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EPA postpones Pruitt’s Israel trip, amid travel cost scrutiny

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s upcoming trip to Israel has been canceled, the agency confirmed Sunday to Fox News.

The EPA declined to provide an explanation, but the confirmation comes amid increasing scrutiny about Pruitt’s travel costs.

“We decided to postpone,” agency spokeswoman Liz Bowman told Fox News. “The administrator looks forward to going in the future.”

The Washington Post, which first reported on the EPA trip, suggested Pruitt made the decision to postpone the week-long trip.

Pruitt is one of several Trump administration officials who have drawn attention over travel costs, including Pruitt’s frequent travel at first-class rates. Pruitt last week said a “toxic environment politically” required first-class travel and protection from a 24-hour security detail. He also has said his security detail made the decision.

Pruitt and EPA staffers billed taxpayers nearly $200,000 for his trips over six months last year, according to travel vouchers obtained by an environmental organization.

The Environmental Integrity Project environmental group obtained the travel vouchers, which cover trips by Pruitt and 14 staffers from March to August, through open-records requests. Previous vouchers acquired by the group covered the EPA chief’s travel over a shorter period.

Most of at least 10 expensed trips involving stops in his home state of Oklahoma were into the Tulsa airport, including for events in or closer to Oklahoma City, the state’s capital and site of the biggest state airport.

The EPA has said all the charter flights were necessary and previously approved by ethics lawyers.

Most of the reported expenses did not appear to include travel costs of the unknown number of security guards traveling with Pruitt.

In addition, CBS News reported last week that Pruitt flew round-trip business class to Italy in June, which cost $7,000. He also flew on his return trip on Emirates Airlines, after receiving special permission to fly on a foreign airline to arrive on time for a Cabinet meeting back in the United  States.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Florida asks Supreme Court to let cruise ships sail again

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WASHINGTON — Florida urged the Supreme Court on Friday to block federal Covid restrictions that have vastly cut back the number of cruise ships operating from the state’s ports.

In an emergency appeal, the state said restrictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control have made it very difficult for the industry to get going again, after it was shut down for nearly 16 months.

Federal rules now allow ships to board passengers if cruise lines meet such requirements as setting up Covid testing labs, running test voyages, maintaining social distancing, and establishing onshore housing for quarantining passengers.

The federal government said the rules were necessary with the United States in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that included several deadly outbreaks clustered on cruise ships. “These experiences demonstrated that cruise ships are uniquely suited to spread COVID-19, likely due to their close quarters for passengers and crew for prolonged periods.”

Now is not the time to put the rules on hold, the Justice Department argued, as the government works with the industry to get it going again — noting that the cruise industry did not join Florida’s lawsuit.

But the rules allow only a fraction of the normal number of ships to sail, the state said.

“The CDC’s order is manifestly beyond its authority,” Florida said. The federal law giving the CDC power to enact traditional quarantine measures “does not permit the agency to remake the entire cruise ship industry.”

The state said the restrictions have cost Florida tens of millions of dollars in lost tax and port revenue and required it to meet the additional expensive of paying unemployment benefits to cruise industry employees.

In June a federal court agreed with the state and blocked the CDC restrictions. U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday of Tampa, Florida, said the effort to impose the rules was “breathtaking, unprecedented, and acutely and singularly authoritarian.” He said he wondered whether the CDC would have argued that it could ban intercourse to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, put Merryday’s order on hold. Florida’s emergency motion asked the Supreme Court to lift that hold and allow the judge’s ruling to take effect.



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'This won't end well' Meghan and Harry warned of US backlash as Sussexes go against Queen

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PRINCE Harry and Meghan Markle cannot hope to win in a popularity contest against the Queen, even among Americans, a former MP who is now based in the US has said.

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Tom Barrack, former Trump inaugural chair, released on $250 million bond

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Former Trump inaugural committee chair Tom Barrack on Friday was released from federal lockup in California on a $250 million bond ahead of his scheduled arraignment in New York on charges he acted as an agent of the United Arab Emirates and obstructed justice.

As part of the terms of his release, Barrack, 74, is subject to electronic monitoring and will have to foot the bill for his GPS ankle bracelet, Judge Patricia Donahue ordered, signing off on an agreement that had been worked out between the government and Barrack’s attorneys.

Barrack, a private equity investor and founder of the investment firm Colony Capital, also had to surrender his passports and is barred from transferring funds overseas, the judge said. He cannot trade any securities without written permission from federal prosecutors and is not allowed to transfer more than $50,000 except for attorneys fees.

He’s scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn, New York on Monday. His spokesman said earlier this week that Barrack “is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”

A longtime friend of former President Donald Trump, Barrack had been behind bars since his arrest Tuesday on charges that he and two co-defendants were “acting and conspiring to act as agents” of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018, but without registering as foreign agents.

Prosecutors said Barrack and the others acted “to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the United States at the direction of senior UAE officials by influencing the foreign policy positions of the campaign of a candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, subsequently, the foreign policy positions of the U.S. government in the incoming administration.”

Barrack was also charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements to federal law enforcement agents.



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