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More Rain Expected Amid Central Texas Flooding

A continued threat of flooding is forecast in parts of Central Texas as more rain is expected in the area and dams along the swollen Colorado River release water downstream, officials said Wednesday.

National Weather Service forecaster Jason Runyen said the already-saturated area was expected to get an additional 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 centimeters) of rain Thursday and Friday, with some isolated areas getting as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain.

“It’s not going to take hardly anything to cause additional issues with flash flooding and river flooding,” Runyen said.

The bodies of two people were found this week as the area was inundated with rains. As rivers overflowed, a bridge was destroyed, people were forced to evacuate their homes and others had to be rescued.

Llano County Emergency Management Coordinator Ron Anderson said Wednesday that while the Llano River had gone down after cresting on Tuesday, he cautioned that there was still a threat of more rain and other hazards were present after the floods.

“There are roadways that are impassable, some have been washed out. There is debris. Homes that have been evacuated are going to have to be evaluated before we can say that they are safe to re-enter,” Anderson said.

He said that with more rain in the forecast, “we really aren’t sure if this disaster has unfolded.”

In Kingsland, about 20 miles southeast of Llano, video captured a bridge crumbling as it was overrun by floodwaters from the Llano River.

Authorities said a woman’s body was found Tuesday night at a low-water crossing in Llano, located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of Austin. Earlier Tuesday, a body was found in Lake Lyndon B. Johnson, situated where the Llano River flows into the Colorado River.

The Lower Colorado River Authority has been opening flood gates along the river since Monday. Four floodgates have been opened on Mansfield Dam at Lake Travis, located northwest of Austin. The river authority said they’ll likely need to open four more by midday Thursday for a total of eight — a record number to be open at the dam with 24 gates.

“Lake Travis is more than 100 percent full,” said LCRA general manager Phil Wilson said, adding, “In the last week, we captured more water in Lake Travis than the city of Austin typically uses in four years.”

Wilson said the water being released from Lake Travis “will increase river levels on the entire river from Austin down to Matagorda Bay.”

Last week, four people were washed away when the South Llano River, which becomes the Llano River downstream, overran an RV park in Junction, Texas. Three bodies have been recovered. The search for the fourth has been suspended due to the heavy rain. 

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More Rain Expected Amid Central Texas Flooding

A continued threat of flooding is forecast in parts of Central Texas as more rain is expected in the area and dams along the swollen Colorado River release water downstream, officials said Wednesday.

National Weather Service forecaster Jason Runyen said the already-saturated area was expected to get an additional 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 centimeters) of rain Thursday and Friday, with some isolated areas getting as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain.

“It’s not going to take hardly anything to cause additional issues with flash flooding and river flooding,” Runyen said.

The bodies of two people were found this week as the area was inundated with rains. As rivers overflowed, a bridge was destroyed, people were forced to evacuate their homes and others had to be rescued.

Llano County Emergency Management Coordinator Ron Anderson said Wednesday that while the Llano River had gone down after cresting on Tuesday, he cautioned that there was still a threat of more rain and other hazards were present after the floods.

“There are roadways that are impassable, some have been washed out. There is debris. Homes that have been evacuated are going to have to be evaluated before we can say that they are safe to re-enter,” Anderson said.

He said that with more rain in the forecast, “we really aren’t sure if this disaster has unfolded.”

In Kingsland, about 20 miles southeast of Llano, video captured a bridge crumbling as it was overrun by floodwaters from the Llano River.

Authorities said a woman’s body was found Tuesday night at a low-water crossing in Llano, located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of Austin. Earlier Tuesday, a body was found in Lake Lyndon B. Johnson, situated where the Llano River flows into the Colorado River.

The Lower Colorado River Authority has been opening flood gates along the river since Monday. Four floodgates have been opened on Mansfield Dam at Lake Travis, located northwest of Austin. The river authority said they’ll likely need to open four more by midday Thursday for a total of eight — a record number to be open at the dam with 24 gates.

“Lake Travis is more than 100 percent full,” said LCRA general manager Phil Wilson said, adding, “In the last week, we captured more water in Lake Travis than the city of Austin typically uses in four years.”

Wilson said the water being released from Lake Travis “will increase river levels on the entire river from Austin down to Matagorda Bay.”

Last week, four people were washed away when the South Llano River, which becomes the Llano River downstream, overran an RV park in Junction, Texas. Three bodies have been recovered. The search for the fourth has been suspended due to the heavy rain. 

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Trump Criticizes California Wildfire Work, Threatens Funding

U.S. President Donald Trump Wednesday rekindled his criticism of California’s wildfire prevention steps and threatened to withhold billions of dollars of federal funding amid one of the most destructive fire seasons on record.

“It’s hurting our budget, it’s hurting our country and they better get their act together,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting about California’s forestry management. He did not specify the type of funding that could be withheld.

The Republican president’s comments, which followed his criticism in August of California’s wildfire prevention efforts, were aimed at Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, whom he has frequently criticized over immigration and other policies.

With wildfires having charred nearly 2.8 million acres (1.1 million hectares) over the past two years in California, Trump said the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel fires.

Brown’s press secretary, Evan Westrup, cited several fire prevention steps the governor had taken, including last month’s law requiring utilities to have fire prevention plans, and an order doubling to 500,000 acres (202,340 hectares) the land open to vegetation thinning.

“The president’s comments are about as credible as his self-proclaimed ‘natural instinct for science,’” Westrup said in an email, referring to Trump’s self-assessment in an Associated Press interview this week.

Six years of drought

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire, noted that in the past two years of intense wildfires, the amount of federally managed forest land in California burned exceeded the amount of charred state forest land by 1.49 million acres (603,000 hectares) to 1.13 million acres (457,000 hectares). 

A six-year drought is mainly blamed for killing an estimated 129 million trees in state forests and CalFire has crews of 60 workers clearing debris every day, spokesman Scott McLean said by telephone.

This week, California’s largest public utility cut off power to about 60,000 customers for up to two days in a fire prevention move when high winds threatened to topple trees and power lines.

Plenty of water

In August, Trump tweeted that unspecified water diversions to the Pacific Ocean were making California wildfires harder to fight.

California had plenty of water to fight the blazes and the fires are primarily fought by crews hacking away at dry brush with hand tools and bulldozers, not with water, McLean said at the time.

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Trump Criticizes California Wildfire Work, Threatens Funding

U.S. President Donald Trump Wednesday rekindled his criticism of California’s wildfire prevention steps and threatened to withhold billions of dollars of federal funding amid one of the most destructive fire seasons on record.

“It’s hurting our budget, it’s hurting our country and they better get their act together,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting about California’s forestry management. He did not specify the type of funding that could be withheld.

The Republican president’s comments, which followed his criticism in August of California’s wildfire prevention efforts, were aimed at Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, whom he has frequently criticized over immigration and other policies.

With wildfires having charred nearly 2.8 million acres (1.1 million hectares) over the past two years in California, Trump said the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel fires.

Brown’s press secretary, Evan Westrup, cited several fire prevention steps the governor had taken, including last month’s law requiring utilities to have fire prevention plans, and an order doubling to 500,000 acres (202,340 hectares) the land open to vegetation thinning.

“The president’s comments are about as credible as his self-proclaimed ‘natural instinct for science,’” Westrup said in an email, referring to Trump’s self-assessment in an Associated Press interview this week.

Six years of drought

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire, noted that in the past two years of intense wildfires, the amount of federally managed forest land in California burned exceeded the amount of charred state forest land by 1.49 million acres (603,000 hectares) to 1.13 million acres (457,000 hectares). 

A six-year drought is mainly blamed for killing an estimated 129 million trees in state forests and CalFire has crews of 60 workers clearing debris every day, spokesman Scott McLean said by telephone.

This week, California’s largest public utility cut off power to about 60,000 customers for up to two days in a fire prevention move when high winds threatened to topple trees and power lines.

Plenty of water

In August, Trump tweeted that unspecified water diversions to the Pacific Ocean were making California wildfires harder to fight.

California had plenty of water to fight the blazes and the fires are primarily fought by crews hacking away at dry brush with hand tools and bulldozers, not with water, McLean said at the time.

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Email: Political Appointee to Lead Interior Department Watchdog

The Trump administration is moving to reassign a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to lead an internal watchdog agency at the Interior Department.

An email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson to staff says assistant HUD secretary Suzanne Israel Tufts will take over as acting inspector general at Interior. Tufts would replace Mary Kendall, who has served as acting inspector general since 2009.

An administration official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Tufts won’t start her job at Interior until required paperwork is completed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Tufts’ appointment has not yet been publicly announced.

Carson email

Carson said in the email Friday that he had “mixed emotions” about Tufts’ departure, calling her “an extremely enthusiastic and energetic leader who re-established (HUD’s) Office of Administration, implementing improvements to the agency’s governance and internal controls.”

A spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office said Kendall remains on the job. The agency “has received no official communication or information about any leadership changes,” spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement: “The position of the Inspector General has been vacant for about 10 years. This is a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position, which would be announced by the White House.”

The spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, referred questions about Tufts to the White House, which did not immediately respond.

A HUD spokesman declined to comment.

Unusual move

It is unusual for a political appointee to be assigned to another agency, especially an inspector general’s office. Kendall oversees about 265 employees, including 80 investigators, who conduct a wide range of inquires at Interior, which oversees more than 245 million acres (380,000 square miles) of public lands, including 417 units in the national park system.

The change at the inspector general’s office, if it occurs, comes as Zinke is under investigation on a number of fronts, including his involvement in a Montana land deal with the head of an energy services company that does business with the department. Zinke, a Republican, is a former Montana congressman.

The IG’s office also is looking into the department’s scuttling of a casino project in Connecticut proposed by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes. The decision, which overruled a staff recommendation, came after Zinke and other officials met with lobbyists for a competing group, MGM Resorts International.

Investigators are also probing how Zinke redrew boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The sprawling monument is one of two that President Donald Trump has shrunk to reverse what he calls overreach by Democratic presidents to protect federally controlled land.

Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight, an independent government watchdog, called the move to install Tufts as acting inspector general “politically suspect.”

The Trump administration “shouldn’t be changing hats right now, when there are numerous investigations left to be completed,” she said.

The AP obtained a copy of Carson’s email, which was first reported by The Hill.

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Email: Political Appointee to Lead Interior Department Watchdog

The Trump administration is moving to reassign a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to lead an internal watchdog agency at the Interior Department.

An email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson to staff says assistant HUD secretary Suzanne Israel Tufts will take over as acting inspector general at Interior. Tufts would replace Mary Kendall, who has served as acting inspector general since 2009.

An administration official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Tufts won’t start her job at Interior until required paperwork is completed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Tufts’ appointment has not yet been publicly announced.

Carson email

Carson said in the email Friday that he had “mixed emotions” about Tufts’ departure, calling her “an extremely enthusiastic and energetic leader who re-established (HUD’s) Office of Administration, implementing improvements to the agency’s governance and internal controls.”

A spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office said Kendall remains on the job. The agency “has received no official communication or information about any leadership changes,” spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement: “The position of the Inspector General has been vacant for about 10 years. This is a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position, which would be announced by the White House.”

The spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, referred questions about Tufts to the White House, which did not immediately respond.

A HUD spokesman declined to comment.

Unusual move

It is unusual for a political appointee to be assigned to another agency, especially an inspector general’s office. Kendall oversees about 265 employees, including 80 investigators, who conduct a wide range of inquires at Interior, which oversees more than 245 million acres (380,000 square miles) of public lands, including 417 units in the national park system.

The change at the inspector general’s office, if it occurs, comes as Zinke is under investigation on a number of fronts, including his involvement in a Montana land deal with the head of an energy services company that does business with the department. Zinke, a Republican, is a former Montana congressman.

The IG’s office also is looking into the department’s scuttling of a casino project in Connecticut proposed by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes. The decision, which overruled a staff recommendation, came after Zinke and other officials met with lobbyists for a competing group, MGM Resorts International.

Investigators are also probing how Zinke redrew boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The sprawling monument is one of two that President Donald Trump has shrunk to reverse what he calls overreach by Democratic presidents to protect federally controlled land.

Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight, an independent government watchdog, called the move to install Tufts as acting inspector general “politically suspect.”

The Trump administration “shouldn’t be changing hats right now, when there are numerous investigations left to be completed,” she said.

The AP obtained a copy of Carson’s email, which was first reported by The Hill.

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Pompeo: Saudis Promised to ‘Show the Entire World’ Results of Missing Journalist Probe

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after getting assurances from Saudi leaders that they will “show the entire world” results of a thorough investigation into the disappearance of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist.

Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi monarchy who wrote for the Washington Post, was last seen October 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Turkish officials have said Saudi agents killed Khashoggi. Saudi officials say he walked out of the consulate on his own.

The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Saudi operatives beat and drugged Khashoggi, then killed and dismembered him. The newspaper said Turkish officials have shared evidence, including details of an audio recording, with both Saudi and U.S. officials.

Pompeo told reporters Wednesday before he flew to Turkey that in his meetings with Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir he stressed the need for a complete investigation and received assurances such a probe would take place.

“They made a commitment, too, to hold anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found accountable for that whether they are a senior officer or official,” Pompeo said.

When asked if that would hold true for members of the royal family, Pompeo said the Saudi leaders “made no exceptions to who they would hold accountable.”

Turkish officials have identified 15 suspects they say flew to Istanbul and went to the consulate the day Khashoggi disappeared. The New York Times and Washington Post each reported late Tuesday that several people from that list are linked to Saudi security services and the crown prince.

The Associated Press also quoted an unnamed high-level Turkish official as saying during a search of the consulate Turkish crime scene investigators found evidence of Khashoggi’s killing, but did not give further details. Reuters said investigators found “strong evidence” but no conclusive proof of Khashoggi’s death.

When asked what gives Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt amid the various reports about Turkey’s allegations of Saudi responsibility in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Pompeo said he is waiting for Saudi leaders to follow through on their promise for a complete investigation.

“They gave me their word. And we’ll all get to see if they deliver against that commitment,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the growing condemnation of Saudi Arabia in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday.

“Here you go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump said.

He compared the situation with that of his recent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who faced sexual abuse allegations during his confirmation process.

“We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned,” Trump told the AP. “I think we have to find out what happened first.”

While Pompeo was in his meetings in Saudi Arabia, Trump, in Washington, said on Twitter, “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”

But during a 2015 campaign stop, Trump boasted about his business dealings with the Saudis. “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,” Trump said. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

As he dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh on Monday, Trump told reporters at the White House that King Salman’s denials to him about Khashoggi’s fate in a phone call “could not have been stronger.”

But some U.S. lawmakers have all but accepted Turkey’s version of the events, that a team of Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and killed Khashoggi when he went to the consulate to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain for Khashoggi to emerge from the consulate.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the United States should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” over the incident and said he would never again work with the crown prince, assailing him as “toxic” and calling him a “wrecking ball.”

Chris Hannas, Ken Bredemeier and State Department correspondent Nike Ching, contributed to this report.

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Delayed Obama For-Profit Fraud Protection Ordered Into Force

Students defrauded by for-profit colleges scored an important victory on Tuesday, when a court cleared the way for an Obama-era policy that will make it easier for them to get their student loans forgiven.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had said the regulation, known as borrower defense, made discharging loans too easy and was unfair to taxpayers. The rule was due to take effect in July 2017, but DeVos froze it while she worked on devising a new regulation.

But U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss ruled last month that DeVos’ delay was unlawful. On Tuesday, he denied a request by an organization representing for-profit colleges in California, to further postpone the rule, thus paving the way for borrower defense to enter into force.

“The rule is finally in effect. No more excuses. No more delays,” said Julie Murray, an attorney with Public Citizen, who is representing the defrauded students in their suit against DeVos.

Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said DeVos “respects the role of the court and accepts the court’s decision” and will soon provide information about how the regulation will be implemented. 

But DeVos continues to regard the regulation as “bad policy” and will continue writing a new rule “that protects both borrowers and taxpayers,” Hill said in a statement Tuesday.

The ruling marks a significant setback for DeVos, who has made deregulating the for-profit college industry a top priority. The decision means that the Obama rule, which DeVos has fought hard to scrap, could be in effect until July 2020, when any new rule written by DeVos would enter into force.

Under the Obama rule, students whose school closed mid-program or shortly after completion, will become eligible for automatic loan discharge. The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, estimates that Tuesday’s decision will affect tens of thousands of students at over 1,400 schools who will now be eligible for $400 million in automatic debt relief across the nation.

Other provisions in the rule allow students to apply for loan discharge as a group. It also prevents schools from forcing students to sign away their rights to sue the program and makes sure that the schools, not just tax payers, bear financial responsibility in case the schools end up shutting down.

Over 100,000 students who say they have been swindled by their schools are currently waiting for the Education Department to consider their applications for loan forgiveness. James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said that the agency must immediately halt debt collections and wipe out the loans of those borrowers whose schools have been shut down.

“This is a major victory for students across this country in the ongoing battle against the Department of Education and the for-profit college industry,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University that also took part in the lawsuit.

But Steve Gunderson, president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the industry lobbying group, described Judge Moss’ ruling as “disappointing as it will only create further confusion for students and schools” and urged the Education Department to provide as much as guidance as possible while it finishes writing the new rule.

Gunderson added, “Many will look at this ruling where a Judge appointed by President Obama upholds a rule created by the Obama Department of Education and see further evidence of the politicization of our court system.”

The group, whose motion to delay the rule was denied Tuesday, the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools, did not return a request for comment.

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