Alberta tow truck drivers want blue emergency lights to slow down drivers

At 25 years old, tow truck driver Scott Courchesne’s life flashed before his eyes while working on the side of Alberta’s Highway 16 – something that he says happens all too often in his line of work. Tow truck drivers like him are hoping a small regulation change can help keep them safe.

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It was Nov. 3 at about 6:20 a.m. when Courchesne got the call. A vehicle had collided with a deer on the Yellowhead and the driver needed a tow.

He headed to the scene and turned on his amber flashing lights in the dark. Wearing his reflective suit and vest, he started putting out orange pylons behind his truck to warn drivers that he was working on the side of the road.

He was hooking the dolly up to the damaged vehicle when he realized something was wrong.

“I heard the bang and as I’m holding the dolly bar, I look up and I see headlights coming at me,” he explained.

The metal bar he was working with blocked him from jumping into the ditch, so he acted as quickly as he could to free it.

“I had to pull it out of the dolly set and as I spun, [the dolly bar] connected with the vehicle.”

The bar ended up wedged in the side of the oncoming SUV and Courchesne was hurt in the impact. “My neck’s all twisted, my back tissues are all torn.”

He thinks he wouldn’t have survived if he hadn’t been able to free the dolly bar.

Scott Courchesne is off work now after the equipment he was working with was struck by a passing car.

It’s stories like this that have the Alberta Motor Association (AMA) — which represents 80 per cent of tow truck drivers in the province — pushing for changes to improve the safety of their drivers.

Since 2005, Alberta’s traffic laws require all drivers to slow to 60 km/h or slower in the adjacent lane when passing emergency vehicles — such as police cars, ambulances, fire and tow trucks — with their lights on.

Traffic fines are doubled when drivers speed by an emergency vehicle or tow truck.

“Unfortunately it is far too often a reality where our tow truck operators are either in near-miss circumstances or in fact are struck. All of these circumstances are entirely preventable.” said Jeff Kasbrick, AMA’s vice-president of government and stakeholder affairs.

They believe new lights might go a long way. Right now, trucks are equipped with amber flashing lights, similar to those also used by road construction crews.

“Blue, as well as white lights, are the most visible colours when it comes to inclement weather circumstances — which is often when our roadside operators are responding.”

Each year, 37,000 of their calls — one every 15 minutes — is considered high risk. The tow truck drivers are either working along roadways with higher speeds or lots of congestion.

While other emergency vehicles are equipped with blue, white or red lights, the ones on tow trucks are amber — and Kasbrick worries they aren’t doing enough to slow drivers down.

“I think part of the problem we have with amber lights is that it’s everywhere. And that actually creates a bit of complacency,” he said.

Oil Country Towing covers a 50-kilometre stretch of the QEII from the edge of Wetaskiwin County to Edmonton’s city limits. Don Getschel owns the company and says he’s always worried about the safety of his drivers.

“There’s lots of distractions out there nowadays and people, when they’re coming up and approaching us — they don’t realize we’re out there working.”

On the QEII, his company uses blocker trucks to protect the crews working.

“We’ve had a couple near misses. We’ve been on scene where police cars are hit. We’ve been on scene when our own units were hit. Luckily no one was hurt but the property damage is extensive. We had one truck – it took six months to get fixed,” Getschel explained.

“We just find that people aren’t slowing down and it’s a huge problem.”

He thinks the blue lights make the tow trucks more visible to other drivers, especially in low light – and drivers need that peace of mind.

“You hear screeching tires when you’re out there working and your neck hairs stand up because they’re coming at you so fast.”

Our neighbours to the east have already made the change.

“In Saskatchewan they now have amber and blue lights in their flashing beacon for tow trucks. Unfortunately it took the death of a tow truck driver to prompt that legislative change,” Kasbrick said.

He said in Alberta, the decision wouldn’t require new legislation, because it’s a regulatory change to the Traffic Safety Act.

“This is ultimately about safety. We fundamentally believe that all Albertans have the right to be safe within their workplace, and that is even if the roadside is their office.”

Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason says he’s open to having discussions about new lights, but he’s worried blue might not be the right colour.

“We’d have to look at that because blue is of course the colour used by police and we don’t want to create confusion. But I think we need to remind ourselves to slow down when passing a tow truck.”

There are signs posted along Alberta highways reminding drivers of the law.

Kasbrick believes the change will eventually be made, but he said each day that passes until then leaves drivers vulnerable on the roadside.

“I’m actually not hearing opposition, it’s just making sure that we’re able to prioritize this above everything else that’s happening,” he said.

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Brexit: PM's 'total betrayal' amid DUP anger at 'backstop to the backstop' plan

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson attacked the prime minister following the emergence of leaked letter from Mrs May to DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds.

In extracts published by The Times, the prime minister’s letter refers to EU demands for the proposed Brexit backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

This would apply if a future EU-UK trade relationship failed to avert a hardening of the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The prime minister has been pushing to agree a UK-wide backstop arrangement, which would see the whole UK remain in an effective customs union with the EU, after rejecting Brussels’ proposal of a Northern Ireland-only solution.

However, in the leaked letter, it is revealed Mrs May admitted to the DUP that the EU is still proposing a Northern Ireland-only backstop arrangement alongside a UK-wide solution.

The prime minister wrote: “They want to maintain a Northern Ireland-only ‘backstop to the backstop’ in case the future negotiations are unsuccessful.

“I am clear that I could not accept there being any circumstances or conditions in which that ‘backstop to the backstop’, which would break up the UK customs territory, could come into force.

“That is why it is critical that the provision for a UK-EU joint customs territory is legally binding in the Withdrawal Agreement itself, so that no ‘backstop to a backstop’ is required.”

According to The Times, the DUP have taken Mrs May’s words to mean a Northern Ireland-only backstop arrangement will still be included in the legal text of the UK’s divorce deal with the EU, despite her assurance she will not allow it to “come into force”.

Mrs Foster told the newspaper: “The prime minister’s letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious Union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK.

“It appears the prime minister is wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea with Northern Ireland in the EU single market regulatory regime.”

Mr Wilson told Sky News the prime minister is guilty of a “total betrayal” and had gone back on “the promises she made”.

It comes after International Trade Secretary Liam Fox challenged Mrs May to ensure the UK’s ability to quit a backstop arrangement is a decision for the UK alone, rather than the result of a mutual agreement with Dublin and Brussels.

In the leaked letter, the prime minister also told the DUP she “would not accept being kept in a backstop arrangement indefinitely”, while it would be “totally unacceptable” for a time limit to the UK-wide backstop arrangement to then simply result in the Northern Ireland-only solution being adopted.

In response to the emergence of the letter, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister’s letter sets out her commitment, which she has been absolutely clear about on any number of occasions, to never accepting any circumstances in which the UK is divided into two customs territories.

“The government will not agree anything that brings about a hard border on the island of Ireland.”

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Government ordered to repay £1m to trafficking victims after High Court ruling

It follows a successful challenge by two claimants, a 19-year-old asylum seeker and a victim of sex trafficking, against the cuts.

Their case was supported by charities for victims of trafficking.

At the beginning of March, almost two months before Savid Javid became home secretary, the weekly cash amount payable to more than 1,000 potential victims of human trafficking was slashed by 42%.

Their weekly allowance fell from £65 to £37.75, but they will now be repaid the missing £27.25 per week after the court ruling, at an estimated cost of more than £1m.

Mr Justice Mostyn found the government failed to comply with obligations under the 2010 Equality Act.

The judge had been told how the teenage asylum seeker had fled persecution and severe exploitation at the hands of traffickers.

The reduction in payments was said to have damaged his mental health and exposed him to a risk of falling back into the hands of traffickers.

Silvia Nicolaou Garcia, a solicitor from law firm Simpson Millar who represented the teenager, said the payment cut forced her client into an “increasingly untenable and, frankly, inhumane situation”.

“He couldn’t afford the travel necessary to meet with his solicitors, which he is required to do on a regular basis, he had accrued debt and he could no longer afford to buy clothes, food, or mobile credit to allow him to keep in touch with his professional support network or his friends,” she said.

“We hope that the reversal of the cuts, and a back payment to cover losses, will help to provide stability and, importantly, safety for him.”

The other claimant, known as “K” and described as suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after being sex trafficked, said after the ruling: “I was so low because I was not able to do the activities which had been helping me before my money was cut.

“Now that I can afford to re-engage with my support network and activities, it makes me hopeful for my future.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey attacked the prime minister, who has long championed efforts to tackle modern slavery, over the case.

He said: “Theresa May once rightly called modern slavery the great human rights issue of our time, but her government cut support for victims by 40%, leaving them vulnerable to further exploitation.

“Now that the court has ruled those cuts unlawful, the government must reverse them and ensure that victims receive the help they need to escape the terrible bonds of slavery.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We accept the court judgement and will set out our response in due course.”

The spokesman added that ministers are committed to ensuring victims of modern slavery got the support they needed.

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Whitaker’s friendship with Trump aide reignites recusal debate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s pick for acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, is a close friend of Trump’s 2016 election campaign co-chair, and a former government ethics chief said the friendship makes Whitaker unable to oversee impartially a politically charged investigation into the campaign.

Matthew Whitaker, named on Wednesday to replace Jeff Sessions, will directly oversee Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible links between Trump’s campaign team and Russian officials.

Whitaker publicly criticized Mueller’s investigation before he was hired as Sessions’ chief of staff last year.

Sam Clovis, who was co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign and has testified before the grand jury in the Mueller investigation, said he and Whitaker became good friends when they ran against each other as Republicans in a 2014 Senate primary campaign in Iowa. Whitaker also later served as the chairman of a Clovis campaign for state treasurer.

In an interview with Reuters, Clovis said Whitaker is “a wonderful man” and “a dear friend.” He added that Whitaker was a “sounding board” for him when Clovis worked for Trump’s campaign.

Walter Shaub, who was director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics for four years before resigning in July 2017, said the friendship between Whitaker and Clovis should disqualify Whitaker from supervising the Mueller investigation.  

“Whitaker has to recuse himself under DOJ’s regulation requiring recusal if you have a personal or political relationship with someone substantially involved in conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution,” Shaub told Reuters.  

Department of Justice spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores declined to comment.

A DOJ regulation cited by Shaub states that employees “may not supervise prosecutions or investigations that involve someone with a personal or political relationship.”

It says the possible conflict can be set aside if the employee’s supervisor judges that the relationship does not affect the official’s impartiality or create the public perception of a conflict.

Trevor Potter, a former Republican commissioner on the Federal Election Commission who now leads the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for more transparency in elections, said the question of whether Whitaker should recuse himself depends on Clovis’ status in the Mueller investigation.

“If he has a close personal friendship with someone who is involved in the investigation because of his role in the Trump campaign, then that would present a recusal issue,” Potter said.

Mueller has not publicly identified any of the targets of his investigation.

Paul Rosenzweig, a fellow at the non-partisan R Street Institute which specializes in public policy, said he believed Whitaker’s friendship with Clovis is “probably not a problem” but that Whitaker should ask the DOJ’s Professional Responsibility and Accountability Office whether he has a conflict.

While he still led the government ethics office, Shaub last year advised the Justice Department to require Sessions’ recusal from the Mueller probe because Sessions had been a senior adviser to Trump during the election campaign.

Sessions’ decision to recuse himself infuriated Trump. After months of publicly criticizing his attorney general, Trump asked him to resign on Wednesday.   

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Whitaker’s selection by Trump as acting attorney general drew sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers, who described it as an attempt by the president to undermine and possibly end Mueller’s investigation.        

Mueller’s team has netted convictions and guilty pleas from several Trump campaign staff members and advisers.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia, and describes Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.”

Moscow has denied U.S. security agencies’ allegations that it interfered in the election in a bid to help Trump.

A former U.S. attorney and conservative commentator, Whitaker last year wrote an opinion piece for CNN arguing that Mueller would be going too far if he investigated the Trump family’s finances.

Two months after the article was published, Whitaker went to work at the Department of Justice.

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Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab admits he 'did not quite understand' UK's reliance on Dover trade route

The Brexit secretary called Britain a “peculiar geographic economic entity” as he called for a “bespoke” deal with the EU on goods.

He told a tech conference in north London on Wednesday: “I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this.

“But if you look at the UK and look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.

“And that is one of the reasons why we have wanted to make sure we have a specific and very proximate relationship with the EU, to ensure frictionless trade at the border.”

Mr Raab had joked at the start he was “terrified” of attending the conference because his wife works in tech marketing and “if I get anything wrong I am for the high jump when I get home”.

Under the government’s proposal, the UK would stay in a customs union with the EU after 29 March 2019 – the date it is expected to leave the bloc.

A future trade deal would then be negotiated, but there are concerns over a “backstop” solution to prevent a hard border reforming in Ireland if no agreement is made, which could involve the UK remaining in a customs union for longer.

Mr Raab dismissed concerns of “major” goods shortages in British stores if there is no withdrawal deal.

But he warned: “I think probably the average consumer might not be aware of the full extent to which the choice of goods that we have in the stores are dependent on one or two very specific trade routes.”

According to government figures in 2016, the Dover-Calais crossing was the most popular route for good vehicles in and out of the UK, with 1,905,000 units passing across it.

The second and third most popular were Dover-Dunkirk with 690,000 units that year, and Holyhead-Dublin with 299,000.

Labour’s shadow Brexit minister, Jenny Chapman, responded to Mr Raab’s speech, asking: “How are we meant to trust this government to deliver a good deal for this country when we have a Brexit secretary who doesn’t even understand the very basics of Brexit?”

Former UKIP leader Henry Bolton added: “I’ve continually said, the risk of Brexit is not in leaving the European Union, it is in having a government that doesn’t know what it is doing.”

Conservative Remainer Nicky Morgan tweeted Mr Raab’s quote with the comment: “Gulp #enoughsaid.”

It comes amid a row over whether cabinet ministers will be shown Prime Minister Theresa May’s full legal advice on her draft withdrawal agreement.

They were initially only going to be given a summary at a crunch meeting on Wednesday, but Sky News understands that was pushed back when it was raised that the ministerial code says that “the complete text of the advice should be attached”.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the cabinet would get a “very good… framework” of the legal advice, while Home Secretary Sajid Javid assured colleagues: “I am sure the cabinet will see advice.”

Lawyer and Conservative backbencher Dominic Grieve also told Sky News it would be “extraordinary” if they did not.

He added that it was “more difficult” when it came to calls for the legal advice to be released to the public.

“If the government doesn’t publish it in a matter of this importance then the government ought to set out very fully its own legal position and publish that with a full explanation of how it sees the legal issues playing out,” Mr Grieve said.

Earlier, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney warned it was a “mistake” to assume that if the British cabinet agrees something, then everything is agreed.

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Factbox: Potential U.S. presidential contenders in 2020

(Reuters) – Buoyed by Tuesday’s takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats can now turn their attention to the 2020 presidential race.

For the first time since the start of the 2004 campaign, Democrats are entering the cycle without a dominant front-runner. More than two dozen possible contenders have had their names floated or have actively begun exploring their chances.

President Donald Trump filed for re-election the day he was inaugurated in January 2017, and his popularity with the Republican Party’s core supporters means any possible challenge for the party’s nomination will be a longshot.

Here are some of the potential contenders in each party:

DEMOCRATS

JOE BIDEN – The former vice president, 75, is the early Democratic leader in polls, and that is partly a function of familiarity given his decades as a senator and eight years as a No. 2 to Barack Obama. If he makes his third run for the presidency, Biden will have easy access to top-shelf staff, donors and an extensive network of supporters. Biden’s age could work against him in a party looking for fresher faces, and his ties with Obama would make him an easy target for Republican attacks.

BERNIE SANDERS – The Vermont senator, 77, still has a loyal following from his 2016 challenge to Hillary Clinton, and his focus on issues such as universal healthcare, reducing income inequality and tuition-free public college has been adopted widely by the party. But while he was an insurgent candidate two years ago, Sanders would face more intense scrutiny as a major contender in 2020.

ELIZABETH WARREN – The Massachusetts senator, 69, is a leader of the party’s progressives and a fierce critic of Wall Street who was instrumental in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Her recent decision to take a DNA test to prove her distant Native American ancestry after Trump’s taunts of “Pocahontas” was roundly criticized and raised questions among some Democrats about her political agility.

KAMALA HARRIS – The black first-term senator from California, 54, is considered one of the candidates most likely to break out from the pack of lesser known Democrats. Her aggressive questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and her decision to swear off corporate PAC money – large donations from businesses – won her plaudits from activists. But as a newcomer to national politics, Harris still needs to introduce herself to the public while defying Republican attempts to define her negatively.

CORY BOOKER – The black two-term senator from New Jersey, 49, a former Rhodes Scholar and Stanford University football player, won notice as the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, when he saved a neighbor from a burning house in 2012. Some liberals have criticized him for having close ties to Wall Street and for helping to kill a proposal that would have lowered prescription drug prices.

BETO O’ROURKE – The three-term congressman, 46, became a Democratic sensation with his underdog U.S. Senate campaign in deeply conservative Texas. He lost the race but smashed fundraising records running as an unabashed liberal and offering a possible template for Democrats in 2020. O’Rourke is still untested on the national stage.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND – The senator from New York, 51, was appointed to the Senate from the House of Representatives to replace Hillary Clinton in 2009, when Clinton became secretary of state, and has become a leader in the #MeToo movement. Her statement last year that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency in the Monica Lewinsky scandal drew a rebuke from the former president, who said “she’s living in a different context,” and alienated some Clinton allies.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG – The former New York City mayor, and former Republican, has in the past considered running for the White House as an independent. But this time Bloomberg, 76, is considering running as a Democrat. His money and name recognition are formidable, and his advocacy for gun control has won him friends among activists. But progressives could find some of his positions hard to take, including his opposition to a Democratic proposal that would break up Wall Street banks and his doubts about the #MeToo movement.

ANDREW CUOMO – The New York governor, 60, easily defeated a primary challenge from the left by actress Cynthia Nixon in September. A big re-election win makes him a possible contender.

ERIC HOLDER – A close ally of Obama, he served as his first attorney general and has launched a committee to fight battles over redistricting, the drawing of district lines that can cement a party’s hold on power. Holder, 67, drew rebukes from Republicans, and some groans from Democrats, when he said in October of Republicans: “When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.” He later told critics to “stop the fake outrage.”

AMY KLOBUCHAR – The two-term senator from Minnesota, 58, a former prosecutor, won praise from activists for her questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing. He memorably turned the question back to her when she asked if he had blacked out from drinking. “I don’t know, have you?” he asked Klobuchar, who had revealed that her 90-year-old father was a recovering alcoholic. Kavanaugh later apologized.

TERRY McAULIFFE – Like Biden, the former Virginia governor has broad access to donors and influential Democrats. McAuliffe, 61, is a former chairman of presidential campaigns for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and a former head of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005.

STEVE BULLOCK – The Montana governor, 52, has asserted an interest in running for president with multiple trips to early primary states, including a well-publicized trip to the Iowa State Fair. He has emphasized the need for a national 50-state campaign, saying as a governor he knows how to reach across the aisle to get things done.

REPUBLICANS

DONALD TRUMP – The president, 72, already has a campaign slogan, “Keep America Great,” and between his campaign committee and two joint fundraising committees has raised $106 million for his re-election, with $47 million cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports. He has turned his attention to the race, punctuating his political rallies with frequent put-downs of his possible Democratic rivals.

JOHN KASICH – After a failed presidential campaign in 2016, the Ohio governor has become one of the party’s few notable critics of Trump. Kasich, 66, a moderate on some social issues, has pointedly refused to rule out a primary challenge to the president. But Kasich is famous for his aversion to fundraising, which could make success elusive. Concerns about potential primary opposition from Trump’s base have encouraged Kasich’s allies to view him as a possible independent candidate.

JEFF FLAKE – The conservative first-term Arizona senator, 55, declined to seek re-election after becoming one of the leading Republican critics of Trump. He has criticized his fellow Republicans in Congress for failing to stand up to the president. But he would have difficulty gaining traction in Republican primaries, which Trump’s loyal supporters could dominate.

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CNN journalist Jim Acosta’s White House access revoked after spat with Trump

CNN Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta has been denied entrance into the White House for “placing hands on a young woman” trying to take away his microphone while asking U.S. President a question, the same day Trump said he was “rude” and a “terrible person.”

Acosta posted a video on his Twitter account of a U.S. secret service agent taking away his credentials to enter the White House.

“The US Secret Service just asked for my credential to enter the WH,” Acosta wrote. “As I told the officer, I don’t blame him. He is just doing his job.”

In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Acosta’s refusal to give up a microphone to a young staffer who tried to take it away Wednesday at a press conference with Trump is the reason his access has been denied.

“[The White House will] never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable,” Sanders said. “As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.”

The incident in question happened during a tense exchange between Acosta and Trump.

Acosta was repeatedly trying to ask Trump about his referral to a migrant caravan headed to the U.S. from Central America as an “invasion.”

During the question, Trump interrupted and said, “Here we go again.”

As the exchange heated up, Trump said, “I think you should let me run the country, and you run CNN. And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”

Acosta tried to ask another question but Trump repeatedly said “that’s enough.”

That’s when the staffer attempted to take Acosta’s microphone away, and Acosta said “excuse me, ma’am,” while he continued to try to ask his question.

That’s when Trump said, “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person, you shouldn’t be working for CNN.”

Trump said the way Acosta treats Sanders is “horrible.”

Acosta later wrote on Twitter that Sanders explanation for why his access has been revoked is “a lie.”

Commenting on his revoked pass on CNN, Acosta said he does think the U.S. government is “trying to shut us down.”

“I never though in this country I wouldn’t be able to cover [the U.S.] just because I was trying to ask a question,” he said.

CNN has issued a statement after the incident with Trump but before Acosta’s access was revoked that said Trump has “gone too far.”

“This President’s ongoing attacks on the press have gone too far. They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American,” CNN wrote. “A free press is vital to democracy, and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere.”

— With files from Rebecca Joseph and Katie Dangerfield

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Democrats warn Trump after Attorney General Sessions forced out

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by President Donald Trump on Wednesday drew sharp criticism from Democrats, who warned Trump against moving to squash a probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The probe, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller under the supervision of the Justice Department, has clouded the Trump presidency. The president had long complained about Sessions recusing himself from supervising Mueller.

Democrats raised concerns about Sessions’ acting replacement, Matthew Whitaker, who now oversees Mueller and once argued Mueller’s probe was going too far. They also questioned whether the removal of the top U.S. law enforcement officer was an attempt to undermine or end the investigation.

“Congress must take bipartisan action to protect the integrity of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” said Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, hours after Democrats won a House majority in Tuesday’s elections.

If Sessions’ departure was an “opening move” by Trump to meddle in Mueller’s investigation, Hoyer said in a statement, “the president must be held accountable.”

Asked if Whitaker would now oversee Mueller, a Justice Department spokeswoman said: “The acting attorney general is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice.”

A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined to comment on Sessions’ departure. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Reuters on Tuesday that he assumed it was “not going to affect” the Mueller investigation.

Justice Department rules on special counsels set boundaries on how Mueller could be removed. Under those rules, he could only be discharged for good cause, such as misconduct or dereliction of duty, such as violating department policy.

Mueller is investigating if Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, and whether Trump unlawfully tried to obstruct the probe, along with possible financial misconduct by Trump’s family and associates.

The special counsel has brought charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman and other campaign figures, along with 25 Russians and three firms accused of meddling in the campaign to help Trump win.

Trump has denied his campaign colluded with Russia.

RECUSAL DEMAND

In a Twitter message, the medium he often uses for dismissing subordinates, Trump said he had replaced Sessions with Whitaker, who will be acting attorney general. Whitaker was previously Sessions’ chief of staff.

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Sessions said in a letter to Trump that he had resigned at the president’s request.

Some Democrats quickly demanded that Whitaker should recuse himself from supervising Mueller, as Sessions did because Whitaker wrote an opinion piece for CNN in August 2017 that argued Mueller had too much latitude in his investigation.

The Mueller probe should not extend to the finances of Trump, his family or their business, the Trump Organization, he argued.

“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee starting in January, said removing Sessions fit Trump’s pattern of interfering in the work of the Justice Department and Mueller.

“Donald Trump may think he has the power to hire and fire whomever he pleases, but he cannot take such action if it is determined that it is for the purposes of subverting the rule of law and obstructing justice,” Nadler said in a statement.

Republican Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee who was elected on Tuesday to the U.S. Senate from Utah, also said Mueller’s probe should not be affected by Sessions’ departure.

“Under Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, it is imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues, and that the Mueller investigation proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded,” he said on Twitter.

HARSH ATTACKS

Never in modern history has a president attacked a Cabinet member as frequently and harshly in public as Trump did Sessions, 71, who had been one of the first members of Congress to back his presidential campaign in 2015.

Trump was only a few weeks into his presidency in March 2017 when Sessions upset him by stepping aside from overseeing an FBI probe of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, citing news reports of previously undisclosed meetings he had with Russia’s ambassador to Washington for his recusal.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took over supervision of the Russia investigation. He appointed Mueller in May 2017 as the Justice Department’s special counsel to take control of the FBI’s Russia probe after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

Despite Trump’s criticism, Sessions aggressively carried out the administration’s conservative policies. He sought to strip federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities and states, typically governed by Democrats, that he accused of sheltering illegal immigrants from deportation.

He also announced Trump’s decision to rescind protections for young adults brought into the country illegally as children, and backed Trump’s ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

A permanent replacement for Sessions must be confirmed by the Senate, which Trump’s Republicans will continue to control as a result of Tuesday’s midterm elections.

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Nancy Pelosi pledges to hold Trump to account, Democrats expected to launch investigations

The top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives pledged a new era of congressional scrutiny over U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, shrugging off White House threats of political warfare if Democrats launch investigations into his affairs.

“We have a constitutional responsibility for oversight,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, a day after voters gave Democrats control of the House for the first time in eight years.

“This doesn’t mean we go looking for a fight. But it means that if we see a need to go forward, we will,” she said.

Incoming Democratic committee chairmen are expected to lead investigations into Trump’s long-hidden tax returns, possible conflicts of interest from his business empire and any collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign team in the 2016 election.

Pelosi, who hopes to return as House speaker when the new Democratic majority takes over in January, said committee chairmen will decide how to proceed and make their recommendations to the Democratic caucus.

“But you can be sure of one thing: when we go down any of these paths, we’ll know what we’re doing and we’ll do it right,” said the 78-year-old San Francisco liberal.

Trump earlier threatened to forego any attempt at bipartisanship and urge retaliatory investigations against Democrats in the Senate, which Republicans retained on Tuesday.

“We’re going to do the same thing, and government comes to a halt, and I would blame them,” Trump said at a news conference.

Trump does not have the authority to order Senate investigations. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell declined to comment on the possibility of retaliatory probes, which Trump first raised in a morning statement on Twitter.

Trump has never faced opposition party control in Congress as president. Democrats say their House majority will end the ability of Republican lawmakers to protect him from scrutiny.

“The American people have demanded accountability from their government,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat poised to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter.

Trump “may not like it, but he and his administration will be held accountable to our laws and to the American people.”

The confrontational tone on both sides may preview what’s in store for the next two years of Trump’s presidency.

Nadler, once slammed by Trump as “one of the most egregious hacks in contemporary politics,” is among four senior Democrats who have clashed with the president in the past and will take over key House committees when the new Congress convenes.

The others are Elijah Cummings at the House Oversight Committee; Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee, slammed by Trump as “sleazy;” and Maxine Waters at the Financial Services Committee, whom Trump said has “extraordinarily low IQ.”

Chairing the committees – where they are currently the highest-ranking Democrats – will give these Democrats the power to demand documents and testimony from White House officials and figures in Trump’s campaign team and businesses, and to issue subpoenas if needed.

“I plan to shine a light on waste, fraud, and abuse in the Trump administration,” Cummings said on Wednesday.

“I want to probe senior administration officials across the government who have abused their positions of power and wasted taxpayer money, as well as President Trump’s decisions to act in his own financial self-interest,” he said in a statement.

The White House could respond to committee demands by citing executive privilege. That would likely result in court battles.

‘Not nervous’

Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told CNN that House Democrats could encounter resistance from lawmakers within their own ranks who won swing districts.

“People like when you focus on the issues, not investigations,” Conway said. “The president’s not nervous about anything.”

A first salvo is expected to come from Representative Richard Neal, who will likely be the Democratic chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and who has said he will demand Trump’s tax returns from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. That could set in motion a series of probes into any disclosures from the documents.

Trump on Wednesday reiterated his claim that the returns cannot be released due to an Internal Revenue Service audit.

Schiff has said his panel would probe allegations that Russian money may have been laundered though Trump businesses and that Moscow might have financial leverage over him.

Waters and other Democrats have been clamoring for details about Trump’s relationship with German-based Deutsche Bank and what it may know about links between the president and Russia.

Nadler’s panel would handle any effort to impeach Trump, depending on the outcome of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow.

Trump denies any collusion and has long denounced Mueller’s investigation as a witch hunt. Moscow denies meddling.

Nadler has said any impeachment effort must be based on evidence of action to subvert the Constitution that is so overwhelming it would trouble even the president’s supporters.

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Takeaways From Trump’s Midterms News Conference: ‘People Like Me’

WASHINGTON — President Trump gave a wide-ranging, nearly 90-minute news conference on Wednesday, boasting about the Republicans’ victories a day earlier, even as his party lost control of the House.

The president brandished new “historic” statistics, familiar complaints about what he described as the hostile news media and self-praise for personally delivering important victories.

Republicans retained and strengthened their majority in the Senate, defeating three Democratic incumbents, but they lost their grip on the House, ceding 26 seats to Democrats.

Though this year’s midterm elections reflected a deeply divided nation, with some voters who supported Mr. Trump in the 2016 election choosing Democratic candidates this time around, Mr. Trump said the greatest lesson from Tuesday’s results was that “people like me.”

“People like the job I’m doing, frankly,” he said.

Here are some key takeaways from the president’s postelection news conference.

Republicans who lost on Tuesday have only themselves to blame.

“Candidates who embraced our message of low taxes, low regulations, low crime, strong borders and great judges excelled last night,” Mr. Trump said, rattling off states where he campaigned for winning candidates.

The Republicans who distanced themselves from Mr. Trump, he said, “they did very poorly.”

Mr. Trump pointed to Representative Mia Love of Utah, who lost to the Democrat Ben McAdams. Ms. Love has been a critic of Mr. Trump’s immigration talk.

“Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad,” Mr. Trump said. “Sorry about that, Mia.”

The president struggled to understand foreign journalists.

Despite his 13-year marriage to Melania Trump, a native of Slovenia who speaks English with an accent, the president had a difficult time on Wednesday understanding questions from foreign journalists.

First, Mr. Trump called on a reporter from Japan and asked him to “please go ahead,” only to interrupt seconds later to ask where the reporter was from.

The president also cut off a reporter from Lebanon to issue the same query.

When that reporter continued and asked about something President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had said, Mr. Trump stepped in and said, “Who said that?” When the reporter repeated himself, Mr. Trump assured the room that he knew Mr. Erdogan was the president of Turkey and said, “I just don’t understand,” referring to the reporter’s accent.

The president accused a reporter of asking a racist question.

A PBS reporter asked Mr. Trump about calling himself a “nationalist” last month while he was campaigning.

“That’s such a racist question,” Mr. Trump said, after stating that his polling with African-American people had improved.

“To say that, what you said, is so insulting to me,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s a very terrible thing that you said.”

Mr. Trump admonished Jim Acosta of CNN as a White House aide tried to wrestle the mic from Mr. Acosta’s hands.

Jim Acosta of CNN, who has tussled with the president at news conferences in the past, asked Mr. Trump about whether he was concerned about the special counsel’s Russia investigation and possible indictments.

[Read about the exchange here.]

Mr. Trump tersely rejected that notion, calling the investigation a hoax, and told Mr. Acosta to “put down the mic.”

When Mr. Acosta held his ground, Mr. Trump said, “CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”

The vice president agrees to the president’s 2020 proposal.

“Mike, will you be my running mate? Huh?” Mr. Trump asked after he told a reporter that he planned to have Vice President Mike Pence as his running mate in his 2020 re-election bid.

“Stand up. Raise your right hand? No, I’m only kidding. Will you? Thank you,” Mr. Trump said after Mr. Pence reassured him from the crowd. “O.K., good. The answer is ‘yes.’”

America can thank him for Senator Jeff Flake’s decision to retire.

Even as the race for Senator Jeff Flake’s replacement in the Senate had yet to be determined by midday Wednesday, Mr. Trump boasted about his role in Mr. Flake’s decision to retire, praising himself for a “great service” to the country by speaking out against the senator from Arizona.

“In Jeff Flake’s case, it’s me. Pure and simple,” Mr. Trump said. “I retired him. I’m very proud of it.”

“He is retired,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he would like to call the Republican senator “another word.”

(At the time of the news conference, the Republican candidate, Martha McSally, was in the lead in the Arizona race.)

Mr. Flake has been a fierce critic of the president, which cost him support in his state. Mr. Flake announced last year that he would not seek another term, saying that he would no longer be “complicit or silent” about the president’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior.

The president is willing to work with Democrats, unless they use their new majority to subpoena and investigate him.

“I really believe that we have a chance to get along very well with the Democrats,” Mr. Trump said, “and if that’s the case, we can do a tremendous amount of legislation and get it approved by both parties.”

But if the Democrats use their majority to investigate and subpoena him?

“If they do that, then it’s just, all it is is a warlike posture,” the president said.

“They can play that game, but we can play it better,” Mr. Trump said, pledging to direct the Republican-led Senate to investigate Democrats for leaks of classified information.

“I’m better at that game than they are actually, but we’ll find out,” he said. “I mean, you know, we’ll find out, or we can work together.”

The president said he would address any changes to his cabinet at a different time. About two hours later, he announced plans to replace his attorney general.

“I’d rather answer that at a little bit different time,” Mr. Trump said, when asked about coming personnel changes, specifically the job security of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

After the news conference concluded, Mr. Trump tweeted that he planned to replace Mr. Sessions as attorney general with Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker.

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