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Top 10 national and international stories of 2018

By Robert Dearing
News National Editor

“Fire and fury.” President Trump used those ominous words in April, warning North Korea of the consequences it faced if it persisted with its nuclear threats. Those words also encapsulated the major events of 2018, a year that saw searing wildfires in California and waves of fury and anger hurled across the political spectrum. Politics was never more divisive, and the 2018 elections gave all sides in the roiling political debate a chance to vote and vent.

In that election, Democrats took control of the House, and Republicans kept control of the Senate. The result: 2019 will see a divided government, befitting a divided republic.

Gun violence, so predominant in recent years’ lists of major news stories,  once again reared its ugly head in horrific shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh attack was the largest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Here is a brief recap of the major stories:

1. Mueller investigation

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election continued with Mueller coming ever closer to the president and casting the president as a central figure of his probe.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort became a witness for Mueller until prosecutors declared that he had lied to them about his contracts with the Trump administration. They were said to be frustrated in part because one of his lawyers was updating Trump’s legal team about the case.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at Trump’s request after the midterms. Trump blamed Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation in its early stages, leading to the appointment of Mueller. Trump’s pick to follow Sessions is Matthew Barr, who has been publicly critical of Mueller’s decision to investigate obstruction of justice by the president.

Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to helping to arrange payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, a violation of campaign finance law, and to lying to Congress about the duration of deliberations about a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.

Time magazine named Mueller No. 3 on its list of People of the Year, saying: “The special counsel has Trump in his sights, and where he’s taking the investigation has no precedent or protocol.”

2. California fires

California was ravaged by fire in 2018 and it was the Camp fire in northern California that delivered the most devastating blow. It destroyed 13,000 homes, killed more than 80 people and left more than 200 people missing. Toxic smoke spread statewide, fueling worries over climate change and a catastrophic future.

The fire burned for 17 days and charred more than 153,300 acres. It was the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history and left in ruins the town of Paradise and several more. President Trump blamed the fires on factors other than climate change, such as poor forest management, drawing backlash from scientists and California fire officials.

3. Midterm elections

The political intensity wrought by Trump’s 2016 election showed no signs of easing. In fact, the 2018 midterms revved it up further, drawing a record turnout to the polls and bringing the involvement of women and minorities to unprecedented levels. Newcomers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represented a new generation of Democrats.

The Democratic Party won control of the House with a net gain of at least 40 seats and made gains at the state level while the Republican Party expanded its majority in the Senate by two seats.

4. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

On Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killed 17 people and injured 17.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, was charged in the killings.

The mass shooting sparked another national debate about gun control, only this time there was an energized, brash cadre of student survivors who led a national crusade on behalf of their fallen classmates. David Hogg, Emma González, Jaclyn Corin and Matt Deitsch were among the activists.

They met with limited success, including in Florida, which passed its first gun legislation in 20 years. Florida’s bill, among other things, raised the minimum age to buy rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 and banned bump stocks that allow firearms to perform like automatic weapons.

People visit a makeshift memorial setup in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 19, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. Police arrested and charged 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz for the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

5. Synagogue massacre

On Oct. 27, a horrific targeted shooting became the deadliest act of anti-Semitism in American history.

Eleven people were killed and seven injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Robert Bowers, 46, an anti-Semitic truck driver, pleaded guilty to federal charges that could put him on death row. Bowers was armed with what appeared to be an assault rifle and three handguns, and ABC News said investigators recovered a total of 10 firearms from the scene and at Bowers’ home, all of which were purchased legally. Bowers was charged with 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of two hate crimes.

“Everybody feels like they were attacked in that synagogue,” said Rabbi Chuck Diamond, a former leader of the congregation. “The community will come together – we’re very strong.”

6. Immigration

The nation was confronted with waves of Central American immigrants anxious to leave their lives in Honduras and elsewhere for the chance at a safer and better life. Murderous gangs, drugs and poverty drove them northward. Thousands joined a caravan snaking its way north through Mexico, and as of press time, their ultimate fate was unclear.

Trump, especially during the midterms, likened the caravan to an invading army and sent U.S. troops to the border. Tear gas was used in some cases, but only as a means of disbursing dangerous crowds, U.S. authorities said.

7. Thailand mine rescue

On June 23, 12 boys went exploring in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province with their soccer coach – and ended up trapped, deep inside a cave underneath a mountain, due to flooding.

A daring search-and-rescue mission in the treacherous confines of the flooded cave found and saved all 12 boys and their coach.

It ended a grueling 18-day ordeal that claimed the life of an experienced volunteer diver and riveted people around the world.

Each boy was assigned his own Navy SEAL, who guided him, scuba gear attached, through a labyrinth of underwater chambers.

“We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave,” the Thai SEALs said, referring to the name of the boys’ soccer team. “Everyone is safe.”

8. Slaying of Khashoggi

Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian journalist, dissident, author, and a general manager and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel.

Khashoggi, also a Washington Post contributor, was allegedly tortured and killed at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 by agents of the Saudi government.

Outrage around the world was profound, and President Trump came under pressure to levy heavy sanctions against the Sauidis and their king, Mohammad Bin Salman El Saud.

Instead, Trump refused to blame the Saudis and emphasized the economic ties binding the United States and Saudi Arabia.

9. Brett Kavanaugh

On Sept. 7, Brett M. Kavanaugh, the president’s Supreme Court nominee, squared off with Christine Blasey Ford in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It was a “he said, she said” moment on steroids.

In the morning, it was a wrenching story of Blasey Ford recounting a vicious sexual assault 30 years earlier at a high school party.

A furious Kavanaugh followed in the afternoon, calling the entire process “a national disgrace” and a “calculated, orchestrated political hit.”

Kavanaugh was eventually confirmed after a process that left lasting scars.

The left saw Blasey Ford as a sympathetic and extremely credible witness while the right saw a good man’s reputation sarificed for a larger political agenda.

10. North Korea summit

On June 12, a historic meeting was held between Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

It followed a flurry of threats and bluster by both sides as well as the active participation and encouragement of South Korea.

Nearly five hours of unprecedented talks ended with declarations of a new friendship but just vague pledges of nuclear disarmament.

North Korea remained a threat, albeit a more familiar one.

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