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Trump aide forced out over security issue but immediately joins re-election campaign

Tue, 2018-03-13 09:33

WASHINGTON — John McEntee, who has served as President Donald Trump's personal assistant since Trump won the presidency, was forced out of his position and escorted from the White House on Monday after his security clearance was revoked, officials with knowledge of the incident said.

But McEntee will remain in the president's orbit despite his abrupt departure from the White House. Trump's re-election campaign announced Tuesday that McEntee has been named senior adviser for campaign operations, putting him in a position to remain as a close aide during the next several years.

The campaign's decision underscores Trump's tolerance for — and often encouragement of — dueling centers of power around him. And it highlights the extent to which the re-election campaign has already become a landing pad for former Trump associates who have left the White House but remain loyal to the president.

The decision to remove McEntee came to light on the same day Trump announced he was removing Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and replacing him with Mike Pompeo, his CIA director.

Officials declined to say what issues prompted the security concerns about McEntee.

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has said in recent weeks that too many staff members were operating on interim security clearances because they could not pass FBI background checks. A White House spokesman declined to comment on McEntee's firing.

But a senior administration official said that many of the president's top aides were shocked and dismayed by the abrupt departure, which the official described as a sudden decision. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel issues, said McEntee had been expected to travel with Trump — as he always does — when the president departed for a trip to California on Tuesday.

For Trump, the absence of McEntee strips away another of the handful of close associates who have constantly been by his side as he made the transition from real estate mogul to politician. Keith Schiller, the president's longtime director of security, left the White House in September. Hope Hicks, the director of communications and one of Trump's closest aides, has announced she is leaving in the coming days, as well.

That left McEntee, who worked on the president's campaign and was brought into the White House to be Trump's "body guy," the aide who travels with the president wherever he goes. During presidential trips, McEntee and the White House doctor were two aides who were never left off the travel manifest. Aides said McEntee often tried to keep hangers-on away from Trump when he traveled to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Now, with McEntee gone, the president will have none of his closest, most-trusted aides by his side at all times. Kellyanne Conway, who remains close to Trump, does not frequently travel with the president. Ivanka Trump, his daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner, have offices near Trump's, but play different roles.

McEntee's departure has several of Trump's closest advisers worried about the effects on the president's mood. The senior administration official said that the president has been in a "good place" recently, but said that it is hard to overstate the effect of the departure, along with that of Hicks. Both McEntee and Hicks have had offices just outside the Oval Office.

McEntee's ouster is the latest fallout from the security clearance scandal that erupted when Rob Porter, the president's staff secretary, resigned under pressure last month. Porter left after it was revealed that allegations of spousal abuse were holding up his permanent security clearance.

A review of the security clearances at the White House by Kelly found that many officials were operating with interim clearances. In a memo to the staff last month, Kelly said he would revoke the interim clearances for people whose background investigations showed they could not receive permanent clearance.

Late last month, Kushner's security clearance was downgraded, but Kushner remains a senior adviser at the White House working on Middle East peace efforts, prison reform and other issues for Trump.

Trump evangelicals have sold their souls

Tue, 2018-03-13 07:58

WASHINGTON — With their reactions to the Roy Moore candidacy and the Stormy Daniels scandal, the Trump evangelicals have scaled the heights of hypocrisy to the summit. Family-values conservatives who dismiss credible accusations of sexual abuse and wink at hush money for a porn star have ceased to represent family values in any meaningful sense. They have made a national joke of moral standards that were once, presumably, deeply held. At least when a Democrat violated them.

My friend Pete Wehner proposes a thought experiment: If a militant atheist were to design a trap with the goal of discrediting evangelical Christians, could they do better than Moore and Daniels? It would take some consideration.

But this barely scratches the surface of the moral compromises being made. The problem with Trumpism is not only the transparent excuses it offers (and requires others to accept) for shoddy and offensive behavior. As I argue in The Atlantic, the deeper issue is the distinctly non-Christian substance of Donald Trump's values. His unapologetic materialism. His tribalism and hatred for "the other." His strength-worship and contempt for "losers," which smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ.

Trump's nasty mash-up of the power of positive thinking, the Playboy philosophy and the will to power is a naturally poor fit for religious conservatives. Or so one would have thought.

Trump evangelicals defend their support for the president in the pose of political realists. A president, they argue, is not a pastor. A certain amount of compromise is necessary to get conservative judges and more favorable treatment of Christian institutions. This is the way of the world.

There are sometimes conflicted political choices in a fallen world. But this argument would be more credible if so many Trump evangelicals were not such sycophants. It is one thing to point to the difficult binary choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton. It is another to provide Trump political cover in every scandal and offer preemptive absolution of every character failure.

There is something else at work here than weary realism — something that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council recently clarified. Conservatives, he said, "were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there's somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully." In this explanation, Trump's approach to public discourse is actually the main selling point. His bullying — his cruelty, crudity and personal insults — is admired because it is directed at other bullies.

This is, perhaps, politically and psychologically understandable. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the Sermon on the Mount. Nothing to do with any recognizable version of Christian ethics. The very thing that should repel evangelicals — Trump's dehumanization of others — is what seems to fascinate and attract some conservative Christians. It is yet another example of discrediting hypocrisy.

The Trump evangelicals are best understood as conservative political operatives, seeking benefits for their interest group from politicians who are most likely to provide them. So how good is the quality of their political advice?

Not particularly good. Identifying evangelicalism with Trump's ethno-populism may have some short-term benefits. But public influence eventually depends on the persuasiveness of public arguments. And close ties to Trump will eventually be disastrous to causes that evangelicals care about. Pro-life arguments are discredited by an association with misogyny. Arguments for religious liberty are discredited by association with anti-Islamic bias. Arguments for family values are discredited by nativist disdain for migrant families.

The damage radiates further. Trump evangelicals are blessing the destruction of public norms on civility, decency and the importance of public character.

And the ultimate harm is to the reputation of faith itself. The identification of evangelical Christianity with ethno-nationalism and white grievance is a grave matter. Evangelical Christians hardly distinguished themselves during the civil rights movement. Some used Christian academies as a cover for continued segregation. Getting this issue wrong again would be particularly damning in a nation — and in Christian churches — growing inexorably more diverse.

Here are the sources of hope: Evangelicals have a rich history that includes abolitionists and social reformers to inspire them. They have a rising generation of leaders — from Pastor Tim Keller, to the Southern Baptist Convention's Russell Moore, to Bishop Claude Alexander, to bible teacher Beth Moore, to anti-slavery activist Gary Haugen — who are embracing a different and better model of social engagement. And they hold to a faith that for two millennia has survived, not only the wrath of its opponents, but the cynicism of its advocates.

Overrun by iguanas, Florida is smashing their skulls

Tue, 2018-03-13 07:43

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Researchers are on a critical mission in the heart of Broward County — bashing in the brains of iguanas in an attempt to eliminate the reptiles that have overtaken South Florida.

A 15-member team from the University of Florida is using a tool called a captive bolt gun that sends a bolt into the brain, similar to what is used in the livestock industry. They're also smashing the creatures' heads against solid objects, including a truck and boat they're using to track them down.

"Most of what we're doing is blunt force trauma," said Jenny Ketterlin, a wildlife biologist and research coordinator with UF. "Hitting their head very hard against a solid object."

Destroying their brains quickly is the most humane way to kill them, she said. Decapitating the animals without anesthesia would kill them but not be considered humane.

Their work is part of a $63,000 research project, contracted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, designed to find the best way to remove iguanas and then offer tips to homeowners on how to purge the pests from their yards.

"Iguanas are an invasive species in Florida and can be a nuisance to homeowners or impact native wildlife," said Carli Segelson, a wildlife agency spokeswoman. "Iguanas can feed on native plants and wildlife and dig into areas that may cause erosion."

[It's so cold in Florida, iguanas are falling from trees]

The research team's methods may sound gruesome but are in keeping with the state's anti-cruelty laws, Ketterlin said.

So far, working in teams of two, the researchers have captured and killed 249 iguanas along a canal in Davie that runs parallel to Griffin Road. They sneak up on the creatures at night while they're asleep, then kill them on the spot.

But some manage to get away.

"We are using flashlights to find them," Ketterlin said. "They are slow at first. If they're in a tree and wake up, they'll jump into the canal or jump onto the ground and run off."

Once they are captured and killed, the iguanas are placed in bags and brought back to the lab, where they are weighed and measured, Ketterlin said. They are then taken to a landfill in Homestead that accepts animal carcasses.

The team, based at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie, is also placing traps in county parks and using cherry tomatoes and watermelon as bait. But so far, the traps have only snared raccoons.

The three-month research project will continue through May, Ketterlin said.

Dr. Susan Kelleher, a Deerfield Beach vet who treats exotic pets, argued the head-bashing method is cruel. She says there's a kinder way to send them to their deaths — sedate them and then euthanize them.

Davie resident Eric Swalley was unfazed by the use of force.

"I like all creatures but they are not in their native environment," he said. "It's a horrible thing we need to combat and try to get a handle on. It's a biological nightmare."

Gary Fishman, a Boynton Beach resident, says he's killed more than 100 iguanas with a pellet gun to protect his landscaping.

"The iguana does not belong here," he said. "They need to be annihilated. They can't be relocated. So they must be destroyed."

Yet even Fishman said the idea of bashing in their heads "sounds like torture. The pellet gun is more humane, in my opinion."

ICE spokesman resigns, citing fabrications by agency chief and Attorney General Sessions about California immigrant arrests

Tue, 2018-03-13 06:43

The San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned over what he described as "false" and "misleading" statements made by top-ranking officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE Acting Director Thomas D. Homan.

The now-former spokesman, James Schwab, told news outlets late Monday that his resignation stemmed from statements by Homan and Sessions that potentially hundreds of "criminal aliens" evaded ICE during a Northern California raid in February because Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned the immigrant community in advance.

Schwab said he pushed back on that characterization - but said ICE instructed him to "deflect" questions from the press.

"I quit because I didn't want to perpetuate misleading facts," he told the San Francisco Chronicle, which broke the story. "I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn't agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit."

ICE officials and Sessions - and at one point President Donald Trump - criticized Schaaf for tipping off immigrants about the raid, which netted 232 suspected undocumented immigrants.

Homan said in a statement that "864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor's irresponsible decision. Unlike the politicians who attempt to undermine ICE's critical mission, our officers will continue to fulfill their sworn duty to protect public safety."

And just last week, in Sacramento, Sessions said, "Those are 800 wanted criminals that are now at large in that community - 800 wanted criminals that ICE will now have to pursue with more difficulty in more dangerous situations, all because of one mayor's irresponsible action."

Schwab, however, said that both the number of potential arrests and the blame heaped on Schaaf by officials was wrong.

As he told the Chronicle, "I didn't feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against her actions was the way to go about it. We were never going to pick up that many people. To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren't picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong."

He also told CNN that, typically, ICE never arrests 100 percent of people it initially targets in an operation, creating a misleading picture that the missed arrests in the recent Northern California operation were unusual. In fact, he told Oakland Fox affiliate KTVU that the operation was not even originally expected to arrest 232 suspected undocumented immigrants, making it more successful than planned.

Meanwhile, President Trump, who called Schaaf a disgrace during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, said ICE was prepared to arrest "close to 1,000 people," but only got "a fraction" of that thanks to Schaaf.

"I just couldn't bear the burden - continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false," Schwab told CNN.

Schwab is a longtime government spokesman, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before joining ICE in 2015, Schwab was a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Reserve Element, a public affairs office for the NASA Ames Research Center, and a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense.

ICE could not immediately be reached for comment by The Post regarding Schwab's assertions that it had released false and misleading information. The Chronicle quoted unnamed ICE officials confirming Schwab's resignation but declining to discuss specifics, citing confidentiality for personnel matters. A Justice Department spokesperson could not immediately be reached.

According to ICE, of the 232 people picked up in the raid, 115, or roughly half, had felonies or misdemeanors on their records.

Mayor Schaaf told The Washington Post in an interview earlier this month that she decided to warn the immigrant community of the impending ICE raid for fear that the operation was not wholly targeting "criminals," and that, instead, hard-working mothers or fathers without criminal records might end up arrested and deported. She told the story of Maria Mendoza-Sanchez, a mother of four and nurse at an Oakland public hospital, who was deported last August despite having no criminal record.

"Maria Mendoza-Sanchez and her husband are an example of a couple that, under the previous administration, were considered low-priority for deportation," Schaaf said. "And under this administration they were ripped away from their family. I was absolutely thinking of them when I made the decision to share the [ICE enforcement] information. I think it's my responsibility as a person in power and privilege to share the information I have access to, to make sure people know what their rights are."

On Monday, Schaaf applauded Schwab's decision to resign.

"I commend Mr. Schwab for speaking the truth while under intense pressure to lie," she said in a statement to The Post. "Our democracy depends on public servants who act with integrity and hold transparency in the highest regard."

Schwab said that, before resigning, as he was faced with questions from reporters about Homan's and Sessions' comments, he hoped he could set the record straight and correct the idea that hundreds of dangerous criminals got away thanks to Schaaf. But, when he brought his concerns to ICE, he said they told him to direct reporters to statements ICE or Homan had already made - to "deflect to previous statements," as he put it.

"It's the job of a public affairs officer to offer transparency for the agency you work for," he told the Chronicle. "I felt like we weren't doing that. I've never been in a situation when I've been asked to ignore the facts because it was more convenient."

Charles Manson's remains will go to purported grandson, judge rules

Tue, 2018-03-13 06:36

Jason L. Freeman, a purported grandson of Charles Manson, claimed in court papers that he was the notorious killer's true heir.

He wanted to give him a proper burial, Freeman said in a recent interview, noting that he would invite a small "inner circle" of his grandfather's friends to a private funeral service and then spread his ashes over water.

Now, it appears, Freeman will get that chance.

In a messy legal battle over Manson's remains and belongings, a judge in Kern County, California, ruled Monday that Freeman, a Florida man who had claimed that his father was Manson's son, was the "surviving competent adult next of kin." Three other men who had also staked claims — a purported friend who said he filed Manson's will in court; and two people, including a purported son, who filed a joint petition — could not refute Freeman's assertion, the judge said.

Freeman, who could not be reached for comment Monday evening, said in an interview in January: "I'd like to grab ahold of my grandfather's name and have a little more control over it. Everybody's had a free-for-all for the past 50 years."

The ruling on Monday capped the first part of what has become a complicated tug-of-war over what Manson left behind, which some have speculated would probably not be much beyond his body. The order, which was issued by Judge Alisa R. Knight of the Bakersfield Division of the Superior Court of California, addressed only who could take Manson's body, which has been held in a storage facility in Kern County since his death at 83 on Nov. 19 while serving a sentence of life in prison.

Dale A. Kiken, a lawyer for Freeman, said the ruling would bring closure to Freeman. He said his client had struggled with his family's history, saying that Freeman's father, Charles Manson Jr., who killed himself in 1993, was also not someone he admired.

"He's trying to deal with that in his own way, and part of that is bringing part of the episode to a close," Kiken said in an interview Monday night. "That's a pretty big burden."

The second part of the legal battle, over the heir to Manson's personal belongings, was expected to continue in Los Angeles Superior Court this week.

Throughout his life, Manson acquired a bizarre celebrity status, attracting fanatical followers, pen pals and collectors of his jail-cell creations. In some ways, the legal battle after his death has mirrored Manson's mystifying grip on American pop culture that he held long after the brutal killings by his followers, known as the Tate-LaBianca murders, on two consecutive nights in August 1969.

"There is a lot of notoriety around Manson, and there still remains a cadre of peoples who hold him in high esteem," Kiken said.

The first person who filed a claim for Manson's remains was Michael Channels, a longtime pen pal with him, who said the killer gave him a will in 2002 that left everything to Channels. But Knight wrote in her ruling that the will presented by Channels did not meet California's legal requirements.

The other petition was filed by Benjamin Gurecki and Matthew Lentz and claimed that Lentz was Manson's son. But because Lentz was adopted after he was born, he forfeited any relationship with his biological parents, Knight ruled.

Kiken said Freeman planned to travel to California within the next week to receive Manson's body. In the meantime, the next legal phase moves to Los Angeles, where the same four men have made claims for his belongings.

But it is unclear what Manson, who was sentenced to prison in 1971 on seven counts of first-degree murder, left to be collected.

"What has a guy who has been in jail for 50 years have to his name?" Kiken said. "I couldn't begin to value what is there."

Roger Stone claimed contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016, according to associates

Tue, 2018-03-13 05:27

In the spring of 2016, longtime political operative Roger Stone had a phone conversation that would later seem prophetic, according to the person on the other end of the line.

Stone, an informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, said he had learned from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that his organization had obtained emails that would torment senior Democrats such as John Podesta, then campaign chairman for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The conversation occurred before it was publicly known that hackers had obtained the emails of Podesta and of the Democratic National Committee, documents which WikiLeaks released in late July and October. The U.S. intelligence community later concluded the hackers were working for Russia.

The person, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing federal investigation into Russian campaign interference, is one of two Stone associates who say Stone claimed to have had contact with Assange in 2016.

The second, former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg, said in an interview Monday that Stone told him that he had met with Assange - a conversation Nunberg said investigators for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III recently asked him to describe.

Stone's possible connection to Assange has been under scrutiny since the 2016 campaign, when he made public claims that he was in contact with the London-based WikiLeaks founder. Since then, Stone has emphatically denied any communication with Assange or advance knowledge of the document dumps by WikiLeaks, which embarrassed Clinton allies and disrupted the 2016 campaign. WikiLeaks and Assange have also said they never communicated with Stone.

Potential contacts with WikiLeaks have been probed by federal investigators examining whether allies of President Donald Trump coordinated with Russians seeking to tilt the 2016 race. The president has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller's office, declined to comment.

Stone, a longtime Trump friend, briefly worked for his presidential campaign in 2015 and then remained in his orbit as an adviser.

In an interview Monday, he again denied that he had any advance notice about the hacked emails or any contact with Assange. He said he only recalled having one conversation with anyone in which he alluded to meeting the WikiLeaks founder - a comment he said he made as a joke to a long-winded Nunberg.

"I wish him no ill will, but Sam can manically and persistently call you," Stone said, recalling that Nunberg had called him on a Friday to ask about his plans for the weekend. "I said, 'I think I will go to London for the weekend and meet with Julian Assange.' It was a joke, a throwaway line to get him off the phone. The idea that I would meet with Assange undetected is ridiculous on its face.'''

Stone said he does not recall any similar conversation with anyone else.

"The allegation that I met with Assange, or asked for a meeting or communicated with Assange is provably false," he said, adding that he did not leave the country in 2016.

Through his attorney, Assange - who has been living in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since 2012 - told The Post in January that he did not meet Stone in spring 2016. His attorney was unable to reach Assange Monday evening for further comment.

WikiLeaks has denied any contact with the longtime Trump adviser.

"WikiLeaks & Assange have repeatedly confirmed that they have never communicated with Stone," the organization tweeted in March 2017.

Nunberg told The Post that the questions he was asked by Mueller's investigators indicated to him that the special counsel is examining statements Stone has made publicly about WikiLeaks.

"Of course they have to investigate this," he said. "Roger made statements that could be problematic."

He said he did not recall the exact date when Stone told him that he had met with Assange, adding that he did not take the comment as a joke at the time. He said he was glad to hear Stone told The Post that the remark was made in jest.

"No one connected to the president should be connected with Julian Assange," he added.

WikiLeaks has come under intense scrutiny from U.S. officials for its distribution of hacked materials. Last year, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said it was "time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a nonstate, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors, like Russia."

In response, Assange said Pompeo had chosen "to declare war on free speech."

During the 2016 race, the organization released hacked Democratic emails at two key junctures: a cache of DNC emails landed on the eve of the party's national nomination convention and a collection of Podesta emails appeared on the same day in October that The Post revealed a tape of Trump speaking about women in lewd terms.

Stone publicly cheered on WikiLeaks during the race, at one point referring to Assange as "my hero."

On Aug. 8, 2016, in an appearance at the Southwest Broward Republican Organization, Stone answered a question about what he believed would be the campaign's October surprise by saying: "I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there's no telling what the October surprise may be."

He later said he had not meant that he had communicated with Assange directly.

On Aug. 21, Stone tweeted that something grim was looming for Podesta.

"Trust me, it will soon [be] the Podesta's time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary," he tweeted.

On Oct. 3, he tweeted: "I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon #LockHerUp."

"Payload coming. #Lockthemup," Stone tweeted on Oct. 5.

Two days later, WikiLeaks published a cache of Podesta's hacked emails describing internal conflicts within the Clinton Foundation and excerpts of Clinton's speeches to Wall Street executives.

The release came shortly after The Post revealed the existence of an "Access Hollywood" tape in which Trump described grabbing women in the genitals.

Stone also exchanged private Twitter messages with WikiLeaks that month. In one Oct. 13 exchange, he described himself as a defender of the organization and objected to its " strategy of attacking me," The Atlantic reported this year. WikiLeaks replied to Stone in a private message that "false claims of association" were being used by Democrats to undermine the group.

Stone answered: "You need to figure out who your friends are."

Assange and Stone said the messages prove he did not have any advance knowledge of WikiLeaks's plans.

"A message telling Roger Stone to cease falsely suggesting contact with WikiLeaks is now the claimed proof that Roger Stone had contact with WikiLeaks - when it proves what I've said all along," Assange tweeted last month.

Stone wrote recently on his website that "only in the current, highly charged atmosphere can a leaked document which is entirely exculpatory and proves that I was not collaborating with WikiLeaks, provoke an 'AHA' moment."

In a September 2017 appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, Stone also vigorously denied he had any foreknowledge of what WikiLeaks would publish or of the hacking of Podesta's emails.

"Such assertions are conjecture, supposition, projection, and allegations but none of them are facts," he wrote in a prepared opening statement.

Stone told the committee that his Aug. 21 tweet was meant as a prediction that Podesta's business activities would come under scrutiny after Paul Manafort was forced to resign from the Trump campaign amid allegations about his work for a pro-Russian party in Ukraine.

Stone acknowledged that some may label him a "dirty trickster," but he said he does not engage in illegal activities.

"There is one 'trick' that is not in my bag," he told the committee, "and that is treason."


The Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman, Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Trump ousts Tillerson as secretary of state, will replace him with CIA chief Pompeo

Tue, 2018-03-13 05:00

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate negotiations with North Korea, White House officials said Tuesday.

Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled top diplomat cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.

Pompeo will replace him at the State Department, and Gina Hapsel – the deputy director at the CIA – will succeed him at the CIA, becoming the first woman to run the spy agency, if confirmed.

In a statement issued to The Washington Post, Trump praised both Pompeo and Haspel.

"I am proud to nominate the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, to be our new Secretary of State," Trump said. "Mike graduated first in his class at West Point, served with distinction in the U.S. Army, and graduated with Honors from Harvard Law School. He went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives with a proven record of working across the aisle."

The president continued, "Gina Haspel, the Deputy Director of the CIA, will be nominated to replace Director Pompeo and she will be the CIA's first-ever female director, a historic milestone. Mike and Gina have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect."

Trump also had words of praise for Tillerson: "Finally, I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well."

The president – who has long clashed will Tillerson, who he believes is "too establishment" in his thinking – felt it was important to make the change now, as he prepares for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as upcoming trade negotiations, three White House officials said.

"I am deeply grateful to President Trump for permitting me to serve as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and for this opportunity to serve as Secretary of State," Pompeo said in a statement. "His leadership has made America safer and I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America's prosperity. Serving alongside the great men and women of the CIA, the most dedicated and talented public servants I have encountered, has been one of the great honors of my life."

Haspel in a statement also said she was excited for her promotion.

"After 30 years as an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, it has been my honor to serve as its Deputy Director alongside Mike Pompeo for the past year," she said. "I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency."

Bering Sea mix-up: Ulsom grabs Iditarod lead when Petit veers off trail

Mon, 2018-03-12 22:22

UNALAKLEET — A new leader emerged Monday in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race after Girdwood musher Nicolas Petit lost his way in bad weather on the Bering Sea ice.

As Petit backtracked on the trail amid blowing snow, Norwegian musher Joar Leifseth Ulsom surged ahead and was the first to reach Koyuk, 171 miles away from the finish line in Nome.

Ulsom, a regular top-10 finisher in the 1,000-mile race, left the checkpoint at 5:52 p.m. Monday with 12 dogs, leaving one behind. Petit followed at 6:13 p.m. with a team of 11 dogs.

Defending champion Mitch Seavey drove his nine-dog team into Koyuk in third place, nearly three hours after Ulsom and two hours after Petit. He left at 9:08 p.m.

Monday's drama showed how the punishing Bering Sea coast can easily change the 1,000-mile race to Nome.

"The coast is a villain," four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King said as he prepared his dog team to leave Unalakleet, the checkpoint 90 miles before Koyuk.

"It's when you're exhausted and the weather really beats you up."

It's always a challenge being in the front, he added. If another team is ahead of you, your dogs can smell them and follow their scent. If not, following the trail markers is up to you.

Petit was in the lead when he left Shaktoolik not long after midnight Monday, headed for Koyuk, 50 miles away. The Iditarod describes this leg of the race as "bleak, flat, and deadly monotonous." Its prone to fierce winds.

According to the race's GPS tracker, Petit veered to the east between the two checkpoints, toward the coast and away from the trail. Then he turned around and returned to the route.

Here's where things went wrong for then-Iditarod leader Nic Petit on the Bering Sea coast today. (Images from, used with permission)#Iditarod #Iditarod2018

— ADN Iditarod (@ADNIditarod) March 12, 2018

The mistake sent him about 8 miles out of the way and cost him about 1.5 hours.

When Petit reached Koyuk, he told the Iditarod Insider that his dogs had a rough trip mentally into the checkpoint. "It was tough going for a long time," he said.

"On the way to Iditarod it was the same type of deal but there's trees and stuff — it's not wide-opened with another race's stakes out there," he said, likely referring to the stakes from the Iron Dog snowmachine race that passed through the same area in February.

Zack Steer, the Iditarod's logistics coordinator, said the trail markers from that race remain in the area.

He said the Iditarod trail between Shaktoolik and Koyuk is marked with 1,000 wooden stakes — about double the regular amount. The wooden stakes' tips are neon-orange and wrapped in a strip of reflective tape. A blue ribbon is tied to each one.

Steer said the Iron Dog's trail markers look similar to Iditarod's, but they don't have the blue ribbon. He said he heard there's also a local hunting trail on the sea ice.

Mark Nordman, the Iditarod race director and race marshal, said this year's trail between Shaktoolik and Koyuk differed from last year's.

Typically, the trail cuts across the Norton Sound ice. But before this year's race, Nordman said he expected a lack of ice in the area to push the trail closer to the coast. Ultimately, he said Monday, a route was put in about halfway between those two options.

"There was a bunch of jumbled ice and stuff that they've gone around," Nordman said.

King said the trail between these two checkpoints typically changes at least a little each year, depending on where the jumbled ice is. It requires mushers — often tired at this point in the race — to pay constant attention, he said. Winds and blowing snow can only further complicate things.

"We got a musher memorandum thing today from the race manager saying the trail out of (Shaktoolik) winds around, literally curlicue-ing around jumbled ice so it really does take paying attention (to) because it can seem like you're going entirely the wrong way," King said

Compared to last year, when Seavey won the Iditarod in record time on a hard and fast trail, this year's trail is slow and snowy.

Nordman said he believed those trail conditions have worked to Petit's and Ulsom's advantage. Last year, Petit placed third and Ulsom fourth. Nordman said the mushers' teams are often trotting, picking up one foot after the other in, sort of, a quick walk.

"I know some people have said Joar's team looked like a bunch of little buffalo just pounding across the tundra," he said.

Seavey's dogs, he said, excel on a hard trail — they can lope more, moving their front legs together and their back legs together, almost like a hop. Perfect for last year, he said, but not for this year's deep snow.

"Last year's trail was set up perfectly for Mitch's type of running," Nordman said.

"His dogs could lope a little more and I think that the trail coming up the Yukon (River) this year and the softer trail, you can't lope. It'd be like you trying to run in sand versus just walking briskly in sand."

Each of this year's top three teams so far — Ulsom, Petit and Seavey — rely on different racing styles, said Karen Ramstead, a former Iditarod competitor and the race judge in Unalakleet.

"If you look at Nic's team they're kind of wild and a little crazy and out of control and that's a lot like Nic," she said on Monday. "And Joar's team is kind of quiet and driven. And Mitch's is a disciplined, real disciplined, focused dog team."

Ramstead said if Petit wants to win, he will have to figure out how to keep a level-head and fix things after a major mishap. Meanwhile, she said, Ulsom appears to have a "solid, lovely-looking dog team."

"What just happened going across to Koyuk could blow it wide open," she said.

Billings makes all the right plays in final seconds to end UAA’s season

Mon, 2018-03-12 21:37

The season ended in brutal, heart-breaking fashion Monday night for the UAA women's basketball team in Azusa, California.

Montana State-Billings hit two free throws with three seconds left and its star player blocked a buzzer shot by UAA's Hannah Wandersee to beat the Seawolves 71-70 in the championship game of the West Region Tournament.

UAA ends the season with a 27-5 record. Billlings is 25-11 and headed to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight after its seventh straight win, six of them coming in the postseason.

The Seawolves were in position to win with less than 10 seconds left.

Up by one point and in possession of the ball with 9.3 seconds remaining and the shot clock not in play, all they needed to do was hang onto the ball.

But UAA guard Kian McNair placed her heel on the sideline as she pivoted to pass, giving the ball to the Yellowjackets. After that, Billings made all of the right moves to deny the Seawolves.

With four seconds left, McNair fouled Billings guard Rylee Kane, who calmly hit both free throws to put her team ahead, 71-70.

UAA drew a foul after it threw the ball inbounds but didn't go to the free throw line because Billings hadn't fouled enough to put the Seawolves in the bonus.

And so UAA called a timeout and drew up a last-second shot for Wandersee, a 6-foot-2 junior center from Kodiak.

Wandersee caught the in-bound pass and put up a turnaround jumper, but the shot was blocked by 5-10 Alisha Breen, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's player of the year.

"They forced us into a pretty critical mistake at the end," UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said at the postgame press conference, "but that's what makes March special, plays like that. It's unfortunate we left it in the officials' hands at the end, to end it on free throws, which is kind of a tough pill to swallow."

Monday's West Region championship game was an all-GNAC affair. UAA defeated Billings twice in the regular season, but the Yellowjackets are starting to look like a team of destiny.

They finished fourth in the GNAC during the regular season, but won the GNAC tournament in Anchorage by winning three games, including a semifinal upset over top-seeded Northwest Nazarene.

That earned them a spot in the West Region tournament as the No. 7 seed in the eight-team field. They knocked off second-seeded Hawaii Pacific and third-seeded UC-San Diego before taking down the Seawolves, the tournament's No. 5 seed.

Breen was one of four scorers in double figures for Billings. She made up for 3-of-13 shooting from the field by sinking 9 of 10 free throws to finish with 16 to go along with six rebounds, two steals, two assists and one very big block. Vanessa Stavish, who hit 5 of 6 shots from behind the arc, provided 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Wandersee led UAA with a game-high 18 points, blocked two shots, grabbed seven rebounds and had two assists. Rodericka Ware dropped in 12 points, Tara Thompson had 11 and Yazmeen Goo supplied nine points and six assists.

UAA had the better shooting percentage, 41.9 to 38.2, but Billings owned a 20-11 edge at the foul line and a 39-32 rebounding advantage.

Video shows Navy pilot’s close encounter with an unidentified fast-flying object

Mon, 2018-03-12 20:42

For the third time in three months, a declassified Defense Department video shows U.S. Navy F-18 fighters seemingly encountering UFOs.

"Oh my gosh, dude," said one pilot in the video of their F/A-18 Super Hornet military jet's 2015 encounter with the unusual object along the East Coast. The oval-shaped aircraft zipped with befuddling speed.

"Wow! What is that, man?" said another. "Look at that flying!"

The 35-second video, released by the privately owned media and scientific research company To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, is the latest to suggest the existence of hovering egg-shaped vessels since the Pentagon in December publicly acknowledged a program dedicated to the study of unidentified flying objects. While the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ran from 2007 to 2012, those familiar with it say efforts are still made to further learn about these objects.

News of the mystery program and the first two declassified videos of the strange objects introduced the possibility of extraterrestrial aircraft for the first time since the Air Force's Project Blue Book, records cataloguing more than 12,000 UFO sightings between 1947 and 1969, when the program was shut down. The program was unable to find "any technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge," and "no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as 'unidentified' are extraterrestrial vehicles," according to the Air Force.

The release of the videos was quietly arranged by intelligence officer Luis Elizondo, who headed the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program and left the Defense Department late last year. He told The Washington Post's Joby Warrick in December that the raw footage from encounters between fighter jets and "anomalous aerial vehicles," which is what the military calls UFOs, could help educate pilots and advance aviation safety.

But Elizondo also wanted to raise attention to a little-known phenomenon that could pose "potential security threat."

As Warrick reported:

"Neither the Pentagon nor any of the program's managers have claimed conclusive proof of extraterrestrial visitors, but Elizondo, citing accounts and data collected by his office over a decade, argues that the videos and other evidence failed to generate the kind of high-level attention he believes is warranted. As part of his decision to leave the Pentagon, he not only sought the release of videos but also penned a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis complaining that a potential security threat was being ignored."

One of the videos released in December is of former U.S. Navy pilot Cmdr. David Fravor's 2004 encounter with a flying object about the size of his plane moving at a rapid pace, unlike anything else he'd seen in the air. He told The Post's Eli Rosenberg that he has not forgotten the incident. As Rosenberg reported:

"An order came in for [Fravor] to suspend the exercise and do some 'real-world tasking,' about 60 miles west of their location, Fravor said. He said he was told by the command that there were some unidentified flying objects descending from 80,000 feet to 20,000 feet and disappearing; he said officials told him they had been tracking a couple dozen of these objects for a few weeks.

"When they arrived closer to the point, they saw the object, flying around a patch of white water in the ocean below.

" 'A white Tic Tac, about the same size as a Hornet, 40 feet long with no wings,' Fravor described. 'Just hanging close to the water.'

The object created no rotor wash – the visible air turbulence left by the blades of a helicopter – he said, and began to mirror the pilots as they pursued it, before it vanished.

" 'As I get closer, as my nose is starting to pull back up, it accelerates and it's gone,' " he said. 'Faster than I'd ever seen anything in my life. We turn around, say let's go see what's in the water and there's nothing. Just blue water.' "

To this day, 13 years later, Fravor is certain about one thing: That the object is "something not from the Earth," he said.

Three ‘powerful’ package explosions in Austin that killed 2 are connected, police say

Mon, 2018-03-12 20:26

AUSTIN, Texas – Police said Monday that the three exploding packages that detonated at homes in this city across a 10-day period – including two blasts on Monday – are all connected, although precisely what motivated the attacks remained an unnerving mystery.

The explosions across residential parts of the Texas capital killed two people, seriously injured two others and set residents on edge, even as the city continued hosting South by Southwest, a music, film and technology conference that draws tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Police urged residents to call 911 rather than open unexpected packages, while local and federal authorities scrambled to respond to the blasts, at one point Monday hurrying from one explosion to another across town.

Authorities say they are exploring whether the explosions could be related to racial hatred, noting that both of the people killed – an adult man and a teenager – were black, while an elderly Hispanic woman was seriously injured.

"These incidents are related," Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at a briefing. But as for what might have prompted the string of explosions, he said: "We are not ruling anything out at this point."

The first explosion occurred March 2, when a package on the front porch of a northeast Austin home exploded, killing 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House.

"It sounded like a cannon," Kenneth Thompson, who lives across the street from House, said of the explosion.

At the time, police said House's death was "suspicious" but believed it was an isolated incident with no continuing threat to the community.

Ten days later, that changed when a pair of packages detonated at homes several miles apart Monday over a matter of hours.

Investigators were still responding to the first explosion Monday morning – which killed a 17-year-old male and seriously injured an adult woman – when a second blast detonated at a house farther south, sending a 75-year-old Hispanic woman to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Reached by phone Monday, LaVonne Mason, co-founder of the Austin Area Urban League, said her grandson was the 17-year-old victim killed Monday morning, but she declined to say anything further. Her husband, Norman Mason, is a well-known dentist in the East Austin area and a longtime mentor to black student athletes at the University of Texas.

Relatives on the scene identified the woman injured in the third blast as Esperanza Herrera. They also said her mother, Maria Moreno, suffered minor injuries. Manley said that just as in the other bombings, the injured woman came outside her home, found a package and picked it up.

"The box detonated at that point," he said.

Manley said police did not know if the victims who were killed or injured were the specific targets of the packages. The police chief warned residents to avoid opening unexpected packages or other deliveries they were not expecting; he described the explosives as arriving in "box-type deliveries" but did not elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.

"It's not time to panic, but it's time to be vigilant," he said.

Manley said that police could not rule out a hate crime as the cause of the bombing, though he warned that police had not yet identified any ideology or connection between the victims. The FBI was assisting with the investigation, and Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said agents were "definitely not ruling out" a hate crime, due to the race of the first two victims.

"There's always concern about that," Nelson Linder, president of the NAACP of Austin, said of a potential hate crime, "but other than the two first victims' race, there's no evidence to say they were one at this time."

Still, he said, people are "very concerned and feel very vulnerable."

The Rev. Sylvester Chase, the pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church, said Anthony House, the first victim, was the stepson of Freddie Dixon, a former pastor there. While House was not a parishioner, Chase said he was rattled by the bombing.

"It's got us on alarm, everybody on alarm," he said. "We don't know what to think, because they haven't put out any type of information. It's just circumstantial, what it could be, what it might be."

Rianne Philips, who lives next door to House, said her husband was the first to find House after the fatal March 2 blast. Philips said that she was alarmed to hear about the latest bombing, but also relieved that the police were now focused on House's death as a homicide.

"They're not going to let this slide," Philips said. "It's really sad, but this means there's a lot of attention on this now."

Isaiah Guerrero, 15, said he was spending the first morning of his spring break making music on his computer when he heard the third explosion go off just before noon Monday.

"It sounded like two cars hit each other, you know? Like, rammed each other," Guerrero said.

The house shook, and so did his body, the teenager said. Guerrero then climbed up a tree and on top of his house. Within minutes, police and fire officials swarmed the scene, closing off streets. Guerrero, who lives behind the house where the bomb went off, said he couldn't see the damage to the front of the house.

He echoed law enforcement officials in warning the public to pay attention to things like packages, "especially if you didn't order something," he said. Guerrero added: "I expected my spring break to be peaceful, not harmful."

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Monday it was dispatching members of its National Response Team (NRT) to help respond to the explosions. According to the agency, this group activates for "significant fire and explosion incidents," considered those that are either large in scale or particularly complicated due to the size or scope.

In the past, that has included responding to the West, Tex., plant fire in 2013; a string of church fires in Texas; and the bombings in Oklahoma City and at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The NRT works with other investigators to reconstruct scenes and determine what caused the fires or explosions; in cases involving bombings, the team also searches for evidence to be used in any prosecution that may follow.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, R, said his office was offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible for the "atrocious attacks."

"I want to assure all Texans, and especially those in Austin, that local, state and federal law enforcement officials are working diligently to find those responsible for these heinous crimes," Abbott said in a statement.

Manley said local and federal law enforcement agencies would ensure "every stop would be pulled out" to solve the cases.

"We are not going to tolerate this in Austin," he said.

Berman and Wang reported from Washington. Matt Zapotosky in Washington and Shane Harris in Austin contributed to this report.

Readers write: Letters to the editor, March 13, 2018

Mon, 2018-03-12 20:06

Iditarod sled dogs love to run

I hope that detractors of the Iditarod have seen Loren Holmes' great photo (March 7) of a lead dog's enthusiasm about racing. Of course, every effort must be made to keep the dogs healthy, comfortable and getting rest. But opponents of the race have no idea that dogs actually love to run — especially dogs that are bred, trained and rewarded for it.

— Vivian Mendenhall

Not sold on Chugach, ML&P deal

I find the reasons given in the March 8 front page piece concerning Chugach buying ML&P; unconvincing. Until I can be convinced that Chugach's assuming a half-billion dollar debt and not laying off any workers, I will vote "no" on the deal. I want Chugach, of which I am a member, to explain why that would be in my best interest. It's easy to see why ML&P; wants to unload their utility. But I see no advantage for Chugach to buy it. It would make sense to pay off the ML&P; debt if Chugach didn't have to pay anything for the utility itself.

— Laverne Buller

Open your mind and reject Prop. 1

A year or two ago, I was exiting the restroom of a prestigious hotel. As I opened the door to go out, a young man walked in. Startled, I said, "This is the women's." She said calmly, "I know." I have thought so often of that young person and am grateful for the change in perspective the incident gave me. For him, I will be voting "no" on Proposition 1. Please join me.

— Sheila Lankford

State overreach has gone too far

In the Legislature, the plastic bag ban measure, House Bill 264 " … has sparked a debate over whether states or cities should be empowered to make the rules over plastic bags." I agree with Wasilla GOP Sen. David Wilson who wants to "let local communities make that decision."

This brings to mind something I read in the paper recently, which is that the Legislature has apparently taken any power away from Alaska cities and municipalities with reference to Uber and Lyft. It seems to me that Anchorage and Bethel, Fairbanks and Juneau and any other Alaska community with taxi service should be the ones to regulate such taxi services (but I suppose Lyft and Uber claim, of course, to be something other than a taxi service.)I have to wonder how David Wilson and other legislators voted on that one.

In any event, the Legislature's action overriding municipal powers like taxi regulation is what I would call state overreach. Does that word "overreach" have a familiar ring? Does the shoe fit?

— John Jensen

Try working for your benefits

Didn't know whether to laugh, cry or be just plain disgusted when I read Sen. Kelly's March 7 op-ed proposal to impose work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Think I'll go for disgusted. Consider all that extra pay and per diem Pete Kelly (and some friends) have accumulated for prolonging three legislative sessions in their quest for cutting essential public services while imposing what amounts to very regressive taxes on Alaskans that can least afford it in order to avoid a reasonable fair progressive tax. All this not to mention destabilizing Alaska's economic health and financial ratings in the process. If we're going to have work requirements for "receiving public benefits,", let's start with Pete Kelly (and some friends).

As Kelly points out "work opens doors to a larger community of friends" rather than a "life of government dependency (which) can be isolating and unfulfilling" I believe Sen. Kelly (along with some friends) would indeed benefit and contribute enormously to Alaska from getting down to work. Of course, if they just don't want to work, just receive benefits, maybe we, the public, need to remove them from the rolls.

— Tony Kaaliss

Sullivan Arena adds artificial turf, books flag football games

Mon, 2018-03-12 19:24

Anchorage sports teams will have another indoor field to play on by the end of this month.

Artificial turf was installed Monday at Sullivan Arena, and flag football teams will begin playing games there soon, according to an arena manager.

"Our first scheduled use is March 21," said Greg Spears, the general manager of SMG of Alaska, which runs Sullivan Arena and several other city-owned properties.

The turf was installed inside the hockey rink's dasher boards and measures 100 feet by 200 feet. It can expand beyond the dasher boards if desired, Spears said.

Spears said the field will rent for $150 to $200 an hour, depending on the time of day.

"Football, rugby, soccer – it's got so much potential," he said. "We'll be reaching out to all the soccer clubs and rugby clubs."

The turf gives teams a choice beyond The Dome, the popular indoor facility in south Anchorage that was closed for nearly a year after its air-supported roof collapsed under the weight of heavy snow in January 2017.

[Anchorage sports dome reopens to the public]

The two facilities will compete for some of the same business, but Sullivan doesn't have an indoor running track like The Dome, nor will it be available for softball or baseball — batted balls could damage the scoreboard that hangs from the arena's ceiling, Spears said.

It's also unlikely to have batting cages, Spears said. The Dome's batting cages, which weren't immediately available when the South Anchorage facility reopened in January, are ready for use now, according to Curtis Penney, CEO of The Dome.

The addition of turf is one of several upgrades being made at Sullivan, an aging facility that lost nearly $600,000 in revenue in 2016.

The turf and other projects – among them, a portable stage and new emergency lighting and camera systems – are being paid for by a 2012 grant from the state legislature.

[Sullivan Arena to get artificial turf as wait for Dome repairs continues]

Sullivan's artificial turf isn't the same as the turf in place at The Dome and at several outdoor football fields in Anchorage.

It comes from the same manufacturer – FieldTurf – but it's called EasyField and it consists of 4-by-5-foot interlocking pieces rather than one giant carpet.

The turf has a pad but it doesn't have infill like the other turfs in town.

"You'll feel a difference," said Donny Jones, a regional vice president for FieldTurf who was in Anchorage for Monday's installation.  "This field doesn't have any sand and rubber infill. The turf and the pad here in Sullivan Arena feel a little firmer but it meets all the safety standards for rugby and football and soccer and all that."

Jones said his company installed the new FieldTurf at The Dome and has also installed outdoor fields at several Anchorage schools.

Sullivan is the first place in Alaska to use EasyField, he said. "It's the single biggest installation in North America with this moveable turf."

The turf at Sullivan is movable, allowing it to co-exist with the arena's sheet of ice.

It takes about 12 hours and several people to remove or install it, Jones said. That makes possible for the turf to be available even during hockey season if Sullivan Arena managers choose to make it a year-round feature.

Empty vehicle catches fire inside a Fairbanks fire station

Mon, 2018-03-12 18:44

An SUV used as a Battalion Chief vehicle caught fire inside a garage at the Fairbanks Fire Department's downtown headquarters over the weekend, officials said.

The Ford Expedition wasn't running when it caught fire around 5 p.m. on Saturday, said Fairbanks city communications director Teal Soden. The cause of the fire isn't yet known.

Nobody was injured in the blaze.

"I think that there's going to be quite a bit of cleanup," Soden said.

After the engine caught fire, the building's fire alarms went off, which activated the sprinkler system. The building's alarms are tied into the emergency dispatch system, Soden said, so dispatchers sent a crew from the nearby Aurora fire station.

Only two firefighters were at the downtown headquarters when the blaze started. The rest were out on calls. So, the two firefighters readied a fire truck — which needs three people to run it — and waited for more people to arrive to begin combating the fire.

Soden said the fire was put out less than half an hour after firefighters arrived from the Aurora station.

The burned SUV was a total loss. Nothing else was burned in the fire, but officials were still assessing the extent of the smoke damage on Monday, Soden said.

"I do know they're going to be sending a bunch of uniforms to get dry cleaned," Soden said.

The vehicle garage bay had filled with smoke, Soden said. One other SUV parked in the garage had its windows rolled down and had suffered some smoke damage, Soden said.

Emergency department vehicles are outfitted with additional electronics, but it's not clear whether those were the cause of the fire, Soden said. A deputy fire marshal and the Alaska State Fire Marshal would be investigating, Soden said. No foul play is suspected.

Resolution pushes for Arctic port, Coast Guard base

Mon, 2018-03-12 18:29

Arctic infrastructure development is front and center in a new resolution before the House Special Committee on Arctic Policy, Economic Development and Tourism.

The committee, which is chaired by House District 40 Rep. John Lincoln (D-Kotzebue), first heard House Joint Resolution 33 on Feb. 27.

The resolution calls on Alaska's Congressional delegation to recognize economic potential in the Arctic and prioritize developing infrastructure and defense capabilities like a port and Coast Guard base in the region.

"The primary challenge that we face is getting the rest of the nation to embrace its role as an Arctic nation. As we know, Alaska is the reason the United States is an Arctic nation, but it's not in the consciousness of everyday Americans that we are an Arctic nation and that we need to protect our interests and provide emergency response capabilities to the Arctic region," said Michael Lowe, an intern for Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage), who presented background to the committee.

He called for unanimous bipartisan support for it, saying that resolutions like this one can be used as talking points for the state's representatives when they meet with their colleagues and want to lay out Alaska's priorities.

"Although the feds do own about 60 percent of Alaska and we do get a lot of federal money up here, I think the federal government is overlooking the economic potential and overlooking some national security needs because Alaska makes us an Arctic nation," said Rep. Tuck, who is sponsoring the legislation.

His co-sponsors include Rep. Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage) and Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks).

In Lowe's presentation, he outlined why it might be advantageous to develop an Arctic port, with a year-round Coast Guard base, at this point in time.

"The crux of the issue in the Arctic is the receding sea ice there. The seasonal recession of the sea ice has been happening, of course, since we can remember, but it's the extent to which it's receding and the amount of time that it's staying in that recession state that is expanding," said Lowe. "This has opened up new sea lanes for transcontinental vessels. It stands to shorten routes by as much as 5,000 miles or 40 percent, depending on the route and depending on the destination if the ship were to use the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal. The basis for the U.S. Coast Guard port stems from the opening of sea lanes in the Arctic."

The potential mineral and natural resources in the Arctic also make having a deepwater port north of the Aleutians or Kodiak beneficial to the state, he said. It could also provide additional emergency response capacity for the entire northern part of the state.

He also covered the economic potential of a military base, citing other hubs as examples of potential.

"Pretty much every occupation can be found if you go to JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson) or Fort Wainwright," he said. "It's a very diversified workforce and it's pretty much an economy within itself that comes with military installations."

After Lowe concluded his overview, Lincoln asked: "Have you evaluated, or do you have an opinion on, the location for a port in Alaska or a Coast Guard station?"

Howe responded: "There has been speculation of — it's not technically, I don't believe, in the Arctic — but, Nome."

While there has been past support for any type of deepwater port north of Fairbanks, many people who actually live above the Arctic Circle have called for a port to be located there — potentially off the coast of Kotzebue. However, Nome often ends up in the spotlight during deepwater port conversations, given that it already has much more infrastructure that could be expanded upon though a new project.

Lowe said none of the resolution's sponsors were specifically advocating for the Nome option, but he had heard it discussed in other forums.

The public can provide comment on House Joint Resolution 33 when it's next before the committee.

More information, including the full text of HJR 33, can be found online.

This article was republished with permission from

House proposal to amend PFD into Alaska Constitution won’t guarantee payments

Mon, 2018-03-12 18:19

Enshrining the Permanent Fund dividend in the Alaska Constitution doesn't actually guarantee that you'll get one, it turns out.

A rewritten proposal unveiled Monday by the Alaska House's largely-Democratic majority, House Joint Resolution 23, would amend the state Constitution to include the dividend program for the first time. Majority leaders have described the proposal as a way to protect dividend payments while allowing some — but not all — of the Permanent Fund's earnings to be used to cover the state's massive deficit.

But the proposal only protects dividends as a concept; the exact amounts of the payments would not be guaranteed.

The House's idea to pay a specific share of the fund's earnings — one third, or about $1,250 a person — would instead be a recommendation to future lawmakers. Those future lawmakers would still have the freedom to make dividends larger or smaller, depending on the demands of other state programs like education or health care.

The original version of the proposal would have specified the exact amount of earnings to be paid as dividends. But doing so would conflict with other constitutional provisions that reserve powers of budgeting and veto for the Legislature and governor, said Homer Rep. Paul Seaton, co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

The new version leaves those powers intact while still giving direction to future elected officials, he added.

"There's going to be much more reluctance by the Legislature to go against the will expressed by a vote of the people," said Seaton, one of three Republicans in House leadership.

Alaskans, he added, "can hold their legislators accountable for following their direction."

The House Finance Committee took public testimony on the new proposal late Monday and will consider amendments Tuesday, Seaton said.

To pass, it will require 27 votes in the 40-member House. Seaton's majority has 22 members, meaning that at least five votes will be necessary from the Republican minority. The measure's fate is even less certain in the state Senate, where leaders in the mostly-Republican majority have already expressed skepticism.

Several House Republicans made social media posts Monday declaring their opposition to the majority's new proposal.

"This resolution will change the PFD forever and government gets the lion's share," wrote Wasilla GOP Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard. Her post did not say how she proposes to fill the budget deficit that would remain if the dividend is left intact.

HJR 23 is the House majority's latest plan to address Alaska's massive budget gap.

Oil taxes and royalties used to pay for the vast majority of state government services. But since the 2014 crash in oil prices, the Legislature has used billions of dollars in savings to cover the resulting budget gap.

There's likely not enough money in the state's main savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, to cover next year's gap, however.

Lawmakers have been looking to the $65 billion Permanent Fund as an alternative, saying that its investments, originally seeded with oil revenue, generate enough cash to fill most of the deficit.

But they haven't agreed on a framework to spend those earnings on government services — in part because taking that step means that Alaskans will get smaller dividend checks.

House majority members say that reducing dividends affects poor Alaskans disproportionately, since the payments make up a larger share of their earnings.

In the past, they've said they're willing to restructure the dividend if lawmakers also approve an income tax, which would fill more of the deficit while asking for larger contributions from high-earners.

But the Senate last year rejected the House's tax proposal, with Senate leaders saying the measure would hurt the state's economy and the leaders of the businesses that help power it.

House leaders say they're worried that if the state's savings accounts run out, the Senate majority would prefer to spend increasing amounts of Permanent Fund earnings on government before turning to taxes — ultimately leaving nothing for dividends.

They argue that putting the dividend program in the Constitution will protect it from future lawmakers who might want to reduce it.

But the language of the proposal introduced Monday says only that lawmakers "may" appropriate one-third of the Permanent Fund's earnings for dividends, not "shall." That means lawmakers, in their annual budget-writing process, will still be able to consider whether other state programs are a higher priority than the dividend, said Seaton, the finance committee co-chair.

The House's original version of the constitutional amendment used the word "shall." But dedicating a specific amount of Permanent Fund earnings would conflict with other, existing provisions in the Alaska Constitution, Seaton said.

The new version of the amendment wouldn't interfere with those provisions — namely the Legislature's power of appropriation and the governor's veto power, according to a memo written for Seaton by legislative attorneys.

Since the House is already proposing to amend the Constitution, why can't it also amend the existing provisions to allow for a specific dividend amount?

Because such changes would amount to a more substantive "revision" of the Constitution, rather than a simple amendment, Seaton said. Such revisions could require approval at a constitutional convention, he added.

The amendment process being used by the House is more straightforward; it allows changes to take effect by a majority vote of the people, after the proposal's language is approved by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.

One of the two surviving delegates to Alaska's constitutional convention, Vic Fischer, said he's come around to the idea of setting aside a specific share of Permanent Fund's earnings for dividends, in spite of the existing provisions in the document that he helped write.

"The constitutional delegates had total faith in the governor, the future governors and legislatures and in the future judicial system," said Fischer, 93. "But the Constitution has been amended a number of times in various ways, and I would say that the experience at this point has convinced me that if the Legislature has a future character as we have had over recent years, we're on the verge of destroying not just the dividend but the Permanent Fund itself."

Fischer also disputed the idea that specifying a dividend amount would require a constitutional convention, referring to it as "hogwash."

Another important element of the House's new proposal would allow lawmakers to spend cash from the Permanent Fund's investment earnings beyond what lawmakers deem to be a sustainable rate — 4.75 percent of the fund's total value each year. Such a step could only be taken by a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate.

Seaton said that provision ensures that lawmakers could use the fund during emergencies. And the measure may also be amended to put tighter limits on such withdrawals, he said.

Sometimes, you go hunting because the dogs want to go

Mon, 2018-03-12 18:09

It took Steve several minutes to climb the stairs. I could hear him pause after each step. The night before we had planned to go hunting with one of the dogs with the hope that Steve would feel better in the morning.

"You look awful," I said as he stood on the last step, his hold on the handrail resembling the grip of a rock climber on the edge of a cliff. His face was pale as he confessed he had not been this sick with the flu since the winter of 1972.

Hugo, one of our English setters, sat at my feet waiting for the verdict. "Well," I said, "I already told Hugo we were going."

Hugo jumped at my words. If he couldn't hold me to a promise, he at least knew enough of the English language to recognize his name in the same sentence with the word "go."

Steve acquiesced, and the three of us drove the 100 miles to the foot of the mountains. The snow was chest-deep for Hugo. We knew the conditions were not ideal — unsettled snow collects in setter fur and, no matter how fit, the dog tires within an hour. Every sign told us not to go except the dog in the back seat, still eager and excited for the adventure.

I remembered the first time I had encountered the logic I now followed and how ridiculous it sounded when it wasn't my own.

We were in North Dakota at the edge of a field one morning. It was my first time hunting pheasant, and I had never hunted with bird dogs before. A small group of us listened to the pheasant crow as we waited for daylight. Eddie, a friend of Steve's father, was getting on in the years. "Anymore, I only go for the dog," he said.

He let Windsor, an English cocker, out of his truck and the little dog sniffed the air before leading us out to the field. It didn't make sense, I thought. I was thinking about getting a dog so that it would retrieve ducks for me, not so I would have to go hunting if I didn't want to.

That was more than a decade ago, and I pondered a different question as I followed Hugo as he bounded through snow the way an English cocker had once bounded through prairie grass with delight. My snowshoes were heavy, and Steve looked to be fighting for his life. Our mantra, "for the love of the dog," never seemed so valiant or so in vain.

Hugo made the first tracks. He broke through the soft, pure white ahead of us. We stopped to watch and for Steve to catch his breath and cough. We won't ever run so fast in our lives, I thought. We aren't capable of being so "wide open" or keenly aware of our world. Only a dog can run the way we feel we ought to. When he stopped, we'd know he'd found a bird, and our pace would become labored where the dog's was as driven and natural as any element on the mountain.

His nose stayed in the air as he ran. The warm-bodied smell of ptarmigan buried in willow patches across the valley would never halt us all of a sudden and send us in a circle to locate the exact source. We weren't hunting the same way he hunted. While he smelled and stalked, we watched and followed him.

The first time I left the roadside to hunt a field, there was so much I didn't know. In the company of wild grass and skies filled with birds or maybe just clouds, I never figured how a dog would play such an integral part. My time alone outdoors was filled with lazy thoughts and ramblings.

Back then, before dogs, I took a few photos but not more than the 24 allowed on my disposable camera. The images were often of the birds we shot. One photo showed our lonely tracks across the grass. Looking back, I see where a set of tracks are missing.

Now, the view beyond Steve's back promised us nothing but a chance at exhaustion. It was easy to say it was a dead valley, a dead end. My eyes were raw and snowblind. Instead of looking ahead, I looked at the ground, and my thoughts went back to the question of the day. Were we being foolish?

When I looked up, Hugo was on point.

In a moment, the questions disappeared as I followed the line of his point to the bird. I walked past him and, because he is still young and learning, he did not hold. We walked together, and I tapped his head to remind him to hold his point while I flushed the bird.

For all three of us, there was no sound, no wind, no cold. There was just the glory of the dog rushing toward the bird. There was a beauty to it that suspended all the senses — a gap in breathing, a gap in everything. Then the senses came slamming back in an exhale. I was rushing toward the bird and calling for Hugo to retrieve.

When I glanced up at Steve, he appeared quite healthy, perhaps as healthy as the spring of 1972.

We stopped Hugo before he crossed the creek. We let that be where our trail ended for the day. It could have gone on, but it ended there.

Before I followed bird dogs, my trails ended at a logical place — at markers or summits where it made sense to turn back. It wasn't until hunting with dogs that I learned how to know when it was worth going, worth staying at it, and when the day was over.

A hunting trail doesn't begin or end anywhere in particular. It is just followed for as long as it makes sense, and sometimes it doesn't make a lot of sense until afterward, when you're glad you went for the love of the dog.

Christine Cunningham of Kenai is a lifelong Alaskan and avid hunter. On alternate weeks, she writes about Alaska hunting and fishing. Contact her at

Trump retreats from vow to stand up to NRA

Mon, 2018-03-12 17:42

Not even two weeks ago, President Donald Trump appeared to buck the National Rifle Association – publicly endorsing Democratic-friendly gun-control ideas while mocking other Republicans as "petrified" of the powerful firearms lobby.

"They have great power over you people," Trump said on Feb. 28, referring to the NRA while addressing a group of lawmakers at the White House. "They have less power over me."

But now Trump has retreated, putting forward a modest package of gun-safety measures this week that has none of the provisions opposed by the NRA that he seemed to back days earlier. The shift provides another example of the strong influence wielded by the NRA both at the White House and on Capitol Hill, where most lawmakers remain opposed to significant policy changes in the wake of the shooting massacre that killed 17 at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month.

"I think we could all see it coming. I wish the president had televised the meeting with the NRA like he televised the meeting with us," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Monday, referring to a March 1 huddle between Trump and top officials at the gun rights group. "Clearly, the NRA was more persuasive than I was."

In the face of such criticism, Trump defended his plan in a series of tweets Monday morning.

"Very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by White House. Legislation moving forward. Bump Stocks will soon be out. Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law. Armed guards OK, deterrent!" Trump wrote in one Twitter message.

White House officials said Trump's official gun plan was drafted within the confines of what Congress will allow – a notable contrast to Trump's "I alone can fix it" image as someone who could single-handedly cut through Washington gridlock.

Administration officials also disputed that Trump's plan amounts to a reversal of his positions since that February meeting, when the president surprised lawmakers of both parties by appearing to back proposals to raise the purchase age for AR-15s and similar types of rifles and to expand background checks. He also declared at that meeting that law enforcement officials should "take the guns first, go through due process second" for those suspected of mental illness.

"He hasn't backed away from these things at all," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a contentious back-and-forth with reporters Monday. "But he can't make them happen with a broad stroke of the pen. You have to have some congressional component to do some of these things, and without that support, it's not as possible."

Publicly, Republican senators had dismissed Trump's embrace of Democratic-friendly gun measures as the negotiating tactic of a businessman who wanted to hear from all sides before coming to a decision. His defenders on Capitol Hill said much the same Monday, arguing that Trump's plan was crafted in political reality, considering the composition of Congress.

"I've called the meeting we had at the White House on TV really more of a brainstorming session. It was not a legislative strategy session," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texs, said Monday. "I think as the president and the White House has talked to Congress, they found out what is achievable and what's not."

Yet Vice President Mike Pence spoke with a number of Senate Republicans who privately raised serious concerns about what Trump said at the gun summit, according to one White House official who was not authorized to talk on the record and so spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Montana's Sen. Steve Daines was among the GOP lawmakers who reached out to the administration with worries about what was said, conveying his concerns to the White House's legislative staff.

"We really reengaged and reemphasized the points I made to the president in that meeting: First thing we need to do to make kids safe is to make our schools safe," Daines said Monday. "I'm pleased to see that he's moved away from a focus on gun control and now focused on stopping people who have a homicidal intent."

At a meeting on March 1, NRA lobbyist Chris Cox told Trump that some of his ideas, particularly raising the age limit to buy a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, wouldn't pass and that raising the age wouldn't stop crimes, according to people briefed on the meeting. Cox also said the background check legislation being supported by the White House would go too far, these people said.

Trump saw the arguments as convincing, said two people who later spoke to him. The meeting was warm, these people said, with the president telling Cox that he valued the NRA and wanted to be on the same page.

Cox and NRA President Wayne LaPierre, who met with Trump earlier, made clear to the president that the NRA supported him and did not want to be at odds.

The president was also taken aback by how many GOP lawmakers told him that his proposals were unlikely to pass, two senior administration officials said. He later told others in the White House that he wanted to support only legislation that could pass.

One senior administration official said Trump was never determined to pass everything he proposed or seemed to suggest in the bipartisan summit but likes to publicly gauge what others are thinking.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told Trump that broad gun laws were not going to pass, according to a senior administration official. A number of senior aides also told the president that there were not enough votes on the Hill to raise the purchase age for some guns, the official said.

"At first, he really wanted to do it . . . everyone was telling him, embrace this moment," one Trump adviser said. But now "he is telling people how supportive the NRA has been to him. He knows they are an important ally."

Another senior administration official said that Trump "does things on the fly" in sessions like the one on guns and that they aren't real promises or formal positions. His team was already drafting legislative proposals that mirrored what eventually came out, this official said.

Now, the Trump administration is focused on two main pieces of legislation: a bill to improve the federal background check database and a measure to shore up safety at schools, including grants to fund violence-prevention training for teachers and students. Both are broadly popular on Capitol Hill, although a handful of Republican senators are objecting to speedy passage of the background check bill.

The White House also wants states to pass bills for "risk-protection orders," which allow law enforcement to take guns away from people considered a public threat, and it is establishing a Federal Commission on School Safety, to be chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, that will explore possible solutions.

Trump's plan does not include an endorsement of a bipartisan measure written by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., to expand background checks to firearms sales at gun shows and online purchases, confusing key lawmakers who believed that Trump would get on board with the bill.

"Why did he talk about it so favorably in the public meeting?" Manchin asked of Trump and his bill. "I don't think the president seemed to be concerned about that, but I'm sure some of the more politically astute staff may be."

Despite the White House's comments that it was working within the realm of the possible, some proposals in Trump's plan aren't politically achievable in Congress. One of the most controversial would give "rigorous firearms training" to some teachers to protect students – an idea that would struggle mightily to pass.

"I don't think there's a lot of support for that," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a reliable ally of the White House, said Monday. "I just don't think that there's a move to arm teachers. I'm not particularly opposed to that, but there would have to be tremendous training and tremendous effort to make that work."

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker contributed to this report.

Trump blocks Broadcom’s $117 billion bid for Qualcomm out of national security concerns, a highly unusual move

Mon, 2018-03-12 17:15

President Donald Trump Monday ordered Singapore-based Broadcom to abandon its $117 billion hostile bid for Qualcomm, blocking what would have been one of the biggest technology deals in history.

In his presidential order, Trump cited "credible evidence" that the takeover "threatens to impair the national security of the United States." The merger would have put one of America's largest mobile chipmakers in the hands of a company based in Asia, a region that has been racing against American companies to develop the next generation of mobile technology.

The administration moved with unusual speed in the matter that caught many involved in the negotiations off guard. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, an interagency panel led by the Treasury Department, had several more weeks to render a recommendation to the president. Trump's order cannot be appealed, legal experts said.

The move demonstrates the high value that the administration places on maintaining the U.S. edge in developing micro technologies.

The administration did not detail its national security concerns, but CFIUS last week sent a letter to the attorneys of the two companies saying it was concerned research and development at Qualcomm might atrophy under Broadcom's direction, according to a copy that was reviewed by The Washington Post. If that happened, China's Huawei Technologies, a rival to Qualcomm and a major producer of mobile chips, might become much more dominant around the world.

The tiny computer chips embedded in smartphones, smart home gadgets, and a wide range of other connected devices are expected to become one of the most critical technologies in the coming years. These chipsets enable connected cars to speak to each other as well as stoplights. Almost every major business and consumer electronics manufacturer uses Qualcomm's technology as brains for their devices.

Trump's order is in line with the administration's protectionist instincts. Last week, Trump also cited national security concerns in announcing a series of harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, a move that hit rivals such as China as well as allies such as Germany and South Korea. And several other technology deals fell apart, after CFIUS raised concerns. In September, Trump stopped the $1.3 billion acquisition of Portland-based Lattice Semiconductor by a private equity firm that had some Chinese investment.

One factor that may have pushed CFIUS to move quickly was a unusual maneuver by Broadcom to relocate to the United States. The company had said in a recent corporate filing that it was finalizing its plans to become an American entity in early April. Deals between American companies fall out of CFIUS' jursidiction.

A person familiar with CFIUS's investigation, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the matter, said this strategy may have doomed the transaction. "If there is one lesson here, it's don't screw with the government," the person said.

He described Trump's executive order as "brutal." "It smacks of anger on the part of the government to me. This feels a little more personal to me."

Qualcomm and Broadcom did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday night. In after hours trading, shares of Qualcomm sunk as much as 4 percent from its market close of $62.81. Shares of Broadcom rose less than 1 percent.

Qualcomm and a host of other big technology companies are racing to build a next-generation nationwide network known as "5G" with download speeds that could be 100 times faster than what most consumers experience now on their wireless service. Once deployed, a high-definition movie could load instantly on a smartphone. The capabilities of connected devices at work and home would vastly expand. Cable-quality service could even be provided over the air, instead of a wireline connected to a house.

Several analysts said the U.S. government is growing concerned that Huawei will develop such technologies almost as fast as their American counterparts, narrowing the gap between Chinese and U.S. companies.

But Rod Hunter, a partner at Baker McKenzie and a former senior director for international economics at the National Security Council, said it is not clear what exactly prompted CFIUS, a notoriously secret government body, to act so quickly

Hunter said it could reflect "an evolution in the thinking" of the committee, perhaps an indication that it's going to approach transactions in which foreign people or entities seek to own 5G wireless technology with the same sensitivity and rigor that the feds currently "apply to military equipment traditionally."

"Typically when you're doing these CFIUS cases you look at what the business is and how sensitive it is," Hunter said. "If it's a Chinese investor the bar is going to be high. A Singaporean investor you would not normally have considered a high risk."

Tony Romm contributed to this story.

Iditarod reprimands director of drug testing program who made alleged threat to musher

Mon, 2018-03-12 16:50

The governing board of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race announced Monday that it will "formally reprimand" the head of the race drug-testing program.

A top musher accused Morrie Craig, who leads the effort to tests dogs for banned substances, of attempting to threaten and intimidate him moments before the race began March 4. Craig told the Daily News that he did not intend to threaten the racer, Wade Marrs.

Craig admitted to making ill-timed remarks and said he planned to apologize.

[Musher Wade Marrs accuses Iditarod drug-testing director of threat, intimidation]

Craig was fired from his position as a toxicology professor at Oregon State University in late October for sexual harassment and bullying. He has appealed to keep that job and told the Daily News he is not guilty of the accusations.

The Iditarod drug testing program lies at the center of a months-long feud between race organizers and four-time champion Dallas Seavey.

Drug tests revealed that four of Seavey's dogs tested positive for tramadol, a banned painkiller, following the 2017 race. Seavey says he did not give the drug to the dogs and doesn't know who did. Seavey skipped the 2018 race in protest of the Iditarod Trail Committee's handling of the matter.

The problems reignited last week when Marrs said Craig approached him before the race and told him his dog team had tested positive for minuscule levels of a substance that is sometimes found in livestock eaten by dogs. The test results were not considered a violation, but had raised questions among mushers about a second, potential positive drug test in the 2017 race.

Marrs was not aware of the test results involving his team until Craig informed him just before Marrs left Willow to begin the 1,000-mile race.

Marrs is president of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club, a kind of players union for mushers that has called for the resignation of the board of directors president and has been critical of the race organization. Marrs said Craig told him that if "his 'workings' within the IOFC and specifically with Dallas Seavey did not cease," Craig would release information about Marrs' test results.

"Wade felt that Dr. Craig was using this information as leverage for Wade's silence regarding the 2017 drug testing at the upcoming Iditarod Official Finishers Club meeting in Nome," Marrs' kennel said in a statement.

Iditarod official accused of threatening musher Wade Marrs over drug test results

— Kyle Hopkins (@kylehopkinsAK) March 6, 2018

Craig said he did not threaten the musher but talked in general about discussing 2017 testing results following the race at the mushers' meeting.

Monday's statement from the Iditarod Trail Committee did not specify what constitutes a "formal reprimand" for Craig. Marrs had earlier said he was "deeply concerned" by Craig's continued involvement in the race.

[5 ways mushers say they would fix the Iditarod]

The Iditarod statement said, in part, "While there are differing accounts of the exact nature and perceived intent of the conversation (between Craig and Marrs), the (Board of Directors) believes that the conversation was at best ill timed, and a breach of protocol on Dr. Craig's part."

Race officials said Craig's role as head of the drug program is to analyze, interpret and report drug test findings to the board of directors, not to any third party such as individual mushers, unless authorized to do so.

"The ITC sincerely appreciates the expertise Dr. Craig has brought to the race in developing a credible drug testing program," the statement said. "However, he has been made aware that any further actions on his part deemed detrimental to the success of the program will result in additional disciplinary action up to and including termination of services."

At the time of Monday's statement, Marrs was in seventh place in the Iditarod, racing north on the Bering Sea coast.