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Government denies Mar-a-Lago records

By Alex Leary
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, proposed a bill that would repeal Florida's no-fault auto insurance system. | [Courtesy of Sen. Tom Lee]

Nothing to see here.

That's the federal government's response to a watchdog group that has sought names of visitors to President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Last month, the government provided names of people related to a visit by the Japanese prime minister, which triggered more court action from the liberal group CREW.

Thursday, the group released a document from the Secret Service saying no more records are available. Essentially, there's no system in place to track visitors, the government said.

"From the outset, the government represented to us and the court that while they would fight the release of White House visitor records, they would produce records of presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago, and their representations and the length of time they requested sent the clear signal that there would be far more than the 22 names we received," said executive director Noah Bookbinder.

"So we were surprised and disappointed that they reneged, now claiming, 'it was determined that there is no grouping, listing, or set of records that would reflect Presidential visitors to Mar-a-Lago.' Surely, the Japanese Prime Minister's delegation is not the only presidential visitors for whom clearance was sought. We will be pressing the court for the full set of records that does exist.

"If the government's statement is true, however, and there really are no records documenting the many people President Trump has met with at Mar-a-Lago, the government has just revealed that everyone from lobbyists to foreign agents can buy secret access to the president — without accountability or even a simple record — by paying his personal business. And that is terrifying."

Fake congressional hearing airs in Ukraine

Talk about fake news.

Viewers of Ukraine's NewsOne television channel late last month watched what appeared to be a congressional hearing in Washington focused on the National Bank of Ukraine, the Ukrainian version of our Federal Reserve Board.

Except it wasn't real.

Former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, the 2012 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate and now a lobbyist, had convinced Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kan., to let him use space in the basement of the U.S. Capitol to stage a fake congressional hearing for Ukrainian television, the Daily Beast and Weekly Standard reported.

"I represent a group that is interested in highlighting corruption, not just in Ukraine, but all over: from Central to South America, to Eastern Europe." Mack told the Weekly Standard.

Jeb Bush blasts Trump visit to Puerto Rico

Jeb Bush, who was called Florida's "hurricane governor" before Trump dubbed him "low energy," was unimpressed with Trump's visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday. "Puerto Ricans deserve consistency and compassion in both action and tone from the Trump Administration," he tweeted. "It's about them, not about @POTUS."

Online classes open to Puerto Rican students

Florida Virtual School — the state's official provider of online-only learning — plans to accept 20,000 students from Puerto Rico who have been displaced by Hurricane Maria.

The resource is available to those students regardless of whether they're still in Puerto Rico or have since relocated to Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said in an announcement Thursday.

"Families in Puerto Rico have experienced extreme devastation of their homes and communities due to Hurricane Maria. As they work to rebuild their lives, these families should not have to worry about their children falling behind in school," he said, touting that Florida's public schools "offer a world-class education."

New window honors former FSU president

The image of former Florida State University president Sandy D'Alemberte will be preserved forever in a new stained glass window in the school's original library.

More than 100 friends and family gathered Monday at Dodd Hall for the unveiling of the unique portrait, which includes four hand-painted black and white pendants that spotlight his boyhood home, the Capitol, FSU's College of Law and the FSU College of Medicine, which the Legislature created in 2000 when he was president.

Dodd Hall was the campus reading library when FSU was the all-female Florida State College for Women. D'Alemberte recalled the day Claude Pepper, then a U.S. senator, was barred from the library without written permission from the college president.

The dedication ceremony was a recognition of the 84-year-old D'Alemberte's appreciation for history and the importance of architecture on the university campus in Tallahassee.

D'Alemberte was a Democratic legislator from Miami, president of the American Bar Association and dean of FSU's law school before serving as the university's president from 1994-2003.

In his self-deprecating style, and familiar North Florida drawl, D'Alemberte said of the unveiling: "It's the dedication of a 'winda,' and it doesn't look out on anything."

Kirby Wilson, Kristen M. Clark, Steve Bousquet and Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.