 months in office, Trump is reshaping his administration, seeking people more likely to fall in line with his policies and tolerate his moods. The factionalism that defined the early days of his tenure has faded, and he has lost some of the close aides who could manage his volatile impulses.

Trump’s administration has set records for turnover among senior administration aides. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn and communications director Hope Hicks are leaving in the coming weeks. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was just unceremoniously ousted. Trump personal assistant John McEntee was removed from his job and escorted off White House grounds – then quickly handed a job on Trump’s re-election campaign.

In private conversations in recent weeks, Trump has reflected on his desire to reshape the administration. Though the drumbeat of the Russia probe has only grown louder, the president believes that his recent decisions on tariffs and North Korea have breathed new life into his administration, and he is eager to take more bold steps that make his own mark. He has told confidants he wants to rid himself of staffers who hold him back.

Trump chafes at McMaster’s demeanor, complaining that his aide lectures him, according to three current and former administration officials. Officials said personal tensions have led McMaster to be sidelined in some internal discussions, including a recent meeting on Venezuela sanctions, with Kelly taking on a more active role in foreign policy decisions.

The president and McMaster have disagreed on a number of issues – including the Iran deal and the U.S. approach to North Korea – and the national security adviser has also clashed with Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to the officials.

During an earlier round of Trump discontent, there was talk of providing McMaster, a three-star general, with a soft landing by giving him a fourth star along with a command in a priority area such as Afghanistan or Korea, according to a former senior administration official. But there are few openings for combatant commanders.

Kelly has been credited with imposing order on the chaotic West Wing, but his relationship with Trump has also come under strain. The president recently told an ally that he was still frustrated by an interview that Kelly gave to Fox News nearly two months ago in which he suggested that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about the need for a wall on the Mexican border.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/17/white-house-pushes-back-against-reports-of-tumult-purges/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1349126_APTOPIX_Trump_97445.jpg-078.jpgNational security adviser H.R. McMaster waves as he walks into the West Wing of the White House in Washington on Friday.Sat, 17 Mar 2018 11:40:23 +0000
Industry, landowners oppose LePage bill to gut wind power permitting process https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/industry-landowners-oppose-lepage-bill-to-gut-wind-power-permitting-process/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/industry-landowners-oppose-lepage-bill-to-gut-wind-power-permitting-process/#respond Fri, 16 Mar 2018 22:18:02 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/industry-landowners-oppose-lepage-bill-to-gut-wind-power-permitting-process/ AUGUSTA — Wind energy companies, construction firms and timberland owners urged lawmakers on Friday to reject a LePage administration proposal that would gut the state’s controversial “expedited permitting” process for wind power projects.

A longtime skeptic of the cost-competitiveness of wind power, Gov. Paul LePage imposed a moratorium on new turbine permits in January and wants to change the streamlined review process applied to most of the commercial wind energy projects in Maine. On Friday, LePage administration officials and others argued the decade-old process hinders public engagement and could harm the tourism economy of western Maine as wind energy companies seek to place taller and taller turbines on mountaintops.

“It’s time, folks, that we made this a little bit more difficult for this to happen,” said Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, whose district includes areas in the Moosehead Lake region that have been targeted for wind power development.

But LePage’s bill, which faces strong opposition from both environmentalists and industry, got a chilly reception from lawmakers on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. Opponents of the administration’s bill also substantially outnumbered supporters, warning that the measure seeks to roll back Maine’s green energy industry while infringing on the private property rights of landowners.

Worse still, opponents said, the bill would hamstring projects already in development while discouraging future investment and job creation in rural Maine.

“It would introduce a fair amount of uncertainty to the project and we don’t have a lot of confidence that we could complete the project with the adoption of the legislation,” said Paul Williamson with Apex Clean Energy, which is working on a $200 million project in Washington County called Downeast Wind. “Without being able to go through permitting, our investment of $200 million into the local economy will not happen.”

Passed by the Legislature in 2008, the “expedited permitting” law streamlined the permitting process for wind power projects in all of Maine’s organized towns and about one-third of the Unorganized Territory. Projects proposed for expedited permitting areas would no longer have to go through an often costly rezoning process. While projects were still subject to lengthy regulatory reviews through the Maine Department of Environmental Protection or the Land Use Planning Commission, the expedited process placed less weight to the turbines’ impacts on scenic views and featured fewer avenues for appeal.

Supporters argue the law provides the regulatory predictability that has led to more than 900 megawatts of installed wind energy in Maine, more than all other New England states combined. But the law’s critics contend the expedited permitting process robs property owners affected by the projects – and especially those in the Unorganized Territory – of a stronger voice in the regulatory review.

LePage’s bill, L.D. 1810, would eliminate the streamlined review process for all of Maine except in about a dozen towns, plantations and townships in Aroostook County. The proposal would also increase fivefold – from 8 miles to 40 miles – the area around turbines subject to visual impact studies within the remaining expedited wind permitting areas. That could make it harder for projects even within those areas to obtain permits.

While there are no wind projects currently in the permitting process, companies are developing projects throughout the state involving hundreds of turbines. And as turbine heights grow with technology improvements – with some now approaching 600 feet from base to blade tip – so do the concerns among some neighboring landowners.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, said a North Carolina study suggested half of coastal-area tourists surveyed indicated they’d be less likely to return if wind turbines were visible on the horizon. Even assuming that figure might be 10 percent in Maine, that would still equate to “hundreds of millions of dollars – and thousands of jobs to the local economy – for a few temporary jobs when it comes to this industry.”

“The people that come to these regions come to these regions for the natural, pristine environment,” Stetkis said. “They’re not coming to look at 600-foot machines. They are interested in sitting around a campfire at night listening to the loons, not watching dozens or hundreds of blinking lights over the horizon.”

But Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, dismissed the governor’s bill as “a clear attempt to derail all of the economic and environmental progress that has been made over the last decade from wind farm development.” Payne said he was “puzzled by the administration’s newfound concern” for tourism in western Maine considering that the governor supports a proposed 145-mile power line from Quebec that would require construction of high-voltage lines through parts of western Maine.

Payne also blasted the 40-mile scenic impact proposal, much less the suggestion from Stetkis that the distance be further lengthened to 75 miles.

“Imagine if the city of Bangor passed an ordinance that attempted to regulate development 40 miles away in Skowhegan, Dover-Foxcroft, Ellsworth and Belfast. It’s important to remember that even at 8 miles, that’s quite a distance away from a proposed project. But extending it to 40 miles is absurd, and going beyond that is even more absurd.”

The Maine Renewable Energy Association as well as the Conservation Law Foundation have filed separate lawsuits against the LePage administration challenging the moratorium on new wind power permits.

Representatives from construction companies that help build wind turbines or their road networks, the Maine Forest Products Council and environmental groups also testified against L.D. 1810.

Duane Jordan of Osborn, who owns roughly 15,000 acres in Hancock County, said he and neighboring landowners invited wind power developers to their properties a decade ago to test wind level as a way to diversify their businesses. Disputing suggestions that the expedited process leads to speedy regulatory approvals, Jordan said it was four years before the first phase of the project was built and, 10 years later, there are still only 36 turbines spinning in his area despite the desire for more.

Jordan said those turbines are visible from atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park on a clear day, yet he doesn’t believe they discourage any visitors from returning to the park.

“The wind farm has been there since 2012 and I think you will find that Acadia National Park is doing very well and tourism is growing,” Jordan said.

The committee is expected to hold a work session on L.D. 1810 next week.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:


Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/industry-landowners-oppose-lepage-bill-to-gut-wind-power-permitting-process/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1323140_282278_20150514_windmills_5.jpgThree wind turbines owned by Patriot Renewables are seen along Saddleback Ridge in western Maine in 2015. Gov. Paul LePage has imposed a moratorium on wind energy permits for western and coastal Maine and created a panel to investigate wind farms' impact on tourism in the state. (Staff photo by Gabe Souza)Sat, 17 Mar 2018 13:50:41 +0000
Maine House candidate who attacked 2 survivors of Florida shooting drops out of race https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/house-candidate-who-insulted-florida-teens-drops-out-of-race/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/house-candidate-who-insulted-florida-teens-drops-out-of-race/#respond Fri, 16 Mar 2018 21:28:24 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/house-candidate-who-insulted-florida-teens-drops-out-of-race/ SABATTUS — Controversial Republican candidate Leslie Gibson, who drew fire for insulting several teen survivors of the Florida school shooting, is abandoning his effort to win a state House seat this year.

“I am not walking away with my head hung low. I am walking away with my head held high,” Gibson said Friday.

Gibson said he made the decision after talking with his family, praying and discussing it with friends and colleagues, including Thomas Martin Jr., another Republican contender who entered the 57th District race Thursday.

“It’s the best thing for everybody,” Gibson said.

Gibson has been under fire this week for comments he made online about the teens in Florida who survived a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He criticized two of them who were leading an effort to increase restrictions on gun sales in the wake of the Feb. 14 killings, calling one a “skinhead lesbian,” and another a “bald-faced liar.”

The 18-year-old student whom Gibson singled out, Emma Gonzalez, is among the students speaking out from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre there that left 17 of her classmates dead, she emerged as a leader in students’ fight to make assault rifles harder to come by.

“There is nothing about this skinhead lesbian that impresses me and there is nothing that she has to say unless you’re a frothing at the mouth moonbat,” Gibson wrote.

Gibson said in another tweet that calling her a survivor, as many have done, is disingenuous because she “was in a completely different part of the school” when students were gunned down.

Gibson apologized in a later tweet, saying, “I would like to extend to you my most sincere apology for how I addressed you. It was wrong and unacceptable. You are doing work that is important to you. I would like to extend my hand in friendship and understanding to you.”

Gibson said that during his career in the military, he took an oath “to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“Because of this,” he said, “I am very passionate about protecting our constitutional rights from those who seek their elimination. It was not appropriate to single out the Parkland students, but I stand firm in my defense of our constitutional rights.”

David Hogg, the other teen Gibson insulted, tweeted on Wednesday, urging someone to run against Gibson.

“Who wants to run against this hate-loving politician?” asked Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “I don’t care what party. JUST DO IT.”

Hogg has been an outspoken advocate for taking on the National Rifle Association.

The incident that apparently set off Gibson was an appearance by Hogg on CNN in which the Parkland student lashed out at NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch. He accused her of working with gun manufacturers to control Congress.

“She owns these congressmen. She can get them to do things,” Hogg told the network. “She doesn’t care about these children’s lives,” he said.

Gibson, who retired from the U.S. Navy, for years has used social media to comment on immigration, defend conservative politicians and promote Republican policies. He has a history of retweeting stridently anti-immigrant comments, often from accounts in Maine.

Last month, he explained on Facebook after “the tragedy that occurred in Florida” that there has been “a lot of misinformation, and flat out lies” circulated by “the liberal media and leftist anti-Second Amendment groups.”

As a lifetime member of the NRA, he said, he stands with the group’s efforts “to protect and preserve our Second Amendment rights,” which he said are “under attack.”

“The NRA and its members are being blamed for the Florida tragedy,” Gibson wrote. “Such blame is patently misdirected. The blame rests solely with the person who committed these murders.”

He made his social media accounts private after the uproar over his insults aimed at the teens.

Gibson had been cruising toward an unopposed election in the district, which includes Sabattus and Greene. But his comments stirred both Martin and Democrat Eryn Gilchrist to join the contest.

Gilchrist filed the required paperwork on Thursday to run for the 57th District seat.

She said she never anticipated running for office but felt so “horrified and embarrassed” at the thought of Gibson representing her that she decided to jump in.

“I would really have been happy to partake in representative democracy by voting,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist, 28, a Connecticut native who works for a medical device company based in Bowdoin, is a 2013 graduate of Bates College.

Martin said on Thursday he felt compelled to run after he read Gibson’s strident comments about the two Florida students.

Martin, a former state senator from Benton, said it is important to have a candidate who represents real Republican values.

“After those recent unfortunate comments, I couldn’t sit back,” Martin said.

Martin, a 52-year-old contractor, said that people have to realize “that our words and actions have consequences.”

Gibson said he hopes his departure from the race will bring things back to normal.

He said he’s going to try to “get some peace and quiet in our lives” after the turmoil of recent days.


https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/house-candidate-who-insulted-florida-teens-drops-out-of-race/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/gibson-leslie.jpgMon, 19 Mar 2018 11:45:17 +0000
Trump to visit New Hampshire to talk about combating opioids https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/trump-to-visit-new-hampshire-to-talk-about-combating-opioids/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/trump-to-visit-new-hampshire-to-talk-about-combating-opioids/#respond Fri, 16 Mar 2018 20:45:26 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/trump-to-visit-new-hampshire-to-talk-about-combating-opioids/ WASHINGTON – President Trump will be traveling to New Hampshire to unveil more of his plan to combat the nation’s opioid crisis.

The White House says the president and first lady Melania Trump will travel to New Hampshire on Monday.

Trump had come under fire for being slow to act on the drug crisis but has begun rolling out new plans. He had promised during the campaign to make fighting the epidemic a priority.

At a recent rally, Trump has mused that the United States should institute the death penalty for drug dealers.

This will be Trump’s first visit to New Hampshire since taking office. He captured the 2016 Republican primary there but narrowly lost in the general election to Hillary Clinton.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/trump-to-visit-new-hampshire-to-talk-about-combating-opioids/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1341319_Trump_Steel_and_Aluminum_19.jpg"Our steel industry is in bad shape," the president tweeted Friday, but technology, not foreign competition, may be the bigger culprit in the U.S.Fri, 16 Mar 2018 17:20:15 +0000
Watch the video: Blogger says LePage shoved her; he says she was chewing in his face https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/video-blogger-says-lepage-shoved-her-he-says-she-was-chewing-in-his-face/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/video-blogger-says-lepage-shoved-her-he-says-she-was-chewing-in-his-face/#respond Fri, 16 Mar 2018 17:10:51 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/video-blogger-says-lepage-shoved-her-he-says-she-was-chewing-in-his-face/ Maine Gov. Paul LePage had an interesting interaction with a blogger outside his office Thursday.

And there’s video.

A 20-second clip posted on Facebook by WMTW-TV reporter Jim Keithley shows LePage speaking to a group of media members. In the front is Carol McCracken of Portland, who writes a blog called Munjoy Hill News.

McCracken points a small camera at the governor from a few feet away. As she films, she chews with her mouth open, and it’s full of food.

“Do you mind? Do you mind moving, please?” LePage says. He then takes both hands and gently pushes McCracken back.

She replies, “Don’t push me, please.”

LePage then says, “You’re eating in my face,” and wipes his cheek before turning and walking away.

“You’re the rude one, not me,” McCracken said.

LePage then continues to walk away, out of the State House.

“Eat your lunch,” he says over his shoulder.

Asked to comment Friday about the interaction, LePage’s spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, said McCracken “very aggressively pushed her way into the Governor’s personal space, took several flash photos just inches from his eyes.”

“She was taking advantage of the buffet in the Hall of Flags, which was intended for legislators, and was chewing with an open mouth. Chicken salad flew from her mouth, spraying the Governor with bits of food,” Rabinowitz wrote in an email. “After she bombarded the Governor with flying bits of her sandwich, she spoke very rudely and aggressively to his staff. So a security officer came to talk to her, and she was still eating the sandwich, and food from her mouth flew onto the officer as well.

“It was an awkward and uncomfortable position for the Governor to be in while he was giving an on-camera interview with reporters. No harm was intended.”

Reporters were waiting outside the governor’s office to ask him about a decision by a Superior Court judge that LePage was wrong to close a prison in Washington County.

McCracken wrote about the encounter on her blog and characterized LePage’s actions as a “shove” that caused her to lose her balance. Other reporters who were there disputed that characterization.

She also referred to herself as “just an easy target for this bully.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:


Twitter: PPHEricRussell

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/video-blogger-says-lepage-shoved-her-he-says-she-was-chewing-in-his-face/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/Screen-Shot-2018-03-17-at-12.21.46-AM-1.pngSat, 17 Mar 2018 00:59:22 +0000
Attorney for laid-off workers demands LePage administration reopen Downeast prison https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/unions-attorney-demands-lepage-administration-reopen-machiasport-prison/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/unions-attorney-demands-lepage-administration-reopen-machiasport-prison/#respond Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:22:11 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/unions-attorney-demands-lepage-administration-reopen-machiasport-prison/ AUGUSTA — Attorneys for laid-off workers at the Downeast Correctional Facility are demanding the LePage administration reopen the prison or provide back pay following a judge’s ruling that officials illegally closed the facility.

LePage’s lawyers countered that the Maine Department of Corrections is working “to determine how to implement the court’s order as quickly as possible” but wouldn’t commit to reopening a prison at the center of a legal and political battle.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy concluded that the LePage administration exceeded its legal authority by effectively closing the minimum-security prison on Feb. 9. Murphy said the sudden closure of the Machiasport facility was causing “ongoing irreparable harm” to former employees and the local community. But while she ordered the department to continue operating the prison, Murphy deferred to Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick to decide how, exactly, to carry out that mandate.

Attorneys for the unionized prison workers are vowing to go back to court if the LePage administration does not reopen the facility or offer back pay to employees.

“Please confirm when the department will be reopening the facility, including when the employees will be reinstated and when the inmates will be returned,” Jeffrey Neil Young with the firm Johnson, Webbert & Young wrote Thursday to Patrick Strawbridge, the private attorney brought in to represent the LePage administration in the case. “Since the department was able to close DCF in a matter of hours, it should be able to restore the status quo by tomorrow. At the very least, the department should place the employees on paid status with back pay.”

In a response Friday, Strawbridge called the group’s demand of a Friday reopening “an artificial deadline” and an unreasonable expectation given the planning that would be needed to reopen the prison. Strawbridge said the administration was working to follow the ruling as quickly as possible but needed more time.

“Those efforts are ongoing, and involve necessary considerations about programming, facilities and grounds, inmates who are appropriate for transfer, the requirements of the (collective bargaining agreement), and the needs of the department,” Strawbridge wrote. “As you know, the order requires the department to operate DCF consistent with the governing statutes, but it does not require any specific level of staffing, programs, expenditures or number of prisoners.”

The governor’s spokeswoman said LePage plans to meet with the commissioner and his attorneys Monday.

The LePage administration emptied the prison and notified employees of pending layoffs during a predawn operation on Feb. 9. While LePage argues the 150-bed prison is inefficient and no longer necessary, Washington County officials contend it is a well-run institution that provides not only much-needed jobs to local residents but also assistance to businesses that rely on the facility’s work-release program.

The Legislature has thwarted LePage’s past attempts to close the prison, most recently by writing the facility into statute and providing funding through June 30. A bill to earmark an additional $5.5 million to the prison – enough to keep it open for another year – is currently stalled in the Maine House because of substantial opposition from Republican lawmakers.

In her ruling, Murphy cited the statutory references to Downeast Correctional and the current-year funding as proof that the LePage administration could not unilaterally close the facility. But she said previous cases make clear that the courts should not dictate how the department should operate the prison.

David Webbert, one of the attorneys working on the case for the laid-off workers, said Friday afternoon that it shouldn’t take long for the LePage administration to at least put employees back on the payroll. Webbert said Murphy clearly ruled that the administration violated the law when it effectively closed the facility, so denying those laid-off workers paychecks or back pay is similarly illegal.

“Unless they put them back on pay next week, we’ll be back before the judge,” Webbert said.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:


Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/unions-attorney-demands-lepage-administration-reopen-machiasport-prison/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1348583_28647_downeast_correctional1.jpgGov. Paul LePage wants to shut down the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport. Photo from Machiasport.orgSat, 17 Mar 2018 00:48:02 +0000
A pro-civility Republican also emerges to challenge Gibson in District 57 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/a-pro-civility-republican-also-emerges-to-challenge-gibson-in-district-57/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/a-pro-civility-republican-also-emerges-to-challenge-gibson-in-district-57/#respond Fri, 16 Mar 2018 12:59:16 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/a-pro-civility-republican-also-emerges-to-challenge-gibson-in-district-57/ AUGUSTA — The Democrats aren’t the only ones taking a stand against Republican state House contender Leslie Gibson.

Thomas Martin, Jr. Courtesy photo

Gibson, whose harsh words for teens who survived a school shooting in Florida last month drew national ire, now faces two challengers for the 57th District — one of them from within the ranks of Republicans.

Thomas Martin Jr. said late Thursday that when he read Gibson’s strident comments about the two Parkland, Florida, students, he felt compelled to get into the race.

Martin, a former state senator from Benton, said it is important to have a candidate who represents real Republican values.

“After those recent unfortunate comments, I couldn’t sit back,” Martin said.

With Martin’s entrance into the contest, there is a possible Republican primary on June 12 if Gibson opts to remain in the mix. The winner would face Democrat Eryn Gilchrist, who also jumped into the fray after Gibson’s words made national news.

“There’s enough division in our state and country” already without ramping up the rhetoric as Gibson did when he took on the students for their efforts to push gun control after a shooting spree left 17 dead at their high school on Valentine’s Day.

Martin, a 52-year-old contractor, said that people have to realize “that our words and actions have consequences” so it’s necessary to carry on a civil debate even on the most divisive issues.

Both Gilchrist, 28, and Martin filed paperwork in Augusta Thursday — the deadline for major party candidates — to ensure that Gibson did not go unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election.

Gibson has not spoken about his political plans since his words created a furor that focused attention on his rural district, which includes both Sabattus and Greene. He has been vilified online for the comments he made about two seniors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have appeared on television frequently, David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez.

Gibson called Gonzalez a “skinhead lesbian” and Hogg “a bald-faced liar.”

For Martin, that was beyond acceptable discourse.

He said he has reached out to Gibson but has not heard anything from him yet.

Martin served a single term in the state Senate started in 2011. He said he enjoyed his stint in Augusta, learned a lot and made some lasting friends on both sides of the aisle.

He lost a reelection bid in 2012 in the 25th District, representing much of Kennebec County.

Martin said he moved to Greene more recently after getting married. They chose to raise a family in Greene, he said, because it proved a good midway point for their respective jobs.

The 57th District includes Greene and Sabattus. It has been represented by Stephen Wood, a Republican who can’t run for reelection because he is in his fourth term, the longest he can serve by law The general election is Nov. 6.

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Maine resident Jesus Christ sends letter to Oprah Winfrey https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/maine-resident-jesus-christ-sends-letter-to-oprah-winfrey/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/maine-resident-jesus-christ-sends-letter-to-oprah-winfrey/#respond Fri, 16 Mar 2018 12:43:45 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/maine-resident-jesus-christ-sends-letter-to-oprah-winfrey/ WATERBORO – Jesus Christ, who lives in Maine, says she didn’t know Oprah Winfrey was asking for a sign from God about running for president when she sent a letter to the television magnate.

WGME-TV reports 83-year-old Jesus Christ in northern Waterboro says she began a letter writing campaign 50 years ago to spread a message of faith and peace after legally changing her name. Christ says she sent the letter to Oprah because she likes her but had no idea it would get so much attention.

Television anchor Gayle King posted about the letter to Oprah on her Instagram on Wednesday, asking if it was the sign her best friend was looking for.

Christ says if Oprah runs for president, she’ll vote for her.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/16/maine-resident-jesus-christ-sends-letter-to-oprah-winfrey/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/jesus-christ2-1.jpgFri, 16 Mar 2018 09:19:55 +0000
House to try again to approve unproven drug treatments for terminally ill https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/house-to-try-again-to-approve-unproven-drug-treatments-for-terminally-ill/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/house-to-try-again-to-approve-unproven-drug-treatments-for-terminally-ill/#respond Fri, 16 Mar 2018 00:33:16 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/house-to-try-again-to-approve-unproven-drug-treatments-for-terminally-ill/ WASHINGTON — The House plans to try anew next week to approve a Republican bill making it simpler for fatally ill people to try unproven treatments. And this time, the measure seems certain to pass.

Lawmakers voted for the legislation on Tuesday by a lopsided 259-140 vote. But it lost because Republican leaders had used a procedure, normally reserved for uncontroversial bills, that requires a two-thirds majority for passage. Tuesday’s vote fell just short of that.

President Trump backed the legislation and Republican lawmakers lined up behind it nearly unanimously, but Democrats opposed it by more than a 4-1 margin.

Under the measure, the Food and Drug Administration would no longer have to sign off if a doctor and a drug manufacturer agree to let a patient try a pharmaceutical that’s not been approved by the federal agency.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/house-to-try-again-to-approve-unproven-drug-treatments-for-terminally-ill/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/AP18073832428305.jpgThe East Front of the U.S. Capitol is seen at sunset, Monday, March 5, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)Fri, 16 Mar 2018 06:11:32 +0000
LePage plan to align Maine taxes with federal law spurs debate https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-plan-to-align-maine-taxes-with-federal-law-spurs-debate/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-plan-to-align-maine-taxes-with-federal-law-spurs-debate/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 23:28:44 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-plan-to-align-maine-taxes-with-federal-law-spurs-debate/ AUGUSTA — Lawmakers’ review of a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to make Maine’s tax code conform with the federal tax law passed by Republicans in December has revived the debate about tax cuts in Maine.

LePage’s bill would return about $88 million to individuals and businesses who file taxes in Maine, but opponents of the proposal from the state’s Republican governor said most of those benefits, including a new estate tax exemption that would make the first $20 million of an inheritance tax free, are geared largely to benefit mostly the wealthiest Mainers or even out-of-state corporate entities.

Alec Porteous, LePage’s commissioner of the Department of Administration and Financial Services, told the Legislature’s Taxation Committee that conformity with federal law would help businesses while removing another 17,000 low-income families from the state tax rolls entirely.

And while some lawmakers and other advocates have said there is no need for lawmakers to tackle the issue this year and that it can wait until the next Legislature convenes in 2019, Porteous warned it would be unlikely to top the agenda of the next administration or Legislature.

“Indeed, this would be taking place during a period of time when the new administration is proposing its biennial budget package and legislative committees are reviewing and addressing the two-year state fiscal blueprint,” Porteous said. Any tax reform deliberations starting next January also would be difficult to enact in time for tax filing deadlines in April, Porteous warned.

Under LePage’s proposal, a portion of a state revenue surplus would be earmarked for families in the form of a child and dependent tax credit. The measure also extends tax benefits to businesses by allowing them to write off a larger portion of business investments while providing an average tax break of about $542 a year for a family of four earning $50,000 a year and a tax cut of about $467 a year for a family of four earning $90,000.

“Together, the two measures represent a pro-growth, recruitment and retention strategy for Maine of young professionals and families – effectively encouraging recent college graduates to remain in, or relocate to, Maine and then to settle here permanently and raise their families in our state,” Porteous said.

Opponents to the proposals, including those with the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy, urged lawmakers to use any surplus to fund a voter-approved expansion of Medicaid and to gear tax relief at property taxes, which are hurting many of the state’s elderly living on fixed incomes.

“This legislation proposes over $88 million of tax breaks overwhelmingly benefiting wealthy individuals such as heirs with multimillion dollar estates and profitable corporations,” said Jane Gilbert a retired state employee from Augusta. “These are the same individuals and corporations that secured substantial tax breaks under the Republican tax bill passed at the national level. It is unconscionable that anyone would consider giving even more tax breaks to Maine’s wealthiest individuals and corporations when so many needs have gone unfulfilled in our great state.”

Sarah Austin, with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, told lawmakers that by forgoing additional state level tax cuts Maine would be in a position to fully fund its public schools, expand MaineCare, the state’s low-income health care program, to thousands more people, as well as make needed investments in public infrastructure.

“Or, we can continue to put those public goods and services further out of reach with tax breaks for those who are already prospering, and who just received a substantial windfall from federal tax reform,” Austin said.

Crunched for time as they head toward an April adjournment date in an election year, lawmakers on the committee offered mixed reactions to the bill, as they prepared for what would likely be multiple work-session meetings on the measure starting Monday at 1 p.m.

Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, said he realized there were many parts of the proposal that would not get the support of the full committee, but suggested some of the bill might have broader support.

“There are definitely parts of this bill that I think we would both agree should be considered, like the personal exemptions,” Pouliot said to Gilbert. He said the new tax credits for families were, “probably a good thing.”

“I think there are some aspects of conformity that are actually good for people who aren’t wealthy,” Pouliot said. “I would like to figure out how we could move forward on something, maybe, even if it’s not all of it.”

But Democrats on the committee, including state Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, said there a lot more questions that need answers. Grant said she had “probably 20 pages of questions” on the bill she hoped to get answers on during the upcoming work sessions on the measure.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders at the State House also signaled Thursday the bill would face stiff opposition.

House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport said Democrats would not accept any proposal that could jeopardize the state’s economic recovery or working families.

“There is no requirement for Maine to automatically conform with any proposal from the federal government or this administration,” Gideon said in a prepared statement. “It comes with a price tag of nearly $90 million dollars, and it irresponsibly raids state coffers at a time we are seeing a systemic breakdown across nearly every department. “

Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash said, “Democrats are not buying it. We’re not interested in amending Maine’s tax code on behalf of large businesses, out-of-state corporations and a handful of wealthy individuals.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:


Twitter: thisdog

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-plan-to-align-maine-taxes-with-federal-law-spurs-debate/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/09/1135897_Tax_Refund_Delays_53288.j2.jpgRefund delays – likely until the end of February – will affect families claiming the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit, which benefit the working poor.Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:35:49 +0000
Primary field for Maine governor narrowed to 12 in the two major parties https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/primary-ballots-for-maine-governors-race-are-set/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/primary-ballots-for-maine-governors-race-are-set/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 23:11:42 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/primary-ballots-for-maine-governors-race-are-set/ AUGUSTA — The two major parties finalized their gubernatorial slates for the June primaries Thursday, narrowing what had been a field of more than 24 candidates down to 12 – seven Democrats and five Republicans.

Thursday was the deadline for candidates to turn in the signatures of 2,000 Maine voters to the Secretary of State’s Office so their name appears on the primary ballot.

Registered party members will pick their nominees during Maine’s first-ever statewide ranked-choice primaries.

Republicans making the deadline include: Ken Fredette, Garrett Mason, Mary Mayhew, Shawn Moody and Mike Thibodeau. On the Democratic side, candidates Adam Cote, Donna Dion, Mark Dion, Mark Eves, Janet Mills, Diane Russell and Betsy Sweet all turned in the required signatures, some of which were still being verified late Thursday.

The field includes an eclectic mix of politicians with a range of experience from nearly all parts of Maine.

Fredette, the Republican House Minority Leader from Newport, announced he had made the ballot late Thursday afternoon. Other Republicans, including Shawn Moody of Gorham, founder of Moody’s Collision Centers; former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of South China; state Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon turned in signatures earlier this month.

Moody, a former independent who joined the Republican party int October, is the only candidate on the Republican side to have run for governor – he ran in a five-way race in 2010 won by Maine’s outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

On the Democratic side, Adam Cote, a Sanford attorney and a long-serving officer in the Maine National Guard, made the ballot, as did state Sen. Mark Dion of Portland, an attorney and former Cumberland County Sheriff. Also making the Democratic ballot is Betsy Sweet, an Augusta lobbyist and liberal activist; former Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington, former state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland and former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion.

Independent candidates, who have until June 1 to turn in 4,000 signatures, include State Treasurer Terry Hayes of Buckfield and Alan Caron, founder of the nonprofit GrowSmart Maine, which focuses on sustainable development. Hayes served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives as a Democrat.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:


Twitter: thisdog

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Libertarians to caucus Saturday in Dixfield, Wilton https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/libertarians-to-caucus-in-dixfield-and-wilton-saturday/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/libertarians-to-caucus-in-dixfield-and-wilton-saturday/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 22:42:05 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/libertarians-to-caucus-in-dixfield-and-wilton-saturday/ Libertarians in Franklin and Oxford counties will have the opportunity to meet at caucuses being called for Saturday in Wilton and Dixfield.

Those attending will have an opportunity to meet candidates and representatives from the Libertarian Party of Maine. Only recently certified as an officially recognized party in Maine, the Libertarian Party of Maine is required to hold the caucus to maintain its party status and to maintain ballot access for Libertarian candidates.

“The caucuses are a great way to meet Libertarian candidates and other Libertarians,” said Will Sampson, of Dixfield, who called the Dixfield caucus.

Sampson was a designated elector for the Libertarian Party of Maine in 2016.

“It’s important for all Libertarians and those interested in registering as Libertarians to attend the caucus, because the event is crucial to ensure the Libertarian option to major parties is represented on Maine ballots,” Sampson said

The Dixfield Libertarian Caucus is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday in the conference room of the Ludden Memorial Library in Dixfield.

The Wilton caucus is being called by Evret Greer of Wilton. That event will be held at at 5 p.m. Saturday the Wilton Town Office.

Chris Lyons, Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate, is scheduled to attend both events.

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LePage urges passage of $50 million in bonds to pay for interest-free student loans https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-urges-passage-of-50-million-in-bonds-to-pay-for-interest-free-student-loans/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-urges-passage-of-50-million-in-bonds-to-pay-for-interest-free-student-loans/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 22:38:38 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-urges-passage-of-50-million-in-bonds-to-pay-for-interest-free-student-loans/ AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage urged lawmakers to approve $50 million in bonds to provide zero-interest student loans to Mainers attending school in-state while allowing others to refinance if they stay in Maine after college.

With Maine facing a “demographic winter” as more of the workforce approaches retirement-age, the state needs a multi-pronged approach to convincing recent college graduates to stay in Maine or move to the state, LePage said. The governor is proposing a Finance Authority of Maine program to provide zero-interest loans – backed by $50 million in voter-approved bonds – to college students who live and work in the state for at least five years after graduation, with possible extensions if they remain in the state longer.

Students with existing debt could consolidate loans or refinance to a lower interest rate if they agree to reside and work in Maine for at least five years.

“Our businesses need young people here to fill the jobs that will be coming available when people retire,” LePage told members of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “We need young people to settle here and have families. We need them to buy houses from those who retire and downsize, to keep our communities going. The longer we can have a young person here after graduation, the more likely they will make a long-term commitment to the state.”

The bill, L.D. 1834, was endorsed Thursday by officials from the University of Maine System, the University of New England and Eastern Maine Health System but is likely to face scrutiny from some lawmakers within the governor’s own party. Last year, a bill co-crafted by the LePage administration proposing a student loan repayment program with $100 million in bonds stalled in the Legislature largely because of Republican opposition.

LePage acknowledged afterward that some Republicans “have a problem” with the student loan programs. But he blamed Democrats for blocking another bond bill – which he says is the business side of the student loan initiative – to invest in research and commercialization.

“I think they need to work together to come up with” a solution, LePage said. “I’d like to see both of them in the final package.”

A recent report by the Institute for College Access and Success estimated that members of the Class of 2016 attending four-year colleges and universities in Maine graduated with, on average, $31,295 in debt. That ranked Maine eighth nationally behind New England neighbors New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

High debt loads drive some Maine college graduates to other states where jobs are more plentiful and salaries higher. Meanwhile, the state is facing the growing economic, health and societal challenges that come with an aging population.

LePage said his bond bill for student loan debt should be coupled with another proposal from his office that would provide a tax credit to students repaying loans or companies that help pay down employees’ loans. That bill, L.D. 1537 sponsored by Republican Rep.  Matthew Pouliot of Augusta, is pending in the Legislature’s Taxation Committee.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Marty Grohman, I-Biddeford, acknowledged that there are multiple options for addressing the serious student loan debt issue. The Legislature is still considering a bill to offer a state-financed student loan repayment or forgiveness program to graduates who commit to working in Maine. But Grohman said the zero-interest loan program would set Maine apart nationally at a time when the state is losing college grads to other areas.

“I think this would also be an important tool for employers,” Grohman said. “I think if you’re a Maine employer and you want to attract a recent college graduate – whatever age they may be – this is something that we can offer that no one else can. And I’m really excited about that.”

Grohman’s bill is one of dozens of proposed bond measures – totaling more than $700 million – competing for what is traditionally a modest borrowing package, often consumed largely by transportation projects. Because bond bills are often among the last issues settled during the legislative session, they often become bargaining chips in negotiations between legislative leaders from both parties and LePage, who has also withheld selling voter-approved bonds in order to gain leverage on other issues with lawmakers.

Bond measures must receive two-thirds support in both the House and Senate before they can be placed on the statewide ballot for voter consideration.

This story was updated at 1:45 on Saturday, March 17, 2018, to correct the student loan tax credit bill that Gov. Paul LePage says should be coupled with his $50 million bond proposal.


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LePage says he’ll address ‘major holes’ in Maine’s system for protecting at-risk children https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-vows-to-order-improvements-to-child-protective-services-after-beating-death-of-10-year-old-girl/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-vows-to-order-improvements-to-child-protective-services-after-beating-death-of-10-year-old-girl/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:48:09 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-vows-to-order-improvements-to-child-protective-services-after-beating-death-of-10-year-old-girl/ Gov. Paul LePage vowed to issue executive orders to address systemic problems with Child Protective Services in the aftermath of the beating death of a 10-year-old Stockton Springs girl.

LePage, speaking to reporters Thursday at the State House, said he is “seeing major, major holes” in the system, and he is working with Maine Department of Health and Human Services officials to improve CPS.

“We just need to beef it up,” he said.

LePage, a Republican, said CPS needs to replace antiquated computer software and provide additional training to agency employees, but he didn’t mention extra staffing to handle reports of suspected abuse or neglect. The details of the executive orders will be released soon, he said.

Police say Marissa Kennedy had been beaten at home for months by her mother and stepfather before dying Feb. 25 of battered child syndrome. Sharon Carrillo, 33, and Julio Carrillo, 51, have been charged with depraved indifference murder. Since Marissa’s death, activists have called for a thorough examination of Maine’s system to protect children.

Neighbors and Bangor school officials told the media that when the Carrillos lived in Bangor, DHHS was notified of suspected abuse in the home. The Carrillos moved to Stockton Springs last fall. School officials there have refused to detail what steps, if any, were taken with Marissa, who was enrolled in Searsport Elementary School. Police said she stopped attending in November.

DHHS officials have refused to comment on the specifics of Marissa’s case, saying those details need to be kept confidential while the criminal case is pending.

LePage said he’s been working for the past two weeks on how to improve the system.

According to data reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Maine’s CPS workforce has remained at 145 from 2011 to 2016, but the caseload per worker has increased.

The number of completed reports per CPS caseworker per year in Maine increased from 55 in 2011 to 73 in 2016, the latest year for which federal data is available.

Also, according to Maine DHHS, reports of suspected child abuse and neglect have jumped 31 percent since 2008, from 6,313 cases to 8,279 in 2016. LePage acknowledged that CPS caseworkers have stressful jobs, and many suffer from “burnout.”

“Some of these caseworkers have to visit 10 homes per day,” LePage said.


In response to follow-up questions from the Portland Press Herald, LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the governor will make comprehensive recommendations after an internal DHHS investigation is complete.

“There are no specific recommendations as yet, no cost estimates and no time frame because these investigations are not yet complete. There may also be other internal policy changes as well as legislation he may submit. He will use all tools at his disposal,” Rabinowitz said in an email.

Separately, the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee has ordered a watchdog agency – the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability – to investigate the deaths of Marissa and Kendall Chick, a 4-year-old girl who died in December. OPEGA will also conduct a review of Child Protective Services.

Patty Hymanson, D-Wells, co-chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said she’s encouraged that LePage is taking the issue seriously, but she believes the OPEGA investigation will be more thorough and in-depth.

LePage also indicated that CPS needs to change its focus.

“I think (family) reunification in the state of Maine is the priority. I think it’s the wrong priority,” he said. “This is the dialogue we are not having. What is best for the child? It could be reunification in some cases. In other cases it might not be.”

But Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a Washington-based nonprofit think tank, said the scientific research on the topic is overwhelming that children do better when the state works to keep them with their families when possible. The next best alternative is to have a relative care for the child, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. Removal should be “rare,” he said.

“When you hear about these horrific cases, don’t listen to your gut instinct and do the exact opposite,” Wexler said. “We as a society are underestimating the enormous trauma to children that is inherent in removal.”

Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for children, said that while government officials are examining the issues within DHHS, they need to make sure they are doing so in a comprehensive way, taking the time to diagnose problems and come up with difference-making solutions.

“I’m glad they want to make change, but they need to make sure they’re making the right changes and understanding what the issues are that need to be addressed,” Berkowitz said.


The number of children in state care – including foster care, kinship care and in institutions – declined from nearly 3,000 children in the early 2000s to about 1,300 per year under the administration of Gov. John Baldacci. Since LePage took office, the numbers have increased to 1,852 in 2017, although there are no clear reasons for why more children are in state care.

Some experts say the opioid crisis could be a contributing factor because it has led to record numbers of deaths and potentially more unstable parents. Also, confirmed cases of physical abuse of children in Maine rose 52 percent from 2008 to 2016, even though there were no increases in other forms of child abuse, including neglect and sexual abuse. Neglect cases declined and sexual abuse cases were about the same, according to Maine DHHS statistics.

LePage said the system also needs to do a better job of sharing information with outside agencies, and that DHHS workers need to be able to recognize when there are numerous complaints about the same family. He said the current system does not make it easy for employees to notice when there are many complaints about the same family.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:


Twitter: joelawlorph

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/lepage-vows-to-order-improvements-to-child-protective-services-after-beating-death-of-10-year-old-girl/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1344801_387676_marissa_kennedy_250x.jpgKendall Chick, 4, left, of Wiscasset and Marissa Kennedy, 10, of Stockton Springs. Police say both children died after being beaten for months.Fri, 16 Mar 2018 00:18:59 +0000
Trump’s company has been turning over documents to investigators https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/trumps-company-has-been-turning-over-documents-to-investigators/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/trumps-company-has-been-turning-over-documents-to-investigators/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:13:43 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/trumps-company-has-been-turning-over-documents-to-investigators/ WASHINGTON — President Trump’s company said Thursday that it has been turning over documents for months in response to requests from the special counsel looking into Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates.

Trump said last year that special counsel Robert Mueller would be crossing a red line by looking into his personal finances — and those of his family — that are not related to Russia. The Trump Organization is made up of hundreds of companies owned by Trump through a trust and managed by his two adult sons.

On Thursday, an attorney for The Trump Organization said in a statement to The Associated Press that the company has been “fully cooperative” with Mueller’s investigation since July 2017. The company has been in routine contact with the prosecutors, turning over documents and regularly discussing the scope of requests.

“This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today,” said Alan Futerfas, who represents the company.

The statement came in response to a report by The New York Times that The Trump Organization had received a subpoena from Mueller that included a request for documents related to Russia.

Asked Thursday about the subpoena and the president’s red line comments made to the Times last year, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred questions to the Trump Organization. “We’re going to continue to fully cooperate out of respect for the special counsel,” Sanders said.

The president has previously declined to say whether he would fire Mueller if he did look into his finances.

Mueller has had similar negotiations over records, including some that involve subpoenas, with dozens of attorneys, companies and people involved in the investigation. Attorneys and witnesses involved in various parts of the investigation have described weekly and even daily phone calls with Mueller’s prosecutors when they want specific information.

In addition to the company’s record production, the White House and the Trump campaign combined have provided more than a million pages of documents to Mueller’s investigators.

https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/15/trumps-company-has-been-turning-over-documents-to-investigators/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/1348063_Trump_Russia_Probe_45170.jp_.jpgPresident Trump's companies, White House and campaign have turned over thousands of documents to Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election.Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:47:21 +0000