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Trump agrees to FBI probe of Kavanaugh, bows to Flake, Dems

WASHINGTON — Reversing course, President Donald Trump bowed to Democrats' demands Friday for a deeper FBI investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake balked at voting for confirmation without it — a sudden turn that left Senate approval newly uncertain amid allegations of sexual assault.

Kavanaugh's nomination had appeared back on track earlier Friday when he cleared a key hurdle at the Senate Judiciary Committee. But that advance came with an asterisk. Flake indicated he would take the next steps — leading to full Senate approval — only after the further background probe, and there were suggestions that other moderate Republicans might join his revolt.

The abrupt developments gave senators, the White House and millions of Americans following the drama at home hardly a chance to catch their breath after Thursday's emotional Senate hearing featuring Kavanaugh angrily defending himself and accuser Christine Blasey Ford determinedly insisting he assaulted her when they were teens.

Emotions were still running high Friday, and protesters confronted senators in the halls.

"The country is being ripped apart here," said Flake.

After he took his stance, Republican leaders had little choice but to slow their rush to confirm Kavanaugh, whom they had hoped to have in place shortly after the new court term begins on Monday.

Trump quietly followed suit, though he had vigorously resisted asking the FBI to probe the allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, now being raised by three women. One day earlier, he had blistered the Senate process as "a total sham," accused Democrats of a conspiracy of obstruction and declared on Twitter, "The Senate must vote!"

The new timeline puts Trump's nominee in further peril and pushes the politically risky vote for senators closer to the November congressional elections. It also means that any cases the Supreme Court hears before a ninth justice is in place will be decided by just eight, raising the possibility of tie votes.

It was clear Republicans were still short of votes for final Senate approval after Thursday's hearing. They convened late into the evening in a room in the Capitol with various senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, raising pointed questions, according to those familiar with the private meeting but granted anonymity to discuss it.

Republican leaders said — and Trump ordered — that the new probe be "limited in scope." But there was no specific direction as to what that might include. Two other women besides Ford have also lodged public sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.

Democrats have been particularly focused on getting more information from Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford said was also in the room during her alleged assault. Judge has said he does not recall any such incident. In a new letter to the Senate panel, he said he would cooperate with any law enforcement agency assigned to investigate "confidentially."

Kavanaugh issued his own statement through the White House saying he's been interviewed by the FBI before, done "background" calls with the Senate and answered questions under oath "about every topic" senators have asked.

"I've done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate," said the 53-year-old judge.

Flake, a key moderate Republican, was at the center of Friday's uncertainty. In the morning, he announced he would support Kavanaugh's nomination. Shortly after, he was confronted in an elevator by two women who, through tears, said they were sexual assault victims and implored him to change his mind.

"Look at me and tell me that it doesn't matter what happened to me," said 23-year-old Maria Gallagher, a volunteer with a liberal advocacy group.

The confrontation was captured by television cameras.

Soon he was working on a new deal with his Republican colleagues and Democrats in a Judiciary Committee anteroom.

Flake announced he would vote to advance Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate only if the FBI were to investigate. Democrats have been calling for such a probe, though Republicans and the White House have insisted it was unnecessary. The committee vote was 11-10 along party lines.

Attention quickly turned to a handful of undeclared senators.

Two other key Republicans, Collins and Murkowski, said they backed the plan after they and other GOP senators met for an hour in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in the Capitol.

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin said he supported Flake's call for a further probe "so that our country can have confidence in the outcome of this vote."

With a 51-49 majority, Senate Republicans have little margin for error on a final vote, especially given the fact that several Democrats facing tough re-election prospects this fall announced their opposition to Kavanaugh on Friday. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Jon Tester of Montana all said they would vote no.

Flake's vote on final approval is not assured either.

The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees, but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations. It compiles information about the nominee's past and provides its findings to the White House, which passes them along to the committee.

Women confront Flake on Kavanaugh support

WASHINGTON — Moments after pivotal Sen. Jeff Flake announced his support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Arizona Republican was confronted with the consequences.

Two women cornered Flake as he got on an elevator Friday, pleading for him to reconsider his support for the appeals court judge who’s been accused of sexual assault when he was a teenager. The raw, emotional moment was caught on television, capturing the charged atmosphere in the Capitol as a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court hangs in the balance.

“Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me,” said 23-year-old Maria Gallagher.

Flake and his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee had heard hours of testimony Thursday from Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who told them Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her decades ago. Kavanaugh strongly denied the allegation.

Flake had lobbied Republican leaders to give Ford the chance to speak. He was viewed as a possible “no” vote, until the Friday announcement.

But the Capitol confrontation may have made an impact. Flake, at a committee hearing Friday afternoon, asked for a week delay in the Senate’s consideration of Kavanaugh so the FBI to investigate.

Gallagher said in a tweet that she felt relieved that Flake seemed to have heard her. “We absolutely need an FBI investigation for him and all Senators to vote NO,” she tweeted.

Flake was later asked whether the elevator confrontation swayed him.

“I can say this whole process has affected all of us,” he said. “I can’t pinpoint anything to say this is what caused me to come today to say let’s postpone.”

He said it was “remarkable” the number of people who saw Ford and “were emboldened to come out and say what had happened to them. I’ve heard from close friends and I had no idea. That’s important.”

Flake was on his way to the morning hearing when the two women, both affiliated with advocacy groups, told him they were sexual assault survivors.

“On Monday, I stood in front of your office,” Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the nonprofit Center for Popular Democracy Action, told Flake. “I told the story of my sexual assault. I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she is telling the truth. What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court.”

Archila, 39, appeared to block Flake from closing the elevator door.

Then Gallagher said: “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them.”

“That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America, that they don’t matter,” she said through tears.

She begged Flake to look her in the eye. “Don’t look away from me,” she said.

Flake, cornered in the elevator, shifted between looking at them and looking down. He said, “Thank you,” but didn’t response to questions on whether he believed Ford’s testimony.

When a reporter asked whether he wanted to respond to the women’s questions, he said no.

“I need to go to the hearing. I just issued a statement. I’ll be saying more as well,” he said.

The elevator doors closed.

Flake voted to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination from the committee to the full Senate, but announced he wanted to delay a confirmation vote a week in order to let the FBI investigate.

He said he had been speaking with Democrats “to making sure that we do due diligence here.”

President Donald Trump later agreed to order the FBI to open a supplemental background investigation into Kavanaugh that would be completed in a week.

The women do not identify themselves in the video, but Archila’s group sent a press release following the confrontation confirming it was Archila speaking on camera. Gallagher confirmed via phone to The Associated Press that it was her, and she consented to the use of her name.

The AP does not usually name people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly about the allegations, as these women have done.

Speaking to the AP by phone after the confrontation, Gallagher said she didn’t intend to tell Flake about her assault — she had never told anyone before. “But I saw him, and I got really angry,” she said.

She was in town as a volunteer with the liberal activist group Make the Road New York. She said she was on her way to talk with her family, because she worried they were seeing what happened to her in the news.

Archila told the AP that she was sexually assaulted when she was 5 years old by a teenager when she and her family lived in Colombia. She said she didn’t tell anyone before this week.

“I had planned to just talk to him nicely, but once when I saw that he was voting for Kavanaugh my niceties went out the window,” she said. “What are you doing to our country? You are sending the wrong message you’re saying that all of us who put our pain to the world to confront don’t matter.”

After hearing about Flake’s request, she said the sequence of events suggested their conversation helped move him.

“What it tells me is that telling our stories and showing up can actually change their minds,” she said.

Criminal justice system prepares for Raise the Age


Starting Monday, 16-year-olds who break the law will no longer be considered adults in New York’s criminal justice system, as the initiative known as Raise the Age takes effect.

Judges, prosecutors, county attorneys and probation department leaders have been meeting around the state for months as they prepare to handle the sweeping changes to the criminal justice system that will create a new “youth part” for criminal court for 16-year-olds. The program will be expanded to 17-year-olds as of Oct. 1, 2019, so that only those 18 and older will be prosecuted as adults going forward.

In addition to having the teens’ cases heard in a new court, the law change will require that 16-year-olds no longer be housed in adult jails, and additional local and state services will have to be dedicated to assist younger offenders.

Each county will have a new court for 16- and 17-year-old offenders. Washington County Judge Adam Michelini, who handles mostly Family Court matters, will be assigned to preside over the court in his county, with Judge Kelly McKeighan assisting. In Warren County, Family Court Judge Paulette Kershko will handle the cases, and Judge Jennifer Jensen will preside over them in Saratoga County.

New law

The Raise the Age law will result in criminal cases involving 16-year-olds going to a newly created “youth part” of court, where those charged with misdemeanors will automatically be sent to the county Probation Department, where they will be considered for probation or other diversion services or prosecution in Family Court, where juvenile offenses are heard.

A number of things can happen for teens charged with serious felonies and violent felonies, including prosecution as adults or possible removal of their cases from criminal court to Family Court.

The district attorney’s office can petition to keep the cases of those charged with serious crimes in adult court as “adolescent offenders,” with the judge to decide where the case should be heard based on a number of criteria.

“It gets pretty complex,” Michelini said.

Teen offenders in Family Court will be treated the same as current juvenile offender cases.

The state will expand eligibility for its “Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program” to include youths who are alleged to be or are convicted as adolescent offenders. The program includes services needed throughout the criminal justice system, including prevention, intervention, alternatives to detention, alternatives to placement and “re-entry programming,” according to the governor’s office.

Local counties have struggled with placing the 16-year-olds accused of violent crimes who require incarceration, as there are only a small number of secure detention facilities in upstate New York. Local counties have looked into creating a regional detention center, but little progress has been made, with no site selected. The state has indicated it will initially pick up detention costs, however.

Special state prison facilities for 16- and 17-year-olds will be established as well.

A number of other aspects of laws regarding teen offenders will also change, including a requirement for parental notification when a 16-year-old is arrested, and when 17-year-olds are arrested, after the law changes for them next year.

It will not change procedures for noncriminal offenses, though.

“Traffic tickets and violations like disorderly conduct and harassment will continue to be heard in local courts,” Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said.

Increased caseload

Warren County Probation Director Robert Iusi said his office will likely see its caseload increase significantly, as teens who would have gone to criminal court are instead diverted to probation. He said statistics show 20 to 25 16-year-old cases are anticipated the first year, based on prior arrest numbers, although teen arrests have been dropping statewide for several years.

Warren County anticipates about $120,000 in additional costs for the 2018-19 state fiscal year, factoring in additional staff needed for probation and prosecution by the county attorney’s office and service costs, with the costs increasing when the law changes for 17-year-olds.

“It’s a complicated law that affects a lot of systems,” he said. “We’ve been meeting monthly and we’ve beefed up a number of services in anticipation.”

Among those services are the county’s Youth Court and mediation programs, he said.

Warren County Social Services Commissioner Chris Hanchett told county supervisors this week his office has been preparing for the change, and will assign a caseworker to work with the teens as required. He said costs will initially be reimbursed by the state, but “we don’t know how long that will last.”

Jordan said the change will make for more work for some agencies, such as probation departments that will be overseeing and setting up court diversion for more offenders, and county attorney’s offices that will prosecute more cases in Family Court.

It will also make things more difficult for defendants in rural counties, who will now have to go to the Probation Department and Family Court in county seats instead of the justice court in the town where their offenses occurred.

Jordan said the changes are being made even though few teens who have scrapes with the law have wound up with convictions on their records. Those under the age of 19 are eligible for youthful offender sentencing that wipes convictions from their records, depending on the circumstances of their case.

“The reality is few 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds wound up with criminal convictions,” Jordan said.

Washington County crafts last-minute plan for Raise the Age

FORT EDWARD — Five days before Raise the Age goes into effect, Washington County officials rushed to put together a last-minute plan.

Whenever a juvenile is arrested, five officials will be called to come to court. After business hours and on weekends, lawyers and judges will sign up for on-call shifts to make sure someone is available at all times.

“We cannot hold these cherubs (in jail) from the time they’re arrested until they get arraigned,” said county Administrator Chris DeBolt. “We need total sight-sound separation.”

Rather than build an expensive special location for children, where they would wait for up to three days for the next business day, the county will simply drop everything to arraign them the moment they are arrested.

“We’re going back to 365 days a year, 24 hours a day,” DeBolt said.

Last year, the county briefly ran an on-call system while ensuring that all arrestees had a lawyer representing them at their arraignment. After a period of time, the county switched to holding adults in a jail cell until lawyers were available for the arraignment.

For that system, the county only needed to get a public defender and a prosecutor to the court.

But for the qualifying teens, the county plans to put four officials in court with the judge.

Those four include a prosecutor — the DA’s office for felonies, vehicle and traffic cases and violations; the county attorney’s office for juveniles facing misdemeanors. The teen must also get an attorney, so the public defender’s office will have lawyers take turns being on call.

In addition, because the county will try to find alternatives to sending the teen to a youth detention center after arraignment, a probation officer and someone from alternative sentencing will also rush to the court. Alternative sentencing could immediately fit the youth with an electronic monitoring device, for example.

Although few teens will likely be arrested in Washington County, those who are on-call must be paid for holding themselves ready at all times.

In total, the county plans to spend $115,000 in on-call costs, which some supervisors decried as a waste.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell. “Just pay $500 per call-out. I’d call around until I found someone who could come.”

But county Attorney Roger Wickes said the county must pay. He noted that he and other lawyers would have to reschedule vacations to be sure someone was available at all times.

“You’re buying availability here,” he said. “The problem is you’re paying for restriction of mobility for someone.”

He added that it was worth calling probation and alternative sentencing to the arraignments.

“If I can keep one kid from detention, I’ve saved you half the money you’re spending,” he said.

Not every teen who is arrested must go to court immediately. Many receive an appearance ticket and go home, returning to court during regular hours. But those charged with more serious crimes, or crimes in which someone wants an order of protection, must be arraigned before being released.

DeBolt did not defend his costly plan.

“I’m just trying to make the damn thing work,” he said.

Police: Hudson Falls girl found safe

Police said Friday afternoon that the 12-year-old girl who had been missing from Hudson Falls for two days was found unharmed in New York City, hours after a man who drove her there had been arrested for his alleged role in her disappearance.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office announced shortly after 1 p.m. that Malaya Johnson was safe, and had been located by law enforcement officers in New York City. The Amber Alert that had been issued in the case was canceled as well.

It was unclear when she would be returned home, or whether she would face Family Court action in light of her flight from home.

According to a report from WCBS-TV in New York City, the New York Police Department said Malaya had contacted her family Friday morning to let them know she was safe but “not coming home.”

Late Thursday, a 19-year-old New York City man was arrested in connection with the case and accused of kidnapping Malaya despite the fact she was believed to have willingly accompanied him.

The man, George A. Torres of Staten Island, was charged with felony kidnapping and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child because police believe he gave her a ride to New York City, leaving her at the Staten Island Ferry around 11 a.m., authorities said. Police said she arranged for the ride.

He was initially charged solely with the misdemeanor overnight, but the kidnapping charge was added later Friday. He was arraigned before Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan and sent to Washington County Jail for lack of bail. Wheeled into court in a wheelchair, he spoke quietly only to acknowledge his name and address and that he understood his rights.

Washington County First Assistant District Attorney Christian Morris said the case is considered kidnapping because of the child’s age, even with her consent to accompany the defendant.

“Even by acquiescence, she can not consent,” Morris said.

Torres’ lawyer, Washington County Public Defender Michael Mercure, said his client is a college graduate who works for the state in New York City and has no criminal record. The car Torres drove was registered to his father in Pennsylvania.

Mercure said that Malaya told his client she was 18, a senior in high school and wanted a ride to New York City to see her father. He said his client fully cooperated with police and did not kidnap the girl.

Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said police were working Friday to find where Malaya went from the ferry station. It was not known whether she had contact with any other people who may be aiding her, he said.

It is also not known who she was intending to meet, or where she was going.

“It’s a big city and there are several thousand people a day on those boats,” the sheriff said.

Hudson Falls Police Chief Scott Gillis said police believe Johnson is a “runaway” who used social media to meet Torres and arrange for him to pick her up in Hudson Falls after school on Wednesday.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said the red Ford Mustang that witnesses said Malaya and its two occupants were in was last seen on Oak Street around 3 p.m. Wednesday in Hudson Falls.

State Police were able to track Torres’ vehicle to Staten Island via tolls and police license plate reader hits, and identify whose vehicle it was. Police said he was cooperative and explained that Malaya asked for a ride to New York City.

Torres and another man who was with her were questioned. But they could not provide information about where Malaya was headed. The other man has not been charged.

Police issued an “Amber Alert” that notifies police agencies around the country. Her cellphone was “pinged” and located Wednesday night in Rockland County.

Police investigated possible sightings of the girl late Thursday in New York City.

Washington County sheriff’s officers said New York City Police, FBI, Hudson Falls Police and State Police assisted with the investigation.

“There has been very good cooperation between the agencies. The Sheriff’s Department and (Senior Investigator) Kristen Hardy and the State Police have been fantastic,” Gillis said.

Murphy and Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said Torres has been charged for his alleged illegal activity in Washington County, and the investigation was ongoing as to whether additional charges were warranted.

Police have termed Malaya’s disappearance a “possible abduction,” and said they initially did not know the relationship she had with the men who were in the car. There was no initial indication she was taken against her will, and police said she was walking with a friend when she met Torres after school.

“She had made some comments to friends that she was going to New York City to be with her ‘family,’ “ Gillis said.

Anyone with information about her disappearance was asked to call 911 or the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 518-747-4623.

Torres is due back in Kingsbury Town Court on Wednesday. The kidnapping charge is punishable by up to 25 years in state prison.