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Bannon tries to make amends as aides defend Trump's fitness

WASHINGTON — Faced with a growing backlash, Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, released a statement Sunday reaffirming his support for the commander in chief and praising Trump's eldest son as "both a patriot and a good man."

Bannon infuriated Trump with comments to author Michael Wolff describing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic."

But Bannon said Sunday his description was aimed at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who also attended the meeting, and not Trump's son.

"I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president's historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency," Bannon said in the statement, first obtained by the news site Axios. Bannon said his support for Trump and his agenda was "unwavering."

Hours before the statement came out, administration officials used appearances on the Sunday news shows to rally behind Trump and try to undermine Wolff's "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," which portrays the 45th president as a leader who doesn't understand the weight of his office and whose competence is questioned by aides.

Chief policy adviser Stephen Miller, in a combative appearance on CNN, described the book as "nothing but a pile of trash through and through."

He also criticized Bannon, who is quoted at length by Wolff, saying it was "tragic and unfortunate" that Bannon "would make these grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive."

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Trump was "completely fit" to lead the country, pausing before answering because, he said on "Fox News Sunday," it was such "a ludicrous question."

"These are from people who just have not accepted the fact that President Trump is the United States president and I'm sorry for them in that," said Pompeo, who gives Trump his regular intelligence briefings.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said she is at the White House once a week, and "no one questions the stability of the president."

"I'm always amazed at the lengths people will go to, to lie for money and for power. This is like taking it to a whole new low," she told ABC's "This Week."

To Miller, "the portrayal of the president in the book is so contrary to reality, to the experience of those who work with him."

Miller's interview on CNN's "State of the Union" quickly grew heated, with Miller criticizing CNN's coverage and moderator Jake Tapper pressing Miller to answer his questions and accusing him of speaking to only one viewer: Trump.

Tapper abruptly ended the interview, saying: "I think I've wasted enough of my viewers' time."

Soon after, Trump tweeted: "Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!"

Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to defend his fitness for office, insisting he is "like, really smart" and, indeed, a "very stable genius." He pressed the case again on Sunday as he prepared to depart Camp David for the White House.

"I've had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President. Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author," he tweeted.

Wolff's book draws a derogatory portrait of Trump as an undisciplined man-child who didn't actually want to win the White House and who spends his evenings eating cheeseburgers in bed, watching television and talking on the telephone to old friends.

The book also quotes Bannon and other prominent advisers as questioning the president's competence.

On Sunday, two days after the book's release, WikiLeaks tweeted a link to an electronic image of the text. Posting the text of a book without permission would violate copyright restrictions and potentially damage sales. Yet, hours after WikiLeaks tweeted the link, "Fire and Fury" remained No. 1 on Amazon's lists of hardcover and ebook bestsellers.

Chatter about Trump's mental fitness for office has intensified in recent months on cable news shows and among Democrats in Congress.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders this past week called such suggestions "disgraceful and laughable."

"If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there and wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen," she said, calling him "an incredibly strong and good leader."

Trump and some aides have attacked Wolff's credibility, pointing to the fact that the book includes a number of factual errors and denying that the author had as much access as he claimed.

"He said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House. It didn't exist, OK? It's in his imagination," Trump said Saturday.

Wolff told NBC on Sunday that "I truly do not want to say the president is a liar," but that he had indeed spoken with Trump for about three hours during and since the campaign.

Trump has repeatedly invoked Ronald Reagan, tweeting Sunday that the former president "had the same problem and handled it well. So will I!"

Reagan died in 2004, at age 93, from pneumonia complicated by the Alzheimer's disease that had progressively clouded his mind. At times when he was president, Reagan seemed forgetful and would lose his train of thought while talking.

Doctors, however, said Alzheimer's was not to blame, noting the disease was diagnosed years after he left office. Reagan announced his diagnosis in a letter to the American people in 1994, more than five years after leaving the White House.

Ready for 24 hours of dancing
Sioux City twins shake a move to raise funds for Children's Hospital at University of Iowa

SIOUX CITY | Ben Linden said he's merely a competent dancer while his twin brother Alex said he can bust a move as long as Daft Punk is playing in the background.

They will both have plenty of opportunities to let loose during the University of Iowa Dance Marathon's 24th annual Big Event, taking place at Iowa Memorial Union, beginning at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 and ending exactly 24 hours later.

With an outreach of nearly 3,000 students, the University of Iowa Dance Marathon is the largest student-run organization on the Iowa City campus. A year-round organization that runs several events during the course of a year, its goal is to provide emotional, medical and financial support to pediatric cancer patients and their families at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital.

Over the past 23 years, the Dance Marathon has raised more than $21.5 million. Last year alone, it raised more than $2.5 million.

The Dance Marathon was an organization that Alex and Ben, both 2014 Bishop Heelan Catholic High School graduates, wanted to be a part of.

"We learned about this high-energy charitable organization from a friend during our senior year at Heelan," Alex remembered. "She knew that Ben and I were going to the University of Iowa and suggested we become involved with the Dance Marathon."

During their freshman year, the brothers both raised the $500 needed to participate in the Big Event. They subsequently decided to take on leadership roles in the nonprofit organization.

Ben is currently the organization's family relations director while Alex is its executive director.

"I never envisioned myself as being a 21-year-old executive director of a 501(c)(3) organization while still a full-time student," Alex said. "But I've loved every minute of it."

Indeed, Alex was hooked as soon as he held onto a 6-month-old baby getting chemotherapy on Stead Family Children's Hospital's recently named 11th floor University of Iowa Dance Marathon Pediatric Cancer Center.

"Here's a kiddo who had never done anything wrong in her entire life," he said. "It breaks your heart to see a baby fighting for life. That feeling stays with you."

Like his brother, Ben volunteered his time with patients undergoing cancer treatment.

"Pediatric cancer may be a misnomer since I remember sitting with a guy who was roughly my own age," Ben remembered. "We talked about music or sports but we didn't talk much about cancer. It just goes to show that cancer doesn't discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any time."

The brothers, both biochemical and public health seniors, would like to pursue medical careers after they graduate in the spring.

Until then, they just wanna dance. So is the University of Iowa's Dance Marathon just 24 hours of continuous dancing?

"No, we also do things like Jazzercise, Zumba, even laser tag," Alex said. "All we ask is that the dancers not sit or sleep or drink caffeine for 24 hours." 

"The caffeine thing is the killer," Ben interjected. "I'll be chugging down an iced coffee minutes before the start of the marathon as a way to compensate."

No rest and no caffeine? That seems pretty brutal, right?

Well, not according to Alex.

"The purpose of this dance party is to celebrate the kiddos who have won their fight against cancer, stand by those who are still fighting and honor those who are still dancing in our hearts," he said. "Whatever we're going through pales to what the kids are experiencing."

Monday’s Briefing

Judge to referee Manson estate fight

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The fight over the estate and body of apocalyptic cult leader Charles Manson has fragmented into at least three competing camps that could cash in on songs he wrote that were used by The Beach Boys and Guns N' Roses.

A Los Angeles judge on Monday will begin trying to sort out at least two conflicting wills and claims to his estate by a purported son, grandson and pen pal.

At stake are commercial rights to the mass murderer's name, image and mementos that can fetch thousands of dollars from so-called murderabilia collectors.

Manson died at age 83 in November nearly a half-century after he orchestrated the 1969 killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and eight other people.

Two people hold wills they claim Manson signed, though a friend says Manson left no will.

Aggressive turkeys stopping mail service

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — Postal carriers say a rafter of aggressive wild turkeys have prevented them from delivering mail to more than two dozen homes in a Cleveland suburb. reports residents on a number of streets in Rocky River have had to pick up their mail at the post office because the turkeys have created unsafe conditions for carriers to deliver to their homes.

Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst said the problem has persisted for the last three weeks. She said city ordinances don't allow for the turkeys to be eradicated.

The city has instead sent letters to people asking them to stop putting out bird feed in the hope the turkeys will go elsewhere.

A U.S. Postal Service spokesman says some carriers have been pecked but none have been injured.

Jae C. Hong 

Title time

SEC rivals play for national championship. SPORTS B1

'Sue' plan still alive as bids come in low for water tank paint job

SIOUX CITY | Plans to place a tribute to the hit 1940s song "Sioux City Sue" on a water tank in Singing Hills could resurface at Monday's City Council meeting. 

And they're likely to, once again, look a bit different than previous designs. 

Councilwoman Rhonda Capron, who has been a leading proponent of putting a reference to the 1945 folk song by Dick Thomas and Ray Freedman on the prominent water tank in Sertoma Park, said she favors placing the words "Home of Sioux City Sue" on the side of the tank for passing traffic to see, coupled with an artistic painting of generic musical notes. 

That idea is a slight change of course from a plan discussed by council members two months ago that would have put the city's name on the side and used actual musical notes from the song. Capron told The Journal Friday that the panel looking into the designs have backed off that idea because it could cost an extra $3,500 to $5,000 to obtain the legal rights for the music. 

"We kind of nixed getting the rights to it because that was going to cost too much money," she said. 

The council's discussion Monday will come as it votes whether to accept a bid of $95,640 to repaint the tank. That would include both the basic exterior coat and designs on the tank's side and top. 

The bids have come in much lower than expected, with a low bid by Perry, Georgia-based Utility Service Co. Inc., sitting at $95,640 -- more than 56 percent less than the engineer's original $220,000 estimate.

The tank, which is noticeable from the Highway 75 bypass, Interstate 29, Cone Park and Southern Hills Mall, hasn't been repainted since its construction in the mid-1990s. It would be the first to sport a city-funded painting design.

A panel comprised of Capron, city staff and private residents selected the idea to use a reference to "Sioux City Sue" as a nod to the "singing" in "Singing Hills," the name of the corridor where the tank resides. It's meant to be an eye-catching and distinctive feature for passersby to notice.

The 1945 tune by Dick Thomas and Ray Freedman is a slice of local history in that it put Sioux City on the map for some out-of-towners. The song was performed by several famous musicians, including Gene Autry in a 1946 movie of the same title. 

When the council discussed the design in mid-November, some balked after learning that adding a design in addition to the basic coat of paint could add between $20,000 and $30,000 to the price tag. In response, Capron volunteered to begin raising that amount of money to fund the design and the fees for the permissions to "Sioux City Sue" without using city dollars

Capron said Friday that the lower-than-expected bid may render a fundraising push unnecessary.

"It came so far under that I don't think I need to do the fundraising," she said, but added she is willing to proceed with the fundraising if the council so desires.

Water plant superintendent Brad Puetz said he wasn't sure why the bids came in so low. All but one of the seven bids the city received for the project came in below the engineer's estimate. Puetz said the city is familiar with the company, which also painted the elevated tank in Morningside.

If all moves according to schedule, the work could be completed by mid-October of this year.