No ‘material impact’ of foreign interference in 2018 elections, Trump administration finds

WASHINGTON — A Trump administration report found “no material impact of foreign interference,” in the 2018 elections, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

The report, by Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen, is classified. But a Department of Justice press release said it “concluded there is no evidence to date that any identified activities of a foreign government or foreign agent had a material impact on the integrity or security of election infrastructure or political/campaign infrastructure used in the 2018 midterm elections for the United States Congress.”

The report was prepared in response to an executive order President Donald Trump issued in September, which required a series of assessments of foreign meddling after the conclusion of an election. The DOJ and the Treasury Department report was informed by a report submitted to Trump in December by Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats.

That report, produced in response to the same executive order, did not find evidence of “direct interference,” in the 2018 elections. But it found a continuation of “influence activities” and “messaging campaigns” by countries such as Russia, China and Iran ahead of the election, The Associated Press reported.

— CQ-Roll Call

Hawaii lawmaker proposes bill setting legal smoking age at 100

One Hawaii lawmaker wants to make sure only centenarians are allowed to buy cigarettes.

Rep. Richard Creagan, a Democrat, has introduced a new bill that lays out an effective ban on cigarette sales by 2024, but not quite.

Instead, Creagan’s plan is to set the purchase age at 30 in 2020, 40 in 2021, 50 in 2022, 60 in 2023 and then jump to 100 in 2024.

The smoking age is currently set at 21 in Hawaii. Most states allow 18-year-olds to buy them, while six states make people wait until 21.

“Basically, we essentially have a group who are heavily addicted — in my view, enslaved by a ridiculously bad industry — which has enslaved them by designing a cigarette that is highly addictive, knowing that it highly lethal. And, it is,” Creagan, an emergency room doctor, told The Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

“This is more lethal, more dangerous than any prescription drug, and it is more addicting. In my view, you are taking people who are enslaved from a horrific addiction, and freeing people from horrific enslavement. We, as legislators, have a duty to do things to save people’s lives. If we don’t ban cigarettes, we are killing people.”

Creagan’s bill does not include e-cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco.

The proposition is expected to be presented to the House Health Committee this week.

— N.Y. Daily News

Government workers busted at PortMiami trying to get on cruise ship to sell drugs, cops say

MIAMI — Two government contractors from Washington, D.C., were intercepted by federal agents on Sunday as they tried to board a cruise ship with an array of drugs they planned on selling to passengers, police said.

Their downfall, according to police: intercepted emails in which the two discussed their plan on government-issued computers. Police said both men were government contractors, though their arrest reports don’t say which agency employed them.

The Homeland Security special agent who intercepted the emails said their strategy was “to smuggle the narcotics into the ship and distribute it once on board the ship,” according to their arrest reports.

The ship the men were trying to board wasn’t named in the reports.

Peter Melendez, 35, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to traffic in illegal drugs and trafficking in illegal drugs. And Robert Koehler, 27, was charged with trafficking illegal drugs.

Miami-Dade police working a Homeland Security detail at PortMiami captured the duo. Police said they were notified by federal agents on Sunday that Melendez and Koehler were trying to board the cruise ship with the intent of distributing the drugs.

After the men were spotted, a K-9 by the name of Bill alerted police to the drugs the men were carrying. Police confiscated 27 grams of MDMA, more commonly referred to as ecstasy, 18 grams of Ketamine and 246 grams of GHB, which is often referred to as a date-rape drug.

Police said both men admitted transporting the drugs when interviewed.

— Miami Herald

Woman held after suspected arson in Paris apartment building kills 9

PARIS — A woman has been arrested after an overnight fire at an apartment building in a wealthy district of Paris killed at least nine people, officials said on Tuesday.

The woman, a resident of the eight-story building in the city’s 16th arrondissement, was arrested nearby, said Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz. He added that the woman had a history of mental health problems and was being investigated for arson.

Around 30 others were injured in the blaze, eight of them fire fighters, he added.

The fire appeared to have broken out on the building’s seventh or eighth floor, making the firefighting operation difficult. Though the fire was brought under control by 7 a.m. local time, rescue work was ongoing by midmorning.

“There is a danger of collapse between the seventh and eighth floors,” fire brigade spokesman Valerian Fuet told dpa. “We do not know whether there are further victims inside the destroyed apartments.”

The building, which broadcaster France Info said was constructed in the 1970s, had to be completely evacuated. Residents from several nearby buildings were also evacuated.

Many residents of the building had called for help from their windows and some fled onto the roof. A number of others were rescued with ladders.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo expressed her condolences to the victims’ families on Twitter and thanked firefighters, who she said had “once again risked their lives.”

In January, four people were killed and dozens were injured in a gas explosion at a bakery in central Paris. Two firefighters were among the dead.

— dpa