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Articles
Trump team says there's no basis to remove him
IMPEACHMENT TRIAL

John Bolton

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators faced mounting pressure Monday to summon John Bolton to testify at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial even as Trump's lawyers mostly brushed past new allegations from the former national security adviser and focused instead on corruption in Ukraine and historical arguments for acquittal. Outside the Senate chamber, Republicans grappled with claims in a forthcoming book from Bolton that Trump had wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden.

That assertion could undercut a key defense argument — that Trump never tied the suspension of security aid to political investigations.

The revelation clouded White House hopes for a swift end to the impeachment trial, fueling Democratic demands for witnesses and possibly pushing more Republican lawmakers to agree. It also distracted from hours of arguments from Trump's lawyers, who declared anew that no witness has testified to direct knowledge that Trump's delivery of aid was contingent on investigations into Democrats. Bolton appeared poised to say exactly that if called on by the Senate to appear.

"We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information," Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said. "We do not deal with speculation."

Trump is charged with abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine's leader to help investigate Biden at the same time his administration was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid. A second charge accuses Trump of obstructing Congress in its probe.

Republicans are to conclude their arguments Tuesday.

On Monday, Trump's attorneys, including high-profile lawyers Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, launched a historical, legal and political attack on the entire impeachment process. They said there was no basis to remove Trump from office, defended his actions as appropriate and assailed Biden, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump in November.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi devoted her presentation to Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. The legal team argued that Trump had legitimate reasons to be suspicious of the younger Biden's business dealings and concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that, in any event, he ultimately released the aid without Ukraine committing to investigations the president wanted.

Democrats say Trump released the money only after a whistleblower submitted a complaint about the situation.

Trump has sought, without providing evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Though anti-corruption advocates have raised concerns, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

Starr, whose independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton resulted in his impeachment — he was acquitted by the Senate — bemoaned what he said was an "age of impeachment." Impeachment, he said, requires an actual crime and a "genuine national consensus" that the president must go. Neither exists here, Starr said.

"It's filled with acrimony, and it divides the country like nothing else," Starr said of impeachment. "Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way."

Dershowitz, the final speaker of the evening, argued that impeachable offenses require criminal-like conduct, though that view is largely rejected by legal scholars. He said "nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense."

"Purely non-criminal conduct, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are outside the range of impeachable offenses," Dershowitz said.

Elizabeth Warren, a presidential campaigner like Biden but also a Senate juror, told reporters she found Dershowitz's arguments "nonsensical."

Even as defense lawyers laid out their case as planned, it was clear Bolton's book had scrambled the debate over whether to seek witnesses. Bolton writes that Trump told him he wanted to withhold security aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations. Trump's legal team has insisted otherwise, and Trump tweeted Monday that he never told Bolton such a thing.

"I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens," Trump said. "If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book."

Republican senators face a pivotal moment. Pressure is mounting for at least four to buck GOP leaders and form a bipartisan majority to force the issue. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

"John Bolton's relevance to our decision has become increasingly clear," GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she has always wanted "the opportunity for witnesses" and the report about Bolton's book "strengthens the case."

At a private GOP lunch, Romney made the case for calling Bolton, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the meeting and granted anonymity.

Other Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said if the former national security adviser is called, they will demand reciprocity to hear from at least one of their witnesses. Some Republicans want to call the Bidens.

WHAT'S NEXT

After the Trump team finishes its defense, senators can ask questions. There also will be a vote on admitting evidence, including witness testimony.


Articles
Past aviation accidents and weather shed light on crash

Weather may have played a major role in the helicopter crash that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people Sunday.

Fog and mist in the Calabasas hills northwest of downtown Los Angeles had reduced visibilities, likely obscuring hills.

Attention is focusing on the role played by fog, high terrain and the pilot's use of "special visual flight rules" conditions. Pilots can request them when flying in controlled airspace, if flight by visual cues alone is not possible. Jerry Kidrick, a 35-year Army helicopter veteran who trains others how to fly them, said the copter's rapid ascent and other maneuvers suggest to him that the pilot became confused in the fog. The pilot may have become "spatially disoriented,'' Kidrick said.

About 15 minutes after the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter departed John Wayne Airport, it entered a holding pattern. Part of the delay was caused by a transition to "special VFR rules."

When a pilot is granted permission to fly, each flight is operated under "VFR" or "IFR" regulations.

Visual flight rules, or VFR, describe conditions that allow the pilot to fly by sight, which is what happens when weather is calm and visibility is high.

Instrument flight rules, or IFR, on the other hand, are mandated when an aircraft cannot be safely operated visually. This may occur at night, during bad weather, or in complex topography.

Pilot requirements for IFR flights are considerably more stringent than for pilots permitted to fly VFR flights.

As the helicopter transitioned into Burbank's airspace, the pilot requested — and was approved — to press on under "special VFR" flight conditions. That's a designation that allows pilots to continue operating as a VFR flight even in conditions below VFR limits.

During this period, it would appear as though the helicopter was flying below the clouds.

At 9:44 a.m., the helicopter began to ascend rapidly, climbing 875 feet vertically in 36 seconds.

"That pace at which he climbed indicates he's trying to get out of there, or he got spatially disoriented," said Kidrick, a professor of advanced helicopter operations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "That's a very common thing (investigators) find postcrash, the pilot makes rapid corrections and rapid maneuvering ... he does something radical to try to change that. It appears something went wrong."

He described it as a "panic situation." That sudden climb likely carried the helicopter into a layer of saturated air and extremely low visibility. It's likely that the nearby hilly, high terrain was largely or completely obscured by fog.

At 9:45 a.m., the helicopter abruptly turned from a south-southwesterly direction to southeasterly and eventually easterly. The helicopter's ground speed surged, and its altitude — if Flight Aware tracking data is correct — dropped 350 feet in six seconds.

Based on this, and the debris patterns, many pilots have conjectured this may have been an instance of "controlled flight into terrain," during which a mechanically stable aircraft is flown under controlled conditions into the ground. These incidents typically occur when visibility is a problem, and historically have been one of the main causes of aviation accidents.


Plus
'We are in trouble': Ahead of spring flood season, fears mount over unfixed private levees

You could say Ron Keller got lucky, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

When the Platte River came roaring through a break in a private levee protecting his property on Campanile Road in western Douglas County last March, his home was spared. But floodwaters still took out his well, damaged his septic tank and carried his propane tank a half-mile away.

“No water, no sewer, no propane,” he said. “It’s unlivable.”

His neighbor took the brunt of the hit. Water caused the foundation of his house to collapse, and it was condemned. Private levee breaches destroyed or damaged numerous cabins and homes on Campanile Road, home to several sandpit lakes near Two Rivers State Recreation Area.

CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD 

A truck dumps fill material on an area where a private levee washed away on Campanile Road near Venice, Nebraska, and Two Rivers State Recreation Area.

Then Keller got another rude awakening: Fixing the broken levee his house was built on would be entirely his responsibility.

“You assume anything along the river is owned by the (U.S. Army) Corps (of Engineers),” he said. “When I tried to get help, then all of a sudden it’s my problem.”

Private levees have become a problem for some property owners and public officials.

Those living by damaged ones, like Keller, are finding out that there’s not much help when it comes to fixing them. Repairs are expensive, there are little-to-no aid dollars to offset the cost, and if repairs aren’t complete, spring flooding could once again endanger nearby homes, businesses and roads.

“You’re talking multimillions of dollars,” said John Winkler, general manager of the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District. “We don’t even know the full extent of the damage. Everybody’s kind of looking at each other — we know something has to be done, but how are we going to do it?”

Historic flooding last year crippled many flood protection systems, both public and private.

If levees have been built and maintained to a certain standard and are sponsored by a public entity, federal money usually is available to repair them. Just over $10 million has already been spent to patch up the levees near Offutt Air Force Base and Omaha’s sewage treatment plant.

But across Nebraska there are dozens, likely hundreds, of smaller private levees and berms that protect homes and farmland along smaller creeks and rivers like the Elkhorn or Platte. These range from sophisticated flood barriers protecting waterfront property to glorified hills of dirt, clay or sand built by a farmer and his tractor 50 years ago.

When those levees break, there are fewer options for rebuilding.

“We don’t have a lot of tools in our tool box for private levee systems,” said Lowell Blankers, the levee safety program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s not within our authority to do those repairs.”

Rich Tesar

Rich Tesar, a Papio-NRD board member, is lobbying state legislators, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and other officials to create an inventory of private levees and figure out if there’s some sort of cost-sharing program to help rebuild levees on private property. Could the state, county or city governments, NRDs and homeowners split the expense?

Local NRDs already offer several cost-sharing programs, working with farmers to build terraces on fields to conserve water and soil or homeowners who need to cap old wells.

“We are in trouble, and nobody seems to be taking any steps to do any repairs,” Tesar said. “We need to address the issue.”

State Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango, who heads the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, said jurisdiction over levees is “an odd mix.” The state is also trying to figure out how to prioritize and pay for last year’s staggering flood damage across central and eastern Nebraska.

“We’re looking at everything,” Hughes said. “We’re scrambling to find as much money as possible. We don’t want to have a recurrence this spring.”

Last week, State Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard and six others introduced Legislative Bill 1201, calling for a flood mitigation and planning task force to study federal funding options and ways to minimize the risks of future flooding.

The task force would also look at how to assess, restore and rebuild infrastructure like roads, dams and levee systems.

CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Water froze in an area near Venice, Nebraska, and Two Rivers State Recreation Area, where a private levee once stood.

Tesar understands that asking for public money to be used for the benefit of private landowners could be a tough sell. On top of the repairs, levees also require ongoing maintenance to fill holes or clear vegetation.

But few can afford to swallow the costs alone.

A contractor has told Keller it could take several hundred truckloads of dirt and sand to reconstruct the portion of levee on his property. He received $5,000 in disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a fraction of what it will take to fix the levee and his broken water and septic systems.

“There are very limited opportunities for public funding for reconstruction of private flood control facilities,” wrote Jeff Fassett, the Department of Natural Resources director, in an email. “The owners are most likely on their own to protect their own property.”

Tesar said some private levees help hold back water that could damage multiple homes or public infrastructure, like roads and bridges. A section of Campanile Road was washed out by flooding and had to be replaced by Douglas County at a cost of about $200,000. The county tried to build up a portion of the road, but it could be vulnerable to flooding again until the levees are fully fixed, said Dan Kutilek, engineering manager at the Douglas County Engineer’s Office.

“I think there should be a shared (responsibility),” Tesar said. “I hate to go back now and say ‘you have to fix it’ if levees worked for 50, 80, 90 years. It didn’t cost the general public a nickel before that.”

No one knows exactly how many private levees exist, or where. It can be difficult to pin down who’s responsible for a levee built decades ago, or one that stretches across multiple properties.

“A lot of the calls we have gotten are from people who didn’t even know it was a levee until obviously it failed, and things flooded,” Winkler said.

In 2009, after Hurricane Katrina, a national levee safety task force recommended a national inventory of all private flood-control dikes, estimating then that were 100,000 miles of private levees across the country with little oversight or regulation.

Years later, the Department of Natural Resources is now trying to catalog levees with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, the state’s 23 natural resource districts and local emergency management offices.

The state does not approve or inspect private or public levees, though it does inspect dams. Even before the flooding last March, local and federal officials were working on an initiative that would allow the corps to conduct voluntary inspections of private levees.

Keller has been displaced from his home since the flood, and is living in Omaha. He’s trying to decide whether he’ll move back or simply sell the house.

“I’ve got to have the levee fixed before I can do anything,” he said. “I probably will fix it up and sell it. I’m 76 years old. I don’t need this stress in my life.”

Photos: Major flooding hit Nebraska and Iowa towns in March 2019

State_and_regional
Willa Cather Foundation launches effort to boost Red Cloud as literary tourism destination

LINCOLN — The Willa Cather Foundation is making a final push for donations to enhance Cather’s hometown of Red Cloud as a literary landmark and destination for “heritage” tourists.

The nonprofit foundation will announce Tuesday that it is seeking to raise $6.5 million to restore and upgrade eight historic buildings related to Cather’s novels in Red Cloud, develop a boutique hotel there and amass an endowment to maintain structures owned by the organization.

The Cather Campaign for the Future has already quietly raised 72% of its goal, and Tuesday’s announcement launches the public portion of its campaign, to gather the remaining $1.8 million by the annual spring Cather conference in June.

One of the projects will restore the Pavelka Farmstead, which played a central role in “My Ántonia,” one of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s most famous works. The farmhouse will be returned to its original 1916 floor plan and be opened for public tours, giving visitors the opportunity to experience the homestead as Ántonia Shimerda herself would have.

THE NATIONAL WILLA CATHER CENTER 

The Pavelka Farmstead, featured in "My Ántonia," will be restored to its original floor plan so visitors can walk through it as the title character would have.

“Coming to Red Cloud is a bit like stepping into a Cather novel,” said Ashley Olson, the executive director of the Cather Foundation. “It’s just critical that we are able to preserve these cultural sites for future generations.”

Former first lady Laura Bush, who spoke at the dedication of the National Willa Cather Center in 2017, is serving as the honorary chair of the fund drive. Historian and writer David McCullough also is lending his support to the campaign, calling Red Cloud “one of my favorite places in all of America.”

“The marvelous thing is you can walk right into Willa Cather’s world. There’s the house she lived in, the bank, the opera house, the railroad depot and the landscape,” McCullough said.

Annually, about 10,000 fans of Cather visit Red Cloud, a south-central Nebraska farm town of 1,000 immortalized in her writings.

The community already has the largest number of nationally designated buildings devoted to an American author, and the Cather Foundation has played a central role in restoring several historic structures in Red Cloud, including the Opera House. The new renovation work, as well as developing a boutique hotel, Olson said, are all part of Red Cloud’s overall goal to grow the local economy as a heritage tourism destination.

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“This has the potential to attract even more visitors than we do now,” she said.

The wheels started turning for this project when History Nebraska, the state historical society, transferred ownership of six historic buildings and about 8,000 Cather artifacts to the Cather Foundation a year ago. While the foundation had already been managing the structures, the transfer meant that major improvements were now the responsibility of the nonprofit group.

The six buildings transferred — Cather’s childhood home, the Burlington Railroad Depot, the Pavelka Farmstead, the Farmers and Merchants Bank, Grace Episcopal Church and St. Julianna Falconieri Church — will see work ranging from new roofs and heating and air conditioning systems, to new siding and electrical wiring.

“There is a lot of work to be done that was needed for a lot of years,” Olson said. “We’re happy to be able to do it.”

Two other structures already owned by the foundation, the Minor General Store and Baptist Church, also will be rehabilitated. In addition, all eight historic structures will be enhanced for educational purposes, with new exhibits and interpretive displays.

The foundation, Olson said, is adding two new employees — one for programs and another for maintenance. About $1.5 million of the money raised will be used for an endowment, she said, to ensure the foundation’s buildings are well maintained.

THE NATIONAL WILLA CATHER CENTER 

Farmers and Merchants Bank is one of the historic building in Red Cloud that will be restored. A 30-room boutique hotel will be developed next to it.

The development of a 30-room boutique hotel in Red Cloud is a joint project of the foundation, the Red Cloud Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cloud Community Foundation and other private investors. The structure that will become the hotel, the Potter Block, sits at the intersection of U.S. Highways 136 and 218, right next to the Farmers and Merchants Bank.

The hotel, which might take two years to develop, will allow more visitors to stay in Red Cloud for Cather events, Olson said.

Donations to the Cather Campaign for the Future can be mailed to the Willa Cather Foundation, 413 N. Webster, Red Cloud, NE 68970. Gifts can also be made online at WillaCather.org.

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