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Trump fights releasing details on national monument decision

BOISE — The U.S. government says it does not have to release documents involving legal arguments for President Donald Trump’s decision to shrink national monuments because they are protected presidential communications.

The Department of Justice made a more detailed request of a federal judge in Idaho last week to dismiss a lawsuit from an environmental law firm, one of several tied to the monument reductions. Forcing the documents to be made public “would disrupt the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional responsibilities,” the filing says.

Justice Department attorneys also said that their release would disrupt the attorney-client relationship between the department’s Office of Legal Counsel and its clients in the executive branch.

The Boise-based firm Advocates for the West sued for 12 documents withheld from a public records request related to Trump’s decision to reduce two sprawling monuments in Utah. He also is considering scaling back other monuments.

The documents written during the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations may justify why those former presidents made the monuments as large as they did and thus undercut Trump’s plans to shrink them, the firm said.

“There is no legal authority for what (Trump) did in early December,” said Advocates for the West attorney Todd Tucci. “These 12 documents will eviscerate any argument that his minions have concocted in the last month and a half. That’s why they’re hiding it.”

Previous presidents created national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which sets guidelines calling for the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Trump has said the monuments to be downsized are much larger than required in the Antiquities Act.

It’s not clear what particular monuments might be mentioned in the documents. Tucci said the timing of the Bush administration document appears to be related to the 2006 designation of a marine monument that includes islands and atolls in Hawaii and a large expanse of ocean. Obama expanded the monument in 2016.

An email to Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Sutton seeking comment on the documents, including whether any were written by the Trump administration, wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday.

The Trump administration is facing other lawsuits from conservation groups, tribes and outdoor retail company Patagonia over the monument reductions. The groups argue that the president exceeded his power and jeopardized protections for irreplaceable archaeological sites and important lands.

Trump said he was reversing federal overreach and acted within his authority. Past presidents have trimmed national monuments 18 times, but there’s never been a court ruling on whether the Antiquities Act also lets them reduce one.

The five separate lawsuits are in the early stages, with attorneys arguing over whether the cases should be handled in Washington, D.C., where they were filed, or moved to Utah at the request of the U.S. government.

Tucci said he doubts those lawsuits will lead to any of the 12 documents becoming public. He said a decision in the Idaho case could happen in May.

John Freemuth, a Boise State University environmental policy professor and public lands expert, said shrinking monuments is as much a political question as a legal question and could have big ramifications however it turns out.

“The big argument is whether the president has the authority to do this and what arguments the president is using,” he said. “It’s kind of in breath-holding mode now.”

At a glance

Police: Woman dead after falling from car during chase

NAMPA (AP) — Authorities in southwestern Idaho say a woman has died from her injuries after falling from a car driven by a man attempting to elude police.

Nampa police say 46-year-old Joe A. Navarez kept driving after the woman fell out and was eventually stopped early Tuesday morning after police rammed his vehicle.

Police arrested him on suspicion of eluding and drug possession.

Online records do not indicate if Navarez has an attorney.

Authorities haven’t released the name of the woman.

The Canyon County Critical Incident Task Force and the Idaho State Police are investigating.

Mobile home park owner to pay out $280K to residents

MOSCOW (AP) — The owner of a mobile home park in northern Idaho has agreed to pay more than $280,000 to current and former residents after they were left without clean water for months.

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports a judge on Monday approved the settlement to the lawsuit that was filed four years ago against the Syringa Mobile Home Park.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against the owner Magar E. Magar after residents reported damages and went without water for more than 90 days from late 2013 to early 2014.

University of Idaho law professor Maureen Laflin says the settlement wasn’t everything they wanted, but it helps secure money for the residents before they’re forced to move out in June. A legal team from the university represented the residents.

Leaping elk crashes low-flying research helicopter in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Authorities say a leaping elk brought down a research helicopter trying to capture the animal in the mountains of eastern Utah.

Wasatch County authorities say the elk jumped into the chopper’s tail rotor as it flew about 10 feet above ground, trying to capture the animal with a net.

The two people on board weren’t seriously hurt, but wildlife officials say the elk died of its injuries.

The state-contracted Texas-based crew was trying to capture and sedate the elk so they could give it a tracking collar and research its movements about 90 miles east of Salt Lake City.

Mark Hadley with the state Division of Wildlife Resources says the state helicopters are frequently used to monitor remote wildlife and this is the first such accident in Utah.

Utah lawmakers vote against ‘hands-free cellphone bill’

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers voted against a bill that would have given police the authority to pull over motorists for using their hands to answer phone calls while driving.

The Deseret News reports Democratic State Rep. Carol Spackman Moss presented the “hands-free cellphone bill” Friday to the House Transportation Committee, which voted against the bill, likely ending its journey this session.

Talking on the phone while holding it is currently illegal under Utah law, but it is a secondary offense, meaning police cannot pull over motorists for holding their phones or talking into them while they drive.

Moss, who sponsored the bill, says the legislation makes the infraction a primary offense.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich says the bill would make enforcement of distracted driving laws much easier.