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Michael Flynn's rise was rapid, his fall even faster

WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn was President Donald Trump’s favorite general, rapidly vaulted to prominence by his fiery speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention about jailing Hillary Clinton and by Trump’s decision to reward him with a plum job as his top national security aide.

Flynn’s plunge was even faster. He was fired by Trump after just a month in the White House and left to contend with a mounting criminal probe that led to his decision to plead guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Flynn, 58, is the first person who served in the Trump White House to be charged in the wide-ranging investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. He also becomes the first former national security adviser to be charged with a felony since the fallout from the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s.

Flynn came to the fore as the stern, hawkish persona of the tough national security image Trump sought to project to the nation and the world during last year’s campaign. Trump admired “my generals,” as he described the military men he brought into his campaign, and for Flynn, the growing bond with the insurgent GOP candidate was life altering.

Flynn was a familiar presence on the Trump campaign trail, his appearance intended to lend national security gravitas to an election effort short on established names. At campaign events, and at the Republican convention, Flynn led cheers of “Lock her up” about the Democratic candidate and her email practices.

Flynn’s vaunted military career as an intelligence specialist had ended in a forced dismissal by senior Obama administration officials. As a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, he had to scramble for opportunities advising cybersecurity companies and starting up his own consulting firm. But Trump’s growing admiration provided Flynn with the promise of a pivotal national role and a public forum for his increasingly defiant screeds against “radical Islam” and the Obama administration.

Trump lauded Flynn as an “invaluable asset” in November 2016 as he named him his national security adviser. And even after Trump fired him in February, the president continued to hold Flynn in high esteem, grousing that such a “wonderful man” had been laid low by leaks and pesky media.

Flynn’s path to the courtroom can be traced back to two events on the same day — Election Day 2016. That morning, Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill newspaper, trumpeting the talking points of the Turkish government. That evening, Trump won the election, thrusting the retired general known for his attacks on Islam into position for a top national security post.

Within weeks, Flynn had been named national security adviser and the Justice Department had taken an interest in the op-ed as possible evidence of unregistered foreign agent work.

While Flynn’s attorneys began the process of determining whether he would need to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Flynn had a phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States that was recorded by the U.S. government and that swiftly caught the attention of the Justice Department.

He was interviewed by FBI agents on Jan. 24 about his communications with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and about whether they had discussed sanctions imposed on Russia following its election interference.

Days later, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had been compromised because of discrepancies between the White House public narrative — that Flynn and Kislyak had not discussed sanctions — and the reality of what occurred.

White House officials took no immediate action against Flynn, and he was not forced to resign his position until after news reports indicated that he had discussed sanctions and that Justice Department officials had raised concerns.

In the weeks after his firing, Flynn registered retroactively with the Justice Department , disclosing that $530,000 worth of lobbying his company did for a Turkish businessman could have benefited the government of Turkey. Flynn’s business partner, former Export-Import Bank board member Bijan Kian , also registered.

In the filings, both men laid out a contract Flynn signed in the final months of the presidential campaign that called for his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, to gather information that could support a criminal case against a Turkish cleric living in the U.S. The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, has been accused of being behind a failed coup last year, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for his extradition. The U.S. has rebuffed those calls for lack of evidence.

But Flynn’s retroactive disclosure of the work did not satisfy federal prosecutors. A grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia soon began investigating, and FBI agents began asking questions about how much Flynn and Kian knew about Ekim Alptekin, the Turkish businessman who hired them.

When Mueller was appointed in May, he incorporated that investigation.

The Turkish contract landed by Flynn’s consulting firm was the first significant promise of business success since he had left the military. Flynn had won plaudits as a military intelligence officer in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq and was rewarded in July 2012 with a post as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military’s spy organization.

He lasted two years, criticized by Obama administration officials for his management and temper, and was forced to retire in August 2014. Flynn’s post-military career was a succession of consulting gigs and directorships at small defense contractors. He traveled to the Mideast in 2015 to lend credibility to a proposal for a U.S.-Russia private nuclear partnership that has yet to work out. And he took payments from several foreign firms that have come back to haunt him.

Congressional committees investigating Flynn earlier this year found that he had been paid more than $37,000 by RT, a Russian state-sponsored television station, to attend its anniversary gala in Moscow in December 2015. Flynn was given a dignitary’s welcome, seated beside Russian President Vladimir Putin at the network’s lavish dinner. The Russian network has since been identified by a U.S. intelligence community assessment as a propaganda arm of Putin’s government.

Flynn is also under investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general to determine whether he failed to obtain government approval before accepting payments from foreign governments.

Flynn’s rise in prominence in conservative circles came as he became an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama’s handling of terrorism. Flynn called for a more aggressive campaign against the Islamic State group and turned his fire on Islam itself, calling it a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “definitely hides behind being a religion.”

Flynn harped on similar themes on the campaign trail, joining Trump at rallies and working his way into the campaign inner circle. Most notably, Flynn also became the face of Trump’s calls for Clinton to be jailed over her use of a private email server.

“If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today,” Flynn said at the Republican convention.

Utilities consortium pitched as saver for Warren County residents

Warren County supervisors were pitched this week by a consortium that claims it can save county residents hundreds of dollars on their electric and natural gas bills if municipalities band together.

Municipal Electric & Gas Alliance, or MEGA, has been in existence since 1998 and has more than 275 customers in New York.

It recently signed up its first client in the Capital Region, the city of Saratoga Springs, but its local project director says it needs a few more municipal clients to get the critical mass of customers it needs to negotiate deals to cut rates for residents.

The organization is a “community choice aggregator,” an alternative to the investor-owned utilities that provide service in the region such as National Grid and NYSEG. MEGA is considered a not-for-profit local development corporation, and cannot partner with counties, but can with towns, villages and cities.

Residents whose municipalities sign on with a community choice aggregator like MEGA get their electricity and gas service through the company, unless they opt out for another provider. The town or village board or city council would decide whether to contract with the aggregator.

Small businesses are included, but larger businesses would have to opt in on their own.

MEGA’s project leader, Louise Gava, met with supervisors from around Warren County on Tuesday, hoping to get them to consider the consortium for their communities. She said the group believes it needs municipalities with at least 60,000 customers to have the buying power needed to negotiate rates with savings.

Entering into the partnership could save the average utility user about $100 annually, Gava said.

It also will get residents off the radar of the third-party “energy services companies” that sell door-to-door or over the phone and internet as alternatives to local utilities.

“There are a lot of bad actors out on the marketplace,” Gava said.

Queensbury Town Board members met with MEGA representatives in 2016, and Supervisor John Strough said the program “is a good concept.” But at that point, no other municipalities had signed on, so the town was hesitant to be the first, Strough said.

Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino said he would like to see an operation that does not charge customers for delivery when they have not used electricity. Seasonal residents still get electric bills for their homes that charge for delivery, even when there has been no electricity delivered, he pointed out.

No towns signed on this week, but Gava distributed information for supervisors to take back to their town boards.

Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson said his town used a similar program known as Municipal Energy Program in recent years, but went back to National Grid after two years.

He said making a switch is a hard decision when the change is for an entire town.

“I’m going to look into it,” he said. “I do have some questions about it, whether it’s advantageous. It can be a gamble.”

Senate OKs tax bill as Trump, GOP near big legislative win

WASHINGTON — Republicans pushed a nearly $1.5 trillion tax bill through the Senate early today after a burst of eleventh-hour horse trading, as a party starved all year for a major legislative triumph took a giant step toward giving President Donald Trump one of his top priorities by Christmas.

"Big bills are rarely popular. You remember how unpopular 'Obamacare' was when it passed?" Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview, shrugging off polls showing scant public enthusiasm for the measure. He said the legislation would prove to be "just what the country needs to get growing again."

Presiding over the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence announced the 51-49 vote to applause from Republicans. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was the only lawmaker to cross party lines, joining the Democrats in opposition. The measure focuses its tax reductions on businesses and higher-earning individuals, gives more modest breaks to others and offers the boldest rewrite of the nation's tax system since 1986.

Republicans touted the package as one that would benefit people of all incomes and ignite the economy. Even an official projection of a $1 trillion, 10-year flood of deeper budget deficits couldn't dissuade GOP senators from rallying behind the bill.

"Obviously I'm kind of a dinosaur on the fiscal issues," said Corker, who battled to keep the bill from worsening the government's accumulated $20 trillion in IOUs.

The Republican-led House approved a similar bill last month in what has been a stunningly swift trip through Congress for complex legislation that impacts the breadth of American society. The two chambers will now try crafting a final compromise to send to Trump.

After spending the year's first nine months futilely trying to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law, GOP leaders were determined to move the measure rapidly before opposition Democrats and lobbying groups could blow it up. The party views passage as crucial to retaining its House and Senate majorities in next year's elections.

Democrats derided the bill as a GOP gift to its wealthy and business backers at the expense of lower-earning people. They contrasted the bill's permanent reduction in corporate income tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent to smaller individual tax breaks that would end in 2026.

Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has said the bill's reductions for many families would be modest and said by 2027, families earning under $75,000 would on average face higher, not lower, taxes.

The bill is "removed from the reality of what the American people need," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He criticized Republicans for releasing a revised, 479-page bill that no one can absorb shortly before the final vote, saying, "The Senate is descending to a new low of chicanery."

"You really don't read this kind of legislation," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told home-state reporters, asked why the Senate was approving a bill some senators hadn't read. He said lawmakers needed to study it and get feedback from affected groups.

Democrats took to the Senate floor and social media to mock one page that included changes scrawled in barely legible handwriting. Later, they won enough GOP support to kill a provision by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would have bestowed a tax break on conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.

The bill hit rough waters after the Joint Taxation panel concluded it would worsen federal shortfalls by $1 trillion over a decade, even when factoring in economic growth that lower taxes would stimulate. Trump administration officials and many Republicans have insisted the bill would pay for itself by stimulating the economy. But the sour projections stiffened resistance from some deficit-averse Republicans.

But after bargaining that stretched into Friday, GOP leaders nailed down the support they needed in a chamber they control 52-48. Facing unyielding Democratic opposition, Republicans could lose no more than two GOP senators and prevail with a tie-breaking vote from Pence, but ended up not needing it.

Leaders' changes included helping millions of companies whose owners pay individual, not corporate, taxes on their profits by allowing deductions of 23 percent, up from 17.4 percent. That helped win over Wisconsin's Johnson and Steve Daines of Montana.

People would be allowed to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes, a demand of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

The changes added nearly $300 billion to the tax bill's costs. To pay for that, leaders reduced the number of high-earners who must pay the alternative minimum tax, rather than completely erasing it. They also increased a one-time tax on profits U.S.-based corporations are holding overseas and would require firms to keep paying the business version of the alternative minimum tax.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. — who like Corker had been a holdout and has sharply attacked Trump's capabilities as president — voted for the bill. He said he'd received commitments from party leaders and the administration "to work with me" to restore protections, dismantled by Trump, for young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. That seemed short of a pledge to actually revive the safeguards.

The Senate bill would drop the highest personal income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 38.5 percent. The estate tax levied on a few thousand of the nation's largest inheritances would be narrowed to affect even fewer.

Deductions for state and local income taxes, moving expenses and other items would vanish, the standard deduction — used by most Americans — would nearly double to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples, and the per-child tax credit would grow.

Supervisor under consideration for Warren County administrator post

Warren County supervisors are trying to figure out what happens if a Queensbury at-large supervisor or Glens Falls ward supervisor position becomes vacant during the year.

It is an interesting question that came up as the county interviews candidates for the county administrator position, and Queensbury Supervisor-at-Large Matt Sokol is among the candidates being considered.

The question was raised during a Personnel Committee meeting, and referred to the county board’s Leglsiative & Rules Committee.

But it is not an unprecedented situation, as Queensbury supervisors-at-large have resigned three times during their tenures since 1995. And all three times, the Queensbury Town Board appointed the replacements.

So why is there a legal question now?

Queensbury Supervisor John Strough, a Democrat, believes it comes down to politics.

He said it appears the Republican-controlled county board is concerned that the Town Board, controlled by Democrats for the first time in its history come Jan. 1, will choose a Democrat.

Strough said he made a “big stink” with the county board’s leadership in recent days about the apparent maneuvering.

Strough said he believed the board’s Republican leadership was seeking to keep Supervisor-at-Large Rachel Seeber, whose term is expiring, or another Republican, on as an at-large supervisor.

“There shouldn’t be a question about that appointment,” Strough said. “It’s well-established, well-vetted and well-reasoned that the Town Board makes the appointment.”

“I think you know why someone is searching for an alternative,” he said.

The Town Board appointed two supervisors-at-large when Lloyd Demboski and Elizabeth Little resigned for other positions in 1995, and in 2004 when Ron Montesi stepped down.

Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty, the county’s acting administrator, said the county board was only trying to find out its options in light of Sokol’s interest in the administrator position, and what would happen under the city charter if a city supervisor left.

Bolton Supervisor Ronald Conover, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said he believes the appointment would be a Town Board responsibility. But the question was raised, and he said he was obligated to ensure it was answered per the board’s policies. Strough chairs the Legislative & Rules Committee, which will seek to answer the question.

“Somehow it was brought up. If the question is raised, I have to move it along,” he said.

Strough and Queensbury at-large supervisors have the highest weighted vote totals of any members of the board, each getting 85 of the board’s 1,000 votes.

Seeber will be off the board after Dec. 31 as a result of her unsuccessful run against Strough for town supervisor. She said Thursday that she has no interest in getting back on the board in that manner.

“I will not be seeking any appointment to the board should a vacancy open in the next term,” she said.

Seeber is reportedly being considered for a post as county deputy Republican elections commissioner, working under the supervision of Commissioner William VanNess.

She said she has not "asked or even approached" about the job, however. And VanNess, who could not be reached Friday, said Saturday that Seeber has not approached him about the job and was not being considered for it.

Sokol said he had no comment Thursday on his interest in the administrator position.

Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty has served as part-time administrator for the past 18 months, but has said he wants to step away from it.

The county has advertised for a full-time administrator with a base annual salary of up to $85,000, and plans to interview seven candidates later this month.

Former County Attorney Brian Reichenbach is among those who applied. Reichenbach, who resigned in September because of a conflict of interest with a town judge post he holds in Lake George, has been appointed “special counsel to the Board of Supervisors” for a three-month period, starting Dec. 1.

The board concluded this newly created post doesn’t present the same conflict the county attorney job does, and he will work up to 16 hours a week at $95 an hour.