Former NYC mayor Bloomberg giving Johns Hopkins $1.8 billion for financial aid

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg is giving $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University for student financial aid at his alma mater, Bloomberg said in an opinion piece published on Sunday in The New York Times.

Bloomberg, the founder and chief executive of global media company Bloomberg LP, said the money will used for aid for qualified low and middle-income students and will make the Baltimore, Maryland university’s admissions permanently “need-blind.”

“I want to be sure that the school that gave me a chance will be able to permanently open that same door of opportunity for others,” he wrote in the Times.

Bloomberg rejoined the Democratic Party last month ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections, amid speculation he might run for the White House in 2020.

PG&E reports another outage on  morning when California fire started

NEW YORK (Reuters) – California utility PG&E Corp (PCG.N), facing investor concerns over its possible role in the deadly Camp Fire in Northern California, has reported another power-line outage that it experienced on the morning of Nov. 8 when the blaze started.

The incident report, which was filed on Friday with the safety division of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), said a line near the area of Concow in Butte County suffered an outage at 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 8.

The information in the report is preliminary, according to a spokesman for PG&E, who said the company was cooperating with any investigations.

The utility has said it could face liability that exceeds its insurance coverage if its equipment were found to have caused the Camp Fire.

The cause of the blaze, which was 60 percent contained on Sunday, is under investigation. In a previous regulatory report, PG&E, which operates in the northern part of California, said it experienced an outage on a transmission line on the morning of Nov. 8 near the town of Pulga, near where the fire is thought to have started.

Authorities were still searching for signs of the 1,276 people listed as missing after the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise. The remains of 76 people have been recovered so far in what is considered the state’s deadliest-ever wildfire.

A CPUC spokesman confirmed that the agency received the second report on Friday, and said the incident would be incorporated into its investigation “to assess the compliance of electric facilities with applicable rules and regulations in fire impacted areas.”

Investors are watching for clues about whether California’s government will step in to save PG&E should it eventually be found responsible for the fire and should any potential liability exceed the utility’s resources.

CPUC President Michael Picker told Reuters on Friday that utilities must be able to borrow money cheaply in order to properly serve ratepayers. Similar comments from Picker a day earlier caused PG&E’s stock to surge in after-hours trading.

The company’s stock had slumped more than 60 percent since the wildfire broke out, on fears that without help from California’s government, the utility could go bankrupt should it eventually be found responsible.

Trump would not intervene if Whitaker moves to curtail Mueller probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said in an interview aired on Sunday he would not intervene if Matthew Whitaker, his acting U.S. attorney general, moved to curtail Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In an interview with the “Fox News Sunday” program taped on Friday, Trump also said he probably would not agree to a sit-down interview with Mueller, who also is investigating whether the Republican president’s campaign conspired with Moscow and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.

Whitaker took over supervision of Mueller’s investigation on Nov. 7 after Trump appointed him as the chief U.S. law enforcement official to replace Jeff Sessions, who the president ousted. Whitaker, who Democrats have called a Trump “political lackey,” in the past criticized the scope of the Mueller probe and brought up the possibility of undermining it by slashing Mueller’s funding.

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Trump, in the interview, said he was unaware of Whitaker’s past statements about Mueller’s probe and that he would “not get involved” if Whitaker moved to curtail it.

“It’s going to be up to him,” Trump told “Fox News Sunday” interviewer Chris Wallace. “I think he’s very well aware politically. I think he’s astute politically. … He’s going to do what’s right.”

Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow and has called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt.” Russia also has denied collusion.

“There is no collusion, he happened to be right,” Trump said, referring to one of Whitaker’s previous statements.

Mueller has brought charges against a series of former Trump aides, including his former campaign chairman and his former national security adviser, as well as a number of Russian individuals and entities. Congressional critics have voiced concern that Whitaker could hamper or even fire Mueller.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators renewed a push last week for legislation to protect the special counsel, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, opposes it, saying it is unconstitutional and unnecessary.

‘THE RULE OF LAW’
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who will likely lead the Senate panel overseeing the Justice Department next year, met with Whitaker last week and expressed confidence the Russia probe would continue.

But Graham said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday the Senate should vote on the Mueller protection bill, which he helped write and supported when it won committee approval.

“I think it’s constitutional, and I’d like to vote on it,” said Graham, who has been involved in negotiations with McConnell and retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who has pledged to hold up Trump’s judicial confirmations until the Senate votes on the Mueller bill.

“But, having said all that, I don’t see any indication at all that the Mueller probe is going to be interfered with by Mr. Whitaker or President Trump,” Graham added.

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, who is set to lead the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee after Democrats won control of the chamber in this month’s midterm elections, said Democrats will use their oversight powers to investigate any effort by Whitaker to curb Mueller’s probe.

“We will expose any involvement he has in it,” Schiff, referring to Whitaker, told ABC’s “This Week” program,” accusing Trump of appointing Whitaker in order to interfere with the investigation. “This is an attack on the rule of law.”

Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday he had “very easily” completed his written answers for Mueller’s investigation. In his “Fox News Sunday” comments, he signaled he had no plans to do a face-to-face interview with Mueller’s team.

Trump and his lawyers had been in negotiations with Mueller’s team for months over how the president would be questioned as part of the investigation. Wallace asked Trump whether it was his final position that he would not do a sit-down interview and would not give written responses to questions relating to obstruction of justice.

“I think we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is probably, we’re finished,” Trump said, though he added “I can change my mind.”

“We gave very, very complete answers to a lot of questions that I shouldn’t have even been asked, and I think that should solve the problem,” Trump added.

Republican Scott secures Florida U.S. Senate seat after recount

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – Rick Scott, Florida’s outgoing governor, was declared the winner on Sunday of his hard-fought U.S. Senate race against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson following a hand recount of ballots, giving Republicans control of both of the state’s Senate seats for the first time since the 19th century.

In the recount of the Nov. 6 election, Scott won by 10,033 votes out of 8.19 million cast statewide, Florida elections officials said. Scott took 50.05 percent, compared to 49.93 percent for Nelson, they added.

A three-term senator first elected to the chamber in 2000, Nelson, 76, telephoned Scott, 65, to concede the race, then issued a statement voicing worry about “a gathering darkness” in American politics in recent years. Republicans including President Donald Trump made allegations, without offering evidence, that the recount process was marred by fraud.

Scott’s victory gave the Republicans 52 seats in the 100-member Senate. In Mississippi, Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy will compete in a Nov. 27 runoff election after neither won a majority in their U.S. Senate race.

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Nelson became the latest incumbent Democratic senator toppled in the midterm congressional election in which the Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate but lost control of the House of Representatives.

Other defeated incumbent Democratic senators included Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Republicans will hold both Senate seats from Florida, the third most-populous U.S. state and a regular battleground in presidential races, for the first time since 1875, during the post-Civil War period.

The recount process was just as contentious as the campaign itself, with the candidates filing lawsuits and leveling allegations at one another including Scott saying Nelson was trying to “steal” the election. Even before the recount process was completed and he had not yet been deemed the victor, Scott appeared last week in Washington at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcoming newly elected Republican senators.

‘GET TO WORK’
“I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service,” Scott said in an emailed statement.

The statement ended, “Let’s get to work.”

In his own recorded statement, Nelson lamented the tone of American politics in recent years and hoped for “a safe and sane future.” He took what seemed to be a veiled swipe at Trump.

“We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy; where truth is treated as disposable, where falsehoods abound, and the free press is assaulted as the ‘enemy of the people,’” Nelson said.

Trump said on Twitter, “From day one Rick Scott never wavered. He was a great Governor and will be even a greater Senator in representing the People of Florida.”

Scott, who was prevented by state law from running for a third term as governor, initially emerged from the election with an official lead of less than 0.5 percentage points, which prompted a recount.

The Florida Senate battle and the race to replace Scott as governor were closely watched contests Democrats had hoped to win. On Saturday, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded to Republican rival Ron DeSantis, an ally of Trump, in the governor’s race, which also had gone to a recount.

Scott entered politics from the business world, having amassed a personal fortune as a healthcare executive. He dipped into his wealth to help finance his campaigns, winning the governorship in 2010 and 2014.

Nelson has been a fixture in Florida politics since he won a seat in the state legislature in 1972. He then served in the U.S. House of Representatives and has held state Cabinet posts.

Scenes of thousands of people across the state reviewing ballots during the recount process had brought back memories of Florida’s 2000 presidential recount, which ended only after the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, effectively handing the presidency to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.