Washington, Jul 11(AP/UNB) — Some are watching old video of his previous testimony. Others are closely re-reading his 448-page report. And almost all are worrying about how they'll make the most of the short time they'll have for questioning.
Robert Mueller, the Democrats know, will be tough to crack.
The stern, reticent former FBI director has said he won't answer questions beyond what is in the report on Russia's election meddling and the Trump campaign and possible obstruction of justice when he comes to Congress on July 17.
Mueller is expected to testify in front of the Judiciary and intelligence committees for two hours each, with time split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, though that timing is still a subject of negotiations. That means Democrats will have to be efficient and targeted in their attempts to extract information from the former special counsel and spotlight what they say are his most damaging findings against President Donald Trump.
"It will not be easy," said Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee. He added: "We just have to be very smart about how we use the time and really give the special counsel the time to tell the story."
Cicilline says he's reading the report a second time, thoroughly, with an eye toward what he wants to ask.
Separately, a Democratic aide said staff members have been watching old videos of Mueller testifying as FBI director during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. They're looking to see how he'll act, the aide said, and they have noticed he gives minimal commentary when answering questions. The aide was not authorized to discuss internal preparations for the hearing and requested anonymity.
Wary of their challenging witness, Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee huddled Wednesday evening to discuss strategy for questioning Mueller, along with other topics. Exactly how the hearing will be structured is still being negotiated, members said as they emerged, but Democrats are expected to divvy up the questions in a methodical way
Among the topics up for discussion as the hearing approaches: Should they work through the report step by step, or paint a general picture? Will every member be able to speak in the short time they have? And what can they do to best crystalize the findings of a report that they believe Americans haven't read or absorbed?
New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the panel, said before the meeting that he expects to discuss "what the team strategy is going to be as we begin an intensive phase of preparation."
Republicans seem to have given it less thought. Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot, a senior GOP member of Judiciary, said he hasn't started preparing and expects little news from the event. He said Democrats are just "chasing their tails" and are aiming to placate base voters who want to see the Democratic House majority take on the president.
"It's possible a few people could change their opinion, but overall I think it's not likely," Chabot said.
The Judiciary Committee is expected to focus on the second half of Mueller's report, which details multiple episodes in which Trump attempted to influence the investigation. Mueller said he couldn't exonerate the president on obstruction of justice.
The House's intelligence panel, which will go second, will focus on the first half of the report, which details Russian interference in the presidential election. Mueller said there wasn't enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, but detailed several contacts between the two as well as the Trump campaign's willingness to accept Russian help.
Under a deal struck with the committees, two of Mueller's deputies — James Quarles and Aaron Zebley — are expected to meet with the panels in separate closed sessions after Mueller's public hearing. But that might be in jeopardy as the Justice Department has pushed back on the arrangement, according to two people familiar with the negotiations. They requested anonymity to discuss the private talks.
The chairman of the intelligence panel, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Tuesday said he wouldn't discuss the details of those negotiations, but that the deputies have agreed to appear and "I have no reason to believe that will be unsuccessful."
One issue that Judiciary members are expected to focus on is whether Mueller will state whether Trump would have been charged with a crime were he not president. Jeffries said that answer could "strike to the heart of why a prosecution or recommendation to prosecute wasn't included in the report."
Mueller said at a May news conference that charging a president with a crime was "not an option" because of longstanding Justice Department policy. But Democrats want to know more about how he made that decision, and when.
It's unclear if he will go beyond his previous comments. Mueller, who was reluctant to testify at all, has been firm that he will stick to what's already in the report.
Some lawmakers say that's OK and just want to reach a broader audience of Americans who they fear have tuned out.
"This isn't a question of creating a narrative," said Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, another Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "The narrative is already out there. It's simply highlighting what is already there."
New York, Jul 11(AP/UNB) — Two adults and a 6-year-old girl were killed and two others were seriously injured in a house fire in New York, authorities said.
The blaze was reported Wednesday afternoon in a two-story home in East Elmhurst in Queens. About 100 firefighters responded to the blaze, which was declared under control about an hour and a half later, according to the New York Fire Department.
"Unfortunately it's a sad afternoon here in East Elmhurst," said FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. "It's quite unusual at that time in the afternoon to have a fire trap five occupants in a private dwelling."
"The first call we received came from the occupant of the first floor apartment in that home who heard an alarm going off and called 911," Nigro said.
Police said an 8-month-old boy and a 42-year-old woman were hospitalized in critical condition. They had escaped the house by the time firefighters arrived, Nigro said.
The other three victims were found inside the burning house. The girl was pronounced dead at the scene and the two adult males, a 30-year-old and a 75-year-old, died at the hospital.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
Washington, Jul 11(AP/UNB) — The Trump administration warned of unspecified "active threats" to U.S. elections as top security officials briefed Congress Wednesday on steps the government has taken to improve election security in the wake of Russian interference in 2016.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray and other officials "made it clear there are active threats and they're doing everything they can" to stop them, said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. Dingell called the closed-door presentation "very impressive" and said the issue was "one we all need to take seriously."
Coats, Wray and other officials, including acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, met separately with the House and Senate in classified briefings at the Capitol. Democrats requested the sessions as they press legislation to keep Russia and other foreign adversaries from interfering with the U.S. political system.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., called the briefing helpful and said it reinforced the importance of remaining vigilant against outside threats to U.S. elections.
Federal agencies "continue to learn from the mistakes of the 2016 election, when the (Obama) administration was flat-footed in their response" to Russian interference, Scalise said. "We need to stay vigilant."
Special counsel Robert Mueller laid out details of Russian interference in the 2016 election in his report earlier this year, and lawmakers from both parties have warned that the Russians are likely to try to interfere again in 2020.
Democrats say Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked bipartisan bills to address election security, and they pressed for the briefings as a way to force his hand.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he welcomed the briefings. The "smooth and secure execution" of the 2018 midterm elections "was not a coincidence" and showed the success of measures the administration has already taken, he said.
While acknowledging that Congress may need to act, McConnell said he's skeptical of Democratic-passed bills on election security, saying they give too much control over state and local elections to the federal government.
Democrats "have twice passed bills aimed at centralizing election administration decisions in the federal government, in part on the hope that election attorneys — not voters — will get to determine the outcome of more elections," he said Wednesday.
Democrats disputed that and said urgent action is needed to guard against Russian interference.
"We know that nefarious foreign and domestic actors continue to meddle in our democratic systems, and we've been put on notice that previous efforts were only trial runs presumably for our next election in 2020," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the chief sponsor of the House election security bill.
The FBI and other law enforcement "definitely upped their game in 2018," said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee. "But the Russians and others will be back."
While national security officials "are working their hearts out," they were not helped when President Donald Trump joked about election interference with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit, Warner said. Congress also must act, Warner and other lawmakers said, as they urged bills that would create a paper ballot system to back up election machines and impose sanctions on foreign countries that interfere with U.S. elections.
National security officials said in a statement Wednesday that election security is a top priority and that officials are taking a "whole-of-government approach" to securing the 2020 elections, along with state, local and private sector partners.
A senior administration official said there have been about two dozen policy-coordinating meetings on the topic in the past year and Trump has been briefed on at least two occasions.
Despite his joking request to Putin — "Don't meddle in the election" — Trump takes the issue seriously, the official said. The exchange with Putin has not affected the administration's work on the issue, according to the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has co-sponsored a bill imposing sanctions on foreign governments that interfere with U.S. elections, said the Congress must "do everything possible to secure our election systems." His bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., would ensure that "Vladimir Putin — or whoever — knows that if they do this again ... what the price will be," Rubio said.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the classified briefing was important but "by no means sufficient."
Congress must "debate and adopt measures to protect our democracy and preserve the sanctity of elections," Schumer said. He accused McConnell of doing "nothing when it comes to one of the greatest threats to our democracy: that a foreign power would reach in and interfere (with U.S. elections) for its own purposes."
The bill approved by the House would require paper ballots in federal elections and authorize $775 million in grants over the next two years to help states secure their voting systems. It also would prohibit voting systems from being connected to the internet or wireless technologies and tighten standards for private companies that provide election infrastructure.
McConnell said again Wednesday that the GOP-led Senate is unlikely to vote on the bill.
"It's interesting that some of our colleagues across the aisle seem to have already made up their minds before we hear from the experts that a brand-new, sweeping Washington, D.C., intervention is just what the doctor ordered," he said.
Washington, Jul 11 (AP/UNB) — The abrupt resignation of Britain's ambassador to the United States over leaked cables critical of the Trump administration may have jolted official Washington, but it's unlikely to have a lasting impact on the U.S.-British relationship or diplomatic practice.
Current and former diplomats say the leak of Ambassador Kim Darroch's sensitive reports is unfortunate and alarming, particularly given the apparent political motive behind it. Yet, they believe any complications will be temporary even as they create short-term turbulence in relations.
"It's a problem, but I don't know that it has a chilling affect over time because in the end people have jobs to do and they do their jobs," said Ronald Neumann, a retired three-time U.S. ambassador who is the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. "It's wrong and it's too bad. Still, you move on because there's work to be done."
Darroch, a well-known figure in Washington, resigned on Wednesday amid an uproar over the candid cables, saying "the current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like." The resignation followed President Donald Trump's furious caustic response to the leaked cables in which Darroch offered candid negative views of his administration.
In the cables, Darroch called the administration's policy toward Iran "incoherent," said the president might be indebted to "dodgy Russians" and raised doubts about whether the White House "will ever look competent."
Trump's lambasting of Darroch on Twitter — he called the ambassador "a pompous fool" and "a very stupid guy" and criticized outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May — drew condemnation from both sides of the Atlantic.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is in the running to replace May, replied: "Allies need to treat each other with respect."
Others suggested that Trump's reaction proved Darroch's point.
"Trump's petty and vindictive overreaction not only reinforces the accuracy of Darroch's portrait of him in his leaked cables, but further erodes an already complicated bilateral relationship," said William Burns, a highly respected retired career diplomat who served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration and is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The State Department downplayed the fracas, saying: "The United States and the United Kingdom share a bond that is bigger than any individual, and we look forward to continuing that partnership. We remain committed to the U.S.-UK Special Relationship and our shared global agenda."
But Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House intelligence committee, said Trump's comments make the work of American diplomats abroad harder than they already are.
"Diplomats the world over, including ours, are expected to provide candid assessments and advice to their home governments," he said. "If a foreign leader treated an American ambassador as President Trump treated the British ambassador, we would be up in arms, and justifiably so. "
In fact, U.S. diplomats have already felt the consequences of leaked cables that laid out unvarnished and often unflattering impressions of foreign leaders and governments.
The 2010 publication by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of classified and sensitive documents had a direct impact on at least three U.S. ambassadors, including one, Carlos Pascual, who resigned as envoy to Mexico over fallout from cables critical of then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Pascual was traveling Wednesday and not immediately available to comment on any similarities between his resignation and Darroch's.
Carnegie's Burns, who was serving as the third-ranking U.S. diplomat at the time, recalled that the leaks had "negative practical implications" for the day-to-day conduct of embassies.
"The immediate impact was to make U.S. diplomatic missions more careful, so there is, at least initially, a dampening effect," he said. "But, we got over it in time."
In the long run, though, few believe damage to the "special relationship" caused this week will be severe or lingering.
"The state-to-state relationship is much more than one person, particularly with Britain," Neumann said. "This is probably one of the least ambassador-dependent relationships we have, which is why we are able to send whoever we want to London, including some who are not so able."
Washington, July 10 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday revamping care for kidney disease so more people whose kidneys fail can have a chance at early transplants and home dialysis, and others don't get that sick in the first place.
Trump said his order was aimed at "making life better and longer for millions" by increasing the supply of donated kidneys, making it easier for patients to have dialysis in the comfort of their own homes and prioritizing the development of an artificial kidney.
The changes won't happen overnight because some initiatives will require new government regulations.
Because a severe organ shortage complicates the call for more transplants, the Trump administration will try to ease the financial hardships for living donors by reimbursing them for expenses such as lost wages and child care.
"Those people, I have to say, have never gotten enough credit," Trump said. "What they do is so incredible."
Another key change: steps to help the groups that collect deceased donations do a better job. Trump said it may be possible to find 17,000 more kidneys and 11,000 other organs from deceased donors for transplant every year.
For families like those of 1-year-old Hudson Nash, the lack of organs is frightening. Hudson was born with damaged kidneys, and his parents hope he will be big enough for a transplant in another year. Until then, "to keep him going, he takes numerous medicines, receives multiple shots, blood draws and more doctors' visits than I can count," said his mother, Jamie Nash of Santa Barbara, California.
Today's system favors expensive, time-consuming dialysis in large centers — what Trump called so onerous "it's like a full-time job" — over easier-to-tolerate at-home care or transplants that help patients live longer.
More than 30 million American adults have chronic kidney disease, costing Medicare a staggering $113 billion.
Careful treatment — including control of diabetes and high blood pressure, the two main culprits — can help prevent further kidney deterioration. But more than 700,000 people have end-stage renal disease, meaning their kidneys have failed, and require either a transplant or dialysis to survive. Only about one-third received specialized kidney care before they got so sick.
"My health care providers failed me at the beginning of the dialysis continuum," said transplant recipient Tunisia Bullock of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Her kidney failure struck while she was being treated for another disease, and she woke up in the hospital attached to a dialysis machine. She told Trump that she hoped the new initiatives help other patients find care "with less confusion and more ease."
More than 94,000 of the 113,000 people on the national organ waiting list need a kidney. Last year, there were 21,167 kidney transplants. Of those, 6,442 were from living donors, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation's transplant system.
"The longer you're on dialysis, the outcomes are worse," said Dr. Amit Tevar, a transplant surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who praised the administration's initiatives.
Too often, transplant centers don't see a kidney patient until he or she has been on dialysis for years, Tevar said. While any transplant is preferable, one from a living donor is best because those organs "work better, longer and faster," Tevar said.
Among the initiatives that take effect first:
—Medicare payment changes that would provide a financial incentive for doctors and clinics to help kidney patients stave off end-stage disease. The goal is to lower the number of new kidney failure cases by 25% by 2030.
—a bonus to kidney specialists who help prepare patients for early transplant, with steps that can begin even before they need dialysis.
—additional Medicare changes so that dialysis providers can earn as much by helping patients get dialysis at home as in the large centers that predominate today. Patients typically must spend hours three or four times a week hooked to machines that filter waste out of their blood.
Home options include portable blood-cleansing machines, or what's called peritoneal dialysis that works through an abdominal tube, usually while patients are sleeping.
Today, about 11% of patients in kidney failure get at-home dialysis and an additional 3 percent get an early transplant. By 2025, the goal is to have 80% of people with newly diagnosed kidney failure getting one of those options, officials said.
These changes are being put in place through Medicare's innovation center, created under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and empowered to seek savings and improved quality. The administration is relying on the innovation center even as it argues in federal court that the law that created it is unconstitutional and should be struck down entirely.
Other initiatives will require new regulations, expected to be proposed later this year. Among them:
—allowing reimbursement of lost wages and other expenses for living donors, who can give one of their kidneys or a piece of their liver. The transplant recipient's insurance pays the donor's medical bills. But donors are out of work for weeks recuperating, and one study found more than one-third of living kidney donors reported lost wages, a median of $2,712, in the year following donation. Details about who pays and who qualifies still have to be worked out.
—clearer ways to measure how well the nation's 58 organ procurement organizations, or OPOs, collect donations from deceased donors. Some do a better job than others, but today's performance standards are self-reported, varying around the country and making it difficult for government regulators or the OPOs themselves to take steps to improve.
"Some OPOs are very aggressive and move forward with getting organs allocated and donors consented, and there are those that are a little more lackadaisical about it," said Pittsburgh's Tevar. Unlike the medical advances in transplantation, "we haven't really made big dents and progress and moves in increasing cadaveric organs or increasing live donor options."