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AP source: Mueller conveys interest in questioning Trump (copy)

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller's team of investigators has expressed interest in speaking with President Donald Trump as part of a probe into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, a person familiar with the matter said Monday.

The prospect of an interview with the president has come up in recent discussions between Mueller's team and Trump lawyers, but no details have been worked out, including the scope of questions that the president would agree to answer if an interview were to actually take place, according to the person. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

When or even if an interview would occur was not immediately clear, nor were the terms for the interview or whether Trump's lawyers would seek to narrow the range of questions or topics that prosecutors would cover. Trump's lawyers have previously stated their determination to cooperate with Mueller's requests.

It's not surprising that investigators would ultimately seek to interview the president given his role in several episodes under scrutiny by Mueller. Any interview of Trump would be a likely indication that the investigation was in its final stages — investigators typically look to interview main subjects in their inquiries near the end of a probe.

Mueller for months has led a team of prosecutors and agents investigating whether Russia and Trump's Republican campaign coordinated to sway the 2016 election, and whether Trump has worked to obstruct an FBI investigation into his aides, including by firing the FBI director, James Comey.

Comey has said that several months before he was dismissed, Trump told him he hoped he would end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Mueller's team recently concluded a series of interviews with many current and former White House aides, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Four people have been charged so far, including Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted on charges tied to foreign lobbying work.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment, as did Trump lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow.

Trump did not rule out the possibility of being questioned by Mueller when asked about it at a news conference Saturday. He said there had been "no collusion" and "no crime."

"But we have been very open," Trump said. "We could have done it two ways. We could have been very closed and it would have taken years. But you know, it's sort of like, when you've done nothing wrong, let's be open and get it over with."

A White House spokesman pointed to a statement from White House lawyer Ty Cobb saying the White House doesn't publicly discuss its conversations with Mueller but was continuing to cooperate "in order to facilitate the earliest possible resolution."

Iowa lawmakers return to focus on taxes, privatized Medicaid

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa lawmakers returned Monday to the state Capitol for a new legislative session that’s expected to be dominated by a GOP-led effort to cut taxes despite a constrained budget and growing pressure for legislators to address ongoing problems with Iowa’s privatized Medicaid program.

The Republican-controlled chambers convened in Des Moines for a mostly ceremonial day of speeches, where GOP leaders indicated overhauling Iowa’s tax code will be a top priority. Republicans, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, have yet to provide details publicly on how a tax proposal will work amid lower-than-expected incoming revenue to the state’s roughly $7.2 billion budget.

That financial reality has led to a range of spending reductions to government departments in recent years. Officials for Iowa’s three public universities have also blamed reduced state revenue on tuition hikes. Any tax plan in Iowa would come on the heels of a $1.5 trillion tax package passed in Congress, which Iowa budget officials are still reviewing to understand its impact on state revenue.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, a Shell Rock Republican, said he wants to “relieve the tax burden” Iowans face. He provided few specifics in prepared remarks.

“The objective has always been the same — for more money to be kept by those who have earned it,” he said.

Reynolds, presiding over her first legislative session as governor since being sworn in last May, will lay out her priorities in a Condition of the State address Tuesday. Reynolds has declined to offer specifics about her speech, though she’s expected to reference tax cuts, workforce development and other vocational opportunities beyond a high school diploma.

Reynolds told reporters Monday she wants a tax plan that creates a more competitive business environment and reduces taxes for “working class families.”

“We ought to do everything that we can to make sure that they get to keep more of their hard-earned money,” she said about individual taxpayers.

Democrats, who have little legislative power after losing control of the state Senate in the 2016 election, are expected to make a lot of noise ahead of the upcoming midterm election. All House seats and half in the Senate are up for grabs.

“Last session, the Legislature did a lot of bad things to good people. That was a mistake, but it has been a wake-up call for Iowans,” said Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines. “Let’s start the conversation with a message that unifies us instead of tearing us apart.”

Lawmakers are also expected to review whether the state’s privatized Medicaid program is working as it should. The federal-state health care program for poor and disabled Iowans was privatized in 2016, and health care providers and patients have complained ever since of reduced services and delayed reimbursement payments.

The Iowa Department of Human Services, which oversees the roughly $4 billion program now run by two insurance companies, said it’s working on changes. GOP lawmakers didn’t bring up Medicaid in their Monday speeches though House Speaker Linda Upmeyer has indicated she expects DHS to take action or lawmakers will make improvements.

“This system has to be in a better position,” the Clear Lake Republican told reporters last week.

Reynolds is a staunch supporter of the privatized Medicaid program but has acknowledged “mistakes were made” in the transition, a point she repeated at Monday’s press conference. But she’s said changes can be made to the program without legislative action.

Reynolds also defended new data in a quarterly report from state officials that shows the privatized Medicaid system is saving Iowa about $47 million annually. Former Gov. Terry Branstad once estimated about $232 million in savings this budget year.

“We’re still talking about savings,” Reynolds said about the data. “Really when you look at the old system, it was out of control and it was unsustainable and it needed to change.”

Reynolds: ‘Anything can happen’ when Iowans challenge themselves

DES MOINES — Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds will make history again today when she becomes the first female governor to deliver a Condition of the State address to a joint session of the Iowa General Assembly.

Reynolds said she is excited to talk directly to Iowans in a statewide televised address — to share her vision for the state as she presents her first agenda since taking over from Terry Branstad, who stepped down in May to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Reynolds sidestepped questions about her speech Monday, but hinted at its tone.

“It’s more about acknowledging that as a small-town girl from rural Iowa, that if you dream big and work hard that anything can happen, and I think that applies to anybody,” the governor said.

Reynolds has traveled the state extensively but doesn’t feel she really has introduced herself to Iowans, shared her vision or made the case for her goals.

“My optimism and enthusiasm for Iowans and for the state hopefully comes through when I’m talking about what I think are some great opportunities and some changes that we can make to help drive that. And that’s exciting,” she said recently.

Reynolds will seek her first full term this year, and faces both Republican and Democratic rivals.

A former county treasurer, state senator and lieutenant governor from Osceola, she had a dry run of sorts for today’s address when she delivered her inaugural remarks in May. She also has made appearances in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“I think I’m approachable, I think I’m accessible and I want to make sure that Iowans know that so that they feel comfortable with me,” said Reynolds. “That’s one of the reasons that we’re out in the state a lot — so that Iowans can come up and share good things or bad things, and it’s really helpful.”

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, also a trailblazer as the first female in that post, said she is impressed with Reynolds’ energy and passion.

“I think she’s going to be a great leader. I think she’s done a great job so far and that’s just going to grow. I think we’ve got a great opportunity before us,” said Upmeyer.

Reynolds has indicated her priorities for the upcoming legislative session include tax cuts and reform, job training and education, and maximizing renewable energy sources.

Legislative Republicans say much of their focus will be on tax cuts and dealing with a current budget shortfall projected at more than $36 million before formulating a fiscal 2019 budget.

Reynolds, who indicated she would spell out some guidelines on how Iowa should modernize its tax code when she speaks today, said changes should be fiscally responsible and sustainable.

“The condition of the state is strong,” the governor said. “We have a lot of opportunities moving forward. I think there’s tremendous optimism with the tax reform that just passed at the federal level. We’re seeing a lot of positive things happen from that.”

New Waverly mayor drops prayers from council meetings


WAVERLY — The new mayor of Waverly has decided to drop prayer from City Council meetings, it was announced at Monday night’s meeting.

Mayor Dean Soash made the decision after an hour-long discussion with Eastern Iowa Atheists organizer Justin Scott.

According to both men, Soash called Scott a few days after Soash won the mayoral runoff election and asked Scott if he would want to give the first invocation of Soash’s tenure as mayor. Scott instead persuaded Soash to drop invocations entirely.

“One of my goals was to talk to Justin and see what was going on and how we could resolve the situation,” Soash said. “And after a lengthy conversation, everything was good.”

He said he would continue listening to input from the community, but considered the matter “resolved.”

“There were some other people — some of the council people would also like to do away with prayer at the council meeting, so it was an easy decision to make,” Soash said, declining to name those council members.

Scott, who said he had grown weary of trying and failing to convince former Mayor Charles Infelt to drop or at least include other faiths in his regular prayers, said Soash’s decision was “very refreshing.”

“It was just a really cordial phone call,” Scott said. “He said, ‘What are the pros, what are the cons?’ We just decided it was the best way forward for all parties. Not having prayer is the only way to ensure a totally inclusive council.”

Scott commended the mayor for taking a stance on the issue at his first regular council meeting, knowing not everyone would support the decision.

“I think he also realizes this is not just an atheist issue, it truly is a constitutional issue,” Scott said. “To make this the first formal announcement is pretty awesome.”

Soash initially announced his decision on Waverly’s KWAY-FM radio Monday morning.