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Trump ousts hawkish Bolton, dissenter on foreign policy

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday abruptly forced out John Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser with whom he had strong disagreements on Iran, Afghanistan and a cascade of other global challenges.

The sudden shake-up marked the latest departure of a prominent voice of dissent from the president’s inner circle, as Trump has grown less accepting of advice contrary to his instincts. It also comes at a trying moment for Trump on the world stage, weeks ahead of the United Nations General Assembly and as the president faces pressing decisions on difficult foreign policy issues.

Tensions between Bolton, Trump’s third national security adviser, and other officials have flared in recent months over influence in the president’s orbit and how to manage his desire to negotiate with some of the world’s most unsavory actors. Since joining the administration in the spring of last year, Bolton has espoused skepticism about the president’s whirlwind rapprochement with North Korea, and recently has become a vocal internal critic of potential talks between Trump and leaders of Iran and Afghanistan’s Taliban.

Bolton also broke with Trump with his vocal condemnation of Russia’s global aggressions, and last year he masterminded a quiet campaign inside the administration and with allies abroad to persuade Trump to keep U.S. forces in Syria to counter the remnants of the Islamic State and Iranian influence in the region. Bolton’s maneuvering at the time contrasted with former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ decision to instead resign over Trump’s December withdrawal announcement, which has been effectively reversed.

On Twitter Tuesday, Trump and Bolton offered opposing accounts on the adviser’s less-than-friendly departure, final shots for what had been a fractious relationship almost from the start.

Trump tweeted that he told Bolton Monday night his services were no longer needed at the White House and Bolton submitted his resignation Tuesday morning. Bolton responded in a tweet of his own that he offered to resign Monday “and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’”

Trump explained that he had “disagreed strongly” with many of Bolton’s suggestions as national security adviser, “as did others in the administration.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had been traveling with Trump Monday, said reports of Bolton’s opposition to a now-scrapped weekend meeting with the Taliban at Camp David was a “bridge too far” for Trump.

And one Republican familiar with the disagreements between Trump and Bolton said the adviser’s opposition to a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a precipitating factor. French President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to broker such a meeting, possibly on the sidelines of the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, in hopes of salvaging the international Iran nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew.

“There were many times that Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed. That’s to be sure,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tuesday. He added that Trump has been clear that he is willing to meet with Rouhani “with no preconditions.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who appeared with Pompeo at the White House, volunteered: “The president’s view of the Iraq war and Ambassador Bolton’s was very different.”

Hawkish views

A former Bush administration official, Bolton has championed hawkish foreign policy views dating back to the Reagan administration and became a household name over his vociferous support for the Iraq war as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under George W. Bush. Trump initially supported the 2003 U.S. invasion, but subsequently became a vocal critic.

The Iranian government hailed Bolton’s departure, and spokesman Ali Rabiei said it might pave the way for warmer relations. “By dismissal of the biggest supporter of war and economic terrorism, the White House will face less barrier to understand realities of Iran,” he said in a tweet. Tehran calls the U.S. sanctions on Iran “economic terrorism.”

Pompeo said, “I don’t think any leader around the world should make any assumption that because some one of us departs that President Trump’s foreign policy will change in a material way.”

Bolton’s well-known foreign policy views and harsh rhetoric for U.S. foes had turned him into a convenient boogeyman for the likes of North Korea and Iran, which have assailed him in the media.

His ouster came as a surprise to many in the White House. Just an hour before Trump’s tweet, the press office announced that Bolton would join Pompeo and Mnuchin in a briefing on new Iranian sanctions. He did not.

As pressure has mounted amid global troubles and signs of an economic slowdown at home, Trump has increasingly favored aides who are willing to defend him on television. Bolton was tentatively booked to appear on a pair of Sunday talk shows in late August but backed out, saying he was not comfortable with some of the administration’s plans, and that drew the president’s ire, according to a White House official not authorized to discuss private conversations

Bolton and his National Security Council staff were also viewed warily by some in the White House who viewed them as more attuned to their own agendas than the president’s — and some administration aides have accused Bolton’s staff of being behind leaks of information embarrassing to Trump.

Isolationism question

He was always an unlikely pick to be Trump’s third national security adviser, with a world view seemingly ill-fit to the president’s isolationist “America First” pronouncements. He briefly considered running for president in 2016, in part to make the case against the isolationism that Trump would come to embody.

Still, Trump had admired Bolton for years, praising him on Twitter as far back as 2014. Trump had told allies he thought Bolton was “a killer” on television.

Defending Bolton after Tuesday’s announcement, a person close to him said they had been authorized to say one thing — that since he had been national security adviser there had been no “bad deals” on Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria. The person, who did not divulge who had given the authorization, was not allowed to discuss the issue by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

When asked to respond to the person’s comment, White House press secretary Grisham smiled and told reporters: “Sounds like just somebody trying to protect him.”

Foreign policy future

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the turnover in the president’s foreign policy team was a cause for worry.

“John Bolton was the wrong choice and the silver lining to this instability is that there will be fewer people whispering war chants in the president’s ear,” said Murphy. “But no one of any quality is going to take a job in the nation’s national security cabinet so long as everyone’s head is permanently hovering slightly above the chopping block.”

But Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee for president, bemoaned Bolton’s ouster, calling it “an enormous loss for the country and for the administration.”

He added that “in decision making you want people who disagree and who offer a very different perspective.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Charles Kupperman, the deputy national security adviser and a former Reagan administration official and defense contracting executive, would fill Bolton’s role on an acting basis. Trump said he would name a replacement for Bolton next week.

Bolton was named to the post in March 2018 after the departure of Army Gen. H.R. McMaster.

New Waco ISD superintendent sees turnover, facilities, collaboration among challenges
 Brooke Crum  / 

New Waco Independent School District Superintendent Susan Kincannon may have started the school year about two weeks late, but she seems to be keeping up with her lessons.

Kincannon’s first day as superintendent in Waco was Thursday, after the board of trustees voted 5-2 to hire her Aug. 29. Board members Stephanie Korteweg and Norman Manning cast the dissenting votes, citing concerns about Kincannon’s lack of experience working with a district as diverse and economically disadvantaged as Waco ISD.

From 2011 to this past summer, Kincannon served as superintendent of Belton ISD, a fast-growing district about 40 miles south of Waco.

But Belton ISD looks quite different demographically. About 77% of Waco ISD students are economically disadvantaged, compared to 45.5% of Belton ISD students, according to the Texas Education Agency website. Waco ISD has just under 15,000 students, and almost 61% are Hispanic. Belton ISD has about 12,000 students, and almost 53% are white.

Additionally, seven Waco ISD schools received an F rating from the state this year, while no Belton schools did. One Belton school, Southwest Elementary School, received a D.

For Kincannon, those differences do not represent a problem but a challenge, something she relishes.

“My approach is to do my job with fidelity and take care of kids in schools, and I certainly believe and know from my past experience that that builds trust,” she said in her first sit-down interview with the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday afternoon. “Trust and relationship-building takes time, and it takes listening and being with people. Trust comes from taking care of what you’re charged with doing.”

Kincannon has spent her first four days walking through schools and meeting with principals, listening to them and learning their needs and concerns. She believes she is already building trust that way, she said.

She visited both high schools and was impressed by the Advanced Placement music theory class at Waco High and the engineering program at University High. She said she was pleased to see every Waco ISD elementary school employs an art teacher, something Belton ISD could not afford.

“I see a staff that is very dedicated to the students,” Kincannon said. “Schools have been very orderly, and students are well managed. I’ve seen lots of engagement, and of course, as a curriculum and instruction person, that makes me very happy. I like to see kids learning in classrooms.”

While on her district tour, Kincannon said, she has started seeing patterns, such as a need for leadership development for staff, improved communication and updated facilities.

“I had the opportunity to go to University High School last week and then Waco High School yesterday,” she said. “With University being built in 2011, it’s a new campus, state-of-the-art, modern, whereas Waco High School was built in 1960. You find smaller classrooms that were designed for instruction in 1960. That’s on my radar right away in terms of needs.”

But another, more pressing pattern and concern for Kincannon is the high rate of teacher turnover in Waco ISD. She said she is “alarmed” at the high turnover rate and the fact that the district cannot retain new teachers.

Waco ISD sees roughly 26% teacher turnover every year, while the five Transformation Waco schools have an annual turnover rate of 40%, according to district figures. The state’s average turnover rate is 16%.

That is one area where Kincannon believes she can use some of her own professional development and her listening skills. She completed a design thinking workshop at the University of Texas this past summer that showed her how to solve problems using empathy and feedback from the people she serves.

“I can already envision using that process here after we get some of the staff trained to talk about teacher retention and ways we can retain our teachers,” she said. “A big part of that would then be really trying to understand why it is that teachers leave and what it is that would keep them staying in Waco ISD. That concept of listening and understanding what’s important to people and not trying to come up with all the solutions on your own is really critical because you might come up with a solution that doesn’t work because you didn’t really understand what people needed or wanted.”

Transformation Waco

Meanwhile, Kincannon is acquainting herself with Transformation Waco, the five-school, in-district charter partnership with Waco ISD. She has not worked with an 1882 Turnaround Partnership like Transformation Waco before. A 2017 law, which advanced as Senate Bill 1882, gives school districts the authority to partner with an outside organization like a charter school or nonprofit and, in turn, receive extra state funding.

While the partnership is a “bit confusing” to her and the staff, Kincannon said she believes Transformation Waco is doing the work school districts ought to do, including offering wraparound services like corrective lenses for students who need them and free breakfast and lunch at school. She said those services are particularly vital to economically disadvantaged students.

“Transformation Waco was designed to do what Waco ISD wants to do, and that’s to take care of students,” she said. “To me, it feels like another layer of work to accomplish the same goal, so understanding my role in that work is what I am trying to sort through at the moment so that I can help the staff of Waco ISD understand for themselves what they’re doing to support Transformation schools and then be as helpful as I can.”

Kincannon also wants to build on Waco ISD’s professional learning communities, the topic on which she wrote her doctoral dissertation. A professional learning community is a group of educators that meets regularly to collaborate on ways to improve teaching skills and student achievement.

“What teachers and teams should be doing is working together to identify areas of need by looking at data, designing lessons together and then coming back together to see how a lesson worked or didn’t work so that you can refine it for the future,” she said. “The way that you do that is by looking at student achievement results, assessing your students to determine if what you taught them was actually accomplished.”

That approach can be applied on a macro or micro level, Kincannon said. She can foresee Waco ISD using a professional learning community model that is districtwide, as well as campus-level or subject-focused communities, to ensure the district is effective at producing educated, mindful students.

“You can very easily in bureaucratic organizations like school districts begin to get into silos and not listen and work together to accomplish the same goal that we all have,” she said.

Kincannon does not intend to let that happen at Waco ISD. She wants to bring the team together, every member of the school district, because she believes helping students succeed academically is just as important as seeing them become good people and good stewards of their environments.

“Schools are charged with not only teaching students academically but helping them to become better people,” she said. “We want to have a better culture inside of our schools because schools are reflective of the community. If children can learn to coexist in a classroom or a school building together, then that leads to better outcomes when they’re an adult.”

Owens-Illinois to lay off 81 in November
 Mike Copeland  / 

More than 80 employees at Waco’s Owens-Illinois glass plant will receive pink slips Nov. 7, three weeks before Thanksgiving, according to information released this week by the Texas Workforce Commission.

Owens-Illinois officials last week confirmed plans to shutter one of three furnaces used to produce glass containers at the plant on Beverly Drive. The plant employs about 350 people, and most make between $21.29 and $33.27 per hour, according to a contract with the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp., executed seven years ago.

The workforce commission on Monday posted the plant’s WARN Act notice, as required by law, showing Owens-Illinois notified the Heart of Texas Workforce Development Board of its plans to release 81 people in November. The company, based in Ohio, said it would shut down a furnace indefinitely because of lagging demand for beer bottles, which long have been the backbone of local operations.

“This particular furnace is dedicated 100% to producing beer bottles. The remaining furnaces will continue to produce some beer as well as spirit and food glass packaging,” company spokeswoman Leslie Orozco wrote in a statement last week.

The local economic development corporation, which is funded by the city of Waco and McLennan County, awarded Owens-Illinois an $805,000 grant in 2012, when the company was in the midst of a multi-year $74 million upgrade. About $8 million was earmarked for improvements to mitigate and monitor emissions.

Kris Collins, who recruits industry and serves as a liaison between the board of the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. and the city and county, said she continues to research the impact the layoffs might have on the agreement struck between the corporation and Owens-Illinois.

“We have not determined final impacts the layoffs may have on existing contracts as we are still awaiting information from the company,” Collins said in an email Tuesday. “However, I can share that the existing agreement with the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corporation required new jobs created maintain an average hourly wage of $21.29 per hour and the existing employment base maintain an average wage of at least $33.27 per hour. As previously discussed, the company has been in compliance with its agreement,” which expires next year.

Number of positions

The company was required to retain 280 positions and add 70 under the terms of the contract, Collins has previously said.

“Our contracts contain very specific information to address events like this,” said McLennan County Judge Scott Felton, who serves on the board of the economic development corporation with Waco City Manager Wiley Stem III and Bill Clifton, who represents the Waco Industrial Foundation.

“More than likely these layoffs will mean adjustments to the contract,” Felton said. “Owens-Illinois has been a good corporate neighbor, and we hope they can crank that furnace back up.”

Waco Economic Development Director Melett Harrison said Owens-Illinos is an iconic local industry and one of the few remaining union shops.

The glass plant opened for business in 1944, and employment peaked in the 1970s at more than 900, according to a post on the plant by

Local officials had Owens-Illinois and the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in mind when they spent $4.7 million upgrading narrow, pock-marked Beverly Drive, which ties the plant to Loop 340 and to New Road.

Of that total, $1.3 million came from the city-county economic development fund, Harrison said.

Judge allows Twin Peaks lawsuit to continue, dismisses McLennan County as defendant
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A federal judge dismissed McLennan County as a defendant in a civil rights lawsuit filed by three bikers arrested after the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout but ruled the plaintiffs can pursue claims against the city of Waco and seven individual defendants.

In a 22-page ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Alan Albright threw out some of the claims filed by bikers Bradley Terwilliger, Benjamin Matcek and Jimmy Dan Smith, as well as dismissing the county and four Waco police officers from the suit.

The lawsuit, filed by the three bikers who were never indicted in the deadly shootout, is one of about 20 pending Twin Peaks civil lawsuits involving about 130 bikers with claims of unlawful arrest and conspiracy.

The plaintiffs, represented by Dallas attorney Don Tittle, allege former McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna was the final policymaker for McLennan County regarding the events at Twin Peaks. Reyna and the county disputed the claim, and Albright, citing legal precedent in dismissing the county from the lawsuit, ruled that a county sheriff, not the district attorney, is the final policymaker.

“In sum, plaintiffs allege that Reyna wrongly determined that the plaintiffs should be arrested based only on their presence at Twin Peaks,” the order states. “As discussed above, the sheriff — not the district attorney — is the final policymaker regarding ‘preserving the peace and arresting all offenders …’

“Thus, regardless of Reyna’s involvement in helping to decide whether the arrests should be made, he did not have authority to make municipal policy.”

The lawsuit alleges Reyna was the county’s final policymaker because he “was responsible for devising the overall prosecutorial goals and strategies” of the county on the day of the shootout that left nine bikers dead and 20 injured.

“Even assuming that is accurate, Reyna still cannot be the final policymaker in this context because plaintiffs complain of wrong arrests, not of wrongful prosecution,” the order states. “Thus, Reyna’s prosecutorial goals and strategies are irrelevant to whether he was the final policymaker in the area of ordering and making arrests, because he had no authority to dictate policy in that area. Accordingly, the county cannot be held liable for Reyna’s individual actions.”

The judge denied the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Tittle declined comment on the judge’s order. Dallas attorney Tom Brandt, who represents the county and Reyna, and Waco attorneys Mike Dixon and Charles Olson, who represent the city of Waco and its officers, did not return phone messages Tuesday.

“We are pleased with the dismissal of some of the claims and some of the parties and will continue to diligently litigate the remaining claims,” Waco City Attorney Jennifer Richie said.

Remaining defendants

The various rulings by Albright leave Reyna, the former district attorney, as the sole former county representative remaining in the lawsuit. The order leaves claims pending against Brent Stroman, former Waco police chief; Robert Lanning, assistant chief; Detective Jeffrey Rogers; and police officers Manual Chavez, Patrick Swanton, Austin Evans, Jason Vela, Christopher Nall and John Allovio, and Department of Public Safety agents Steven Schwartz and Christopher Frost.

Smith, the biker, brought a separate false arrest claim against Evans, Vela, Nall and Allovio, which Albright dismissed after ruling the claim was insufficient to overcome the officers’ qualified immunity.

Smith alleges he left Twin Peaks during the shootout to take a wounded friend to the hospital. After leaving the hospital, Smith, Terwilliger and Matcek were parked at a closed business when the four officers approached them and eventually arrested Matcek and Terwilliger on weapons charges.

Smith was arrested for “directing activities of criminal street gangs, even though he did not meet any of the elements whatsoever,” the suit alleges.

“While a complaint … does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do,” Albright wrote, quoting legal precedent, in dismissing the officers from the suit.

More than 200 bikers were jailed on identical arrest warrant allegations. Only one case went to trial, which ended in a hung jury favoring acquittal and a mistrial. District Attorney Barry Johnson, Reyna’s successor, dismissed the remaining charges against the bikers.

The lawsuits allege the defendants violated the bikers’ Fourth Amendment rights by obtaining arrest warrants based on a fill-in-the-name affidavit that lacked probable cause. They also allege defendants violated their 14th Amendment due process right to be free from unlawful arrest.

Albright threw out the plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment claims, ruling the Fourth Amendment covers unlawful arrest.

The order states Albright is referring the case to U.S. Magistrate Jeffrey Manske to handle discovery issues.