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First guilty plea, indictment of Trump aides in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — On a black Monday for Donald Trump's White House, the special counsel investigating possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump presidential campaign announced the first charges, indicting Trump's former campaign chairman and revealing how an adviser lied to the FBI about meetings with Russian intermediaries.

The formal charges against a total of three people are the first public demonstration that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team believe they have identified criminal conduct. And they send a warning that individuals in the Trump orbit who do not cooperate with Mueller's investigators, or who are believed to mislead them during questioning, could also wind up charged and facing years in prison.

Paul Manafort, who steered Trump's campaign for much of last year, and business associate Rick Gates ended the day under house arrest on charges that they funneled payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their private political work in Ukraine.

George Papadopoulos, also a former campaign adviser, faced further questioning and then sentencing in the first — and so far only — criminal case that links the Trump election effort to the Kremlin.

Manafort and Gates, who pleaded not guilty in federal court, are not charged with any wrongdoing as part of the Trump campaign, and the president immediately sought to distance himself from the allegations. He said on Twitter that the alleged crimes occurred "years ago," and he insisted anew there was "NO COLLUSION" between his campaign and Russia.

But potentially more perilous for the president was the guilty plea by former adviser Papadopoulos, who admitted in newly unsealed court papers that he was told in April 2016 that the Russians had "dirt" on Democratic rival Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails had been hacked.

Papadopoulos was not charged with having improper communications with Russians but rather with lying to FBI agents when asked about the contacts, suggesting that Mueller — who was appointed in May to lead the Justice Department's investigation — is prepared to indict for false statements even if the underlying conduct he uncovers might not necessarily be criminal.

The developments, including the unexpected unsealing of a guilty plea, usher Mueller's investigation into a new, more serious phase. And the revelations in the guilty plea about an adviser's Russian contacts could complicate the president's assertions that his campaign had never coordinated with the Russian government to tip the 2016 presidential election in his favor, the central issue behind Mueller's mandate.

Mueller's investigation has already shadowed the administration for months, with investigators reaching into the White House to demand access to documents and interviews with key current and former officials.

The Papadopoulos plea occurred on Oct. 5 but was not unsealed until Monday, creating further woes for an administration that had prepared over the weekend to deflect the Manafort allegations. In court papers, Papadopoulos admitted lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with "foreign nationals" who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials.

The court filings don't provide details on the emails or whom Papadopoulos may have told about the Russian government effort.

Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators, according to the court papers. His lawyers hinted strongly in a statement Monday that their client has more testimony to provide.

There, too, the White House scrambled to contain the potential fallout, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders contending that Papadopoulos' role in the campaign was "extremely limited." She said that "any actions that he took would have been on his own."

The criminal case against Manafort, who surrendered to the FBI in the morning, had long been expected.

The indictment naming him and Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, lays out 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.

In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, according to the indictment. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million.

Outside the courthouse, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing attacked the charges and said "there is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government."

Manafort's indictment doesn't reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between Russia and campaign aides. But it does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.

Local Republicans stand against school bond
Election ballots must be mailed in by Nov. 7

COOS BAY — Blue signs are scattered around town urging the public to vote down the Coos Bay BEST Bond.

These signs are being planted by members and supporters of the Coos County Republican Central Committee, a group that remains united against the bond measure regardless of how hard the campaign pushes to answer questions from voters.

The bond is appearing on the Coos Bay ballot for the Nov. 7 election, asking for $59.9 million.

If passed, it will survive for 25 years before being taken off local property taxes. During that term, it is estimated that there will be a property tax increase of $1.60 per year of each $1,000 assessed value, which is down from the amount estimated on the May ballot.

The committee’s vice chair, Ron Wiggins, pointed out that if a house is valued at $200,000 then “that’s a $320 increase in your bill.”

“I live in a small house,” he said. “I work and work long hours and pay a lot of taxes, but I’m still paying a mortgage and that property tax bill. There are others on limited fixed incomes and even if you’re renting, it will affect all renters because that will be passed on through rent. When you increase this much, it’s a huge hit.”

The World asked Wiggins and committee chairman, Rod Schilling, what other options the Coos Bay School District has if the bond doesn’t pass, but Schilling said he didn’t have that answer.

“We’re not in a position to fix the school district’s problems,” he said. “All we can offer are opinions.”

As it stands, the Coos County Republican Central Committee is advocating against more taxes in an effort to shield senior citizens on fixed incomes.

“This bond measure will put the most vulnerable people in the community at risk,” Wiggins said. “This affects everybody from the cost of their rent or home to the people who have fixed incomes. It puts people at risk financially.”

Though the bond measure and school district are nonpartisan, Wiggins grouped them under Democrats when he went to explain one of the bullet points on the committee’s formal resolution against the ballot issue. In the resolution, it reads, “Bond Measure #6-166 represents a scenario as some have painted where grandma is pushed over a cliff in her wheelchair, by uncaring parties, and it is a shameful disgrace.”

This is in reference to a 2012 TV ad created by a progressive policy group called the Agenda Project Action Fund as an attack on the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee’s Medicare proposal. It came after Mitt Romney tapped Paul Ryan as his running mate.

“We feel that this is exactly what this (bond) is doing in a more literal sense financially,” Wiggins said. “In the Coos Bay School District, I listened to numerous ads posted on Facebook and a lot of different places where they have kids in the ad saying we need this. I don’t blame the kids.”

Wiggins accused the campaign of painting a picture that the local Republican committee is “against education, against kids,” but that they aren’t.

“They were the ones that put all these 600 students into Blossom Gulch, the worst school building in the county probably,” Wiggins said. “It’s been sinking in a marsh for years. They closed down Milner Crest, they closed down Bunker Hill, they put them all there and its like, ‘See? The kids are in a jam, the building is falling down.’”

“The kids are being used,” Schilling said.

In a previous interview, school board member and BEST Bond Committee chairman James Martin said the local Republican Party’s stance on the issue is, to him, “anti-education, anti-jobs, anti-business, and anti-family because all of those things depend on having an effective and appealing school system, so those aren’t consistent with how any political party wants to be perceived.”

However, Schilling returned to the committee’s concern that the bond might be too much for senior community members, especially those who bought a house with a spouse who has since died and only relies on one social security check.

“You will never understand how many people in your neighborhood make decisions on if today they buy medicine or pay for a doctor’s visit or go to the grocery store or put fuel in their car,” he said. “I understand this is about brick and mortar buildings. There are questions after questions about this and they are out there with a sympathy and not a reasonable assumption that this is for the kids.”

But, as the BEST Bond Committee has said in previous interviews, it is about the students.

“Our issue is about our kids being in safe buildings, our kids being in school buildings that are effective so we are part of growth and the future and creating a better environment for businesses and families,” Martin said.

Health law sign-ups start, and some see a 'hostile takeover'

WASHINGTON — It's sign-up season for the Affordable Care Act, but the Trump administration isn't making it easy — cutting the enrollment period in half, slashing advertising and dialing back on counselors who help consumers get through the process.

Many people already faced fewer choices and higher premiums. But President Donald Trump's decision to cancel a subsidy to insurers that lowers consumer costs compounded the turmoil, pushing premiums even higher.

Add it all up and the number of uninsured people may start rising again, eroding gains that drove the uninsured rate to a historic low.

"It certainly is a hostile takeover," said health policy expert Joe Antos of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

"We are going to see a decline in enrollment," he added. "The people who will drop out in droves are the ones who are not getting a premium subsidy."

Open enrollment starts Wednesday and ends Dec. 15 in most states, a sign-up period six weeks shorter than last year's.

Some 9 million to 10 million people currently have private plans through the ACA's government-sponsored markets. More than eight in 10 receive subsidized premiums, and are cushioned from rate increases. Federal help paying premiums is still available despite GOP efforts to repeal the health law.

In states served by the website, premiums will go up 37 percent for a hypothetical 27-year-old picking a standard plan called "second-lowest cost silver," the Health and Human Services department reported Monday.

With insurers exiting the market, about half of counties will only have one participating carrier offering plans. Eight states have only one insurer.

But subsidies for premiums are also going up — by 45 percent on average. That means current customers receiving financial help have a strong incentive to renew.

How many new people will join remains an open question, even if they're eligible for help with premiums. New enrollees are vital because healthier, younger people are needed to keep rising premiums from destabilizing the marketplaces.

Already this year there was a big drop-off among consumers who buy individual coverage outside the government markets, and aren't eligible for premium subsidies. Their costs, however, are generally tied to rising "Obamacare" rates. Monthly premiums can be as a high as a mortgage payment in some cases.

Polls show widespread consumer confusion. Some are unsure if the health law has been repealed.

Trump administration officials say they're aiming for smooth and efficient sign-ups. has new features intended to make it more user-friendly and the call center is fully staffed.

Officials say they cut ads because spending so much money wasn't warranted, and the scaled-back counseling programs weren't enrolling many consumers. The programs take issue with that.

Consumers who already have "Obamacare" are worried.

"It's gone beyond what I would have called the politics of the normal," said Elizabeth Stone, a real estate agent in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. She was diagnosed with lymphoma in her mid-20s, and with treatment has kept the cancer in check for five years. She doesn't qualify for subsidized premiums, but without the ACA she questions if any insurer would have covered her.

"People have forgotten that everyone can get sick," Stone said. "This battle has become so politicized that they're not thinking of the consequences for themselves, for their friends and their families."

Karen Vied coaches people in treatment for substance abuse. She and her husband David live in Millsboro, Delaware, a short drive from the shore.

Vied said she voted for Trump because she believed he would deal with the opioid epidemic. Now she's scared, she says, because she and her husband rely on their subsidized ACA coverage for treatment of her rheumatoid arthritis and his heart problems. David, a marine technician, has not been physically able to work as much lately.

"I literally wonder from day to day, am I going to have insurance next month?" said Karen, who's not yet 60. "I can't turn around and go from paying $450 a month for premiums to $2,000. That's just not going to happen."

Her husband said without insurance one hospitalization could wipe out their home equity. "I'm not asking the government to give me insurance, but I am asking them to do what they need to make it affordable," said David Vied. He voted for Hillary Clinton.

Trump's own words leave little doubt where his administration stands.

"ObamaCare is a broken mess," the president tweeted recently.

And on Sunday, he said: "As usual, the ObamaCare premiums will be up (the Dems own it), but we will Repeal & Replace and have great Healthcare soon after Tax Cuts."

While repeal remains Trump's goal, he also abruptly stopped paying a "cost sharing" subsidy to insurers. Officials say the payments were never properly approved by Congress, although they are called for under the ACA.

Those payments offset reduced copays and deductibles for people with modest incomes, and unless they're restored insurers will lose an estimated $1 billion the remainder of this year. State regulators have approved premium increases in the double digits to compensate insurers.

Despite all the problems, there's an effort around the country to drum up enrollment. Nonprofits that don't rely on federal grants are ramping up. Some insurers plan to pay for advertising. States running their own insurance markets remain focused on growing enrollment.

In Austin, Texas, a nonprofit that provides support services for the working poor is trying to prove Trump wrong. Foundation Communities has helped more than 22,800 enroll for coverage since 2014.

"We're hoping to enroll about 5,000 people; of course we have to do that in half the time," said insurance program director Elizabeth Colvin. "Full steam ahead."

Back to her roots
Chief nursing officer gets back to her roots in rural hospital

COQUILLE — Last year, Barbara Van Duren knew she wanted to get out of the city.

She had been working at large hospitals in the San Francisco area and wanted to shift to a smaller, less-trafficked facility.

That decision led her to Coquille Valley Hospital where she’s currently the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO).

“I just kind of got tired of it,” Van Duren said of the sometimes three-hour long commutes and densely populated area.

The move not only brought her closer to her mom, but also brought her closer to her roots.

Van Duren grew up in a rural area of central Washington.

“This is, for me, kind of going home,” Van Duren said.

The CNO has been in the healthcare industry for 30 years.

She said she started out in a small hospital and gradually got promoted to bigger and bigger hospitals.

“There’s this really weird sense that the more beds you have in your control, the more important you are,” Van Duren said.

Looking back, she said the larger the hospital the further she got from her connection to purpose.

“Your span of control is so large that you get disconnected from the people who are giving the care and the patients,” Van Duren said.

Now, that’s not the case.

Even though she doesn’t directly take care of patients anymore, she said Coquille Valley Hospital is small enough that she knows who the patients are.

“I started being a nurse 30 years ago to make a difference and even though it might sound a little cliché, I still want to go work,” Van Duren said, “It’s the patient in the bed, it’s not my title or my status.”

She has worked in 65-bed emergency rooms in Calgary, Alberta and above a renowned burn center in San Francisco, but being at Coquille Valley Hospital is back to basics for her.

Van Duren said she judges her good days based on the care she’s able to provide.

“At the end of the day you get in the car and you think ‘wow, I had a really good day’ because that patient got better or I saved that one’s life,” Van Duren said.

She said the hospital is full of compassionate people that create a family-like atmosphere where she knows all her coworkers, something she didn’t have in the larger cities.

“Everything pointed me to this direction and it feels really good, really comfortable here,” Van Duren said.

She said there’s a misconception that people are attracted to smaller hospitals because that’s all they can do.

“People get the impression that you’re in a critical access hospital, because you can’t do any better than that,” Van Duren said, “Just because you’re in a critical access hospital doesn’t mean you’re less than. There are some amazing nurses here that I have seen them give their heart and soul and their skill is top notch.”