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Govt-and-politics
breaking
Special counsel Robert Mueller announces resignation, says investigation did not exonerate Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that charging President Donald Trump with a crime was "not an option" because of federal rules, but he used his first public remarks on the Russia investigation to emphasize that he did not exonerate the president.

"If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller declared.

The special counsel's remarks stood as a pointed rebuttal to Trump's repeated claims that he was cleared and that the two-year inquiry was merely a "witch hunt." They also marked a counter to criticism, including by Attorney General William Barr, that Mueller should have reached a determination on whether the president illegally tried to obstruct the probe by taking actions such as firing his FBI director.

Mueller made clear that his team never considered indicting Trump because the Justice Department prohibits the prosecution of a sitting president.

"Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider," Mueller said. He said he believed such an action would be unconstitutional.

Carolyn Kaster 

Special counsel Robert Muller speaks at the Department of Justice Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Washington, about the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Mueller did not use the word 'impeachment," but said it was the job of Congress — not the criminal justice system — to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.

The special counsel's statement largely echoed the central points of his 448-page report,which was released last month with some redactions. But his remarks, just under 10 minutes long and delivered from a Justice Department podium, were extraordinary given that he had never before discussed or characterized his findings and had stayed mute during two years of feverish public speculation.

Mueller, a former FBI director, said Wednesday that his work was complete and he was resigning to return to private life.

His remarks underscored the unsettled resolution, and revelations of behind-the-scenes discontent, that accompanied the end of his investigation. His refusal to reach a conclusion on criminal obstruction opened the door for Barr to clear the president, who in turn has cited the attorney general's finding as proof of his innocence.

Trump, given notice Tuesday evening that Mueller would speak the next morning, watched on television. For weeks, he had been nervous about the possibility about the special counsel testifying before Congress, worried about the visual power of such a public appearance.

Shortly after Mueller concluded, the president who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the report cleared him of obstruction of justice, tweeted a subdued yet still somewhat inaccurate reaction: "Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you"

While claiming victory, the tone of the president's tweet was a far cry from the refrain of "total exoneration" that has dominated his declarations.

Mueller has privately vented to Barr about the attorney general's handling of the report, while Barr has publicly said he was taken aback by the special counsel's decision to neither exonerate nor incriminate the president.

Under pressure to testify before Congress, Mueller did not rule it out. But he seemed to warn lawmakers that they would not be pulling more detail out of him. His report is his testimony, he said.

"So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work," Mueller said, "I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress."

Mueller's comments, one month after the public release of his report on Russian efforts to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, appeared intended to both justify the legitimacy of his investigation against complaints by the president and to explain his decision to not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice in the probe.

He described wide-ranging and criminal Russian efforts to interfere in the election, including by hacking and spreading disinformation — interference that Trump has said Putin rejected to his face in an "extremely strong and powerful" denial.

And Mueller called the question of later obstruction by Trump and his campaign a matter of "paramount importance."

Mueller said the absence of a conclusion on obstruction should not be mistaken for exoneration.

A Justice Department legal opinion "says the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing," Mueller said. That would shift the next move, if any, to Congress, and the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would investigate further or begin any impeachment effort, commented quickly.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler said it falls to Congress to respond to the "crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far discouraged members of her caucus from demanding impeachment, believing it would only help Trump win re-election and arguing that Democrats need to follow a methodical, step by step approach to investigating the president. But she hasn't ruled it out.

On the Republican side, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Mueller "has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead."

Trump has blocked House committees' subpoenas and other efforts to dig into the Trump-Russia issue, insisting Mueller's report has settled everything.

The report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to tip the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor. But it also did not reach a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice.

Barr has said he was surprised Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction, though Mueller in his report and again in his statement Wednesday said he had no choice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided on their own that the evidence was not sufficient to support a criminal charge.

Barr, who is currently in Alaska for work and was briefed ahead of time on Mueller's statement, has said he asked Mueller during a March conversation if he would have recommended charging Trump "but for" the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, and that Mueller said "no."

"Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office," Mueller said. "That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view that, too, is prohibited."

Mueller, for his part, earlier complained privately to Barr that he believed a four-page letter from the attorney general summarizing the report's main conclusions did not adequately represent his findings. Barr has said he considered Mueller's criticism to be a bit "snitty."

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.


Legislature
Omaha residents could get yard waste composted, third cart under Mayor Stothert's new trash plan

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert is trying to revive a trash-hauling contract that a clear majority on the City Council once described as dead on arrival.

The mayor’s latest plan addresses two of the public’s chief complaints about the proposal: the handling of yard waste and the number of carts that people get.

Under the new plan, residents could put unlimited yard waste at the curb on Saturdays for six weeks each spring and fall. Those clippings would be composted. Individual property owners would not pay more.

In addition, larger households could request three carts, instead of two, after 90 days at no additional charge to them.

The seasonal yard waste changes would require bidding out a new contract, separate from the city’s next trash contract. The city expects the program to replace proposed spring and fall yard waste drop-off sites and to cost between $500,000 and $600,000 a year.

Stothert, in an interview Wednesday afternoon, said she aims for the city to cover the cost of the third trash cart for households of five or more. The city would do so by changing a city ordinance that provides additional trash pickup for families of eight or more.

It was not clear how the city or the selected trash contractor would confirm a household’s size. Other households that want more carts would have to pay an additional fee directly to the trash contractor.

Under the original $22.7 million-a-year bid from FCC Environmental of Spain, each household would get two 96-gallon carts. One would be for trash and yard waste combined, picked up weekly; and the other would be for recycling, picked up every other week.

Stothert wants to stick with the 10-year FCC bid, which Public Works officials endorsed. That contract, in its original form, was not likely to secure a single “yes” vote from the City Council, based on interviews with council members. Several said the mayor’s add-ons, if reasonably priced, would make them more open to considering the FCC bid.

The need for the bid add-ons could delay Tuesday’s planned vote on the FCC trash contract, council members told The World-Herald. Many, including Vinny Palermo and Brinker Harding, said they would not vote on the FCC contract without having the yard waste bid or its costs in hand.

There also still seems to be strong support on the City Council — five of seven members — for reconsidering the city’s low bidder. The bids from that group, West Central Sanitation of Minnesota, offer more services for less money than FCC.

For example: West Central is offering separate yard waste collection and three carts to all of Omaha for $22.2 million a year. That’s $500,000 less than FCC’s original two-cart bid with yard waste going to the dump, though West Central’s three-cart bid would charge homeowners for any yard waste beyond what fills a 96-gallon cart each week.

The mayor said her updated plan would boost the value of the FCC bid by offering Omahans unlimited curbside yard waste one day a week in the spring and fall cleanup periods.

HDR reviewed the West Central bid and did not find the company to be incapable of doing the job or to be high risk. However, HDR’s review did express concern that West Central’s bid price appeared low for the level of service to be provided.

Councilman Chris Jerram, voicing reservations also expressed by the mayor, Public Works and city finance officials, questioned how much of a chance the city would be taking by hiring West Central. He has noted that the company would have to double in size to serve Omaha and has warned council members about the difficulties of replacing a garbage contractor were it to fail.

Councilman Pete Festersen said he was still mulling what to do about West Central.

Councilwoman Aimee Melton said the potential savings “might justify the risk.” Councilman Rich Pahls called West Central his “first choice.” Council President Ben Gray, too, said he is willing to reconsider the company.

Stothert, citing concerns about the ability of West Central to grow that much that fast and to secure the needed financing to do so, said it’s not worth the risk. The city should not gamble when another, better solution is possible with FCC, she said.

West Central owner Don Williamson, in recent weeks, has defended his growing company as stable and capable of delivering what it promised in Omaha because it automates more waste collection than its competitors.

Stothert said she would “never” forward a West Central contract to the City Council before the company guaranteed that it had secured the necessary financing. Letters that the company provided to the city confirm interest from banks in lending West Central money but stop short of committing to lending funds to the company, she said. Lenders, in follow-up conversations with the city, said the same, according to a separate city financial review.

The way the process works, Stothert would have to forward a West Central bid to the council for council members to take up a contract with the company.

Melton, in a follow-up statement Wednesday evening, said she understands that she might not get to vote on a West Central bid. She said she appreciated that the mayor had addressed her requests for separate yard waste pickup during peak times and for composting, among others. She called the mayor’s latest proposal a good compromise.

Photos: Our best shots of 2019 (so far)

Iowa
Residents of Hamburg, Iowa, still reeling from March flooding, strive to keep town dry

HAMBURG, Iowa — With grim determination, the Finnell family emptied more inventory from their downtown antique store Wednesday as the small Iowa town prepares for what could be Round 2 of flooding.

Several feet of water poured into the Main Street store during record flooding in March that left a portion of Hamburg underwater. Now, the rapidly rising Missouri River threatens the town again.

Large amounts of rain, saturated soil and runoff in the Missouri Basin are forcing higher releases of Missouri River water from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota.

Gavins Point releases went from 65,000 cubic feet per second on Tuesday to 70,000 on Wednesday. A jump to 75,000 is expected Saturday.

Discharges in a normal year are around 30,000.

The releases and the recent heavy rains in Nebraska and Iowa are expected to worsen the flooding problems in such downstream Iowa cities as Hamburg, Percival and Pacific Junction.

Wednesday, Glenn and Melanie Finnell and their son Dallas grabbed cuckoo clocks, glass jars and boxes full of other antique pieces, all of which are headed for higher ground.

“Angry. Depressed. Sad,” 24-year-old Dallas Finnell said, summing up his mood. “We’re not sure if this is going to take more stuff from us. We can only lose so much.”

Behind them, workers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were assembling a double-layer flood barrier across E Street to try to prevent the kind of flooding that already crippled the town once this year.

According to the corps, one of the levees that protects Hamburg breached in seven places in mid-March. Repairs are ongoing, leaving the town increasingly vulnerable as rain continues to fall and the Missouri and Nishnabotna Rivers continue to swell.

This month alone, more than 10 inches of rain has fallen in the area, Fremont County Emergency Management officials said.

The barriers lining Main Street are meant to keep the north side of town dry, said Mike Crecelius, the county’s emergency management director. The Ditch 6 levee has been built up to protect the western and southern portions of town from floodwaters. Earthen berms were added to each end of the levee for added strength.

“Eleven local guys brought in their bulldozers and built the levee back up (Tuesday),” Crecelius said. “The corps gave us elevation readings, and we added 3 feet all along the levee.

“I’m hoping what we’ve done will be enough, but it’s really out of our hands now,” he said. “It’s up to Mother Nature. It will depend on the river levels.”

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As of late Wednesday afternoon, the Missouri River was carrying less than half as much water at Nebraska City as it did during the peak of flooding in March, according to Kellie Bergman, chief of the hydrologic engineering branch for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

However, the levees still have holes in them, so the valley floods at a lower river level than it would have prior to the March flooding. Additionally, some of the flooding behind the levees is being caused by runoff from recent heavy rains, she said.

Bergman cautioned that people should not take river conditions for granted. Even where levees haven’t broken, they have been weakened, so fresh breaks are possible.

Downtown Hamburg was a virtual ghost town Wednesday — only a handful of businesses have reopened since March. City water and sewer service was restored only a few weeks ago, and piles of flood wreckage — soggy insulation, couches and floorboards — remain heaped outside affected homes and businesses, waiting to be hauled away.

Three dozen mattresses are stacked outside the Hamburg Inn, and 5 inches of mud still coats the floor of some motel rooms. A pyramid of moldy corn sits outside a grain company on the outskirts of town.

All that debris will be floating if water rushes in again, said Hamburg City Councilman Wille Thorp.

Thorp estimated that about 400 Hamburg residents are displaced and living elsewhere, including the campground at nearby Waubonsie State Park. Prior to the March flood, the city’s population hovered around 1,000.

Wednesday morning, Thorp and Chipper Fyfe, a worker with GoServ Global, a faith-based nonprofit that has been helping residents muck out houses in Hamburg, checked on an earthen city dike east of Interstate 29 that stands 11 to 12 feet high. On the other side, water lapped against it, in some places only a foot or so from the top.

If “it comes in,” Thorp said, “we’ve lost people already who are moving away.”

Cleanup also is ongoing in Pacific Junction, which evacuated for nearly a month in March. Wednesday, contractors with St. Louis-based Environmental Restoration, LLC collected so-called “orphan tanks” — stranded oil tanks and hazardous material containers — from floodwaters outside the city via airboat.

The March flooding hit several buildings owned by the Finnells and ruined much of the family’s classic car collection. Volunteers seemed to focus on helping those with flooded homes, they said, leaving business owners to fend for themselves.

Crecelius said Hamburg also faces danger from the rising Nishnabotna River on the city’s east side.

“That’s another concern,” he said. “We’re not working there yet, but the road to Riverton was cut off (by the river) at 11 p.m. (Tuesday).”

Glenn Finnell, 78, lived through floods in 1952, 1993 and 2011, when Hamburg was largely spared.

“I’m not going back,” he said about reopening the antique business.

Finnell said he’d like to sell his buildings. “But I don’t know who would buy them.”

World-Herald staff writers Kevin Cole, Marjie Ducey and Nancy Gaarder contributed to this report.

Photos: Iowa and Nebraska brace for more flooding

Primary-secondary
Elkhorn PTO reprints school yearbook to remove Christian symbol on cover

An Elkhorn school that drew national attention for a Christmas controversy last winter recently faced another religious-expression issue.

This time, it centered on the school yearbook.

Fifth-graders at Manchester Elementary School voted to put a Christian symbol on the yearbook cover: a cross.

It is not clear who designed the cover art, if the students had other choices or who authorized its printing.

But it ended up on the yearbook.

The board of directors of the Parent Teacher Organization, in charge of producing the yearbook, subsequently reprinted the book without the cross.

A spokeswoman for the Elkhorn Public Schools said Wednesday the PTO leaders and principal first saw the cross cover a couple of weeks ago after the books were printed.

The cover featured words of virtue and inspiration, including “faith,” arranged in the shape of a cross.

The PTO leaders ordered the reprint, which removed the cross and left the image of sky and clouds, said spokeswoman Kara Perchal.

The reprinted yearbook was distributed to families on Friday, the last day of school, Perchal said.

Last winter, the school drew national attention after then-principal Jennifer Sinclair issued a memo to staff prohibiting all Christmas-related symbols, including candy canes, Christmas carols, and red and green items, at the school, located northwest of 168th and Blondo Streets.

The memo caused an uproar with parents and teachers and led Sinclair to step down as principal.

Perchal said the PTOs are responsible for creating and publishing the yearbooks with money from their fundraising. PTOs do not receive district funds, she said.

Generally, she said, cover art is approved by principals in the winter. In this case, because of the situation with the previous principal, the cover didn’t go through the normal approval process, she said. The principal was on administrative leave.

PTO President Andrea Abrahamson said that when board members learned of the situation, they “voted unanimously to reprint the cover as it was not sensitive to our all-student agenda.”

“The yearbook cover in question was not distributed to students,” Abrahamson said.

Photos: Fighting measles in Nebraska, Iowa through the years