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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Government News"

White House sinkhole? Pffft. How National Mall would handle major flooding

WASHINGTON — While social media users post “drain the swamp” jokes about the small sink hole on the north lawn of the White House, most in D.C. aren’t aware of the process in place — and manpower required — to protect the National Mall from 100-year flooding.

Visitors to the Mall in the past four years have likely driven past the stone walls of the Potomac Park levee, unaware of its purpose and what steps would need to be taken before it could protect the nation’s monuments as well as low-lying D.C. neighborhoods from coastal storm surge and river flooding from the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River.

Drivers on 17th Street NW drive through a 140-foot gap in stone walls in place on the grounds of the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial.

Many visitors assume the stone walls are part of the monuments they flank — instead, they’re part of the 12-foot-high earthen berm that runs along the northern edge of the mall.

Earlier levees outlived their effectiveness.

The original system was Congressionally authorized to provide risk reduction for a flood event up to 700,000 cubic feet per second on the Potomac River from river and storm surge flooding. The project was completed in 1939 and relied on sandbags and earthen fill to form a temporary closure across 17th Street, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In January 2007, the Corps determined the closure structure was unreliable and gave the system an unacceptable rating. That led FEMA to “de-accredit” the levee, which prompted much of D.C. to pay into the National Flood Insurance Program.

The current levee and closure system “reduces risk to human safety and critical infrastructure downtown,” according the Army Corps.

If 100-year-flooding were expected, the National Park Service would have to truck in and install aluminum panels to bridge the gap and protect low-lying areas from devastating floods.

“The equipment is stored at Brentwood (maintenance facility), on trucks, and is ready to go,” said Mike Litterst, chief of communications of the National Mall, for the National Park Service.

After the half-hour trip to downtown D.C., the aluminum panels would be connected to steel poles and inserted in permanent grooves built into the steel walls.

“Once the trucks get to Constitution Avenue, it takes about four hours to get the walls up,” Litterst said.

Since the levee is only a few years old, conditions have never warranted its use during an actual storm.

“Deployment isn’t going to come as result of heavy rain, or a tornado,” Litterst said. “Those are quick-moving.”

The threat from Potomac flooding is slower to develop, more predictable and easier to track Litterst said.

“We have gauges in several places up river that are monitored by the Park Service and Army Corps. If it were to reach a certain level, we’d start the process,” of assembling the levee he said.

“I checked on Friday, after the recent rains, and we were nowhere near the mark we’d have to reach.”

Flooding along the Potomac generally runs down river, from west to east, and takes several days to reach flood points near the National Mall.

“If a nor’easter were coming, we’d have forecasts before it comes in,” Litterst said. “If the flooding comes to Harpers Ferry (West Virginia) we’d have about 36 hours before it reached us.”

Still, since a man-made intervention is required to head off floodwaters, the Army Corps mandates annual testing of the levee.

“With new people coming in, you want them to get periodic ‘hands-on’ the equipment,” Litterst said.

The most recent testing took place in fall 2017.

The post White House sinkhole? Pffft. How National Mall would handle major flooding appeared first on WTOP.

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My Take: A sinkhole on the White House lawn is high comedy

A sinkhole on the White House lawn is high comedy.

The post My Take: A sinkhole on the White House lawn is high comedy appeared first on WTOP.

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Sinkhole opens up on White House lawn; Twitter takes aim

WASHINGTON — According to CBS, a sinkhole has opened up on the White House lawn and appears to be growing.

The sinkhole was first reported on earlier this week, and was confirmed by White House groundskeepers. It appears the hole formed close to White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, spawning no shortage of jokes on social media.

Reporters who have been keeping tabs on the hole have said that it appears to be growing larger.

After all the rain the region has seen in the last week it is not surprising that this has happened. Sinkholes are known to form in swamp-like conditions.

The post Sinkhole opens up on White House lawn; Twitter takes aim appeared first on WTOP.

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George Stevens Jr. adds history to the film academy library

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — American Film Institute founder and Kennedy Center Honors creator George Stevens Jr. is adding another chapter to film history by donating hundreds of items spanning five generations of his family to film academy’s Margaret Herrick Library and its archive.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Monday that Stevens Jr. will be contributing papers, letters, photographs and scripts from his life to the Stevens Family collection. The public collection of over 600 items will cover everything from his Hollywood beginnings working alongside his father George Stevens, the legendary director of film classics like “Woman of the Year,” to Washington D.C. where he worked with Edward R. Murrow at the United States Information Agency during the Kennedy administration.

Along the way he also founded the American Film Institute, in 1967 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1977, which he produced until 2014. He made award-winning films and miniseries like the Sidney Poitier-led “Separate but Equal” and served eight years as chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities under President Barack Obama.

“I’m a great believer in the importance of history as it applies to motion pictures,” Stevens Jr., 86, of his decision to add his own papers to the Stevens Family collection, as well as items from his extraordinary family, whose contributions to the entertainment industry span the history of film.

His great grandmother Alice Howell was considered the “female Chaplin,” his mother was a Mack Sennett bathing beauty, his father was the Oscar-winning director of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and his late son Michael Stevens was an Emmy Award-winning producer, and those are just a few of the names on the family tree.

Stevens Jr.’s previous donation of a wide-ranging record of his father’s distinguished career in 1980 helped turn the Margaret Herrick Library into an internationally respected resource, and has informed books like Mark Harris’s “Five Came Back” and Don Graham’s account of the making of “Giant.”

Collection highlights displayed on the film academy’s website include personal photos of Stevens Jr., including one of him standing alongside, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean (who Stevens Jr. calls Jimmy) and his father in Marfa, Texas in 1955 on the set of “Giant.”

“That’s kind of a favorite picture,” Stevens Jr. said. “I worked with my dad on the script and then went in the Air Force for two years and came back and worked with him on the editing. That was the pace he was moving at!”

The collection is a treasure trove for film buffs, where an ordinary family photo could be on the set of “Shane,” at the Academy Awards in 1951, when George Stevens was nominated for “A Place in the Sun,” or during the Amsterdam production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” with cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Look closer and you’ll see Stevens Jr. being sworn in at the USIA, or speaking with Jacqueline Kennedy.

“It was a life-changing experience leaving Hollywood to run the motion picture service of USIA making documentary films,” Stevens Jr. said. “After President Kennedy’s death Jackie got all of these hundreds of thousands of letters and she wanted to thank the public and so she asked me to film something for her. I went to the house she was staying in Georgetown and we filmed a message to the people for her in 35 millimeter color.”

One particularly important item is a letter from John F. Kennedy that wasn’t even written to him, but just about his work. Dated October 21, 1963, Kennedy wrote to Murrow that “The Five Cities of June” is “one of the finest documentaries the USIA has ever done.” Stevens Jr. produced the short film detailing President Kennedy’s trips in June 1963, including his famous trip to Germany and his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. It would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award.

On November 23, Stevens Jr. went to speak to Murrow and was handed the letter.

“It had been in his hands three weeks earlier which was profoundly moving,” Stevens Jr. said, who tried to give the letter back to Murrow, but Murrow refused. “He said, ‘You made the film, you keep the letter,’ which is all you need to know about Edward R. Murrow.”

The stories run deep for each photo — there’s James Cagney getting an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, but did you know he wrote his speech on a shirt board that you’d find at a laundry? Or that Stevens Jr.’s first big casting coup was getting Sidney Poitier to star in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” which would lead to a lifelong friendship with the actor?

Stevens Jr. is working on getting it all down in a book too, which he laughs is on track for publication in “early 2030.” It’s quite a life for someone who originally thought he wanted to be a sportswriter.

He thinks back to the documentary he made about his father nine years after his death in 1984, “George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey,” which begins with a quote that he discovered in one of his father’s diaries.

“It read, ‘Life is a journey and it’s most interesting when you don’t know where you’re going,’” he said. “And that turned out to be true of mine.”

___

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

The post George Stevens Jr. adds history to the film academy library appeared first on WTOP.

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Trials for violent protest framed as Trump vs the resistance

WASHINGTON (AP) — When police arrested more than 200 anti-Trump protesters on Inauguration Day 2017, it touched off a long-term battle of wits and wills.

On one side: a Justice Department that has sought to incarcerate scores of people over a violent protest that smashed downtown storefront windows and set a limousine ablaze.

On the other side: an intensely coordinated grassroots political opposition network that has made Washington the focus of a nationwide support campaign, offering free lodging for defendants, legal coordination and other support.

The stand-off entered a home stretch last week when a trial began for four people, the first in a series of group trials for 58 defendants that should last the rest of the year. Charges include property destruction and conspiracy to engage in a riot.

The trial represents a fresh start for prosecutors, who were forced to abandon most of their charges after a serious defeat last year. For the opposition — a network of activists and organizations loosely grouped as the Defend J20 Resistance movement — the new trial represents a chance to kill the government’s case.

Defendants and their supporters have framed the case as an indiscriminate police round-up followed by a concerted Justice Department effort to criminalize legitimate dissent. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff sought to neutralize that point in her opening statement.

“This is Washington, D.C.,” she said. “We know protest and we know dissent. But this wasn’t a protest. This was violence and destruction.”

This nationwide opposition network has been a visible presence since the trial of the first six defendants began in the fall.

Tapping into fundraising efforts around the country, defendants were reimbursed for their housing in Washington. Activists packed the courtroom, some serving as media liaisons, while others prepared meals for the defendants and their supporters.

“That support is absolutely essential to our ability to actually have a resistance,” said Michelle Macchio, an Asheville, North Carolina, resident who was part of that first defendant group. “We had to disrupt our lives. Some of us were paying rent back home, some of us had school, some of us had jobs. I was away from home for two months.”

Movement members refer to themselves as “the resistance,” a term that predates President Donald Trump’s election by decades. Sam Menefee-Libey, a local organizer and member of an activist collective called the DC Legal Posse, says Defend J20 is the inheritor of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movement that coalesced in Europe and first made headlines in America during massive protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999 and later in the Occupy movement. J20 stands for Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

“Every 3-5 years there’s a new wave and new faces come in,” Menefee-Libey said. “There was a big surge after Trump was elected. There’s more people than we’re used to and it’s sustaining far longer.”

The movement focuses far more on street-level action than on winning elections. Under Trump it has begun to unify and cross-pollinate with other movements like Black Lives Matter and immigration advocates.

In supporting the inauguration protesters, social media campaigns have encouraged callers to flood the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department. Activists recently held a small rally headlined by Chelsea Manning to urge the government to drop all charges.

While defendants have secured their own lawyers, the Defend J20 movement helped organize a unified trial strategy. This included persuading defendants — sometimes over the objections of their lawyers — not to accept plea bargains.

They claim their unified strategy has already paid off. The trial of the first set of the original 160 defendants was supposed to start in early 2018. But when an unexpected hole in the court schedule opened in November, a group of defendants, including Macchio, volunteered to go on trial first. The defendants and movement organizers presumed that prosecutors had set up the schedule in order to begin with other defendants — those who could be more easily linked to the violence.

“They were forced to prosecute people who they didn’t have any evidence of doing property damage,” said Kris Hermes, a veteran legal activist who served as a media liaison on that first trial. “They wouldn’t have preferred to try these cases in this order.”

Prosecutors admitted from the start that they had no evidence proving these specific defendants had committed violence or vandalism. Most protesters had dressed in black and covered their faces. Prosecutors could only claim that the entire group was guilty of supporting and providing cover for the vandals.

All six were acquitted and the government eventually dropped charges against 129 other defendants.

It’s not clear whether the scheduling switch hurt the government’s case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined a request to interview prosecutors or senior officials about the issue. However, movement leaders believe their maneuver wrong-footed the prosecution.

“It was apparent they were super-frustrated with having to take these people to trial first,” said Jude Ortiz, head of the National Lawyers Guild’s Mass Defense Committee. “It’s a reasonable conclusion to draw that having to do that group first really messed up their strategy.”

Prosecutor Kerkhoff, in the current trial, pledged to convince jurors through a mountain of photographic and video evidence that the masked vandals on screen were among the four suit-clad defendants in the room.

“You will have a chance to be the detectives,” she said. “The defendants need to be held accountable for their choice to express themselves with violence and destruction.”

The post Trials for violent protest framed as Trump vs the resistance appeared first on WTOP.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Trump vs ‘the resistance’ plays out in Washington courtroom

WASHINGTON (AP) — When police arrested more than 200 anti-Trump protesters on Inauguration Day 2017, it touched off a long-term battle of wits and wills.

On one side: a Justice Department that has sought to incarcerate scores of people over a violent protest that smashed downtown storefront windows and set a limousine ablaze.

On the other side: an intensely coordinated grassroots political opposition network that has made Washington the focus of a nationwide support campaign, offering free lodging for defendants, legal coordination and other support.

The stand-off entered a home stretch last week when a trial began for four people, the first in a series of group trials for 58 defendants that should last the rest of the year. Charges include property destruction and conspiracy to engage in a riot.

The trial represents a fresh start for prosecutors, who were forced to abandon most of their charges after a serious defeat last year. For the opposition — a network of activists and organizations loosely grouped as the Defend J20 Resistance movement — the new trial represents a chance to kill the government’s case.

Defendants and their supporters have framed the case as an indiscriminate police round-up followed by a concerted Justice Department effort to criminalize legitimate dissent. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff sought to neutralize that point in her opening statement.

“This is Washington, D.C.,” she said. “We know protest and we know dissent. But this wasn’t a protest. This was violence and destruction.”

This nationwide opposition network has been a visible presence since the trial of the first six defendants began in the fall.

Tapping into fundraising efforts around the country, defendants were reimbursed for their housing in Washington. Activists packed the courtroom, some serving as media liaisons, while others prepared meals for the defendants and their supporters.

“That support is absolutely essential to our ability to actually have a resistance,” said Michelle Macchio, an Asheville, North Carolina, resident who was part of that first defendant group. “We had to disrupt our lives. Some of us were paying rent back home, some of us had school, some of us had jobs. I was away from home for two months.”

Movement members refer to themselves as “the resistance,” a term that predates President Donald Trump’s election by decades. Sam Menefee-Libey, a local organizer and member of an activist collective called the DC Legal Posse, says Defend J20 is the inheritor of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movement that coalesced in Europe and first made headlines in America during massive protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999 and later in the Occupy movement. J20 stands for Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

“Every 3-5 years there’s a new wave and new faces come in,” Menefee-Libey said. “There was a big surge after Trump was elected. There’s more people than we’re used to and it’s sustaining far longer.”

The movement focuses far more on street-level action than on winning elections. Under Trump it has begun to unify and cross-pollinate with other movements like Black Lives Matter and immigration advocates.

In supporting the inauguration protesters, social media campaigns have encouraged callers to flood the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department. Activists recently held a small rally headlined by Chelsea Manning to urge the government to drop all charges.

While defendants have secured their own lawyers, the Defend J20 movement helped organize a unified trial strategy. This included persuading defendants — sometimes over the objections of their lawyers — not to accept plea bargains.

They claim their unified strategy has already paid off. The trial of the first set of the original 160 defendants was supposed to start in early 2018. But when an unexpected hole in the court schedule opened in November, a group of defendants, including Macchio, volunteered to go on trial first. The defendants and movement organizers presumed that prosecutors had set up the schedule in order to begin with other defendants — those who could be more easily linked to the violence.

“They were forced to prosecute people who they didn’t have any evidence of doing property damage,” said Kris Hermes, a veteran legal activist who served as a media liaison on that first trial. “They wouldn’t have preferred to try these cases in this order.”

Prosecutors admitted from the start that they had no evidence proving these specific defendants had committed violence or vandalism. Most protesters had dressed in black and covered their faces. Prosecutors could only claim that the entire group was guilty of supporting and providing cover for the vandals.

All six were acquitted and the government eventually dropped charges against 129 other defendants.

It’s not clear whether the scheduling switch hurt the government’s case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined a request to interview prosecutors or senior officials about the issue. However, movement leaders believe their maneuver wrong-footed the prosecution.

“It was apparent they were super-frustrated with having to take these people to trial first,” said Jude Ortiz, head of the National Lawyers Guild’s Mass Defense Committee. “It’s a reasonable conclusion to draw that having to do that group first really messed up their strategy.”

Prosecutor Kerkhoff, in the current trial, pledged to convince jurors through a mountain of photographic and video evidence that the masked vandals on screen were among the four suit-clad defendants in the room.

“You will have a chance to be the detectives,” she said. “The defendants need to be held accountable for their choice to express themselves with violence and destruction.”

The post Trump vs ‘the resistance’ plays out in Washington courtroom appeared first on WTOP.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Kamenetz honored at funeral

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FILE – In this Sept. 18, 2017, file photo, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announces he is joining the race for governor in Towson, Md. Kamenetz is running in a crowded Democratic primary. News outlets cite a release from Baltimore County police that says Kamenetz died early Thursday, May 10, 2018, following a cardiac arrest. (AP Photo/Brian Witte, File)

TOWSON, Md. (AP) — The Latest on the death of Maryland gubernatorial candidate Kevin Kamenetz (all times local):

4 p.m.

Democratic candidate for Maryland governor and longtime local politician Kevin Kamenetz is being remembered as a loving father and husband, and ambitious public servant.

News outlets report that Kamenetz’s wife and one of his sons were among those who eulogized him during a funeral Friday afternoon at a local synagogue.

Kamenetz died unexpectedly early Thursday after going into cardiac arrest. The two-term Baltimore County executive was 60.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin also spoke at the service.

According to radio station WBAL, Cardin says he regularly met Kamenetz for breakfast. Cardin says instead of jumping straight into politics, Kamenetz would talk about his family.

Kamenetz was one of seven candidates in next month’s Democratic primary to oppose Republican Gov. Larry Hogan this fall.

___

12 a.m.

The sudden death of a Democratic candidate for governor in Maryland has shocked his colleagues and the state.

Kevin Kamenetz was just 60, trim and so health conscious he would trot up stairs and routinely tease colleagues about eating doughnuts and other junk food.

Kamenetz woke up early Thursday, complaining to his wife, Jill, about chest pains. They drove to a nearby volunteer fire station to avoid having an ambulance wake the neighbors. Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost said his condition deteriorated and rescuers couldn’t revive him.

Kamenetz was one of seven candidates in next month’s Democratic primary to oppose Republican Gov. Larry Hogan this fall. A political scientist says his death could “dramatically reshape the race.”

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Running mate’s tough choice: Whether to continue late candidate’s run for Md. gov

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Kamenetz’s running mate Valerie Ervin has until May 17 to decide whether to join the field of Democratic hopefuls. (Courtesy Facebook/Valerie Ervin)

WASHINGTON — The sudden death of Maryland gubernatorial candidate Kevin Kamenetz adds an additional level of uncertainty to a Democratic primary that already was unsettled and flush with undecided voters.

Kamenetz’s running mate Valerie Ervin has until May 17 to decide whether to join the field of Democratic hopefuls.

“Probably the feelings on their side are just so raw; it’ll probably be a couple days before they want to address this,” said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College. “It’s a very difficult thing to talk about.”

Kamenetz, 60, died on Thursday of a heart attack.

Under state law, Ervin has until May 17 to decide whether to dissolve the campaign, name someone to take Kamenetz’s place or to continue the campaign herself.

“It’s a difficult thing to talk about at all, just because of the real human element of what has happened here and the understanding that his family and his friends are in a fundamentally different world right now outside of politics,” Eberly said.

But the reality remains: Maryland’s primary election is mere weeks away.

Ervin lacks name recognition, Eberly said, but adds that she was an accomplished member of the Montgomery County Council and is “plugged into the Maryland political establishment, especially on the Democratic side.”

If she were to choose to run, it’s unclear how much money Ervin would have based on how the Kamenetz campaign organized its fundraising efforts.

“That $2 million war chest — is it in accessible funds?” Eberly asked.

Kamenetz was considered to be one of the top three candidates and thought to have won over about 20 percent of likely voters.

Eberly believes Kamenetz supporters already had dismissed the other two front-runners: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and former NAACP President Ben Jealous. So, he said, it’s unclear where newly undecided votes may swing now.

Also in the race are Baltimore attorney James Shea, tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, former Michelle Obama adviser Krishanti Vignarajah and Maryland state Sen. Rich Madaleno.

Maryland’s gubernatorial primary is June 26.


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Summit set, detainees free; Trump sees NKorea ‘big success’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Envisioning “a very special moment for world peace,” President Donald Trump announced Thursday he will meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for highly anticipated summit talks in Singapore on June 12. He set the stage for his announcement by hosting a 3 a.m., made-for-TV welcome home for three Americans held by Kim’s government.

Final details in place, Trump and Kim agreed to the first face-to-face North Korea-U.S. summit since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. It’s the most consequential and perhaps riskiest foreign policy effort so far in Trump’s presidency as North Korea’s nuclear program approaches a treacherous milestone — the capacity to strike the continental U.S. with a thermonuclear warhead.

Trump says the U.S. is aiming for “denuclearization” of the entire Korean peninsula, but he has yet to fill in just what steps that might include and what the timing would be.

“We’re starting off on a new footing,” Trump said of himself and Kim as he welcomed the detainees in a floodlit ceremony at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington. He hailed their release as a potential breakthrough in relations between the longtime adversary nations.

He and Kim “will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” he said of the summit later on Twitter. He told reporters, “I think it’s going to be a big success.”

Kim has suspended nuclear and missile tests and put his nuclear program up for negotiation, but questions remain about how serious his offer is and what disarmament steps he would be willing to take. The White House has said withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from South Korea is “not on the table.”

Long before dawn Thursday, with the former detainees by his side on the air base tarmac, Trump said it was a “great honor” to welcome them back to the U.S. but “the true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.”

The ceremony, which also featured a giant American flag suspended between the ladders of two firetrucks, emphasized Trump’s penchant for the dramatic as he raised expectations for the summit. And it underscored how closely the fate of his foreign policy agenda is being tied to the North Korean negotiations.

He had wanted to hold the summit in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas but yielded to the concerns of officials who thought a DMZ meeting would focus attention on relations between the North and South rather than the nuclear question.

Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, other top officials and first lady Melania joined the president for the air base celebration. The former detainees — Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim — had been released Wednesday at the end of Pompeo’s visit to North Korea.

They appeared tired but in excellent spirits, flashing peace signs and waving their arms as they emerged from the aircraft. One said through a translator, “It’s like a dream; we are very, very happy.” They later gave the president a round of applause.

Pence said Pompeo had told him that at a refueling stop in Anchorage, “one of the detainees asked to go outside the plane because he hadn’t seen daylight in a very long time.” The men were taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for evaluation before being reunited with their families.

Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim for releasing the Americans and said, “I really think he wants to do something” on denuclearization.

Pence said on NBC News, “In this moment the regime in North Korea has been dealing, as far as we can see, in good faith.”

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who was among several Republican lawmakers who dined with Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton Wednesday evening before the detainees returned, said their release was a positive development, but he remained cautious about North Korea’s intentions.

“We are in uncharted waters,” he said. “This is the highest level diplomacy that the United States has to offer. Failure would be a significant setback to diplomatic efforts.”

As for the venue, why Singapore?

Located at the southern tip of Malaysia, the prosperous city state is a regional Southeast Asia hub whose free enterprise philosophy welcomes trading partners from everywhere. It has close diplomatic and military ties with the U.S. and yet is also familiar ground for North Korea, with which it established diplomatic relations in 1975.

“Since their independence, they’ve very deliberately developed a reputation as an honest broker between East and West,” said David Adelman, the former U.S. ambassador.

The White House choreographed the arrival event at the air base, the image-conscious president telling reporters, “I think you probably broke the all-time-in-history television rating for 3 o’clock in the morning.”

The public display stood in stark contrast to the low-key, private reception that the State Department had envisioned, in keeping with a practice of trying to protect potentially traumatized victims from being thrust into the spotlight so soon after an ordeal.

Shortly after they touched down in Alaska, the department released a statement from the freed men. They expressed their appreciation to Trump, Pompeo and the people of the United States and added: “We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”

North Korea had accused the three of anti-state activities. But their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation’s nuclear weapons.

The three are:

— Kim Dong Chul, 64, a South Korea-born U.S. citizen and the longest-serving detainee. He received a 10-year prison term with hard labor in April 2016 for allegedly “perpetrating state subversive plots and espionage against” North Korea. Before his sentencing, the former Virginia resident publicly apologized for slandering North Korea’s leadership, collecting and passing confidential information to South Korea and joining a smear campaign on the North’s human rights situation. Other foreigners have publicly admitted crimes but have said later their confessions were given involuntarily.

— Tony Kim, who also goes by the Korean name Kim Sang-duk, had a master’s degree in business administration from the University of California, Riverside, and taught accounting at a private university in Pyongyang. He was detained at the Pyongyang airport for “criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn” North Korea, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency, which didn’t detail those acts.

— Kim Hak Song, who worked in agricultural development at an experimental farm run by the same school, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was accused of engaging in unspecified “hostile acts” against North Korea.

The last American to be released before this, college student Otto Warmbier, died in June 2017, days after he was repatriated to the U.S. with severe brain damage. Warmbier was arrested in January 2016, accused of stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor.

“We are happy for the hostages and their families,” the Warmbiers said in a statement Wednesday. “We miss Otto.”

___

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Ken Thomas in Washington, Grant Peck in Bangkok, and Eric Talmadge in Pyongyang contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Trump eyes breakthrough after NKorea frees Americans

Westlake Legal Group trump-eyes-breakthrough-after-nkorea-frees-americans Trump eyes breakthrough after NKorea frees Americans World News white house Washington, DC News North Korea National News Maryland News Local News Latest News Government News Detainees Asia News
Westlake Legal Group trump-eyes-breakthrough-after-nkorea-frees-americans Trump eyes breakthrough after NKorea frees Americans World News white house Washington, DC News North Korea National News Maryland News Local News Latest News Government News Detainees Asia News

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump celebrated the return Thursday of three Americans freed by North Korea and suggested their release heralded a potential breakthrough toward the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

With the former detainees by his side on a dark air base tarmac, Trump said during a made-for-TV ceremony that it was a “great honor” to welcome the men back to the U.S., but he added that “the true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.”

Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, other top officials and first lady Melania joined the president in the highly scripted celebration in the wee hours of Thursday morning at Joint Base Andrews near Washington. The men — Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim — had been released Wednesday amid a warming of relations between the longtime adversaries.

Trump thanked North Korean leader King Jon Un for releasing the Americans and said he believes Kim wants to reach an agreement on denuclearization at their upcoming summit. “I really think he wants to do something,” the president said.

Pence said Thursday the administration believes North Korea “has taken steps that indicate this may be an opportunity for a breakthrough” in relations with the U.S.

“In this moment the regime in North Korea has been dealing, as far as we can see, in good faith,” he told NBC News.

Singapore has emerged as the likely host of the U.S.-North Korean summit, late this month or in early June, as Trump presses his highest-stakes foreign policy effort yet.

Shortly before 3 a.m. the president and first lady boarded the medical plane on which the men had traveled and spent several minutes meeting with them privately. The group then emerged at top of the airplane stairway, where the men held up their arms in an exuberant display.

As the men entered into view, U.S. service members on the tarmac burst into applause and cheers.

“This is a special night for these three really great people,” Trump told reporters. On the U.S. relationship with North Korea, Trump declared, “We’re starting off on a new footing.”

The freed prisoners appeared tired but in excellent spirits, flashing peace signs and waving their arms as they emerged from the aircraft. When asked by reporters how it felt to be home, one of the men answered through a translator, “It’s like a dream; we are very, very happy.” They later gave the president a round of applause.

The White House carefully choreographed the event, suspending a giant American flag between two fire trucks on the tarmac and inviting reporters to witness the return. The image-conscious president told reporters, “I think you probably broke the all-time-in-history television rating for 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Hours later, Trump tweeted, “On behalf of the American people, WELCOME HOME!”

The men were taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where they are to be evaluated and receive medical treatment before being reunited with their families.

The highly public display stood in stark contrast to the low-key and very private reception that the State Department had envisioned, in keeping with a tradition of trying to protect potentially traumatized victims from being thrust into the spotlight so soon after their ordeal.

Department officials took great pains on the prisoners’ release in North Korea, as well as on their flights to Japan and Alaska, to keep them sequestered not only from the two journalists traveling with Pompeo but also from staffers not immediately involved in their cases. The trio, along with medical personnel that included a psychiatrist, were cloistered in the middle of Pompeo’s plane in a small section of 12 business class-size seats that was cordoned off by curtains on both ends.

State Department officials refused to discuss anything but the most basic details of their conditions, citing privacy concerns in keeping with the minimal amount of information they had released since the men were imprisoned.

Pompeo had secured their release in Pyongyang after meeting with Kim on final plans for the Trump-Kim summit.

Shortly after they touched down in Alaska, the State Department released a statement from the freed men.

“We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home,” they said. “We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”

Suggesting that recovery from their ordeals would take time, Pence recounted Thursday morning that Pompeo told him that at the refueling stop in Anchorage, “one of the detainees asked to go outside the plane because he hadn’t seen daylight in a very long time.”

Trump entered office as an emboldened North Korea developed new generations of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of hitting the continental U.S. Those advances were the subject of President Barack Obama’s starkest warning shortly before Trump took office, and this is a crisis he’s convinced his negotiating skills can resolve.

Crediting himself for recent progress, Trump has pointed to Kim’s willingness to come to the negotiating table as validating U.S. moves to tighten sanctions — branded “maximum pressure” by the president.

Kim decided to grant amnesty to the three Americans at the “official suggestion” of the U.S. president, said North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA.

North Korea had accused the three Korean-Americans of anti-state activities. Their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation’s nuclear weapons.

The last American to be released before this, college student Otto Warmbier, died in June 2017, days after he was repatriated to the U.S. with severe brain damage.

Warmbier was arrested by North Korean authorities in January 2016, accused of stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing the government of torturing and killing their son.

“We are happy for the hostages and their families,” the Warmbiers said in a statement Wednesday. “We miss Otto.”

___

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Ken Thomas in Washington and Eric Talmadge in Pyongyang contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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