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Atlantic City native Don McGahn gives glimpse into White House counsel role

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — As former White House counsel to President Donald Trump, Atlantic City native Don McGahn helped reshape the nation’s federal judiciary and remains in the middle of legal wranglings over Trump’s impeachment.

McGahn spoke at an event Thursday at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, answering questions about how he grew up in a prominent Democratic family and became a conservative Republican; what the job of White House counsel entails, and his family’s long association with Trump.

The impeachment issue, however, was off limits, as he is awaiting an appeals court decision about whether it will uphold a judge’e order forcing McGahn to comply with a House subpoena to testify in Congress’ impeachment probe.

Asking the questions was McGahn’s friend William J. Hughes Jr., son of the Democratic former congressman and ambassador for whom the Hughes Center is named.

“It’s timely that you’re here. Couldn’t come at a better time,” Hughes started by saying. “You have some on one side saying actions were necessary — almost required — and on the other side saying actions aren’t justified — it was rash and an institution is in jeopardy. I ask you about ... Harry and Meghan?”

“That’s a tough one,” McGahn said, playing along. “Not as tough as where I thought you were going. I heard she called the queen and said she thought it was a perfect call.”

It was the first of many jokes between the two, and got the biggest laugh of the night.

“I enjoy liberty. I don’t like the government,” McGahn said when asked why he became a Republican after growing up in a Democratic family.

McGahn’s uncle Joe McGahn defeated Hap Farley for state Senate, ending the legendary Republican political machine that dated to Nucky Johnson, Hughes said.

“(Uncle) Pat was the one behind the guy, so to speak,” McGahn said of Patrick “Paddy” McGahn, the Democratic powerbroker and attorney for Trump when he was in the casino business. Paddy McGahn died in 2000.

“I came of age later in the ’80s under Ronald Reagan — he appealed to me,” McGahn said. “I didn’t see myself as particularly politically active. My parents were not part of the political circus. In a weird way, I disappointed them by going into politics ultimately.”

Paddy’s Saloon in the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort was named after Paddy McGahn. But he had a falling out with Trump over nonpayment of fees and sued him. Trump sued back, alleging Paddy had overcharged him.

“Did any of that register in the back of your mind” when Trump offered McGahn a job first as his campaign’s legal counsel, then as White House counsel, Hughes asked.

“I get along with him. … I got paid,” McGahn said. “There’s three sides to every story.”

McGahn said the 1989 helicopter crash that killed several of Trump’s top managers brought a new management team in, and the new managers clashed with his uncle.

He said Trump didn’t even realize McGahn’s family connection until after he’d been working for him and a Washington Post reporter wrote about it.

“Apparently it was news to everybody. He was praiseworthy of my uncle. Said he was a tough Marine,” McGahn said.

The audience was mostly older people, with lots of local politicians like state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, in attendance. Students were scattered through the crowd.

Stockton students Michael Jedlowski, of Brick Township; and Anthony Farfalla, of Toms River, are members of the student Republican group on campus. They said they wished McGahn could have talked about impeachment but enjoyed hearing about his work in general as White House counsel.

There were no protesters, although the school was ready with signs instructing them to stay outside the Performing Arts Center.

McGahn got into political work through practicing law at Squire Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C., he said, where his mentor was Ben Ginsberg, an expert in election law.

As White House counsel, McGahn said his job was to be the institutional conscience in advising the president about what he can and cannot do legally.

He also helped staff with their legal obligations, wrote executive orders, oversaw contracts and created lists of potential new federal and Supreme Court judges, he said.

One day he went from overseeing a contract for the annual Easter egg roll at the White House to handling an international issue in the Situation Room.

“You go from worrying about eggs to the most sensitive national security issues in the blink of the eye,” McGahn said.

As for his influence on federal judge appointments, Hughes called McGahn “the architect of the changing face of the federal judiciary,” saying he oversaw the appointment of more than 107 federal judges, raising the percentage of conservative judges to 51% from about 40%.

“Not to mention two very significant appointments to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh,” Hughes said.

“The president makes appointments, I was fortunate he put a tremendous amount of trust in me,” McGahn said. “What the president was looking for was folks who wanted to read the law as it was passed — not as they wanted.”

McGahn is a graduate of Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, and his mother, Noreen, a former school nurse in Brigantine, still lives in Brigantine.

He has also worked as chief counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee and served on the Federal Election Commission.

PHOTOS of former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn at Stockton

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Mainland's Kylee Watson makes history with McDonald's All-American selection

Not too much about basketball rattles Kylee Watson.

But the Mainland Regional High School senior couldn’t sleep Wednesday night.

The clock couldn’t get to 3 p.m. Thursday fast enough.

That was the time McDonald’s All American boys and girls teams would be announced.

“I was freaking out a bit during the day,” Watson said. “A lot of nerves. Nothing was for sure.”

Watson was with her Mainland teammates when she learned she was one of 24 girls in the country to be selected for the McDonald’s All-American game to be played April 1 at the Toyota Center in Houston. The boys and girls McDonald’s games annually feature the nation’s top scholastic players.

“It’s a huge honor,” Watson said. “If you’re taking basketball pretty seriously, the McDonald’s All-American game is going to be one of your goals. It’s one of my goals from a very young age. It’s a lot of kids’ dreams to play in this game. That means a lot."

Watson’s selection made local history.

She is the first Press-area girl to ever be selected for the game. Only three Press-area boys — LaMarr Greer of Middle Township (1994), Bobby Martin of Atlantic City (1987) and Ricky Harmon of Middle Township (1977) — have been selected for the contest.

"There's been a lot of great players to come through not only this area but South Jersey in general," Watson said. "It's great to be (added) into a list of names (of McDonald's All-Americans). It's a humbling experience."

Watson’s selection quickly reverberated around Mainland and the Mustangs community.

“I’m so happy for her,” Mainland coach Scott Betson said. “I feel like she deserves everything she gets. She’s such a hard worker and such a great kid. I would hate to see her disappointed by anything.”

The team was selected by a committee of high school basketball experts from around the country. The selections were announced on ESPN’s "The Jump" show Thursday afternoon.

The boys game began in 1977, and the girls contest started in 2002.

The 6-foot-4 Watson is a University of Oregon recruit. She led the Mustangs to the state Group III title last season. She has 1,763 career points and is averaging 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds for Mainland (9-3) this season.

“I’m thankful for everyone that has been with me through everything and helped (me) get to this position,” she said. “I’m grateful to have great people around me from Mainland basketball to my AAU teams to my trainer Mike Shaughnessy, my parents obviously.”

Watson watched "The Jump" in Betson’s Mainland classroom with her teammates.

“I was a little bit nervous for her,” Betson said. “I had no idea how the process worked. I never had any experience with it. You throw the nomination out there, and you sit back and wait.”

The show delivered its daily NBA news first.

“They teased the heck out of it,” Betson said of the McDonald’s announcement.

A few moments before the television announcement, the selections were announced on Twitter.

“None of us really knew,” Betson said. “We didn’t want to believe anything until we saw it on television.”

Watson’s selection continues her standout career. In addition to her Mainland exploits, she played on the U.S. under-16 team that won the 2017 FIBA Americas Championship in Argentina.

Watson is one five Oregon recruits who will participate in the McDonald’s game. The experience is much more than a game, as it includes skills competitions and off-the-court activities. The boys and girls games will be nationally televised on an ESPN network.

“I’m so excited,” Watson said. “I know a lot of the other girls that are going to be down there. To be down there with people I don’t get to see often but am still friends with is going to be a great experience. It will be really fun, and I get to play some competitive basketball, too.”

Phish confirmed for three-day Atlantic City beach concert

ATLANTIC CITY — Renowned jam band Phish has been announced as this summer’s musical act for a three-day beach concert.

Phish will perform three shows on the Atlantic City beach Aug. 14 through 16, according to promoter Live Nation Entertainment. Atlantic City will be one of only two stops for Phish in the Northeast on their summer 2020 tour.

“Phish is one of the biggest touring bands in the world. They have a tremendously loyal following who will travel across North America and beyond to see their favorite band,” said Geoff Gordon, Live Nation Philadelphia regional president. “The beautiful scenery that the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlantic City beach offer will truly complement the experience for Phish and their fans.”

Phish fans at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, 2013

A ticket request period is underway at tickets.phish.com and will end Feb. 3. Tickets go on sale to the general public Feb. 7.

“I’m proud to once again welcome Live Nation and the annual summer beach concerts to Atlantic City,” said Mayor Marty Small Sr. “I welcome the thousands of visitors to our city and look forward to them spending time in all our first-rate entertainment facilities.”

Phish previously performed in Atlantic City at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in 2010 and 2013, and at Bader Field in 2012. A majority of the music on Phish’s 2014 album “Fuego” debuted at Boardwalk Hall on Oct. 31, 2013.

In December, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority allocated $1.8 million for a three-year deal with Live Nation to bring concerts to Atlantic City in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

“I want to thank the CRDA board for supporting this partnership with Live Nation,” said Robert Mulcahy, chairman of the CRDA Executive Board. “Bringing Phish back to Atlantic City will provide A-list entertainment, while at the same time stimulate economic opportunities for the city as a whole.”

Live Nation and CRDA have partnered on six years of Atlantic City beach concerts, including Pink, the Chainsmokers, Maroon 5, Zac Brown Band, Sam Hunt, Jimmy Buffett & the Coral Reefer Band, Brantley Gilbert, Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, Bell Biv DeVoe, DMX and the 25th anniversary of the Vans Warped Tour.

Live Nation has been organizing beach concerts in Atlantic City since 2014, when the now-dissolved Atlantic City Alliance paid $3.5 million for two shows.

Since 2015, the CRDA has allocated nearly $10 million to Live Nation for beach concerts, including a three-year deal worth $6 million between 2016 and 2018. In 2019, CRDA appropriated $1.4 million to Live Nation for the two-day Vans Warped Tour concert.

Miss any Warped Tour Atlantic City moment? Check out our complete coverage

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Expanding casino gaming beyond Atlantic City not encouraged 'at this point'

The statewide referendum to expand casino gaming outside Atlantic City may have been soundly defeated in 2016, but the idea is still floating around in Trenton.

At the start of the new two-year legislative session last week, both the Assembly and the Senate reintroduced resolutions that support allowing casino gaming in other areas of New Jersey.

The resolutions range in scope from permitting casino gaming in specific counties in North Jersey to supporting the authorization of two gambling parlors outside Atlantic City.

In total, five resolutions in the Assembly and one in the Senate would expand gaming, in some form or another, outside Atlantic City.

There are also two bills that would allow video lottery terminals at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, Bergen County.

The resolutions were also introduced in the previous legislative session, but none of them moved out of committee.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, who is the primary sponsor of the Assembly resolutions in addition to being a former casino executive in Atlantic City, said the refiled resolutions are there for lawmakers “to look at and consider in the event things change.”

Caputo, who chairs the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee to which the resolutions were referred, said he has no intention of moving the resolutions any time soon.

“At this point, we want to make sure Atlantic City is successful,” Caputo said. “I don’t encourage (casino gaming expansion) at this point. To be perfectly honest, the timing is not good. We have to see whether or not there’s going to be the rebound that we’re looking for (in Atlantic City).”

Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton’s Bad Bet, the lobbying group that spent more than $14 million fighting North Jersey casino expansion four years ago, said opponents of the measure will continue to monitor any efforts to permit gambling outside Atlantic City. Trenton’s Bad Bet, in conjunction with South Jersey politicians, led the charge to defeat the 2016 referendum, which resulted in a lopsided 3-1 margin against expansion.

“We don’t take any of this for granted, and we are not making any assumptions. We know this year could be different than the last two years,” Cortese said. “But we’re on our guard, and we’ll continue to fight this, like we have for the last four years.”

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, a member of the tourism and gaming committee Caputo chairs and part of the effort in 2016 against North Jersey casinos, said he and other South Jersey politicians would continue to be the “first to push back against any effort,” to permit gaming beyond Atlantic City.

“We don’t want to see anything happen that would negatively impact the local economy,” Mazzeo said. “And North Jersey casinos would certainly (have an adverse effect) on Atlantic City and the region.”

Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said he will continue to fight casino expansion.

“Assemblyman Caputo, political insiders and two billionaires couldn’t beat me after seven rounds of public hearings and a statewide referendum, and I’ll whip them a second time because I’m ready to battle the special interests by once again launching the Trenton’s Bad Bet ad campaign and the Stop North Jersey Casinos marketing blitz; commissioning a new study from Stockton; hosting more town hall meetings; and debating Caputo on every TV show and blog in the state so I can protect our hardworking families whose livelihoods depend on the success of Atlantic City’s casinos,” Brown said in a statement.

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. was also opposed to the 2016 referendum. On Tuesday, Small said his position has not changed. The mayor also said he believes the notion of expanding casino gaming outside Atlantic City is one of the factors behind the effort to change the city’s form of government.

“I’m consistent, and I’m going to be as brutally honest as I’ve always been — this whole North Jersey billionaire takeover (of the city government) is about casinos in North Jersey. It was done in the dark, and it’s starting to come to light,” Small said. “To hell with North Jersey casinos, and to hell with the North Jersey takeover.”

Resorts Casino Hotel owner Morris Bailey, who has contributed more than $179,000 to a political action committee supporting the change of government, was a primary opponent of casino expansion in 2016, donating more than $1.2 million to Trenton’s Bad Bet, according to filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Cortese said Bailey “was the only hotel casino owner in Atlantic City who stepped up to protect South Jersey jobs and families when Trenton politicians attempted to push through North Jersey casinos.”

Last year, Jeff Gural, owner of the Meadowlands and one of the main proponents of expanding gaming to North Jersey, said that, for the time being, he was content with the success legalized sports betting has brought to his facility. The Meadowlands and its online/mobile partner, FanDuel, are the state’s most lucrative sports betting operation. Gural added he would not want to push for another referendum on gaming expansion unless “we know we’re going to win.”

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