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America’s secrets: Trump’s unprecedented disregard of norms…

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America’s secrets: Trump’s unprecedented disregard of norms…

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump isn’t the first to face criticism for flouting rules and traditions around the safeguarding of sensitive government records, but national security experts say recent revelations point to an unprecedented disregard of post-presidency norms established after the Watergate era.

Document dramas have cropped up from time to time over the years.

Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson’s national security adviser held onto explosive records for years before turning them over to the Johnson presidential library. The records showed that the campaign of his successor, Richard Nixon, was secretly communicating in the final days of the 1968 presidential race with the South Vietnamese government in an effort to delay the opening of peace talks to end the Vietnam War.

A secretary in Ronald Reagan’s administration, Fawn Hall, testified that she altered and helped shred documents related to the Iran-Contra affair to protect Oliver North, her boss at the White House National Security Council.

Barack Obama’s CIA director, David Petraeus, was forced to resign and pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for sharing classified material with a biographer with whom he was having an affair. Hillary Clinton, while Obama’s secretary of state, faced FBI scrutiny that extended into her 2016 presidential campaign against Trump for her handling of highly classified material in a private email account. The FBI director recommended no criminal charges but criticized Clinton for her “extremely careless” behavior.

As more details emerge from last month’s FBI search of Trump’s Florida home, the Justice Department has painted a portrait of an indifference for the rules on a scale that some thought inconceivable after establishment of the Presidential Records Act in 1978.

“I cannot think of a historical precedent in which there was even the suspicion that a president or even a high-ranking officer in the administration, with the exception of the Nixon administration, purposely and consciously or even accidentally removing such a sizable volume of papers,” said Richard Immerman, who served as assistant deputy director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009.

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FBI agents who searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Aug. 8 found more than 100 documents with classification markings, including 18 marked top secret, 54 secret and 31 confidential, according to court filings. The FBI also identified 184 documents marked as classified in 15 boxes recovered by the National Archives in January, and it received additional classified documents during a June visit to Mar-a-Lago. An additional 10,000 other government records with no classification markings were also found.

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That could violate the Presidential Records Act, which says that such records are government property and must be preserved.

That law was enacted after Nixon resigned from office in the midst of the Watergate scandal and sought to destroy hundreds of hours of secretly recorded White House tapes. It established government ownership of presidential records starting with Ronald Reagan.

The act specifies that immediately after a president leaves office, the National Archives and Records Administration takes legal and physical custody of the outgoing administration’s records and begins to work with the incoming White House staff on appropriate records management.

According to the National Archives, records that have no “administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value” can be disposed of before obtaining the archivist’s written permission.

Documents have been recovered from Trump’s bedroom, closet, bathroom and storage areas at his Florida resort, which doubles as his home. In June, when Justice Department officials met a Trump lawyer to retrieve records in response to a subpoena, the lawyer handed them documents in a “Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape.”

Trump has claimed he declassified all the documents in his possession and had been working in earnest with department officials on returning documents when they conducted the Mar-a-Lago search. During the 2016 campaign, Trump asserted that Clinton’s use of her private email server for sensitive State Department material was disqualifying for her candidacy; chants from his supporters to “lock her up” became a mainstay at his political rallies.

James Trusty, a lawyer for Trump in the records matter, said on Fox News that Trump’s possession of the sensitive government material was equivalent to hanging on to an “overdue library book.”

But Trump’s former attorney general, Bill Barr, said in a separate Fox News interview that he was “skeptical” of Trump’s claim that he declassified everything. “People say this (raid) was unprecedented — well, it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, OK,” Barr said.

Trump’s attitude about White House records is not so surprising to some who worked for him.

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One of Trump’s national security advisers, John Bolton, said briefers quickly learned that Trump often tried to hang onto sensitive documents, and they took steps to make sure documents didn’t go missing. Classified information was tweeted, shared with reporters and adversaries — even found in a White House complex bathroom.

That approach is out of step with how modern-day presidents have operated.

Obama, while writing his White House memoir after leaving office, had paper records he used in his research delivered to him in locked bags from a secure National Archives storage facility and returned them in similar fashion.

Dwight Eisenhower, who left office years before the Presidential Records Act was passed, kept official records secure at Fort Ritchie, Maryland, even though there was no requirement for him to do so.

Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel during the final years of the Obama administration, recalled that Fred Fielding, who held the same position in the George W. Bush administration, advised him as he started his new job to hammer home to staff the requirements set in the records act.

Similarly, Trump’s White House counsel, Donald McGahn, sent a staff-wide memo in the first weeks of the administration underscoring “that presidential records are the property of the United States.”

“It’s not a hard concept that documents prepared during the course of our presidential administration are not your personal property or the president’s personal properties,” Eggleston said.

Presidents are not required to obtain security clearances to access intelligence or formally instructed on their responsibilities to safeguard secrets when they leave office, said Larry Pfeiffer, a former CIA officer and senior director of the White House Situation Room.

But guidelines issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence agencies, require that any “sensitive compartmented information” –- some of the highest-value intelligence the U.S. possesses –- be viewed only in secure rooms known as “SCIFs.”

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The FBI, in a court filing, this past week included a photo of some of the records that agents discovered in the search of Trump’s estate. The photo showed cover sheets on at least five sets of papers that are marked “TOP SECRET/SCI,” a reference to sensitive compartmented information, as well as a cover sheet labeled “SECRET/SCI” and “Contains sensitive compartmented information.” The FBI also found dozens of empty folders marked classified, with nothing inside and no explanation of what might have been there.

A president can keep reports presented during a briefing for later review. And presidents –- or nominees for president during an election year -– aren’t always briefed in a SCIF, depending on their schedules and locations, Pfeiffer said.

“There’s no intelligence community directive that says how presidents should or shouldn’t be briefed on the materials,” said Pfeiffer, now director of the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. “We’ve never had to worry about it before.”

People around the president with access to intelligence are trained on intelligence rules on handling classified information and required to follow them. But imposing restrictions on the president would be difficult for intelligence agencies, Pfeiffer said, because “by virtue of being the executive of the executive branch, he sets all the rules with regard to secrecy and classification.”

President Joe Biden told reporters recently that he often reads his top secret Presidential Daily Briefing at his home in Delaware, where he frequently spends his weekends and holidays. But Biden said he takes precautions to make certain the document stays secure.

“I have in my home a cabined-off space that is completely secure,” Biden said.

He added: “I read it. I lock it back up and give it to the military.”

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Associated Press reporter Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of Donald Trump at https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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