DENVER — Just three weeks before he is set to officially claim the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump was hit with another staff shakeup as his campaign struggles to expand in advance of what is expected to be a bruising general election campaign against Hillary Clinton.
Kevin Kellems, a veteran GOP strategist and former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, abruptly resigned from the Trump staff Thursday, less than two weeks after he was hired to help oversee the campaign’s surrogate operations. Erica Freeman, another aide working with surrogates, also quit.
“While brief, it has been an interesting experience, and I am proud of the contributions made to our early-phase project endeavors,” Kellems wrote in a goodbye note to colleagues.
The campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The latest departures come as Trump has tried to steady a campaign operation that has been shaken by internal drama and outside turmoil, including the candidate’s own missteps. Those include Trump’s racially tinged comments about a federal judge and his response to the Orlando shooting that many Republicans say have distracted from his general election argument against Clinton.
Two weeks ago, Trump fired Corey Lewandowski, his campaign manager and longest-serving campaign aide, amid tensions between him, the Trump family and other Trump aides, including Paul Manafort, a longtime Washington hand who was hired this spring to help ready the campaign for the general election.
Lewandowski’s departure was read by many GOP observers as a hopeful sign that Trump was finally taking steps to mount a more serious campaign. But on Friday, Republicans outside the campaign began to fret once again, questioning if Trump will overhaul his operation in time to not only weather attacks from Clinton and Democratic allies, but also counterpunch against the presumptive Democratic nominee.
But the Trump operation has continued to expand its operations in other areas. Earlier this week, the Trump team hired Jason Miller, who most recently worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, to buttress its communications operation. And on Friday, Trump announced he had hired Kellyanne Conway, a veteran GOP strategist and pollster, as a senior adviser. Conway, who until recently was helping run a super-PAC backing Cruz, is expected to advise Trump on how to better appeal to female voters.
Her hiring came as Trump did some outreach of his own, speaking at the Western Conservative Summit here in Colorado. It’s home to many members of the #NeverTrump movement, which is still trying to stop him from clinching the nomination at the upcoming party convention in Cleveland.
Taking the podium nearly an hour late, the New York real estate mogul tried to stay on message, vowing that he would be a better candidate that Clinton in handling the economy and confronting terrorism. The Islamic State terror group, he claimed, wants Clinton to win the presidency because she is “weak.” “They have dreams at night, and their dreams are that Hillary Clinton becomes the president of our country,” Trump said.
But Trump kept diverting from the general election to talk about the primary, reminding voters of the states he won and griping about those he didn’t — including Colorado, where Cruz won all of the state’s delegates.
“Colorado has taught me a lot about politics,” Trump said, calling it a “rigged” election. “The polls came out that I was going to win Colorado. … I was looking forward to it, and then all of a sudden I didn’t get the delegates. I said, ‘What happened to the vote?’ I started to learn.”
At one point, Trump revived his criticism of former President Bill Clinton’s impromptu meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, dismissing claims by Lynch that it was simply a casual meetup.
He mocked Lynch’s claim that the two had talked about their grandchildren. Referencing his own role as a grandfather, Trump told the audience that he loves his eight grandchildren but that he couldn’t fill up 20 minutes of conversation about them, which is the amount of time Clinton is said to have met with Lynch.
“If I talk about them for more than nine or 10 seconds … after that what are you going to say?” Trump said, shrugging.
Russia, US blame each other for dangerous naval maneuvers
Raw video: Footage shot from Russian warship appears to show USS Gravely cross in front of frigate’s path in Mediterranean Sea
By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Russian warship carried out “unprofessional” maritime operations in close proximity to a U.S. Navy ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a U.S. Defense official said on Friday.
This is the second time the same Russian vessel has come within close proximity of a U.S. Navy ship this month. On June 17, the Yaroslav Mudryy came within 315 yards (288 meters) of the USS Gravely, an incident U.S. officials called “unsafe and unprofessional,” but which the Russian Defense Ministry disputed.
Recent months have seen a number of similar Cold War-style incidents at sea and in the air, with each country’s military accusing the other of dangerous approaches in international waters and airspace.
The U.S. Defense official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the most recent incident took place on June 30 when the Yaroslav Mudryy came unnecessarily close to the USS San Jacinto and maneuvered in it’s wake.
“The closing distance by Yaroslav Mudryy before the ship turned away from San Jacinto is considered a high risk maneuver, highly unprofessional, and contrary to international maritime regulations,” the official said.
The official added however, that the U.S. guided-missile cruiser was never threatened by the maneuvers.
“Conducting aggressive, erratic maneuvers and moving unnecessarily close to another ship in open ocean is inconsistent with prudent seamanship,” the official said.
At the time of the incident, the San Jacinto was carrying out operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the official said.
In another incident in April, the U.S. military said Russian SU-24 bombers had simulated attack passes near the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea, with one official describing them as one of the most aggressive interactions in recent memory.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time that the behavior of the Russian pilots was provocative and dangerous, adding that “under the rules of engagement that could have been a shoot-down”.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Andrew Hay)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The FBI is being sued by survivors of the Charleston church shooting, who say federal negligence enabled Dylann Roof to buy the .45-caliber handgun he used.
Lawyers for three people who survived the attack and the estates of five who were slain inside the Emanuel AME Church say the FBI negligently failed to thoroughly check Roof’s background before he bought the gun last year.
If the agency had done its job, Roof’s prior drug arrest would have shown up, and the bureau would have denied his purchase, the lawsuits filed Thursday allege.
Attorney Andy Savage said Friday that his clients hope the litigation will lead to improvements in gun safety.
“In this case, you had an unqualified purchaser that slipped through the cracks,” Savage told The Associated Press. “And the result is what happened on June 17.”
Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush declined Friday to comment on the pending litigation.
The June 17, 2015, shootings by a young white man of nine black parishioners who had welcomed him to their Bible study renewed debates about race relations in the South.
Roof, who posed online with the Confederate flag, had told a friend he intended to kill people at the historic black church to start a race war. The shooting led to the battle flag’s removal from many places of honor.
Law enforcement agencies have acknowledged since last summer that mistakes were made involving Roof’s April 2015 gun purchase. FBI Director James Comey has said the transaction should have been denied, and he promised a full review.
Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon told the AP that a jail clerk entered incorrect information for Roof’s February 2015 drug arrest, and that while the mistake was noticed within days, it wasn’t fixed in a state database.
So when Roof sought to buy the gun two months later, an FBI examiner spotted the arrest, but called the wrong agency to get his record. Without the necessary documents, the purchase had to go through.
Congress has limited federal background checks to three days, although states can extend this window.
South Carolina legislators filed a number of bills to increase the window after the shootings, but none advanced. The Senate Judiciary chairman ultimately promised a hearing this summer, but it still hasn’t been scheduled.
The FBI makes about 58,000 checks on a typical day, handled by about 500 people at a call center. The agency has reported that about 2 percent of the checks end without enough information to give an answer.
Roof is currently jailed pending death penalty trials in both state and federal court on charges including murder and hate crimes. His federal trial is scheduled for November, but state prosecutors want their case to start first.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown signed six stringent gun-control measures Friday that will require people to turn in high-capacity magazines and mandate background checks for ammunition sales, as California Democrats seek to strengthen gun laws that are already among the strictest in the nation.
Brown vetoed five other bills, including a requirement to report lost or stolen weapons to authorities and a limit of one gun purchase per person per month.
The Democratic governor’s action is consistent with his mixed record on gun control. Some of the enacted bills duplicate provisions of a November ballot measure by Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Some of the vetoed measures also appear in Newsom’s initiative.
“My goal in signing these bills is to enhance public safety by tightening our existing laws in a responsible and focused manner, while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Brown wrote in a one-sentence message to lawmakers.
Gun control measures have long been popular with the Democratic lawmakers who control the California Senate and Assembly. But they stepped up their push this year following the December shooting in San Bernardino by a couple who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Advocates on both sides of the gun-control debate say California has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws. It is one of six states to get the highest grade from the pro-gun control Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The state’s move to tighten them further comes amid years of gridlock at the federal level, which spawned a tense clash in Washington last week as Democrats camped out on the floor of the U.S. House and shouted down Republicans.
The bills angered Republicans and gun-rights advocates who say Democrats are trampling on 2nd Amendment rights, creating new restrictions that won’t cut off the flow of guns to people intent on using them for nefarious purposes.
“On the eve of Independence Day, independence and freedom and liberty in California has been chopped down at the knees and kicked between the legs,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of the advocacy group Gun Owners of California.
Lawsuits challenging the new laws are likely once they take effect next year, Paredes said.
Brown’s action will require people who own magazines that hold more than 10 rounds to give them up. It extends a 1999 law that made it illegal to buy a high-capacity magazine or to bring one into the state but allowed people who already owned them to keep them.
In an attempt to slow gun users from rapidly reloading, the governor signed a bill outlawing new weapons that have a device known as a bullet button. Gun makers developed bullet buttons to get around California’s assault weapons ban, which prohibited new rifles with magazines that can be detached without the aid of tools. A bullet buttons allows a shooter to quickly dislodge the magazine using the tip of a bullet or other small tool.
People will be allowed to keep weapons they already own with bullet buttons, which are often referred to as “California compliant,” but they’ll be required to register them.
Brown also endorsed a bill making another attempt to regulate ammunition sales after a law passed in 2009 was struck down by a Fresno County judge who said it was too vague. The new law will require ammunition sellers to be licensed and buyers to undergo background checks. Transactions will be recorded.
He also opted to require a background check before a gun can be loaned to someone who isn’t a family member.
“Strong gun laws work. … What we’re doing in California is a better job of keeping guns out of dangerous hands,” said Amanda Wilcox, a spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose daughter was killed by a shooter using a high-capacity magazine.
The governor vetoed an effort to expand a six-month-old program that allows courts to temporarily restrict gun ownership rights for people suspected of being dangerous and decided against restricting all firearm purchases to one per month, a limitation that already applies to handguns.
Another bill he vetoed would have asked voters to strengthen penalties for stealing a gun, which voters will already be deciding through Newsom’s initiative. The ballot measure also will ask voters to require reporting of lost and stolen firearms — an idea Brown rejected Friday and has rejected at least twice before.
“I continue to believe that responsible people report the loss or theft of a firearm and irresponsible people do not; it is not likely that this bill would change that,” he wrote in a veto message.
Newsom’s initiative has put a spotlight on the lieutenant governor as he campaigns for governor in 2018. He’s been at loggerheads with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who tried unsuccessfully to persuade Newsom to drop the ballot measures in favor of legislative action.
Brown’s vetoes protected Newsom’s initiative from becoming moot. A spokesman for Brown, Evan Westrup, said voters “will have a chance to go even further in November, if they choose.”
Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed to this report.