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ANDREW HARNIK, ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., speaks with reporters on the farm bill following a closed door luncheon June 26 on Capitol Hill in Washington.


Washington
AP
Cohen admits lies about Russian real estate deal

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, confessed in a surprise guilty plea Thursday that he lied to Congress about a Moscow real estate deal he pursued on Trump’s behalf during the heat of the 2016 Republican campaign. He said he lied to be consistent with Trump’s “political messaging.”

Cohen’s plea arrangement made clear that prosecutors believe that while Trump insisted repeatedly throughout the campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia, his lawyer was continuing to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow project weeks after his boss had clinched the Republican nomination for president and well after the point he and his associates have publicly acknowledged.

Cohen said he discussed the proposal with Trump on multiple occasions and with members of the president’s family, according to court papers filed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Cohen acknowledged considering traveling to Moscow to discuss the project.

There is no clear link in the court filings between Cohen’s lies and Mueller’s central question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And nothing said in court, or in associated court filings, addressed whether Trump or his aides had directed Cohen to mislead Congress.

Still, the case underscores how Trump’s business entity, the Trump Organization, was negotiating business in Moscow at the same time investigators believe that Russians were meddling on his behalf in the 2016 election, and that associates of the president were mining Russian connections during the race.

The Cohen revelation comes as Mueller’s investigation is showing fresh signs of aggressive activity. Earlier this week, Mueller’s team accused Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of lying after his own guilty plea. The special counsel continues to investigate whether campaign associates had advance knowledge of hacked emails becoming public. Another potential target, Jerome Corsi, has rejected a plea offer and faces a possible indictment. Last week, Trump for the first time provided Mueller with responses to written questions.

Cohen is the first person charged by Mueller with lying to Congress, an indication the special counsel is prepared to treat that offense as seriously as lying to federal agents and a warning shot to dozens of others who have appeared before lawmakers.

Cohen told two congressional committees last year that the talks about the tower project ended in January 2016, a lie he said was an act of loyalty to Trump. In fact, the negotiations continued until June 2016, Cohen acknowledged.

His court appearance Thursday marked the latest step in his evolution from trusted Trump consigliere to prime antagonist. Prosecutors say Cohen is cooperating with Mueller and has met with his team at least seven times. It is the second time the lawyer’s legal woes have entangled Trump, coming months after Cohen said the president directed him during his campaign to make hush money payments to two women who said they had sex with Trump.

Trump on Thursday called Cohen a “weak person” who was lying to get a lighter sentence and repeatedly stressed that the real estate deal at issue was never a secret and never executed. His lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said that Cohen was a “proven liar” and that Trump’s business organization had voluntarily given Mueller the same documents cited in the guilty plea “because there was nothing to hide.”

“There would be nothing wrong if I did do it,” Trump said of pursuing the project. “I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”

He said the primary reason he didn’t pursue it was “I was focused on running for president.”

About an hour later, Trump canceled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 nations.

During the campaign, Trump was repeatedly dismissive of claims that he had connections to the Kremlin, an issue that flared as especially sensitive in the summer of 2016 after the Democratic National Committee and a cybersecurity company asserted that Moscow was behind a punishing cyberattack on the party’s network.

“I have a great company. I built an unbelievable company, but if you look there you’ll see there’s nothing in Russia,” Trump said in July 2016.

“But zero, I mean I will tell you right now, zero, I have nothing to do with Russia,” he said.

Mueller team has asked Trump about the Russian real estate deal, but it was not immediately clear whether it was one of the questions Trump answered last week.

If he did answer questions on the topic, Trump could have problems if the responses deviate from prosecutors’ factual narrative.

The Cohen case was filed in New York a week after Trump and his lawyers provided Mueller with responses to written questions. It is the first new charge filed by the special counsel since the appointment of Matthew Whitaker, who has spoken critically about the investigation, as acting attorney general with oversight of the probe.


News
Minidoka schools pilot free all-day kindergarten

ACEQUIA — Sixteen kindergarten students sit at their desks — headphones propped on their heads, iPads in hand — as they work on individualized curriculum during class.

The scene in Acequia is different than what might have been found in a kindergarten class a few years ago. Along with rest periods, constructive play, art and recess, the students are also busy learning reading and math.

The elementary school is one of two in Minidoka County using part of their state money for teachers to provide one class of all-day kindergarten for free, Michelle Deluna, Minidoka County School District business manager, said. The schools are bold — using precious state teacher funding on their youngest students — while Idaho lags behind in providing funds for all-day kindergarten across the state.

The district is also providing all-day kindergarten to English as Second Language students and those with low scores on the Idaho Reading Indicator test, classes funded with the aide of Limited English Proficient funds.

The district’s third elementary school offers paid full-day kindergarten at a cost of $11 a day for parents. About half of the kindergarteners in the district are attending full-day, Deluna said.

Focusing on early childhood

Piloting the Acequia class in the smallest school in the district — with 310 students — was a priority for Principal Heather Hepworth.

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

Ekko Koyle, 5, works on a puzzle on her iPad Monday during an all-day kindergarten class at Acequia Elementary School.

Using the resources on the youngest students will pay off when the students reach later grades and will provide more “bang for the buck,” Hepworth said.

Too often by the third-grade, students are falling behind and not reading at grade level. When that happens, she said, it often doesn’t get better.

“When we have fifth graders reading at first-grade level, what we’re doing is not working and we have to change something,” Hepworth said.

The decision was not made lightly, because the other grades could use more teachers too.

“My hope is to really push early childhood education for kindergarten and first grades, which will put students on grade level and help them be successful,” Hepworth said.

Whether the program is continued next year will depend on the school’s allocation from the state for teachers. They will not know until next spring.

“I really hope we can keep the program,” Hepworth said.

The school still offers a morning and afternoon kindergarten class for parents who want their children to attend half-day or for children who are not ready for full-day classes.

Parents were able to choose at the beginning of the year. So far only two students were temporarily placed in half-day classes after enrolling in full-day because they weren’t quite ready, Hepworth said. She hopes they will soon move back into the full-day class.

“I think it’s great, I love it. It has been wonderful this year,” teacher Hailee McCall said. “I don’t know why Idaho hasn’t funded all-day kindergarten.”

It is hard, McCall said, to spend extra practice time in areas where the students need it during half-day classes.

“It’s really nice keeping the same kids all day,” she said.

No state money for full-day kindergarten

The Idaho School Boards Association’s trustees passed a resolution a few weeks ago calling for the state Legislature to pay for full-day kindergarten.

If state lawmakers approve the plan, it would significantly change Idaho early childhood education.

The ISBA will now lobby for the kindergarten funding during the next two legislative sessions.

Meanwhile in Twin Falls, about half of the elementary schools are offering extended intervention time to kindergarten students, funded through the state literacy funding, Eva Craner, spokeswoman for the Twin Falls School District, said in an email to the Times-News.

“In most schools, this looks like an additional half day of class time for students who are invited to participate,” Craner said. “The students chosen to participate can change throughout the year depending on the student’s progress. A student may not be in the program all year or may join partway through the year.

“We aren’t able to serve every student who could benefit from this program but it does help,” she said.

Last year the district also had one school that offered all-day paid kindergarten, but the program isn’t offered this year.

Paid programs were also offered in the past, but were discontinued due to space restrictions in 2013-14, before the district’s recent bond construction project, Craner said.

Cassia County School District is not offering a full-day option at any of the elementary schools this year, spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said.

“We use to offer it to English language learning students,” Critchfield said, “but we have no funds for that even, now.”

At Acequia, along with beefing up academic skills in kindergarten, an emphasis is also placed on teaching social skills — which for some students are lacking and are vital for success, Hepworth said. The emphasis on social skills is carried over to the other grades as well.

“We see a lot of students coming in now with more difficult behaviors,” she said. Some do not have the social skills that are needed in school, like getting along with others, following directions and listening.

One drawback to all-day kindergarten is that bad behaviors tend to come out more during an all-day session. Hepworth said. Regardless, what has been done in the past hasn’t always been successful. And for these youngest students, it’s imperative to teach them to read and keep them at grade level.

“Why not try something different. It will be really interesting to follow this group and see how they do later on in school.”


Crime-and-courts
Adams County pays $2.6 million to slain Idaho rancher’s family

COUNCIL — Three years after two sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a Council rancher, a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family has been settled for $2.6 million.

Adams County sheriff’s deputies Brian Wood and Cody Roland shot and killed Jack Yantis on Nov. 1, 2015, while the rancher was attempting to put down his bull that had been severely injured in a car crash.

A car driven by a Nampa couple struck the bull on U.S. 95 in front of the Yantis ranch north of Council. County dispatchers had called Yantis, 62, at home to tell him to take care of the injured animal. He went to the road with his rifle to euthanize it. The deputies said Yantis held his rifle in a threatening manner and refused commands to lower it. They shot him 12 times.

Following a nine-month investigation by Idaho State Police, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and the FBI, both state and federal prosecutors announced they did not have enough evidence to file criminal charges.

The two deputies no longer work for Adam County. Roland resigned one month after the shooting. Wood left after being on paid leave for 10 months following the shooting. County representatives would not say if he resigned or was terminated.

The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, Wood and Roland in October 2017. A federal judge dismissed the case on Nov. 20 because a settlement had been reached.

The Statesman confirmed the settlement amount Tuesday via a public records request with the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, a self-insurance pool that insures local governments, including Adams County.

When the settlement was announced earlier this month, Yantis’ widow, Donna, told the Associated Press that the end of the legal action didn’t bring closure. “No amount of money can replace him,” she said of her husband.


Crime-and-courts
breaking
Police: Twin Falls man kidnapped, dragged woman alongside car

TWIN FALLS — A Twin Falls man is accused of kidnapping a woman and dragging her alongside his car when she tried to escape.

Wade Fear, 18, was arraigned Thursday on charges of second-degree kidnapping, aggravated battery, leaving the scene of an injury accident, and failure to notify upon striking an unattended vehicle.

The woman, an acquaintance of Fear’s, told police that Fear had repeatedly called and texted her saying he wanted to talk, according to court documents. She said she agreed Monday to talk in his car, but when she got into Fear’s car he started to drive off.

The woman told police she tried to get out of the car but Fear grabbed the arm of her sweatshirt and wouldn’t let go. At one point, the woman said, she opened the door and tried to jump out of the car, but Fear grabbed onto the hood of her sweatshirt and dragged her alongside the car on the pavement as he drove.

Fear stopped driving when he drove up on the curb and into a yard on Filer Avenue, where he crashed into a planter box, pinning the woman between the box and the car, the woman said.

The owner of the house with the planter box saw the crash and called the police, according to court documents. After the crash, Fear drove away, leaving the woman in the yard, police said.

The woman was treated for abrasions on her legs and lower back at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.

Fear has been jailed on a $500,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7.


If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.


ROCKY BARKER, IDAHO STATESMAN  

The Yantis family’s barn just north of Council, as seen in November 2015.


TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO 

The Zurchers Party and Wedding float in the Festival of Lights Parade on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Twin Falls.


Education
For the first time, Idaho’s supplemental school levy bill tops $200 million

BOISE — Idaho school districts will collect a record $202.2 million in voter-approved supplemental property tax levies this year.

This is the first time the supplemental levy bill exceeded the $200 million mark. A year ago, Idaho schools collected $194.7 million — a short-lived record.

Districts can and do use supplemental levies for a variety of purposes — including teacher salaries and benefits, classroom technology and textbooks. And many school officials say the one- to two-year levies are no longer supplemental, but instead help pay for essentials.

Idaho’s supplemental tax bill has nearly doubled over the past decade. The levies are a fact of life in districts large and small — from Coeur d’Alene, which will collect $16 million this year, to Mackay, which will collect $75,000.

All told, 93 of Idaho’s 115 school districts have a supplemental levy on the books, a number that has remained virtually unchanged for the past five years.

But while the vast majority of school districts continue to rely on extra help from local taxpayers, the picture of school funding is blurry. A legislative committee has recommended an overhaul of Idaho’s school funding formula — a complicated rewrite that figures to be one of the hottest issues in the 2019 legislative session. Under the latest version of the new formula, endorsed Monday by the committee, 36 districts and charters stand to receive fewer dollars from the state.

If lawmakers change the way the state carves up its education budget — which is by no means a sure thing — this could affect local tax bills.

Many district leaders “hate having to rely” on short-term local levies, said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. The “winners” — districts that receive more state funding under a new formula — could simply let their local levies expire. But by the same token, districts that lose state funding could need levies more than ever.

At least in the short run, Winslow doesn’t expect the supplemental levy picture to change much. “It’s all early,” he said Wednesday.

The rising supplemental levy bill illustrates shortcomings in Idaho’s K-12 budget, other education leaders said this week.

The $200 million pretty much mirrors the money districts and charters put into teacher salaries, supplementing the state’s salary line item, said Quinn Perry, the Idaho School Boards Association’s policy and government affairs director. The ISBA, the IASA and the Idaho Education Association want lawmakers to leave the state’s teacher salary budget line item intact, rather than folding that money into a new funding formula.

Revamping the funding formula won’t go far enough, IEA President Kari Overall said Wednesday. The state needs to back that up with a five- to 10-year plan to invest in schools.

“The $202.2 million in supplemental levies clearly illustrates what we have long understood — Idaho’s schools receive insufficient funding from the state,” she said. “Districts increasingly must rely on additional funding from local taxpayers to ensure basic programs are provided for Idaho students.”

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra takes a different view. She was appointed to work with legislators on the funding formula rewrite. Through a spokesman, Scott Phillips, Ybarra said the committee worked diligently on the new formula. She also repeated a refrain from her fall re-election campaign — pointing out that the state has increased K-12 spending by $100 million a year over the past four years.

“These are good signs, encouraging signs and certainly a step in the right direction,” Phillips said Thursday.

Like Ybarra, State Board of Education President Linda Clark served on the funding formula committee. Clark points out that the state’s growing reliance on supplemental levies has been a long time coming — going back to 2006, when lawmakers and then-Gov. Jim Risch shifted more than $200 million of school funding onto the state’s sales tax. That shift didn’t fully cover a cut in local funding, and it forced numerous districts to go to voters for help.

Clark sees some hope in the funding formula rewrite.

“Perhaps over time the new formula may relieve some of the pressure on local taxpayers to provide stopgap funding for school maintenance and operations,” she said.