WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump launched a fresh attack Sunday on the credibility of his own FBI, responding to revelations that an FBI agent was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian election meddling because of anti-Trump text messages.
Trump, two days after his former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, again denied that he directed FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Flynn.
The Republican president offered a running Twitter commentary Sunday amid renewed focus on Mueller's probe and Flynn's decision to cooperate with the investigation as part of his plea agreement. Democrats said the developments suggested growing evidence of coordination between Trump's circle and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the panel is beginning to see "the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice" against Trump.
"I think we see this in indictments ... and some of the comments that are being made. I see this in the hyperfrenetic attitude of the White House, the comments every day, the continual tweets," Feinstein said. "And I see it most importantly in what happened with the firing of Director Comey, and it is my belief that that is directly because he did not agree to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. That's obstruction of justice."
In a series of tweets, Trump questioned the direction of the federal law enforcement agency and wrote that after Comey, whom Trump fired in May, the FBI's reputation is "in Tatters — worst in History!" He vowed to "bring it back to greatness." The president also retweeted a post saying new FBI Director Chris Wray "needs to clean house."
The president seized on reports that a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent was removed from Mueller's team last summer after the discovery of an exchange of text messages that were viewed as potentially anti-Trump. The agent, Peter Strzok, also had worked on the investigation of Democrat Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, said Mueller removed Strzok from the team "immediately upon learning of the allegations." He would not elaborate on the nature of the accusations. The person who discussed the matter with The Associated Press was not authorized to speak about it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump tweeted Sunday: "Tainted (no, very dishonest?) FBI 'agent's role in Clinton probe under review.' Led Clinton Email probe." In a separate tweet, he wrote: "Report: 'ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE' Now it all starts to make sense!"
Strzok's removal almost certainly reflected a desire to insulate the investigators from any claims of political bias or favoritism. Trump and many of his supporters have at times sought to discredit the integrity of the investigation, in part by claiming a close relationship between Mueller and Comey and by pointing to political contributions to Democrats made by some lawyers on the team.
Following the tweets, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned the president to tread cautiously. "You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril. I'd be careful if I were you, Mr. President. I'd watch this," Graham said.
Mueller has been investigating whether Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and Strzok's background in counterintelligence would have been seen as particularly valuable for a secretive FBI probe examining foreign contacts.
Mueller's investigation so far has netted charges against four people, with the most recent criminal case brought Friday when Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted that he "had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"
The tweet suggested that Trump was aware when the White House dismissed Flynn on Feb. 13 that he had lied to the FBI, which had interviewed him weeks earlier. Comey has said Trump the following day brought up the Flynn investigation in private at the White House and told him he hoped he could "let this go."
Amid questions raised by the tweet, Trump associates tried to put distance Saturday evening between the president himself and the tweet. One person familiar with the situation said the tweet was crafted by John Dowd, one of the president's personal attorneys. Dowd declined to comment when reached by the AP on Saturday night.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said given that Mueller could have charged Flynn with more crimes but instead limited it to just one offense, "Bob Mueller must have concluded that he was getting a lot of value in terms of Gen. Flynn's cooperation."
"I do believe he will incriminate others in the administration. Otherwise, there was no reason for Bob Mueller to give Mike Flynn this kind of deal," Schiff said, adding, "Whether that will ultimately lead to the president, I simply don't know."
SIOUX CITY | A midtown neighborhood is changing in the 1900 blocks of Jackson and Nebraska streets.
Homes are being sold along both sides of the street, soon to be demolished.
That is being done in order to get rid of the more-than-century-old Hunt Elementary School in the 2000 blocks of the streets, in order to build a new one just to the south by the year 2022.
Some people living in the area are fine with the changes, even though it means they must move.
"Just on this block alone, they are displacing 20 apartments, and that doesn't include the other street," Carmen Janssen said.
Janssen, who lives in one of six apartments in the chopped-up old Victorian home at 1909 Jackson, supports the new school. Janssen has lived in the rental unit for three years, and is debating whether to stay in Sioux City or move nearer to her hometown of Sheldon, Iowa.
She said the rentals don't get great upkeep, pointing to new upstairs graffiti from Thanksgiving week, while noting there are a lot of police calls to the neighborhood. That's why Janssen said "it is a blessing" to have a new $20.5 million school to in some way freshen up the neighborhood, which is far from an affluent portion of Sioux City.
"It is a godsend, because this place needs to go. It helps improve the community, with the school," Janssen said.
The current Hunt Elementary is at 615 20th St. The school dates to 1906, making it by far the oldest in the city’s public school system.
Sioux City School District officials keep hitting early benchmarks in the planning process to construct a new Hunt Elementary School by 2022. They are nearing the quest to buy all needed 11 properties.
Also, the school board members on Monday made the decision not to add a third floor of classrooms, since there won't be enough students to warrant the $2 million cost.
District Director of Operations and Maintenance Brian Fahrendholz said plans are falling into place. A final design of the building is underway.
"We are pleased with our progress at this time...We are on schedule to open a new Hunt Elementary in the fall of 2022," Fahrendholz said.
The Sioux City School Board in August purchased the first of 11 properties needed for clearing, to have enough space to build the school. Properties have been bought on both sides of the 1900 block of Nebraska Street.
The school board on Monday approved the $170,000 purchase of a property owned by Lou and Janice Jackson at 1909 Jackson St., where Janssen lives, in a price that includes relocation and moving expenses. Others have gone for $120,000 and up, and the goal is to have all purchased by spring 2018.
Only three homes and two parking lots are left to buy to have all the land needed for the 80,000-square-foot school, which will house students from grades pre-kindergarten through fifth.
The school district is underway with one other school construction project, as the new Bryant Elementary School about nine blocks north is slated to open in August 2019.
While Hunt comes after Bryant, the details keep getting addressed with frequency. Also in the Monday school board meeting, board members followed the recommendation by the district's Building Oversight Committee to keep the school to two levels and not build a third floor.
Director of Elementary Education Brian Burnight said projected student numbers from the neighborhood did not necessitate building the school with three levels, particularly since that cost would be $2 million. He said there are 434 students now living in the Hunt attendance boundaries.
"A two-story Hunt will have the capacity for 450 students, allowing all students that reside in the neighborhood an opportunity to go to their local school. The addition of a third story would raise the capacity to 575 students, which is not warranted based on current and projected student numbers," Burnight said.
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SIOUX CITY | Sioux City's two highest-paid employees could see a 4 percent pay bump next year.
The City Council will vote Monday whether to raise the salaries of city manager Bob Padmore and city attorney Nicole DuBois, effective Jan. 1, based on their performance evaluations.
Under the new proposed salaries, Padmore -- the city's highest-paid employee -- will make an annual salary of about $182,780 next year, along with a $5,200 car allowance. Padmore's salary had previously been $175,750.
DuBois' new salary will be $137,900 next year, up from $132,596 this year.
A survey of city manager salaries in Iowa conducted in April 2017 showed Padmore was the 10th-highest-paid city manager in the state under his previous salary. His new salary would put him at eighth-highest, according to the numbers in the survey. Sioux City is Iowa's fourth-largest city.
Iowa's top-paid city manager position is Cedar Rapids manager Jeff Pomeranz, whose base salary is $292,818, according to the report.
The job responsibilities of city managers and administrators differ due to different styles of government.
Padmore was appointed city manager in 2014 after a stint as assistant city manager. DuBois was hired by the city in November 2008 and was promoted from assistant city attorney to city attorney in October 2011.
Dubois' and Padmore's salaries are the only two directly approved by the council. Their performance reviews are also conducted by the mayor and council.
In other action, the council will consider the demolition of the former YMCA building at 722 Nebraska St. for the second time this year.
The council had deferred demolition of the vacant structure in July after hearing plans from Paul Bernard -- managing member of Residential Equity Partners LLC, the Concord, California-based company that owns the building -- to invest around $3.3 million in the property to turn the structure into an office building, for which he already has two prospective tenants.
The building has sat vacant since 2009, when the Siouxland YMCA sold it after moving across the river into the Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA building on the South Sioux City riverfront. It has changed hands twice since then, with conditions going downhill following gutting work that landed a former owner in prison for violation of asbestos removal standards.
An earlier version of this story included an incorrect last name of a city employee. The name has been corrected.