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Whistleblower accuses White House of Ukraine call cover-up

WASHINGTON — White House officials took extraordinary steps to “lock down” information about President Donald Trump’s summertime phone call with the president of Ukraine, even moving the transcript to a secret computer system, a whistleblower alleges in a politically explosive complaint that accuses the administration of a wide-ranging cover-up.

The whistleblower, in a nine-page document released Thursday, provides substantial new details about the circumstances of the phone call in which Trump repeatedly spoke of how much the U.S. had aided Ukraine and encouraged new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to help investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son.

Accusations of efforts to pressure the leader of a foreign nation to dig for dirt on a potential 2020 Trump rival are now at the heart of a House impeachment inquiry against the president. The whistleblower’s official complaint alleges a concerted White House effort to suppress the transcript of the call, and it describes a shadow campaign of foreign policy efforts by the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani that unnerved some senior administration officials who thought he was circumventing normal channels.

“In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all the records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House situation room,” the complaint says.

The previously secret document, with its detail and clear narrative, is likely to accelerate the impeachment process and put more pressure on Trump to rebut its core contentions and on his fellow Republicans to defend him or not. It also provides a road map for Democrats to seek corroborating witnesses and evidence, which will complicate the president’s efforts to characterize the findings as those of a lone partisan out to undermine him.

In response, Trump threatened “the person” who he said gave information to the whistleblower as he spoke at a private event in New York with staff from the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

“Who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” Trump said in audio posted by The Los Angeles Times. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

On his Twitter account, Trump insisted the entire controversy is political: “The Democrats are trying to destroy the Republican Party and all that it stands for. Stick together, play their game and fight hard Republicans. Our country is at stake.” His tweet was all in capital letters.

Under pressure from House Democrats, the White House a day earlier released a rough transcript of the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president. In it, Trump prodded Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, a former vice president and a potential 2020 election foe, and Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who had been on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

But the complaint released Thursday offered a broader picture of what was happening in the White House and the administration at the time. In the aftermath of the call, according to the whistleblower, White House lawyers were concerned that “they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain,” the complaint says.

The complaint has revived questions about the activities of Giuliani, who it says alarmed government officials by circumventing “national security decision making processes.” Giuliani, a Trump loyalist who represented the president in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, repeatedly communicated with advisers of Ukraine’s president in the days after the phone call.

The House Intelligence Committee released a redacted version of the whistleblower complaint Thursday ahead of testimony from Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence. He acknowledged that the complaint alleged serious wrongdoing by the president but said it was not his role to judge whether the allegations were credible.

Maguire said he was unfamiliar with any other whistleblower complaint in American history that “touched on such complicated and sensitive issues.” He praised the whistleblower as having acted honorably, said he recognized the complaint as immediately sensitive and important, and said the White House did not direct him to withhold it from Congress. “I believe that everything in this matter here is totally unprecedented,” he said.

In the complaint, the anonymous whistleblower acknowledged not being present for Trump’s Ukraine call but said multiple White House officials shared consistent details about it.

Adding another layer of intrigue, those officials told the whistleblower that “this was ‘not the first time’ under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information,” the complaint says.

In this case, the complaint says, the officials told the whistleblower they were “directed” by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization and distribution to Cabinet-level officials.

“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” the official complaint says.

“If this was all so innocent,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in reaction, “why did so many officials in the White House, in the Justice Department and elsewhere make such large efforts to prevent it from being made public?”

The complaint also says multiple U.S. officials reported that Giuliani traveled to Madrid one week after the call to meet with one of Zelenskiy’s advisers and that the meeting was characterized as a follow-up to the telephone conversation between the two leaders

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who endorsed an impeachment investigation in light of the Ukraine revelations, said the content of the complaint “lifts this into whole new terrain.”

The president, she said, “betrayed his oath of office, our national security and the integrity” of America’s elections.

Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the whistleblower “has given us a road map” for the impeachment investigation.

In the Senate, which would hold a trial if the House voted to impeach Trump, there was an undercurrent of concern among Republicans.

Many Republicans declined comment about the complaint, saying at midday they had not read the whistleblower report. But a few mounted defenses of the president and attacked the whistleblower’s credibility.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who made several trips to meet with the Ukrainian president including the inauguration mentioned in the report, brushed off critics “impugning all kinds of nefarious motives here.”

”This has been blown way out of proportion,” Johnson said.

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BEYOND THE SIDELINE: A continuing fall feature looking at the stories that make Tulsa-area high school football unique
High school football: Rams' standout Isaiah Jacobs has bond with special fan

While there’s little doubt Isaiah Jacobs is an outstanding high school football player, Tulsan Mike Simmonds sees a different side of the Owasso High senior.

Simmonds is impressed with the way Jacobs treats his adult son. Drew Simmonds was born with cerebral palsy and significant heart defects.

Though ambulatory as a Union senior in 2004, Drew is now confined largely to a wheelchair, has limited control of his motor skills and is unable to speak because his tongue and vocal chords are paralyzed.

But he also has a tenacious zest for living and is a huge football fan. His favorite players are Baker Mayfield and Dak Prescott.

“He’s a fiend for sports and always has been,” his father said. “He just lives, eats and breathes it.”

And he wouldn’t miss a Rams home game. Drew watches with his parents, Mike and Jill Simmonds, from the north end zone in Owasso Stadium, and Jacobs acknowledges him with a high-five or a fist bump every time he scores a touchdown.

It first happened in Jacobs’ sophomore season. After scoring on a 33-yard run in a 55-10 win over Putnam North, Jacobs said something nudged him from the inside.

“It was just a feeling I had. I knew (Drew) was there and something told me to give him some love. So I turned around and gave him a high-five,” he said.

The practice continues to this day. Jacobs has scored 17 touchdowns over three seasons and is on pace to be the No. 1 Rams’ rushing leader for the second straight year. Owasso faces No. 3 Union at 7:30 p.m. Friday to open district play.

Jacobs, younger brother of former McLain standout and 2019 NFL first-round draft pick Josh Jacobs, said it “makes me feel amazing” when he makes Drew happy.

“It always brightens my day, especially when you’re playing a game and getting tired. It picks you up,” Jacobs said. “And knowing (football) is something he loves so much and isn’t able to do for himself, I feel like he’s able to play through me.”

Owasso coach Bill Blankenship said, “This isn’t something Isaiah has done to get anybody’s attention. He knows Drew loves our Rams, and instead of walking past him, he’s going to acknowledge him and make sure he feels included.”

Mike Simmonds is impressed that Jacobs’ attention to his son started before he knew about Drew’s ties to the Rams coaching staff.

Drew’s older brother, Zac, is a co-offensive coordinator. Blankenship was the famed Union coach when Drew was involved with the Redskins program during his high school years.

“I asked Zac, and he said he hadn’t talked to Isaiah about any of it,” Mike Simmonds said.

Drew was a trainer/volunteer on the Redskins’ 2002 championship team and often went to the pre-game coin toss with the co-captains. He was best friends with defensive end Nathan Peterson and now-deceased running back Spencer McIllwain, among others.

“He was a big part of that era,” Blankenship said. “He was at every practice, every day. Our kids thought Drew was as much a teammate as they were.”

Jacobs is one of the state’s most heavily recruited senior football players, unlike his older brother was. Josh Jacobs received little notice out of high school before signing with Alabama, which he later helped win a national championship.

So far this season, Isaiah Jacobs has rushed for 423 yards and four touchdowns, has a receiving TD and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry, helping lead the Rams (3-0) to a No. 23 national ranking by USA Today.

He knows what it means to struggle. That may explain in part his positive reaction to Drew Simmonds, who has seen so much trouble of his own.

Much has been made of Jacobs’ and his brothers’ backgrounds in north Tulsa — he moved from Central to Owasso before his sophomore football season — and how his father, Marty, struggled to make a home for them while going through a devastating divorce.

At times, home meant moving from one hotel to the next — or living in a car.

“Yes, we went through a lot of adversity. I’ve seen what it means to have the utilities not turned on, or having to wear the same clothes every day,” he said.

“But you know the crazy part? Because my dad was always there, everything felt kind of peaceful. We didn’t focus on the cars or the hotels. Because he loved and cared for us so much, he made it feel like home, wherever we were.”

Mike Simmonds said you can tell a lot about people by the way they react to his son in a wheelchair.

“Some are turned off or disgusted by him. Others warm up to him and you can tell they have a heart,” he said.

Jacobs passes the test, Simmonds said.

“I just wanted to take the time to say that with all the publicity and recruiting he’s getting, the kid has an incredible amount of character,” he said.

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Oklahoma's first case of vaping-associated lung injury found in Tulsa County teen, Health Department reports

The state’s first confirmed case of vaping-associated lung injury was found in a Tulsa County teen, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Thursday.

The injuries of the patient, a Tulsa County resident younger than 18, are associated with a national occurrence of serious lung injuries related to e-cigarette and vaping product use.

State health officials launched an investigation in September, requesting health care providers in the state report any cases of severe pulmonary disease of unknown origin and a history of recent e-cigarette use, according to the news release. Since then, OSDH officials have reviewed medical records, gathered data and conducted patient interviews, and the agency continues to do so.

Commissioner of Health Gary Cox said the agency is committed to preventing further injury and potential death.

“E-cigarettes are unregulated, and of great concern is the significant number of young people using the products,” Cox said in the release. “The public is advised to consider refraining from using all e-cigarette and vaping products while the investigation is ongoing.”

Electronic vapor product use among Oklahoma high school students rose 70% in two years, 2017 to 2019, according to preliminary data from the 2019 Oklahoma Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Further, data indicates more than a quarter of high school students currently use electronic vapor products, the release states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines electronic vapor products as e-cigarette or vaping products also called vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, tank systems, mods and electronic nicotine delivery systems, the release states. The term vaping can refer to using an e-cigarette or vaping product to inhale an array of substances, including nicotine and THC or CBD oils.

In 2018, 1 in 12 adults in Oklahoma were e-cigarette users, and for two years prior, Oklahoma had the highest prevalence of adult e-cigarette users in the nation.

Health officials “advise strongly” against purchasing electronic vapor products off the street, modifying them or using substances in them not intended by the manufacturer, the release states.

Dr. Jeremy Moad, a pulmonologist at OU Medical Center in Edmond, said experimentation with such practices, primarily done among young people, is likely why medical professionals are seeing an influx of vaping-related illnesses and deaths across the country.

Moad said vaping has been around for about a decade, but the products associated with the industry have remained largely unregulated. The lack of regulation, along with the black market, birthed a wide variety of products containing an even wider range of chemicals and toxins, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing the aggravation.

“The lungs are profoundly delicate to begin with,” Moad said, adding that lungs are assaulted with pollutants 24/7, and now they’re being bombarded with vaporized substances they’re not designed to handle.

Moad said some substances, such as oils, are perfectly fine when ingested other ways but can produce an inflammatory response in the lungs.

OSDH warns that electronic vaping products are not recommended for use by children, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products, the release states.

“There is no safe amount of nicotine exposure, and there is no e-cigarette product or vape device recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a cessation device.”

Moad recommended that everyone who uses electronic vapor products stop, at least momentarily, until officials can determine what is causing these illnesses and deaths.

“Historically, theoretically, (vaping) is better than smoking, but it’s not safe by any means,” Moad said. “It takes awhile for the damage of smoking cigarettes to reveal itself, but this stuff, whatever is happening is happening right away.

“There’s no control over it.”

OSDH officials urge those who use electronic vapor products as a method for quitting tobacco not to return to smoking cigarettes, saying they should opt instead for evidence-based treatments, including counseling and FDA-approved medications.

Those who need help quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, should contact a health care provider or the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

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Search for graves from the Tulsa Race Massacre to begin next month; fourth location added to those to be explored

Correction: This story originally incorrectly stated the city's burial site committee is acting in association with the Race Riot Centennial Commission. There is no formal connection.

A fourth location has been added to the list of potential unmarked burial sites from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre, an oversight committee learned Thursday evening.

The sites will be examined with subsurface scanning equipment beginning Oct. 7, Amy Brown of Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office said.

Brown said researchers and technical advisers have identified an area along the Arkansas River known as The Canes as a place that could yield some remains. The spot is now occupied by a homeless settlement, Brown said.

The area is near Newblock Park, which along with sections of Oaklawn and Rolling Hills cemeteries was already slated to be included in the surveys.

Those scans will largely determine the burial site search committee’s subsequent steps, which could include excavation. Brown said it will take about a month to analyze the scan data after it’s gathered.

Bynum and the city initiated the search in the hope of coming to a resolution on a question associated with the events of May 31-June 1, 1921, from the very start — namely, reports of uncounted bodies secretly buried or otherwise disposed of.

The official death count was 37, including several who died from their wounds days and even weeks later.

At the time, officials acknowledged rumors of bodies being driven away by the truckload and said they could not be certain of the actual total.

Contemporary estimates of the dead ranged from 50 to 500, with the location of the unaccounted for bodies ranging from the Arkansas River to abandoned coal mines to distant fields.

Although most stories center around mass burials, at least one from that period states that individual graves were dug at an undisclosed location.

Thursday’s discussion covered the work of researchers who have been piecing together documentary evidence, including old maps of the area, and interviewing people with information regarding possible burial sites.

There was also considerable discussion about whether the public and press should be allowed to observe the subsurface scanning process.

Committee member Greg Robinson said because secrecy surrounding the massacre has been an issue for so long, he believes the work should be as open as it is practical.

“We should probably do everything we can to allow people out there … to either grieve or experience this process in a way that they want to,” he said.

“When we established this, we did it with the understanding that this is a process in the making,” said Bynum.

“There is a technical side of it, but more complex than that is the human dimension of it.”

A press release issued by the Mayor’s Office on Thursday evening says that “the ground penetration work will be open to the public to view the work.

“The exact schedule with the site locations and times will be posted on the 1921 graves webpage, www.cityoftulsa.org/1921graves, by Oct. 4,” the press release says.

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