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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

7/17/2017: Jacksonville Connection To Russia Scandal; Ryan Cragun; Cole Pepper


  Today on “First Coast Connect,” University of North Florida political science Professor Matt Corrigan (01:03) talked about a local connection to the scandal involving Russia and the Trump administration. We spoke with author Ryan Cragun (21:47) ahead of his talk Monday night with the First Coast Freethought Society and Cole Pepper (38:19) brought us this week’s sports news.  

Jacksonville Connection To Russia Scandal

A local connection emerged over the weekend to the mushrooming Russia scandal enveloping the Trump administration. The husband of the former Florida chair of the Trump campaign worked to secure a front-row seat to a June 2016 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing for Natalia Veselnitskaya. Veselnitskaya is the the Russian attorney who controversially met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower just eight days before. ABC News reports that Lanny Wiles, husband of former Trump Florida campaign chair Susie Wiles, saved the prominent seat for Veselnitskaya at the June 14 hearing on “U.S. Policy Toward Putin’s Russia.” Photos and video of Veselnitskaya at the hearing show her seated directly behind Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014.

Author Ryan Cragun   

In his book “How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps,” Cragun takes direct aim at  fundamentalism by exploring the latest social-scientific research on religion to help interested nonbelievers and progressive believers who want to weaken the influence of fundamentalist religion in society. Cragun is the author of three books, and he’s also an associate professor at the University of Tampa. He’ll be speaking Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at a meeting of the First Coast Freethought Society at Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church at 8447 Manresa Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32244.

Sports with Cole Pepper

The 37th annual Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament gets underway Monday with the Jr. Angler. The general tournament is Thursday and Friday. Jaguars rookies begin to report to camp this week. The Armada wrapped up the spring season with a 2-0 loss in Indianapolis. The Sharks had their championship celebration Saturday at the Jacksonville Landing. The Jumbo Shrimp lost 5-2 in Chattanooga on Sunday. They return home Wednesday.

Kevin Meerschaert can be reached at, 904-358-6334 or on Twitter at @KMeerschaertJax.

Kevin Meerschaert has left WJCT for new pursuits. He was the producer of First Coast Connect until October of 2018.