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Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte/  

Baylor head football coach Matt Rhule speaks about this week’s practice at the indoor practice facility.

Trump stalks out of shutdown talks with Dems, says 'bye-bye'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump walked out of his negotiating meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday — “I said bye-bye,” he tweeted— as efforts to end the 19-day partial government shutdown fell into deeper disarray over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a negotiating session that was over almost as soon as it began, Democrats went to the White House asking Trump to reopen the government. Trump renewed his call for money for his signature campaign promise and was rebuffed. Republicans and Democrats had differing accounts of the brief exchange, but the result was clear: The partial shutdown continued with no end in sight.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers will miss paychecks on Friday; a little more than half of them are still working without pay. Other key federal services are suspended, including some food inspections. And as some lawmakers expressed discomfort with the growing toll of the standoff, it was clear Wednesday that the wall was at the center.

Trump revived his threat to attempt to override Congress by declaring a national emergency to unleash Defense Department funding for the wall. He’s due to visit the border Thursday to highlight what he declared in an Oval Office speech Tuesday night as a “crisis.” Democrats say Trump is manufacturing the emergency to justify a political ploy.

That debate set the tone for Wednesday’s sit-down at the White House.

Republicans said Trump posed a direct question to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: If he opened the government, would she fund the wall? She said no. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump slammed his hand on the table, said “then we have nothing to discuss” and walked out.

Republicans said Trump, who passed out candy at the start of the meeting, did not raise his voice and there was no table pounding. Pelosi said Trump “stomped” out of the room and was “petulant.” Republicans said he was merely firm.

“The president made clear today that he is going to stand firm to achieve his priorities to build a wall — a steel barrier — at the southern border,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters afterward.

Trump had just returned from Capitol Hill, where he urged jittery congressional Republicans to hold firm with him. He suggested a deal for his border wall might be getting closer, but he also said the shutdown would last “whatever it takes.”

He discussed the possibility of a sweeping immigration compromise with Democrats to protect some immigrants from deportation but provided no clear strategy or timeline for resolving the standoff, according to senators in the private session. He left the Republican lunch boasting of “a very, very unified party,” but GOP senators are publicly uneasy as the standoff ripples across the lives of Americans and interrupts the economy.

Trump insisted at the White House: “I didn’t want this fight.” But it was his sudden rejection of a bipartisan spending bill late last month that blindsided leaders in Congress, including Republican allies, now seeking a resolution to the shutdown.

The effects are growing. The Food and Drug Administration says it isn’t doing routine food inspections because of the partial federal shutdown, but checks of the riskiest foods are expected to resume next week.

The agency said it’s working to bring back about 150 employees to inspect more potentially hazardous foods such as cheese, infant formula and produce. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency can’t make the case that “a routine inspection of a Nabisco cracker facility” is necessary during the shutdown, however. He said inspections would have ramped up this week for the first time since the holidays, so the lapse in inspections of high-risk foods will not be significant if they resume soon.

Republicans are mindful of the growing toll on ordinary Americans, including disruptions in payments to farmers and trouble for home buyers who are seeking government-backed mortgage loans — “serious stuff,” according to Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was among several senators who questioned Trump at the Capitol.

“I addressed the things that are very local to us — it’s not just those who don’t receive a federal paycheck perhaps on Friday, but there are other consequences,” she said, mentioning the inability to certify weight scales for selling fish. The president’s response? “He urged unity.”

That unity was tested late Wednesday when the House passed a spending bill, 240-188, to reopen one shuttered department, Treasury, to ensure that tax refunds and other financial services continue. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting, defying the plea to stick with the White House.

Democrats said before the White House meeting that they would ask Trump to accept an earlier bipartisan bill to reopen the government with money for border security but not the wall. Pelosi warned that the effects of hundreds of thousands of lost paychecks would begin to ripple across the economy.

“The president could end the Trump shutdown and reopen the government today, and he should,” Pelosi said.

Ahead of his visit to Capitol Hill, Trump renewed his notice that he might declare a national emergency and try to authorize the wall on his own if Congress won’t approve the money he’s asking.

“I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t, I might go that route,” he said.

Republicans are particularly concerned about such a threat, seeing that as an unprecedented claim on the right of Congress to allocate funding except in the direst circumstances.

“I prefer that we get this resolved the old-fashioned way,” Thune said.

Trump did not mention the idea of a national emergency declaration Tuesday night. A person familiar with deliberations who was unauthorized to discuss the situation said additional “creative options” were being considered, including shifting money from other accounts or tapping other executive authorities for the wall.

Trump on Wednesday floated ideas for a broader immigration overhaul. Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has suggested a compromise that would include wall funding as well as protecting some immigrants — young “Dreamers” and those in Temporary Protective Status, two programs Trump is eliminating — from deportation.

editor's pick
Closer to home
Providence brings less-invasive heart valve procedure to Waco
 Mike Copeland  / 

On the second floor of Providence Health Center, Dr. Brian Barnett, a cardiologist, spoke of a new $6 million setup at the hospital, where doctors now can use a narrow tube inserted through the groin to replace diseased heart valves while patients watch.

Listening in, 73-year-old Thomas Davis, from Goldthwaite, rested on his cane and absorbed the presentation, which included a video and a replica heart.

He had heard it all before, and it changed his life.

Davis has been traveling to Waco for years, from homes in Lake Dallas, Goldthwaite, even Colorado, visiting his longtime heart doctor, Charles A. Shoultz, now retired. Davis suffered from various heart-related maladies, and Central Texas Cardiology kept tabs on a leaky heart valve.

“It finally got to the point I had to have something done,” he said. “I was always short of breath, panting upon exertion. I thought I needed surgery.”

He became one of the first, if not the first, patient to undergo a procedure at Providence Health Center called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, which is minimally invasive and does not require a surgical team to crack open a patient’s chest to replace a diseased valve.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Providence Health Center's Dr. Brian Barnett discusses the differences between traditional heart valve replacement and TAVR, a less-invasive option Providence is offering for the first time in Waco.

The process has been around for about a decade and is available at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center Temple. But the Heart Hospital at Providence, part of Ascension Texas, introduced it locally in October, said Dr. Barnett, 38, who has an undergraduate degree in pharmacy at the University of Texas, attended medical school at Texas A&M University, and received specialized training in the TAVR process before performing procedures in Temple.

Barnett now serves as TAVR medical director at Providence.

“My recovery time? About a week and a half, maybe two weeks,” said Davis, who followed his physician to the spotlight on Wednesday, when Providence hosted an hourlong news conference to unveil its TAVR protocol.

“I had no shortness of breath,” Davis said. “I could do anything my bad legs would let me do. The doctors in Waco have been great.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

An animation shows a new heart surgery procedure at Providence Health Center, where doctors now can use a narrow tube inserted through the groin to replace diseased heart valves while patients watch.

TAVR is the centerpiece of Providence’s new Structural Heart Program, which features a room recently remodeled to accommodate TAVR procedures, upgrades to the catheterization lab, where heart rhythm abnormalities are diagnosed, and plans to add additional procedures. Barnett said the expertise and technologies available in the Structural Heart Program will assist doctors in treating heart-related issues that could produce strokes, as well as congenital holes in the heart found in a high percentage of infants.

TAVR reduces recovery time and the length of hospital stays, according to a Providence press release. There is no need to stop the heart during the procedure, it inflicts significantly less pain than open-heart surgery and represents a “life-saving option for high-risk patients,” the press release states.

Barnett said TAVR is not classified as emergency surgery, and patients deemed candidates for the procedure typically have it done within 10 days to two weeks. They undergo extensive testing during that time, and arrive to discover Barnett will be joined by a 12- to 15-person team in the TAVR room. The team includes at least one additional cardiologist, usually two, as well as imaging technicians, nurses and heart specialists.

The procedure itself involves inserting a catheter through an incision in the groin area and guiding it to the heart through the circulatory system. The replacement valves are made from bovine tissue, Barnett said.

Patients typically remain awake and only lightly medicated. The procedure lasts 28 to 30 minutes, and it is not unusual for patients to be up and walking within six hours. Many leave the next day, Barnett said.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Providence Health Center's Dr. Brian Barnett discusses the differences between traditional heart valve replacement and TAVR, a less-invasive option Providence is offering for the first time in Waco.

TAVR is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for symptomatic aortic stenosis patients who are considered an intermediate or high risk for standard valve replacement surgery, according to the American Heart Association website.

“This minimally invasive surgical procedure repairs the valve without removing the old, damaged valve,” the website states. “Instead, it wedges a replacement valve into the aortic valve’s place. … Once the new valve is expanded, it pushes the old valve leaflets out of the way and the tissue in the replacement valve takes over the job of regulating blood flow.”

A damaged valve can reduce vital blood flow to organs such as the brain and kidneys, Barnett said. Symptoms may include weakness, fatigue and fainting.

Providence Health Center representatives said they do not discuss specific costs of the procedure. But Barnett and Billy Fowler, who manages the Providence catheterization lab, hinted that the number of people involved in carrying out TAVR procedures mean it is not necessarily a low-cost alternative to more traditional valve-replacement approaches. A 2015 New York Times article states the replacement valves required in TAVR cost about $30,000, which is four or five times more than those used in conventional open-heart valve-replacement surgery.

“The valves are not cheap,” Fowler said.

Rosenstein, a frequent Trump target, will leave Justice Dept

WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the most visible Justice Department protector of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s wrath, is expected to leave his position soon after Trump’s nominee for attorney general is confirmed.

The departure creates uncertainty about the oversight of Mueller’s team as it enters what may be its final months of work. But the attorney general nominee, William Barr, moved quickly Wednesday to quell concerns that his arrival could endanger the probe, telling lawmakers during Capitol Hill visits ahead of his confirmation hearing that he has a high opinion of Mueller.

“He had absolutely no indication he was going to tell Bob Mueller what to do or how to do it,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will question Barr next Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Republican-led Senate, Barr could be in place at the Justice Department by February. Rosenstein is expected to leave his position soon after that, though he is not being forced out, said a person familiar with the plans who was not authorized to discuss them on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press.

The departure is not surprising given that Rosenstein has been deputy for almost two years. It is common for new attorneys general to have their own deputies and Barr has told people close to him that he wanted his own No. 2 as part of taking the attorney general job.

It was unclear who might replace Rosenstein, though Barr has some ideas for a selection, Graham said, without elaborating. The deputy position requires Senate confirmation. It was also not immediately clear whether Rosenstein’s top deputy, Edward O’Callaghan, who has a prominent role overseeing Mueller’s investigation, might remain in his role.

Rosenstein’s departure is noteworthy given his appointment of Mueller and close supervision of his work. He’s also endured a tenuous relationship with Trump, who has repeatedly decried Rosenstein’s decision to appoint Mueller, and with congressional Republicans who accused him of withholding documents from them and not investigating aggressively enough what they contend was political bias within the FBI.

In September, Rosenstein went to the White House expecting to be fired after news reports that he had discussed secretly recording Trump and invoking a constitutional amendment to remove Trump as unfit for office. He was ultimately allowed to stay on after private conversations with Trump and John Kelly, then chief of staff.

Trump also shared a photo on Twitter in November showing Rosenstein and others criticized by the president behind bars, calling for them to be tried for “treason.”

Mueller is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign. Rosenstein and his chief deputy have continued to maintain day-to-day oversight over the probe, a senior Justice Department official told reporters last month.

Barr would take over control of the investigation, assuming the same final say over major investigative steps that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has had since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted in November.

Democrats have been wary of Whitaker, who declined to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation. The Democratic leader of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Gerrold Nadler, on Wednesday called for him to appear before the panel on Jan. 29.

The White House cast Rosenstein’s departure as his choice. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Rosenstein had always planned to stay two years and wants to help with the transition to a new attorney general. The person familiar with Rosenstein’s plans said Rosenstein told Barr in a private conversation around the time Barr was selected that he expected to depart after Barr was confirmed.

“I don’t think there’s any willingness by the president or the White House to push him out,” Sanders told Fox News.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017 to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election. The appointment followed the recusal of Sessions because of his work on the Trump campaign and Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

The transition to Barr, who served as attorney general in the 1990s, would come with critical steps in the Mueller investigation expected to unfold in the weeks and months ahead, when the special counsel’s office is expected to report its findings to the Justice Department.

Barr has criticized the Mueller investigation, including an unsolicited memo he sent the Justice Department last year critiquing Mueller’s investigation into whether the president had sought to obstruct justice by firing Comey.

Rosenstein in December said Mueller’s investigation would be “handled appropriately” no matter who is overseeing it. He said Barr would be an “excellent attorney general when he is confirmed.”

Graham suggested after his meeting with Barr that there were no reasons to worry that he’d undermine the investigation.

He noted that the two men worked together when Barr was attorney general between 1991 and 1993 and Mueller oversaw the department’s criminal division. Graham said the two men were “best friends,” that their wives attended Bible study together and that Mueller had attended the weddings of Barr’s children.

Graham listed a number of questions that he had put to Barr: “I asked Mr. Barr directly, ‘Do you think Mr. Mueller is on a witch hunt?’ He said no. ‘Do you think he would be fair to the president and the country as a whole?’ He said yes. ‘And do you see any reason for Mr. Mueller’s investigation to be stopped?’ He said no. ‘Do you see any reason for a termination based on cause?’ He said no. ‘Are you committed to making sure Mr. Mueller can finish his job?’ Yes.”

editor's pick
Former jail official placed in pretrial diversion
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A former McLennan County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant who was arrested two years ago on charges she illegally provided law enforcement information to her biker boyfriend two months before he was arrested in the Twin Peaks shootout was placed on pretrial diversion this week.

Jennifer Guftason Howell, 42, who initially was charged with misuse of official information, a third-degree felony, signed a contract Tuesday with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office to enter its pretrial diversion program on a Class B misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief.

Howell resigned from her position at the McLennan County Jail and is now working as a rural mail carrier, her attorney, Melanie Walker, said.

Howell was arrested after a Texas Department of Public Safety investigator found text messages between Howell and a member of the Cossacks motorcycle group while investigating bikers’ cellphone data after the deadly May 2015 Twin Peaks shootout, according to an arrest affidavit.

The unidentified Cossack asked Howell to get him the name and address associated with the license plate of a vehicle that ran another biker off the road, the affidavit states.

“The defendant admitted to directing another law enforcement officer to ‘run’ the license plate,” the court documents state. “The defendant admitted to providing this information that is prohibited from disclosure to the public to the confirmed gang member via text message.”

Howell was a sergeant at the time the messages were sent and discussed “information believed to be related to law enforcement sensitive material that is not available to the general public,” the affidavit states. “During these conversations, the defendant acknowledges to the confirmed gang member that the information that the defendant sent could get the defendant in trouble.”

Howell told investigators she and the unidentified Cossack were romantically involved at the time, according to the affidavit.

Walker said it took so long for Howell’s case to be resolved because prosecutors had a weak case.

“She was charged with misuse of official information,” Walker said. “One element of that was they had to prove an intent to harm. She got information from a biker and had somebody from Waco PD run that information and then conveyed a city and a first name of a driver. It was a woman in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Someone was run off the road, so what she did was only give them enough information to ensure it didn’t have anything to do with the Bandidos and that the person wasn’t targeted. It was just a random accident and it was months before Twin Peaks. That is all she did, and the state couldn’t prove she had the intent to harm anybody.”

Howell was not going to seek pretrial intervention because participants in the program have to confess to their crimes.

“She was not going to confess to a crime she did not commit,” Walker said. “The pretrial diversion program is great for guilty people, not innocent people. This was a compromise, a lesser, unrelated charge.”

Howell will be in the program under the supervision of the DA’s office for two years, Walker said. If she completes the program, the charge will be dismissed, and she would be eligible to have the arrest expunged from her record.

Howell had worked at the sheriff’s office since 2009. She was promoted to lieutenant in 2015.

Man sentenced for threatening cheating husband with sex tape
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A Waco man was placed on deferred probation and ordered to make restitution Wednesday for trying to bilk a cheating husband out of at least $17,250 by threatening to release a video showing him having sex with a stripper.

Charles Henobe Dudzinski, a 31-year-old worker at a Waco candy-making plant, pleaded guilty in September to sexual coercion, a state jail felony, in exchange for a recommendation from prosecutors that he be placed on deferred probation for four years and fined $750.

Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court accepted the plea bargain, sentenced Dudzinski to the terms of the agreement and ordered him to pay $7,250 to the victim in the case. Dudzinski’s sentencing was postponed twice so he could come up with a portion of the restitution. He has paid $2,900 toward restitution, court officials said.

Dudzinski’s attorney, Bruce Perryman, said he is satisfied with the sentence the judge issued.

A man, who is not identified in an arrest affidavit, reported in February that Dudzinski threatened to show his family the sex video unless Dudzinski was paid $5,000. The man reported Dudzinski found the sexually explicit video on the woman’s laptop and used it to extort money, according to records filed in the case.

The man told McLennan County sheriff’s deputies he developed a relationship with a woman he met who worked at the Showtime Gentlemen’s Club, 1821 La Salle Ave., and said he paid her $200 for each sexual encounter. On one of those occasions, the woman asked if she could video their encounter with a laptop webcam. The man agreed, according to reports.

Authorities believe Dudzinski was acting in concert with the woman, although she was not charged in the scheme, authorities said.

The man paid Dudzinski the money, but Dudzinski asked for more money later, according to an arrest affidavit. The man paid him $2,250 more, records show.

Dudzinski demanded an additional $10,000 payment in February, again threatening to show the incriminating video to his wife, according to the arrest affidavit.

However, instead of paying Dudzinski, the man reported the coercion scheme to deputies, who asked the man to set up a meeting with Dudzinski at an area business. Deputies arrested Dudzinski after the man paid him $10,000 and Dudzinski handed over the laptop.