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Flynn pleads guilty, is cooperating in Trump-Russia probe

WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn, the retired general who vigorously campaigned at Donald Trump's side and then served as his first national security adviser, pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about reaching out to the Russians on Trump's behalf and said members of the president's inner circle were intimately involved with — and at times directing — his contacts.

His plea to a single felony count of false statements made him the first official of the Trump White House to be charged so far in the criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. And his action could be an ominous sign for a White House shadowed for the past year by investigations, turning Flynn into a potentially key government cooperator as prosecutors examine whether the Trump campaign and Russia worked together to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor.

Friday's developments don't resolve the paramount question of possible Trump-Russia coordination in the campaign, but they do show that Flynn lied to the FBI about multiple conversations last December with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Court papers make clear that senior Trump transition officials were fully aware of Flynn's outreach to Russian officials in the weeks before the inauguration.

The officials were not named in court papers, but people familiar with the case identified two of them to The Associated Press as Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and former Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland, now up for an ambassadorship.

That revelation moves the Russia investigation deeper into the White House. And, given the direct involvement of the transition team in Flynn's calls with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the plea also raises questions about the accuracy of repeated assertions by the administration that Flynn had misled Mike Pence and other officials when he denied having discussed sanctions with the diplomat.

Flynn, the longtime soldier, stood quietly during his plea hearing except to answer brief questions from the judge. He accepted responsibility for his actions in a written statement, though he said he had also been subjected to false accusations. He said, "My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel's Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country."

A former Defense Intelligence Agency chief, Flynn was a considerably more vocal Trump surrogate during the campaign, known for leading rally crowds in "Lock her up" chants regarding Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.

Though prosecutors also had investigated Flynn lobbying work on behalf of the Turkish government, the fact that he was permitted to plead guilty to just one count, and faces a guideline range of zero to 6 months in prison, suggest that prosecutors see him as a valuable tool in their investigation and are granting a degree of leniency in exchange for cooperation.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb sought to distance the plea from Trump himself, saying: "Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn."

Nonetheless, the Russia investigation has persistently followed Trump the first year of his presidency, angering the president and repeatedly distracting from his agenda. Flynn's plea came as Republican senators labored to pass a far-reaching tax bill, which would be a significant victory for Trump.

On Friday, the president ignored reporters' shouted questions as he welcomed the Libyan prime minister to the White House, and aides canceled media access to a later meeting between the two. He did appear briefly at an afternoon White House holiday reception for the media, where he offered season's greetings and departed without addressing the Mueller investigation.

Early on in his administration, Trump had taken a particular interest in the status of the Flynn investigation. Former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing in May precipitated the appointment of Mueller as special counsel, has said Trump asked him in a private Oval Office meeting to consider ending the investigation into Flynn. Comey has said he found the encounter so shocking that he prepared an internal memo about it.

Flynn, who was interviewed by the FBI days after Trump's inauguration, was forced to resign on Feb. 13 following news reports indicating that the Trump White House had been warned by Obama administration officials that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak and was therefore compromised and potentially vulnerable to blackmail.

White House officials including Pence, who had declared publicly that Flynn never discussed sanctions, said they had been misled.

The court case Friday concerns a series of conversations that Flynn had with Kislyak during the transition period between the November election and the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Prosecutors say Flynn on Dec. 29 spoke with an unnamed senior transition team official about what, if anything, to say about sanctions that had been imposed on Russia one day earlier by the Obama administration in retaliation for election interference. Flynn then requested the Russian ambassador "not escalate the situation" and respond "in a reciprocal manner," a conversation that prosecutors say he then reported to transition team members.

Two former transition officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter, identified McFarland as the unnamed official.

The court papers do not allege that there was anything illegal about Flynn's conversations with the Russians — but his lies about the talks amounted to a felony.

Still, if the Trump transition made secret back-door assurances to Russian diplomats, that could potentially run afoul of the Logan Act, a 1799 law that bars private American citizens from attempting to intervene in "disputes or controversies" between the United States and foreign powers without government approval.

Coos Bay schools look at construction timeline
Now that the BEST Bond is passed, here's what happens next

COOS BAY — Now that the BEST Bond has been approved by voters, the Coos Bay School District is planning its next move.

During a facilities planning meeting Thursday evening, district officials, employees and community members brainstormed the construction timeline for the next few years.

The first item of discussion: how to establish a Public Oversight Committee.

“When we put together the BEST Bond Committee, we first had a steering committee come up with names and contact the folks,” said Superintendent Bryan Trendell. “I thought it worked quite well.”

Trendell pointed out that the time commitment for the Oversight Committee would be significant throughout the next year.

“Until we get the plans in place and know what we want each and every classroom to look like, this first year is going to be pretty busy,” he said. “It’s going to be busy trying to make sure we get out and communicate with everyone, get ideas and stakeholder input, and make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a say for what goes into certain buildings.”

The oversight committee would also use the same social media outlets that the BEST Bond Committee used as a way to keep the projects transparent to the public.

“That piece will be important the entire way,” Trendell said.

The Facilities Planning Committee named a group of people to what is essentially the steering committee that Trendell described. This group will come up with a list of names, people who will potentially make up the future Oversight Committee that will serve as watchdogs. These people will look at how much bond money is being spent, where it is going, and will make sure projects are done on time. Not only that, but they will report all of it to the public.

The Timeline

Though the approved bond measure will give the district $59.9 million of property taxes over the next 25 years, the school district has to sell the bonds and complete construction within the next three years.

“We have a time limit,” said school board member and facilities planning committee member James Martin.

The district’s Director of Business Services Candace McGowne explained during the meeting that “we have to certify that we spend at least 85 percent in three years, that’s the only way they sell 100 percent. If not in three years, we have to break it up into two sales and take into consideration the $4 million matching grant from the state because we have to spend 100 percent of that in three years. That’s three years after the bonds are issued.”

Here’s what that means.

Martin told The World that the school district bonds are just like U.S. savings bonds, which are basically a financial instrument sold on the financial market.

“The number one consideration for favorable interest rates is to pledge to spend 85 percent of the money in three years,” he said.

McGowne said during Thursday’s meeting that if the district moved forward with plans that day, they would get money in March or April, “but we’re not ready today.”

“Once the school board sets the resolution, that’s the first step and will probably be done in January, so we may not receive the money until May,” she said.

Martin told The World he anticipates the bonds selling in the spring.

HGE architect Joe Slack, who did the initial concept designs for these projects, broke down what the construction timeline might look like. He and HGE are not hired for the projects right now, since the district still has to go to bid, but answered questions about the projects during Thursdays meeting.

As for the construction timeline, he said that the architectural selection process could take up to three months.

“There’s five project sites,” he said. “There could be six to nine months of design work to get to a point where you’re ready to bid to contractors. Then with the bidding, award and contract phase, that could take another three months.”

The construction period could take anywhere between nine to 18 months.

“That’s contingent on not only doing the work but working on campus when some of those campuses are occupied, which impacts how easily they can get around the site,” Slack said. “If you add all that up, it’s in the realm of three years.”

Project Manager

One of the first pieces to this puzzle is a professional project manager.

This person will account for safety hazards, such as asbestos abatement, all the way to which project site to start on first.

Trendell said he plans on speaking with the project manager at the hospital to help point out where the district should look to fill the position.

“Once we get a project manager, things will really take off,” said the district’s facilities manager Rick Roberts.

Though the project manager will decide where the construction should begin, the Facilities Planning Committee anticipates that the first site will be the Millicoma/Eastside site.

Currently the Pacific School of Dance is leasing out space at the Eastside building.

“We need to make sure our tenants know this is happening,” Martin said. “I don’t know that the district can do anything to help the dance school find a new space, but we certainly will do anything we can.”

The construction plans include tearing down the existing Eastside School and building a new one which will house the 600 students now attending Blossom Gulch Elementary.

The Millicoma Middle School construction is being grouped into the Eastside project since both schools sit on the same property.

Construction plans for Millicoma include rebuilding the entrance.

The next anticipated construction site is at the Harding Building, which poses problems because it houses special programs such as Destinations Academy, Resource Link, the ARK Project, the GED program, and even a day care.

“The programs at Harding have to be relocated to a temporary or permanent location,” Trendell said.

Location ideas were discussed during the meeting, but no decisions were made.

“A lot of questions were posed tonight,” Martin said.

The Facilities Planning Committee named a group to work on the request of proposals that will be sent out to bid. They are expected to have those proposals completed by January.

“I want to thank everyone who was involved in making this happen,” Martin said at the start of the meeting. “The campaign is finally over.”

House of Myrtlewood closing

After 88 years of making ornate Myrtlewood products, Oregon Connection / The House of Myrtlewood will be closing its factory as of Jan. 1, and closing its shop the following month.  

Oregon Connection/The House of Myrtlewood is owned by the organization Star of Hope, which helps people with development disabilities find work and housing in the community.

Star of Hope purchased the Oregon Connection/House of Myrtlewood from Les and Barbara Streeter and Tricia and Joe Benetti in 2006. They’ve been using the facility to provide members of the community with vocational training since.

“We purchased it with the intent of having the folks that we support here to go over there and gain skill they could use to gain community based employment,” executive director at Star of Hope LouAnn Dewater said.

State and federal rules that came about in the past couple years require Star of Hope find job opportunities for its clients out in the community instead of employing them at business owned by Star of Hope.

 “The rules are that they need people placed in the community, and not in provider owned businesses,” Dewater said.

Star of Hope has been very successful in integrating its clients from the House of Myrtlewood into the community. They’ve found jobs for 15 of their clients at places like The Mill Casino, McKay’s Market, 7 Devils, 7 Eleven, as well as others.

“When you go from sheltered work, and you have folks that that’s all they’ve known all their lives it can be scary for them. To say now our focus is to get you a job out there at 7 Eleven, and they’re like I’ve been working for star of hope for 15 years. That’s really tough. But actually it’s been a really smooth transition,” Dewater said.

Over the last 12 years Dewater says Star of Hope has helped between 50 and 60 people with disabilities gain skills and outside employment through the House of Myrtlewood.

 “A lot of people are going to miss the place. We have a lot of local people that come here that we do custom work for,” production supervisor Ray Martinez said.

Martinez has been the production supervisor for 10 years, and worked at the House of Myrtlewood for 20.

“I’m going to have to find another job. Everybody feels the same way, they have to go find something else. We’ve known it was coming for a few months now,” Martinez said.

Since the rules changed some time ago, no one working at the House of Myrtlewood currently is a Star of Hope client. However, according to Dewater, all the employees at the House of Myrtlewood were offered employment at Star of Hope.

“One person who was over at the House of Myrtlewood will come over and do outreach with us. That’s something that Star of Hope has kind of been missing for a while. Another person is going to come over and do some volunteer coordinator stuff … Some have chosen not to come over, it’s just not a fit for them. I understand that, I respect that, and I will help them find employment,” Dewater said.

The business is for sale through Pacific Properties, so there is a chance that someone could buy the property and keep the factory producing.

“My dream is that somebody will come in and keep it going. It’s just not a good fit for Star of Hope,” Dewater said.

Everything in the House of Myrtlewood store is currently 30 percent off, and likely to be discounted even further as the Feb. 1 closure approaches. 

Jordan Cove responds to LUBA ruling

Officials from Jordan Cove Friday responded to a ruling earlier this week by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals and a press release published.

Jordan Cove officials issued a statement which reads as follows:

On November 27, 2017, Jordan Cove received direction from the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ("LUBA") to remedy eight outstanding issues related to the Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas ("LNG") facility (the "LNG Terminal") conditional use permit, which was previously approved by Coos County. Many of these issues have already been addressed in the new application submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September 2017.

"For a large-scale development project such as Jordan Cove, the requirement to remedy minor portions of the LUBA permit is common and not unexpected," said Betsy Spomer, President of Jordan Cove. "We plan to fully address the items that require further action and expect to remain on schedule with our other permits and the current project timelines."

As part of the review and in support of the LNG Terminal, LUBA confirmed that Jordan Cove does not adversely impact the operations of the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport.

Jordan Cove is committed to providing all necessary information to all agencies involved in the process and most importantly, will meet the stringent regulations in place here in Oregon. Once Jordan Cove completes the additional work, the supplemental information will be submitted to the appropriate agencies for approval from Coos County.

LNG sent the statement Friday following a Nov. 29 article in The World which announced the LUBA ruling. Information from the Nov. 29 article was obtained from a press release sent to The World Tuesday by The Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition.