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Walker shouted down over GOP attempt to weaken his successor


Demonstrators booed outgoing Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday during a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, a sign of tumult as Republicans in the Legislature met to push through measures to gut the powers of his Democratic successor.

The Legislature met deep into the night Tuesday to pass a series of bills, first unveiled Friday, that would weaken the governor’s office and transfer power away from the Democratic attorney general-elect and give it to the Legislature. The Legislature wasn’t expected to complete its work until early Wednesday morning.

Walker has signaled support, but he couldn’t escape anger over the rare lame-duck session even during what is normally an upbeat holiday tradition.

The governor, wearing a Santa tie, appeared unfazed as he flipped the switch to light the Christmas tree while one protester shouted “Hey Walker! Go home!” He left without taking questions from reporters about the bills being considered. Walker, who has signaled support for the measures, later tweeted that he “can handle the shouts,” but he urged protesters to “leave the kids alone.”

Stung by their election loss last month, Republicans treated the lame-duck session as a final opportunity to use their political clout to weaken the next governor. Democrats, who won every statewide constitutional office after nearly a decade-long GOP hold on power, derided the session as a cynical attempt to preserve the party’s waning strength.

“If he wanted to put a stop to this, he could,” Russ Hahn, a 53-year-old attorney, said of Walker. He was holding a sign that said “GOP Grinch Steals Democracy.”

The fact that Walker was making no attempt to halt the effort “clearly indicates he wants to be able to control things outside the governor’s office for the next four or eight years,” Hahn said.

Republicans were still working late Tuesday to reach final agreement on what exactly they would pass. Leaders from both the Senate and Assembly negotiated into the night, giving opponents hope that the bills might be scaled back. Debate in the Assembly finally began around 10:30 p.m., more than nine hours after it was scheduled to start.

“Even you have questions,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said as debate began. “The Senate has questions. Why are we here today? What are we doing? Nothing we’re doing here is about helping the people of Wisconsin. It’s about helping politicians. It’s about power and self-interest.”

At one point Tuesday, the public was ordered removed from Senate galleries after repeated warnings to be quiet. Spectators shouted “Shame!” and hurled complaints at senators, temporarily halting debate. Less than an hour later, Republicans let people back in.

The GOP proposals would weaken the governor’s ability to put in place rules that enact laws and shield the state jobs agency from his control. Republicans also want to limit early voting to no more than two weeks before an election.

The Senate passed one measure, on a party-line vote, to enact Medicaid work requirement rules Walker recently won a federal waiver to establish. The bill would also give the Legislature oversight over the governor seeking future waivers for health care, a change Democrats said would handcuff the new administration.

The Wisconsin GOP package would also weaken the attorney general’s office by allowing Republican legislative leaders to intervene in cases and hire their own attorneys. A legislative committee, rather than the attorney general, would have to sign off on withdrawing from federal lawsuits.

That would stop Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul from fulfilling their campaign promises to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Care Act. They made opposition to that lawsuit a central part of both of their campaigns.

Some hinted at filibusters or legal challenges and called the lame-duck session “illegitimate.” Former Democratic attorney general and Gov. Jim Doyle said the moves were unconstitutional.

Never in Wisconsin history “has an extraordinary session been used to deny the will of the people and take away powers from the newly elected governor and newly elected attorney general,” Democratic Rep. Chris Taylor said.

Despite the victories by Evers, Kaul and other Democrats, the party gained no ground in the Legislature and blamed partisan gerrymandering by Republicans for stacking the electoral map against them.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters that his constituents want him to protect everything the GOP has accomplished over the last eight years under Walker. The legislation, he said, ensures that Evers will have to negotiate with lawmakers and cannot unilaterally erase Republican ideas.

“We do not believe any one individual should have the opportunity to come in and with a stroke of the pen ... eliminate laws passed by our Legislature,” Vos said, citing rules enacting voter photo ID, a key GOP initiative during Walker’s two terms.

The last lame-duck session in Wisconsin was in 2010, when Democrats tried unsuccessfully to enact labor agreements.

The proposals to bolster Republican legislative power come after North Carolina lawmakers took similar steps two years ago. Michigan Republicans are also discussing taking action before a Democratic governor takes over there.

Opponents have said many of the changes will likely be challenged in court, a process that could create even more gridlock in state government next year.

“This legislation is an effort to undermine the results of the elections we just had for governor and for attorney general,” Kaul told reporters Tuesday. “The state is going to be mired in litigation in 2019.”

Mueller recommends no prison for Flynn, citing cooperation


President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser provided so much information to the special counsel’s Russia investigation that prosecutors say he shouldn’t do any prison time, according to a court filing Tuesday that describes Michael Flynn’s cooperation as “substantial.”

The filing by special counsel Robert Mueller provides the first details of Flynn’s assistance in the Russia investigation, including that he participated in 19 interviews with prosecutors and cooperated extensively in a separate and undisclosed criminal probe.

It was filed two weeks ahead of Flynn’s sentencing and just over a year after he became the first of five Trump associates to accept responsibility by pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Though prosecutors withheld specific details of Flynn’s cooperation because of ongoing investigations, their filing nonetheless underscores the breadth of information Mueller has obtained from people close to Trump as the president increasingly vents his anger at the probe—and those who cooperate with it.

This week, Trump lashed out at his former legal fixer, Michael Cohen, saying he is making up “stories” to get a reduced prison sentence after his latest guilty plea to lying to Congress. Trump also praised longtime confidante Roger Stone for saying he would “never testify against Trump,” adding in his tweet, “Nice to know some people still have ‘guts!’”

It’s unclear if Trump will now turn his fury on Flynn, whom Trump grew close to during the 2016 campaign and who has drawn the president’s sympathy since he came under investigation.

Trump has repeatedly lamented how Flynn’s life has been destroyed by the special counsel’s probe. At one point, he tried to protect Flynn by asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into his alleged false statements, according to a memo Comey wrote after the February 2017 encounter.

That episode, which Trump has denied, is among those under scrutiny by Mueller as he probes whether the president attempted to obstruct the Russia investigation.

Federal sentencing guidelines recommend between zero and six months in prison for Flynn, leaving open the possibility of probation.

Mueller’s office said Flynn’s cooperation merits a sentence at the bottom end of that range. But prosecutors also say the long military and government service that sets him apart from all the other defendants in the investigation makes his deception even more troublesome.

“Senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards,” they wrote. “The defendant’s extensive government service should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false information to the government, as well as the rules governing work performed on behalf of a foreign government.”

Flynn’s case has stood apart from those of other Trump associates, who have aggressively criticized the investigation, sought to undermine it and, in some cases, been accused of lying even after agreeing to cooperate.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, stands accused of repeatedly lying to investigators since his guilty plea last September. Another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, is serving a 14-day prison sentence and, though he pleaded guilty to the same crime as Flynn, was denied probation because prosecutors said his cooperation is lacking.

But Flynn has largely remained out of the public eye, appearing only a handful of times in media interviews or campaign events, and dutifully avoided criticizing the Mueller probe despite widespread encouragement from his supporters to go on the offensive. He has instead spent considerable time with his family and worked to position himself for a post-conviction career.

Flynn’s false statements stemmed from a Jan. 24, 2017, interview with the FBI about his and others’ interactions with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., as the Obama administration was levying sanctions on the Kremlin in response to election interference.

In Tuesday’s filing, Mueller’s office blamed Flynn for other senior Trump transition officials making misleading public statements about his contacts with Russia, an assertion that matches the White House’s explanation of Flynn’s firing.

“Several senior members of the transition team publicly repeated false information conveyed to them by the defendant about communications between him and the Russian ambassador regarding the sanctions,” the filing said.

As part of his plea deal, Flynn said members of Trump’s inner circle, including his son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner, were involved in—and at times directing—his actions in the weeks before Trump took office.

According to court papers, in mid-December 2016, Kushner directed Flynn to reach out to several countries, including Russia, about a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements. During those conversations with Kislyak, Flynn asked Russia to delay or vote against the resolution, a request the Kremlin ultimately rejected.

Flynn also admitted that later in December 2016 he asked Kislyak not to retaliate in response to the Obama administration sanctions, something he initially told FBI agents he didn’t do. Flynn made the request after discussing it with deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, who was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and being told that Trump’s transition team did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

Flynn was forced to resign his post on Feb. 13, 2017, after news reports revealed that Obama administration officials had warned the Trump White House about Flynn’s false statements. The White House has said Flynn misled officials— including Vice President Mike Pence—about the content of his conversations.

Flynn also admitted to making false statements about unregistered foreign agent work he performed for the benefit of the Turkish government. Flynn was under investigation by the Justice Department for the work when he became national security adviser.

Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 5, 2018

Helen E. Ames

Pete Bouma

Susan Finnane

Angela Lynn Hines

James Edward Isferding

Keith J. Kuper

Derek M. Liebelt

Virginia “Ginny” Monahan Kasian

Marilyn M. Murray

Janice Neville

Charlene P. Olson

Susan Kay Parrish

Corrine Shaw

Robert J. Spoden

William W. Swift

Margaret Tomaso

Former tennis standout accused in opioid robberies


Yuliya Kuznets came to the United States from her native Belarus in 1999, when she was 18.

She was ranked the No. 10 tennis player in her home country, and she wanted to play collegiate tennis in the United States.

She played for Lewis University in Chicago in 2003-04, when she was named player of the year in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and finished the season ranked 28th nationally, according to the university’s website.

While in college, she majored in criminal/social justice, a fact that was to become ironic.

Fourteen years later, Kuznets was dressed in black, with only her eyes showing, as she and a partner, with guns in their hands, jumped over a pharmacy counter at the Walgreens on Janesville’s Milton Avenue, according to a criminal complaint filed in Rock County Court on Monday.

The time was shortly after 3 a.m. on June 26.

They ordered the pharmacist to the ground and asked where they could find hydrocodone. When they asked for more, he gave up his keys, and Kuznets opened a cabinet containing the drugs, according to the complaint.

They told the pharmacist to lie down, and they zip-tied his hands behind his back. Then they told him they were sorry and pepper-sprayed him, according to the complaint.

The pharmacist told police Kuznets said he would have to lie to police about the incident, or else he would be “f…… dead,” according to the complaint.

After they left, the pharmacist knocked the phone off its base and used his nose and tongue to call for help, according to the complaint.

Officials later determined the robbers took 420 Hydrocodone 10s, 462 Oxycodone pills, 462 Hydrocodone 7.5s and 100 Zolpidem, a sedative.

The Rock County District Attorney’s Office issued criminal complaints and arrest warrants for Kuznets, now 37, and James B. Akerman, 50, on Monday. The rest of their story suggests their motive for this and two other robberies was addiction to opioid painkillers.

The addiction to opioids, which often leads to the cheaper and illicit heroin, is a plague that has swept the nation in recent years, with addicts going to great lengths to get the drugs they crave.

Janesville Detective Chris Buescher told The Gazette in August it appeared the pair were just using the drugs, not selling any.

Kuznets gave a statement to Janesville police in August, after she and Akerman were arrested in Illinois.

The pair are accused of robbing a Walgreens in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, in a manner similar to the Janesville robbery, and of a robbery at the Van Galder bus depot in Rockford, Illinois, both in July.

Kuznets told a Janesville police detective that she was given medication for pain she started feeling while playing tennis.

A year after her impressive tennis victories at Lewis, she started working for Rockford police, and after about three years, she began working for Metro Enforcement, a private security company, she told police.

The Rockford Register Star gave a different version, saying Kuznets was fired from Rockford police in 2013.

Akerman also worked for Metro Enforcement, and they both were fired last January, Kuznets told police.

“Kuznets lost her health insurance and went to a pain-management clinic, where they told her she had rheumatoid arthritis and sent her away without medication,” according to the complaint.

She found a doctor who prescribed Norco, an acetaminophen-hydrocodone mixture, for pain and Zolpidem for “a sleep issue,” according to the complaint.

“She said the doctor kept prescribing the pills to her and eventually increased the number of pills, as she was acquiring a tolerance for them,” according to the complaint.

Kuznets admitted to both Walgreens robberies and said they tied up three employees in the Hoffman Estates robbery, according to the complaint.

Kuznets said Akerman’s gun accidentally went off during the robbery at the Rockford bus station.

Akerman declined to give a statement.

It appears the pair will face charges in Illinois before Rock County authorities have a chance. They are being held without bail in the Winnebago County (Illinois) Jail and are awaiting court proceedings on armed robbery charges, according to online court records.

Akerman’s next court appearance in Rockford is Thursday. Kuznets’ is Dec. 20.

In Rock County, they are charged with party to armed robbery, false imprisonment and use of pepper spray during a crime, causing bodily harm.

Yulia Kuznets