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Lindsey Graham has promised "investigations" of Trump's enemies for months: Now he'll be forced to deliver them
By Heather Digby Parton

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Fox News' Brian Kilmeade last week "When I go to meet God at the pearly gates, I don't think he's going to ask me, 'Why didn't you convict Trump?'" He may be right about that, but only because he's likely to first be asked to explain what he did afterward. Graham has become Trump's instrument of revenge in the Senate, and he isn't making any bones about it. Appearing on Judge Jeanine Pirro's Fox News show on Saturday night, Graham made it clear that the president's impeachment for coercing a foreign government to smear his opponent isn't the end of that story. Team Trump is just bringing their bag of dirty tricks back home where partisan warriors in the U.S. government can get the job done right. Pirro asked Graham if we could expect the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees to take a look at the whistleblower and the Bidens and get to the bottom of this world-shaking conspiracy. Graham replied:

By Amanda Macias, Ylan Mui, Annie Palmer

WASHINGTON — Amazon is seeking to depose President Donald Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former Defense Secretary James Mattis over a $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract awarded to Microsoft. In court documents unsealed and filed Monday, Amazon’s cloud computing arm said it’s looking to depose seven “individuals who were instrumental” in the JEDI source selection and “played pivotal roles” in the ultimate awarding of the contract. Aside from Trump, Mattis and Esper, Amazon Web Services is also seeking to depose the Defense Department’s chief information officer, Dana Deasy, and the source selection authority, which awarded the contract to Microsoft, as well as the chairpersons of the SSA, according to the documents. A spokesperson for AWS told CNBC in a statement: “President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to use his position as President and Commander in Chief to interfere with government functions – including federal procurements – to advance his personal agenda. The preservation of public confidence in the nation’s procurement process requires discovery and supplementation of the administrative record, particularly in light of President Trump’s order to ‘screw Amazon.’ The question is whether the President of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of the DoD to pursue his own personal and political ends.”

By Jonathan Chait

Yesterday, Senator Lindsey Graham appeared on Face the Nation and blurted out an apparent confession of what, if true, would be a scandal of Nixonian proportions. Graham reported he had spoken with Attorney General William Barr that morning. “The Department of Justice is receiving information coming out of the Ukraine from Rudy,” he reported, explaining that Barr “told me that they’ve created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified.” Graham explained why, in his opinion, this state of affairs is appropriate: “Rudy Giuliani is a well-known man. He’s a crime fighter. He’s loyal to the president. He’s a good lawyer.” On the contrary, he is describing an arrangement that is not only the appearance of a conflict of interest but a massive abuse on its face. First, Giuliani is not a government official. He is representing Donald Trump as an individual, a fact he has made perfectly clear. He boasted to the New York Times last May that he was seeking to uncover “information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.” The distinction between “will” and “may” was Rudy’s open acknowledgement that he was looking out for Trump, not the U.S. government, and that the interests of the two might not be the same. He was even more clear in a letter to Ukrainian President Zelensky, which his former partner, Lev Parnas, produced. The letter stated Giuliani was representing Trump “as a private citizen, not as President of the United States”: The second problem here is that Giuliani is not only representing a presidential candidate as his personal client. He is working in close contact with foreign partners who have a combination of personal interests and foreign-policy goals that do not line up with U.S. interests. He has not disclosed who is paying him for his work, but he was paid half a million dollars by Parnas, who was in turn paid by Dymtro Firtash, a Russian oligarch whose work tends to advance Russian foreign-policy interests. This raises the strong possibility that Giuliani is effectively a paid backchannel for Russian propaganda, and he now has a special line into the Department of Justice. Third, Giuliani himself is the reported subject of a criminal investigation. Two of his partners have already been arrested, and the Department of Justice is reportedly pursuing the possibility of charges against Giuliani as well. (He allegedly pursued his own profit-making scheme in Ukraine, and seems to have committed campaign finance violations, by funneling foreign donations to Republican allies.) Normally, people who are being investigated by the DOJ don’t have a special back channel that lets them feed allegations of their own to the attorney general. I am pretty sure that, if the DOJ opened up an investigation of me, and arrested two of my partners as they tried to leave the country with one-way tickets, I couldn’t just open up my own back channel to their boss.

By Annie Nova

As student debt continues to climb, President Donald Trump on Monday released a budget for 2021 that would slash many of the programs aimed at helping borrowers. Student loan spending would be cut by $170 billion in Trump’s plan, titled “A Budget for America’s Future.” The reductions include “sensible annual and lifetime loan limits” for graduate students and parents and the end to subsidized loans, in which the government covers the interest for borrowers who are still in school or experiencing economic hardship. It would also reduce the number of repayment options for borrowers and nix the popular, if challenged, public service loan forgiveness program. That program, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, allows not-for-profit and government employees to have their federal student loans canceled after 10 years of on-time payments. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that up to one-quarter of American workers are eligible.

By David Shortell, CNN

Washington (CNN) Attorney General William Barr confirmed Monday that the Justice Department has been receiving information from Rudy Giuliani about his operation in Ukraine, solidifying the channels through which political dirt on the President's rivals has made it into the country's top law enforcement agency. At an unrelated news conference in Washington Monday morning, Barr said that the Justice Department has an "obligation to have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information that they think is relevant" but expressed skepticism about the reporting, noting that Ukraine can be a dubious source. As a result, Barr said, the Justice Department has put in place special precautions to ensure that Giuliani's information is "carefully scrutinized." "There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine, there are a lot of cross currents, and we can't take anything we receive from the Ukraine at face value. For that reason we had established an intake process in the field so that any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the Department and its intelligence community partners," Barr said. "That is true for all information that comes to the Department relating to the Ukraine including anything that Mr. Giuliani might provide," he said. The acknowledgment marked the first time that the Justice Department has said it is considering some of the allegations related to the political investigations that initiated the impeachment inquiry, which capped last week in an acquittal of President Donald Trump.

By Tami Luhby, CNN

(CNN) The Trump administration wants to slash billions of dollars in federal support from Medicaid, food stamps and other safety net programs for the poor, while largely sparing the Medicare program that benefits seniors. The $4.8 trillion federal budget proposal for 2021, which the White House unveiled on Monday, is largely a wish list of President Donald Trump's priorities. But few of these cuts are expected to get past the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. Trump told the nation's governors at a White House event that he would preserve entitlement programs. "We're not touching Medicare. We want to keep Medicare. We're not touching Social Security," he said. "We're not decreasing Medicaid. But we're doing a lot of things that are very good, including waste and fraud." Here's what he is proposing:

Medicare changes
The budget does call for changes to the Medicare program, but they would largely affect doctors and hospitals.
The decrease in federal spending on Medicare would total about $750 billion over 10 years, but that includes shifting two programs out of the budget. After accounting for those changes, the reduction is just over $500 billion, said Marc Goldwein, senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a watchdog group. Much of that cut comes from reducing payments to providers, which would not directly affect beneficiaries' costs. The budget notes that it supports legislative efforts to establish an out-of-pocket maximum for seniors in Medicare's Part D drug coverage.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a star witness in the House impeachment inquiry, was removed from his position at the White House on Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is asking that every agency inspector general investigate retaliation against whistleblowers who report presidential misconduct, after the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council. Schumer’s letters to 74 inspectors general, which will be sent Monday, comes after Vindman, a star witness in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, was removed from his position at the White House on Friday, along with his twin, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, an ethics lawyer at the NSC. Both brothers are active-duty Army officers and were reassigned to the Pentagon. Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union and another key witness, was also recalled from his post. In a letter to Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine at the Defense Department, Schumer described the NSC firings as “part of a dangerous, growing pattern of retaliation against those who report wrongdoing only to find themselves targeted by the President and subject to his wrath and vindictiveness.”

The senator said he made several phone calls to the White House before Sondland was removed to urge the president to not fire him.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) on Sunday criticized President Trump recalling Gordon Sondland as ambassador to the European Union, saying in an interview that he “would have handled it a different way.” Sondland, a key witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry, was fired on Friday, just days after a narrow Senate majority voted to acquit the president. During his public testimony, Sondland said he believed Trump held up military aid to Ukraine in expectation of political favors. “Gordon was pretty resigned he was going to be leaving the post anyway and I think it would have been nice to give him the ability to exit on his own terms and in his own time in a few weeks,” Johnson told POLITICO. Johnson did note that since Sondland was a political appointee who served at the pleasure of the president, firing him was ultimately Trump’s call. But the ambassador's ouster, which came the same day another impeachment witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, was removed from his post at the National Security Council, was widely seen as retaliation against those who provided damning testimony to House lawmakers.

Republicans have given Trump his crown. Sooner or later, they'll regret it — but this crime can't be undone
By Chauncey DeVega

Donald Trump's show-trial impeachment and "acquittal" was much better in the original Russian or German. Last Wednesday of last week all 53 Republicans in the United States Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump on the charge of obstruction of Congress. Despite overwhelming evidence — including Trump and his own minions' public admissions — Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to partly respect the Constitution and rule of law by voting to impeach Donald Trump for abuse of power. Senate Democrats, on the other hand, voted unanimously to convict Donald Trump on both counts. In short, the Republican Party is more loyal to power than to the Constitution. Republicans all know that Trump was guilty as charged, and chose to acquit him anyway. Writing at Mother Jones, David Corn describes the alternate reality of TrumpWorld and the Republican Party's surrender to seductive lies:

by Paul Bedard

President Trump is making good on his promises to “drain the swamp” and cut Obama-era holdovers from his staffs, especially the critical and recently controversial National Security Council. Officials confirmed that Trump and national security adviser Robert O’Brien have cut 70 positions inherited from former President Barack Obama, who had fattened the staff to 200. Many were loaners from other agencies and have been sent back. Others left government work. The NSC, which is the president’s personal staff, was rocked when a “whistleblower” leveled charges that led to Trump’s impeachment.

....was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, “OUT”.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2020

Last week, one key official who testified against Trump at a House hearing on the Ukraine affair that led to impeachment was sent packing. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was returned to the Pentagon. His twin brother Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman was also given the boot. Trump had expressed displeasure that Alexander Vindman had testified against him when the Ukraine specialist said he did not like the phone conversation between the president and a newly elected president of Ukraine.

Trump sought in his budget proposal last year to slash foreign aid but faced steep resistance from Congress and did not prevail.
By Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will propose on Monday a 21 percent cut in foreign aid and slashing social safety net programs in his $4.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2021, according to senior administration officials. The budget will seek an increase in funds to counter developing economic threats from China and Russia, but will also raise funds by targeting $2 trillion in savings from mandatory spending programs in the United States. Trump sought in his budget proposal last year to slash foreign aid but faced steep resistance from Congress and did not prevail. Trump latest blueprint for administration spending proposals is unlikely to be passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, particularly in an election year. The budget will raise military spending by 0.3 percent to $740.5 billion for the fiscal year 2021, starting Oct. 1 and propose higher outlays for defense and veterans, administration officials said. The White House proposes to slash spending by $4.4 trillion over 10 years. That includes $130 billion from changes to Medicare prescription-drug pricing, $292 billion from cuts in safety net programs — such as work requirements for Medicaid and food stamps — and $70 billion from tightening eligibility rules for federal disability benefits. Trump's foreign aid proposal seeks $44.1 billion in the upcoming fiscal year compared with $55.7 billion enacted in fiscal year 2020, an administration official said.

Republicans wanted to move on from impeachment. The president won’t let them.
By William Saletan

Republicans had a plan for the 2020 election. The plan was to end President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, sidestep questions about his misconduct, and talk instead about the economy. But on Thursday, Trump shattered that plan. In remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast and the White House, he flaunted his rage and impunity. He’s making 2020 a referendum on exactly what Republicans don’t want to talk about: his unpunished corruption. The last president who was impeached, Bill Clinton, tried to defuse public anger by acknowledging his sins. He called his behavior with Monica Lewinsky “wrong” and “a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.” He expressed “shame,” “regret,” and “remorse.” “I must take complete responsibility for all my actions,” said Clinton. “Accountability demands consequences, and I’m prepared to accept them.” Trump offers no such contrition. At the prayer breakfast, he accused his enemies of impeaching him “for nothing.” Hours later, before an audience of Republican lawmakers in the East Room of the White House, he declared “a day of celebration” over his acquittal. He called his extortion of Ukraine “totally appropriate” and insisted he had done “nothing wrong.” In fact, he claimed he had a “legal obligation” to press Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. “So that’s the story,” Trump concluded. “We’ve been treated very unfairly.”

By Jeremy Diamond and Kristen Holmes, CNN

Washington (CNN) National security adviser Robert O'Brien is expected to make major cuts to the National Security Council staff as early as next week, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. Some people with knowledge of the impending change previously said once President Donald Trump's impeachment trial had concluded, O'Brien was expected to oust about a dozen or so officials as part of an effort to streamline the NSC, which critics charge has become too large. O'Brien has largely been downsizing the NSC by attrition and getting staffers detailed to the council from other departments to return earlier than planned to their home agencies, but one of the sources told CNN it looks like the final phase will involve more direct firings and cuts. "So it's bloated. We're going to bring it back to a size that's manageable and efficient. And look, the folks who are there, they really need to want to serve the President," O'Brien told Fox News' Laura Ingraham Tuesday night. "What I said when I came to the NSC is that I would drastically downsize it," he added. O'Brien said the council had "ballooned up" to 236 policy professionals in the Obama administration from about 100 during the Bush administration. "Another week or two, I think we'll have met our goal," he said. The NSC was in the spotlight this week after the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the council's top Ukraine expert, in what appeared to be retribution for his testimony in the House impeachment probe late last year. Vindman, who was not slated to leave the NCS until July, was recalled from his post on Friday and is expected to return to the Defense Department. His lawyer, David Pressman, said in a statement that it's clear Vindman was fired for testifying in the impeachment probe. His twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, a National Security Council attorney, was also fired on Friday, "suddenly and with no explanation, despite over two decades of loyal service to this country," Pressman said.

How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election
Story by McKay Coppins

One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also gave my cellphone number to the Trump campaign, and joined a handful of private Facebook groups for MAGA diehards, one of which required an application that seemed designed to screen out interlopers. The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside. The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today? As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen: “That’s right, the whistleblower’s own lawyer said, ‘The coup has started …’ ” Swipe. “Democrats are doing Putin’s bidding …” Swipe. “The only message these radical socialists and extremists will understand is a crushing …” Swipe. “Only one man can stop this chaos …” Swipe, swipe, swipe.

NBC News interviewed dozens of Utah residents to find out what they thought about their senator bucking the GOP on impeachment.
By Lauren Egan

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Republican Sen. Mitt Romney's vote to convict President Donald Trump on one count of abuse of power didn't bother Kelsey Malin. "I have kind of come to terms that even though he hasn't voted in a way that people say represents his party, the fact that he voted true to his conscience and over his party is a great thing," Malin, 28, said as she entertained her two children at a local library two days after the impeachment trial concluded last week. Malin was not alone. NBC News spoke with dozens of voters in Utah in the days immediately following the Senate's vote to acquit the president. Most identified themselves as Republicans who had supported Romney in 2018 and said that regardless of their opinion of the president, Romney's decision to go against his party was one that they understood and respected for its honesty. Many said they would not hold it against the first-term senator when he faces re-election in 2024. Malin, who voted for Trump in 2016 and for Romney in 2018 and plans to support both again, said that Romney had been a topic of conversation among her family and friends, but the outrage coming from Washington did not square with the discussions she was having at home. "It's surprising because it seems like the louder voice says he's betrayed the party, he's betrayed the people of Utah," she said. "But the people in my circle don't feel that way." Alan Anderson, 41, a financial planner from Salt Lake City, supported Romney in 2018 and said he will probably vote for him again. "I was fine with Romney — he had his reasons for it," Anderson said of the vote. "Whether you agree or disagree with his reasons, at least he had the courage to say whatever he felt was right."

Trump's lawyers also gave thousands to Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Ted Cruz before the trial began
By Igor Derysh

President Trump's legal team made numerous campaign contributions to Republican senators overseeing the impeachment trial. Former independent counsels Ken Starr and Robert Ray, who both investigated former President Bill Clinton ahead of his impeachment, contributed thousands of dollars to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year before they joined the president's team, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics (CFPR). Starr, who lamented that "we are living in … the age of impeachment" during the trial on Monday and accused Democrats of waging a "domestic war," gave $2,800 to McConnell in July 2019, according to CFPR. Ray, who wanted to indict Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair but now claims Trump has been vindicated by the transcript of his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, contributed the maximum $5,600 to McConnell in September 2019, according to the report. The contributions came months before McConnell bragged to Fox News host Sean Hannity that he would be in "total coordination with the White House counsel's office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate." "Everything I do during this, I'm coordinating with the White House counsel," he said. "There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this." Starr also contributed $2,700 to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in 2017. Graham has been one of the most ardent Trump defenders in the Senate and previously pushed for Republicans to dismiss the impeachment charges against Trump without a trial. Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow has contributed to multiple Republican senators over the last two decades, according to CFPR, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. The right-wing Washington Times noted that "no Republican has been more active in defense of President Trump during the impeachment trial than Sen. Ted Cruz." Thune has accused Democrats of presenting an "especially partisan" case and rejected calls for new witnesses, arguing the record is "pretty complete."

By Sarah Westwood and Jason Hoffman, CNN

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council. The President complained about news coverage of the firing in a tweet, saying reporting was done "as though I should think only how wonderful he was. Actually, I don't know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don't believe!)." On Friday, Trump fired two key impeachment witnesses, dismissing Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the council, and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. An adviser to Trump told CNN the firings of the major impeachment witnesses was meant to send a message that siding against the President will not be tolerated. Trump on Saturday claimed that Vindman "reported contents of my 'perfect' calls incorrectly," which those close to Vindman have disputed. Vindman reported concerns about Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to other officials with the National Security Council. The President also attacked Vindman's work performance, claiming he was given a "horrendous" report by his superior that he had problems with judgment and leaking information. Tim Morrison, Vindman's boss at the time and a former top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council, did question Vindman's judgment during congressional testimony in November. He testified he had been warned about Vindman's judgment when he took over the position and claimed Vindman did not keep him in the loop. Vindman defended himself during his testimony saying he reported his concerns about the July 25 phone call as he was directed to do. Also he brought with him a review from his former boss, then-White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill, who praised his performance, to rebut the issue Morrison raised.

By Sarah Gray

Former National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was fired from the White House on Friday — two days after President Donald Trump's acquittal in his bitter impeachment trial. Vindman was a central witness, testifying publicly on November 19 before the House Intelligence Committee that Trump's behavior towards the president of Ukraine had troubled him deeply. As the top Ukraine expert at the NSC, Vindman listened in on the now-infamous July 25 call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, where Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate his political rivals, the Biden family. Vindman told Congress he was "concerned," and found the call "inappropriate" given its partisan political character, and the conspiracy theory which underpinned it. During his opening statement, Vindman drew a contrast between how somebody in his position might be treated in Russia, and how he believed he would be treated in the US. He moved to address his father, who left the Soviet Union with Vindman, then aged three, for a new life in America: "In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life.

By Chuck Jones

The U.S. Department of Labor released the January jobs report that showed better than expected growth of 225,000 new jobs vs. the consensus of 158,000. However, there were detailed updates with a major revision to 2018’s employment numbers, which substantially decreased job growth under President Trump.

Far from being the “Best economy ever”

Trump continually says that, “the U.S. is experiencing the best economy ever.” This is obvious gaslighting since the new results show that President Trump’s best year of job growth was 2.314 million in 2018 (the first year of the tax cut) but it falls short of any of Obama’s last three years. His boasts also don’t stand up when you peel the onion on GDP growth and realize that the Federal deficits during his Presidency will exceed any that were not impacted by a recession. The previous and updated job growth yearly totals for Obama’s last six years in office after the Great Recession and Trump’s first three years, along with the revisions, are:

   2011: 2.075 million fell to 2.074 million, down 1,000 jobs
   2012: 2.174 million fell to 2.176 million, up 2,000 jobs
   2013: 2.302 million fell to 2.301 million, down 1,000 jobs
   2014: 3.006 million fell to 3.004 million, down 2,000 jobs
   2015: 2.729 million fell to 2.72 million, down 9,000 jobs
   2016: 2.318 million increased to 2.345 million, up 27,000 jobs

   2017: 2.153 million fell to 2.109 million, down 44,000 jobs
   2018: 2.679 million fell to 2.314 million, down 365,000 jobs (Trump’s best year)
   2019: 2.115 million fell to 2.096 million, down 19,000 jobs

While not exceeding Obama’s last three years, Trump’s 2.314 million in 2018 barely beat Obama’s 2.301 in 2014.

By David Salkever

If you thought workers’ hourly pay was finally rising, think again. At first glance, the latest data – which came out on Feb. 7 – look pretty good. They show nominal hourly earnings rose 3.1% in January from a year earlier. But the operative word here is nominal, which means not adjusted for changes in the cost of living. Once you factor in inflation, the picture changes drastically. And far from representing a “blue collar boom” – as the president put it in his State of the Union address – the real, inflation-adjusted data show most U.S. workers have not benefited from the growing economy. As an economist who studies wage data, I think it’s paramount that we take a step back and look at what the data really show.

The effect of inflation and fringes

The Bureau of Labor Statistics comes out with two sets of data on wages. Business journalists and financial markets tend to focus on the monthly data. These figures are only reported in nominal or current terms because the inflation data doesn’t come out until later.

By Kaitlan Collins, Kristen Holmes, Katelyn Polantz, Gloria Borger, Kevin Liptak and Jim Acosta, CNN

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump fired two key impeachment witnesses Friday, dismissing Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. An adviser to Trump said the firings of the major impeachment witnesses was meant to send a message that siding against the President will not be tolerated. "Flushing out the pipes," the adviser told CNN. "It was necessary." Vindman was pushed out of his role Friday months earlier than expected, according to a statement from his attorney. Vindman was not slated to leave until July, but had been telling colleagues in recent weeks he would likely leave soon. Sondland said in a statement Friday that he is being recalled from his post. "I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union," Sondland said. "I am grateful to President Trump for having given me the opportunity to serve, to Secretary Pompeo for his consistent support, and to the exceptional and dedicated professionals at the U.S. Mission to the European Union. I am proud of our accomplishments. Our work here has been the highlight of my career." The dismissals appear to be retribution for Vindman and Sondland's explosive testimonies to the House impeachment probe late last year. Trump had continued to fume privately about Vindman's testimony during the impeachment inquiry and foreshadowed his dismissal earlier Friday. "Well, I'm not happy with him," Trump said. "You think I'm supposed to be happy with him? I'm not." And Sondland's ties to the White House and Trump had deteriorated since his testimony. A person familiar with the situation says Sondland's ties to the White House and Trump had frayed badly since he testified last year. He once had Trump effectively on speed-dial, or the presidential equivalent of it, but since his appearance he hasn't spoken with Trump. He was also pulled from overseeing the Ukraine portfolio, which wasn't directly related to his position as EU ambassador.

Vindman dismissed early
Vindman, a decorated veteran who was born in Ukraine, was escorted out of the White House by security and told his services were no longer needed, according to his lawyer, David Pressman. Pressman said in a statement that it is clear he was fired for testifying in the impeachment probe. "There is no question in the mind of any American why this man's job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House," Pressman said. "LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful." He added, "Truth is not partisan. If we allow truthful voices to be silenced, if we ignore their warnings, eventually there will be no one left to warn us."

By Sonam Sheth

The rumblings of payback began almost as soon as the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on Wednesday of the two charges against him following a bitter impeachment trial. The next morning, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham gave the public a preview of the plan of action Trump would outline in a speech Thursday afternoon addressing his acquittal. "He is going to be honest, going to speak with honesty and I think with a little bit of humility that he and the family went through a lot," Grisham told Fox News. "But I think he's also going to talk about just how horribly he was treated and, you know, that maybe people should pay for that." The first person to pay the price was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. Vindman, a decorated war veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was abruptly fired and escorted out of the White House on Friday along with his twin brother, Yevgeny, who also served on the NSC. Vindman was given no explanation for his dismissal, but his attorney made it clear in a statement to Insider that the army colonel was forced out as retaliation for testifying against Trump in the impeachment hearings after receiving a congressional subpoena.

By Vicky Ward, CNN

New York (CNN) Stored in devices seized from Lev Parnas by law enforcement, there's a 34-second cell phone video of Rudy Giuliani relishing a bullfight. There are also photos of Donald Trump's personal attorney posing with two matadors, a flamenco dancer twirling her skirt and an image of the father of Venezuela's opposition leader beside a tray of hors d'oeuvres on the lawn of a Spanish castle. The videos and photographs of Giuliani's trip to Spain, obtained exclusively by CNN, show the efforts Parnas went through to document and save a trove of information. They have aided a slow-drip campaign by Parnas' legal team to keep the indicted Giuliani associate in the limelight as he builds a defense for his indictment, and could plague Giuliani—and ultimately the President—well after impeachment has passed. Last week, Parnas and his attorney Joseph Bondy made a show of traveling to Washington and walking up to the US Senate, with cameras in tow. The two knew full well that Parnas could be turned away from the impeachment trial because he was wearing an ankle bracelet, an electronic device that violates the Senate chamber rules. The stunt came days after Parnas' lawyer released an 83-minute recording from an April 2018 Trump International Hotel fundraiser where President Donald Trump discusses firing former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, with Parnas and his estranged business partner Igor Fruman.

By Jennifer Jacobs and Nick Wadhams

Alexander Vindman, who testified in Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, was escorted out of the White House on Friday, two days after the president’s acquittal in his Senate trial. “Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth,” said his lawyer, David Pressman. “His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.” The ouster of Vindman, who worked on the National Security Council, came after the Senate acquitted Trump of two articles of impeachment in a near party-line vote. The White House was preparing to portray the move as part of a broader downsizing of the NSC staff, not retaliation, according to the people. NSC spokesman John Ullyot said he couldn’t comment on personnel matters. Asked Friday whether he wanted Vindman to leave, Trump said: “Well, I’m not happy with him.”

Brother Dismissed

Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, was also dismissed from his post as an ethics lawyer for the NSC, according to people familiar with the matter. Alexander Vindman was one of the Democrats’ most crucial witnesses in their impeachment proceedings -- a decorated Army lieutenant colonel, who raised the alarm over the president’s July 25 telephone call with Ukraine’s leader. Before Vindman’s testimony, the only account of that call came from an anonymous whistle-blower whose identity has remained largely hidden to this day, and a partial transcript released by the White House.

By David A. Fahrenthold, Jonathan O'Connell, Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey

President Trump’s company charges the Secret Service for the rooms agents use while protecting him at his luxury properties — billing U.S. taxpayers at rates as high as $650 per night, according to federal records and people who have seen receipts. Those charges, compiled here for the first time, show that Trump has an unprecedented — and largely hidden — business relationship with his own government. When Trump visits his clubs in Palm Beach, Fla., and Bedminster, N.J., the service needs space to post guards and store equipment. Trump’s company says it charges only minimal fees. But Secret Service records do not show that. At Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, the Secret Service was charged the $650 rate dozens of times in 2017, and a different rate, $396.15, dozens more times in 2018, according to documents from Trump’s visits. And at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, the Secret Service was charged $17,000 a month to use a three-bedroom cottage on the property, an unusually high rent for homes in that area, according to receipts from 2017. Trump’s company billed the government even for days when Trump wasn’t there.

By Kaitlan Collins, CNN

Washington (CNN)Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, was pushed out of his role Friday months earlier than expected, according to a statement from his attorney. Vindman was not slated to leave until July, but had been telling colleagues in recent weeks he would likely leave soon. Vindman, a decorated veteran who was born in Ukraine, was escorted out of the White House by security and told his services were no longer needed, according to Vindman's lawyer, David Pressman. His twin brother Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, a National Security Council attorney, was also fired and walked off the White House grounds alongside him. National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said: "We do not comment on personnel matters." President Donald Trump has continued to fume privately about Vindman's testimony during the impeachment inquiry, and some Democrats say the move is clearly retribution for it. Trump foreshadowed Vindman's dismissal earlier Friday. "Well, I'm not happy with him," Trump said. "You think I'm supposed to be happy with him? I'm not." Vindman is expected to return to the Pentagon, though it's still unclear what his assignment will be until he's expected to attend war college this summer. "We welcome back all of our service members, wherever they serve, to any assignment they are given," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday when asked about Vindman's expected ouster. Vindman told lawmakers during his November congressional testimony that he reported concerns about Trump's July 25 call with the leader of Ukraine to the top National Security Council lawyer within hours of the call, and said some of the changes he tried to make to the since-published transcript were left out, though he didn't say why. Vindman also told lawmakers that later, he was told not to discuss the call with anyone else.

Andrew Peek’s colleagues raised concerns about him before he left to join the White House’s staff, two officials familiar with the probe tell The Daily Beast.
By Erin Banco National Security Reporter, Spencer Ackerman Senior Nat’l Security Correspondent

Multiple officials in the State Department and the White House are cooperating in a security-related investigation into Andrew Peek, the former senior director for Russia and Europe at the National Security Council, The Daily Beast has learned. Peek was escorted off the grounds of the White House on Jan. 17 and placed on administrative leave pending investigation, the details of which have been closely held. Axios previously reported that Peek was expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos prior to his exit. He had barely been on the Russia job for two months. Since then, rumors have swirled within the ranks of the White House, State Department, and on social media about the reason for Peek’s sudden exit. The Trump administration has said nothing to explain Peek’s departure. But two officials familiar with the probe tell The Daily Beast that the investigation has been ongoing for several months and that Peek’s State Department colleagues raised concerns about him before he left to join the White House’s staff. However, one official who spoke to The Daily Beast also said Peek had close, collegial working relationships with several individuals at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs during his time at State. Peek has also retained counsel, those officials said.

By Josh Dawsey, Robert Costa and  Greg Miller

President Trump is preparing to push out a national security official who testified against him during the impeachment inquiry after he expressed deep anger on Thursday over the attempt to remove him from office because of his actions toward Ukraine. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — a National Security Council aide who testified during House Democrats’ impeachment hearings — will be informed in the coming days, likely on Friday, by administration officials that he is being reassigned to a position at the Defense Department, taking a key figure from the investigation out of the White House, according to two people familiar with the move who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss personnel decisions. Vindman had already informed senior officials at the NSC that he intended to take an early exit from his assignment and leave his post by the end of the month, according to people familiar with his decision, but Trump is eager to make a symbol of the Army officer soon after the Senate acquitted him of the impeachment charges approved by House Democrats. Trump made clear on Thursday that he is ready to make his impeachment a key part of his reelection strategy and highlight his anger at Democratic leaders who led the charge to remove him from office, as well as Republicans who did not embrace the defense of his actions even though he was acquitted by the Senate on Wednesday.

By Jordain Carney

A pledge to investigate the Bidens and Ukraine once the impeachment trial wraps is sparking divisions among Senate Republicans. President Trump and top allies have homed in on former Vice President Joe Biden’s push to oust a top Ukrainian prosecutor and Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company, as they’ve sought to counterprogram on the sidelines of the months-long impeachment drama. Now, with the trial in the rearview mirror, that chatter is set to move to center stage as Republicans strategize over their next steps. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a vocal ally of Trump’s, is pledging “oversight.” Other GOP senators are warning that it’s time for the Senate to move on after a weeks-long divisive fight that left scars on the chamber’s normally clubby atmosphere. “I know there’s been some discussion about the Judiciary Committee taking a look at that. I think what I would like to see happen around here is a return to normalcy,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, in response to a question from The Hill about talk within the caucus about investigating the Bidens.

By Jennifer Jacobs and Nick Wadhams

The White House is weighing a plan to dismiss Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council after he testified in President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, preparing to position the move as part of a broader effort to shrink the foreign policy bureaucracy, two people familiar with the matter said. Any moves would come after the Senate on Wednesday acquitted Trump on a near party-line vote at the conclusion of the two-week impeachment trial. The White House intends to portray any house-cleaning as part of a downsizing of the NSC staff, not retaliation, according to the people. File: U.S. President Donald Trump's Third Year In The Oval Office Vindman was one of the Democrats’ most crucial witness in their impeachment proceedings -- a decorated Army lieutenant colonel, who raised the alarm over the president’s July 25 telephone call with Ukraine’s leader. Before Vindman’s testimony, the only account of that call came from an anonymous whistle-blower whose identity has remained largely hidden to this day, and a partial transcript released by the White House.

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) Less than 24 hours after formally being acquitted by the Senate, President Donald Trump riffed for over an hour from inside the White House -- a vengeful, angry, fact-challenged spew of score-settling that even for this most unorthodox of presidents was eye-opening in its tone and jaw-dropping in its boundary busting. "It's a celebration," Trump said of the event, attended by a "who's who" of Republican politics, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, as well as the President's Cabinet and the legal team that defended him in the Senate trial. But it didn't feel like one, as Trump spent the bulk of his stream-of-consciousness "speech" savaging his various enemies, which included, well, almost everyone not in the room. "It was evil, it was corrupt," Trump said of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which concluded that the Russians sought to actively interfere to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. "We caught 'em in the act ... dirty cops, bad people," Trump said of, well, something. "We went through Russia, Russia, Russia ... and it was all bullshit," Trump said. "Little did we know we were running against some bad and evil people," Trump said. "A man who got James Comey to choke -- and he was just talking in his regular voice," Trump said of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. (Trump went on to call Comey, the former FBI director, a "sleazebag.") "There were some that used religion as a crutch. ... A failed presidential candidate so things can happen when you fail so badly running for president," Trump said of Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted to convict Trump on abuse of power. "A guy who can't stand the fact that he ran one of the worst campaign in the history of the country," Trump added on Romney. "Two low-lifes," Trump said of former FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. *Adam Schiff is a vicious horrible person," Trump said of the California Democrat. "Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person. ... I doubt she prays at all," Trump said of the Speaker of the House. "They want to destroy our country," Trump said of Democrats. "Top scum," Trump said of the FBI leadership. And on and on and on it went. Trump attacking opponents. Trump belittling members of his own party. Trump outright lying about what he has done (and hasn't) as President.

By Jordain Carney

The Treasury Department has handed over documents to a pair of GOP Senate chairmen as part of a months-long probe into Burisma Holdings, Ukraine and Hunter Biden, according to the top Democrat on one of the panels. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — the chairmen of the Finance and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, respectively — sent a letter to the Treasury Department in November saying they were investigating "potentially improper actions" during the Obama administration. The Treasury Department is complying with their request, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, who noted that Democratic requests for information have been stonewalled. "For its part, the Trump administration refused to comply with all Democratic requests for documents and witnesses associated with impeachment. Applying a blatant double standard, Trump administration agencies like the Treasury Department are rapidly complying with Senate Republican requests—no subpoenas necessary—and producing ‘evidence’ of questionable origin," Ashley Schapitl, a spokeswoman for Wyden, said in a statement. The development was first reported by Yahoo News, with a source telling the publication that the Treasury Department began complying with the Grassley-Johnson request in less than two months. A spokesman for the Treasury Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. In the November letter — which was not publicly released by either of the committees but obtained by Reuters — Grassley and Johnson say that they are "conducting an investigation into potentially improper actions by the Obama administration with respect to Burisma Holdings ... and Ukraine."

A memo tied to Bannon revealed the claim that Kushner “attempted to back channel for communications with Russia"
By Igor Derysh

The Department of Justice (DOJ) released a summary of an FBI interview with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner from November 2017, though it redacted nearly the entire memo. The significantly redacted release came after the DOJ refused to comply with a court order to release the memo on Kushner's interview along with dozens of others from the Russia investigation led by former special counsel Robert Mueller. A judge ordered the FBI to turn over the memos to BuzzFeed News and CNN by last month after the outlets filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The DOJ argued that "a member of the intelligence community" must review the memos and add "appropriate reductions." The DOJ finally released the Kushner memo on Monday, but BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold quickly found that it was "almost entirely redacted." In fact, only three lines of the document were left intact:

By William Cummings - USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who testified in the impeachment inquiry, said in an op-ed Thursday that President Donald Trump's administration has "undermined our democratic institutions." Yovanovitch, who retired at the end of last month, was pulled from her post in Ukraine last April after what some of her former State Department colleagues testified was a "smear campaign" against her by Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. During the Senate impeachment trial, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said removing Yovanovitch cleared the way for Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into opening investigations for Trump's political benefit. "When civil servants in the current administration saw senior officials taking actions they considered deeply wrong in regard to the nation of Ukraine, they refused to take part, When Congress asked us to testify about those activities, my colleagues and I did not hesitate, even in the face of administration efforts to silence us," Yovanovitch wrote in The Washington Post. "We did this because it is the American way to speak up about wrongdoing." Marie Yovanovitch testimony:Ex-Ukraine ambassador tells lawmakers Trump 'pressured' State Department to remove her The day after the Republican-controlled Senate voted to acquit Trump on two articles of impeachment, Yovanovitch said the U.S. political system was more fragile than many Americans realize and "the last year has shown that we need to fight for our democracy."

By Tyler Pager and Jennifer Epstein

Supporters of President Donald Trump flooded a hotline used by Iowa precinct chairs to report Democratic caucus results after the telephone number was posted online, worsening delays in the statewide tally, a top state Democrat told party leaders on a conference call Wednesday night. According to two participants on the call, Ken Sagar, a state Democratic central committee member, was among those answering the hotline on caucus night and said people called in and expressed support for Trump. The phone number became public after people posted photos of caucus paperwork that included the hotline number, one of the people on the call said. The phone call Wednesday night between the Iowa Democratic Party staff and state central committee, the party’s elected governing body, came as the party was still counting results.

By Caroline Kelly

(CNN) The acting secretary of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday that New York state residents can no longer participate in certain Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry, due to provisions in the state's new "Green Light Law" supporting undocumented immigrants. The law, which went into effect in December, allows undocumented immigrants to apply for New York driver's licenses while protecting applicants' information from immigration enforcement agencies. "Today, we sent a letter to New York indicating, because they took these measures, that New York residents are no longer eligible to enroll in these Trusted Traveler Programs," acting Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Wednesday. New York state residents cannot "enroll or re-enroll" in the programs "because we no longer have access to make sure that they meet those program requirements, so we need to do our job," Wolf added. The letter states that the Green Light Law will impede Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "objective of protecting the people of New York from menacing threats to national security and public safety," according to a copy obtained by Fox News and confirmed to CNN by a source familiar with the letter. Since the law "prevents DHS from accessing New York DMV records in order to determine whether a (Trusted Traveler Program) applicant or re-applicant meets program eligibility requirements, New York residents will no longer be eligible to enroll or re-enroll in CBP's Trusted Travel Programs," the letter adds. The letter lists four such programs that are managed by US Customs and Border Protection: Global Entry, which allows for faster clearance in customs for participants when they enter the US; NEXUS, which allows for quicker border crossing for qualified travelers between the US and Canada; Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), another program that allows for quicker clearance for qualified travelers when they arrive in the US; and the Free And Secure Trade (FAST) program, which allows for quicker clearance for commercial shipments crossing the US border from Canada or Mexico.

by Becket Adams

President Trump sounds like he is ready to dish out some payback, whatever that looks like. On Thursday, during his introduction at the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., the president appeared to be in good spirits, holding high for his audience two newspapers whose headlines bore a simple word: “ACQUITTED.” The crowd loved it. Later, after former American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks gave an address wherein he implored attendees to forgo contempt for their opponents, the president took the opportunity to deliver a decidedly different message. “Arthur,” Trump smiled, “I don’t know if I agree with you.” After some brief introductory remarks, the president then turned his attention to his recently ended impeachment trial. “As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” Trump said. “They have done everything possible to destroy us and, by so doing, very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.” As he spoke, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who sat five seats down on the dais from the president, looked apprehensive. “Weeks ago,” Trump continued, “and again yesterday, courageous Republican politicians and leaders had the wisdom, fortitude, and strength to do what everyone knows was right.” This is where it appears the president went off-script, taking a darker and more personal tone. “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said. “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that is not so.”

By Sarah Westwood and Maegan Vazquez, CNN

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump began his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast by taking veiled shots at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was on the stage with him as he spoke, and Sen. Mitt Romney, the morning after the GOP-controlled Senate acquitted him. Romney, citing his Mormon faith, was the only Republican to vote against his party and join Democrats in voting to convict Trump. Beginning his speech at the bipartisan annual event, Trump criticized "dishonest and corrupt people" who "badly hurt our nation" -- an apparent reference to Democrats who pursued his impeachment over what they claimed was an abuse of power in holding up aid in Ukraine. The President thanked "courageous Republican politicians and leaders (who) had the wisdom, fortitude and strength to do what everyone knows was right." He then obliquely referenced Romney and Pelosi. "I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong nor do I like people who say, 'I pray for you,' when they know that's not so. So many people have been hurt and we can't let that go on," Trump said. Pelosi has previously said she prays for the President daily. "We have allies, we have enemies, sometimes the allies are enemies but we just don't know it. But we're changing all that," Trump later remarked. Trump walked into the annual, bipartisan breakfast and immediately picked up the newspaper laid on his place setting, a hard copy of USA Today, with the headline "ACQUITTED." He displayed the headline to the room and to the cameras, to laughter from the audience.

By Marshall Cohen, CNN

Washington (CNN) Impeachment is over. President Donald Trump has been acquitted. One bruising chapter has ended, but another phase of the Ukraine affair is only now beginning. Because Senate Republicans blocked all efforts to hear from new witnesses and subpoena documents, the complete story of what happened between Trump and Ukraine still hasn't been told. They calculated that it was better to acquit and move on, even if a smoking gun comes out later. Over the past five months, new information about the Trump-Ukraine scandal has emerged from the House investigation, public comments from key players, reporting from news outlets, and public records lawsuits. Disjointed as they've been, these revelations have nonetheless painted a damning picture of how Trump used his powers to pressure Ukraine to help his 2020 campaign. Information will continue flowing long after Congress returns to business as usual. Former Trump adviser John Bolton's bombshell book comes out next month, and transparency groups are getting more Trump administration documents from their lawsuits. Here are eight big questions that still haven't been fully resolved. The answers, whenever they come out, could dramatically reshape how the public looks back at Trump's presidency.

Wray evaded the questions, saying the bureau would only investigate "the facts."
By Alexander Mallin

FBI Director Christopher Wray sought to reassure lawmakers on Wednesday, as he was pressed on whether the FBI was asked to open investigations that would politically benefit President Donald Trump. "No one has asked me to open an investigation on anything other than the facts, the law and proper predication," Wray said as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee. His answer came after New York Rep. Jerry Nadler -- also a trial manager during the Senate impeachment trial -- said he was concerned that after the Senate's expected vote to acquit Trump Wednesday afternoon, the president would seek investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter and others who he felt had wronged him during the impeachment probe. He asked the director if the administration -- the White House or Attorney General William Barr -- had yet approached the FBI about such investigations of his political rivals. Wray would not directly answer Nadler's questions, saying the bureau would only investigate "the facts." "I can assure Congress today that the FBI will only open investigations based on the facts and the law and proper predication," he repeated.

One journalist remarked to me, “How in the world can these senators walk around here upright when they have no backbone?”
By Sherrod Brown

Not guilty. Not guilty. In the United States Senate, like in many spheres of life, fear does the business. Think back to the fall of 2002, just a few weeks before that year’s crucial midterm elections, when the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq was up for a vote. A year after the 9/11 attacks, hundreds of members of the House and the Senate were about to face the voters of a country still traumatized by terrorism. Senator Patty Murray, a thoughtful Democrat from Washington State, still remembers “the fear that dominated the Senate leading up to the Iraq war.” “You could feel it then,” she told me, “and you can feel that fear now” — chiefly among Senate Republicans. For those of us who, from the start, questioned the wisdom of the Iraq war, our sense of isolation surely wasn’t much different from the loneliness felt in the 1950s by Senator Herbert Lehman of New York, who confronted Joe McCarthy’s demagogy only to be abandoned by so many of his colleagues. Nor was it so different from what Senator George McGovern must have felt when he announced his early opposition to the Vietnam War and was then labeled a traitor by many inside and outside of Congress.

Analysis by Brandon Tensley, CNN

Washington (CNN)As on so many other occasions during his presidency, President Donald Trump on Tuesday night showed that he's ever the showman, having used part of his third official State of the Union address to ostensibly pander to black voters as he vies for another term in the White House. And as before, one thing seemed especially clear: The President would rather perform support for black Americans than actually champion them. There were the predictable talking points, such as Trump's crowing about low black unemployment rates under his leadership -- "African American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded," he said -- despite the fact that he inherited an already OK economy that's still just OK. Indeed, black unemployment has hit all-time lows while Trump has been in office. In August, the unemployment rate for black workers fell to 5.5% from 6%, according to the Labor Department data. The previous record low of 5.9% was set in May 2018. Yet maybe more jarring than Trump's words alone was the sheer spectacle of it all. As the President celebrated some of his avowed accomplishments, he also chose to spotlight black Americans in a manner that felt designed to soothe white supporters who might be uncomfortable with his discriminatory track record and rhetoric. Trump's polling with black Americans is dismal -- a recent Washington Post/Ipsos poll showed 8-in-10 black voters said the President is racist. Maybe he's trying to turn that number around. But he also might be trying to give the 53% of white women who voted for him in 2016 reasons to justify voting for him again in 2020, despite his high-profile antagonism of prominent politicians of color, such as Reps. John Lewis and Elijah Cummings, and his denigration of cities such as Baltimore as "rat-infested." Trump pivoted from touting the creation of the Space Force -- the youngest branch of the American military -- to praising 13-year-old Iain Lanphier ("one of the Space Force's youngest potential recruits") and his 100-year-old great-grandfather, Charles McGee, who happens to be one of the few surviving Tuskegee Airmen, the famed group of black military pilots during World War II.

By Dan Balz

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) sealed a place in history Wednesday with his announcement that he will to vote to convict President Trump of abuse of power, becoming a rare lone voice in a Republican Party that otherwise has marched in lockstep with the president throughout the impeachment proceedings. Romney said he will vote against the second article of impeachment, which accused the president of obstruction of Congress. But on the first article, the Utah senator said in a telephone interview that he found the evidence against Trump overwhelming and the arguments by the president’s defense ultimately unconvincing. “There’s no question that the president asked a foreign power to investigate his political foe,” Romney said ahead of the floor statement he delivered Wednesday. “That he did so for a political purpose, and that he pressured Ukraine to get them to do help or to lead in this effort. My own view is that there’s not much I can think of that would be a more egregious assault on our Constitution than trying to corrupt an election to maintain power. And that’s what the president did.” Romney said his decision to vote to convict the president was “the hardest decision” he has ever had to make and one that he hoped he would never have to make.

By William Cummings - USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said it was "truly nauseating" to see President Donald Trump award the Medal of Freedom to conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh during his State of the Union address Tuesday. In a video shared on Instagram, the first-term New York Democrat called Limbaugh – who revealed Monday that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer – a "virulent racist" who did not deserve the "extraordinarily sacred award." "We're talking about putting someone on the same level as Rosa Parks, for example, in terms of their contributions to American progress," she said. Ocasio-Cortez, who skipped the address in protest of the president and his policies, said giving the medal to Limbaugh was "red meat to his base." "He wants to assert that Rush Limbaugh is somehow on the same level as Rosa Parks. And it's truly nauseating," she said. "And this is one of the many reasons that I did not go."

Medal of Freedom: What is it and why did Trump award it to Rush Limbaugh during State of the Union?

What Limbaugh has said in the past

Limbaugh has sparked a great deal of controversy over the years, routinely referring to women's rights activists as "feminazis" and once calling law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her support of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that covered contraception. He has also made a number of comments that have been derided as racist, several of them about former President Barack Obama. In 2007, he referred to Obama, whose father was black and mother was white, as a "halfrican-American." Later that year, he called him "Barack the Magic Negro." And during the Obama administration, he said: "The white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering." "Race riots are part of the plan that this regime has," he said in 2011. "That's next."

By Veronica Stracqualursi and Marcelo Garate, CNN

Washington (CNN) Fred Guttenberg, the father of a victim in the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, was escorted from President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night while the President defended the Second Amendment. Guttenberg, who had attended the State of the Union as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told CNN that his outburst came when Trump discussed gun rights. "Just as we believe in the First Amendment, we also believe in another constitutional right that is under siege all across our country. So long as I am President, I will always protect your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms," Trump said in his speech. hat's when Guttenberg yelled out in protest something about victims of gun violence, he said, and was promptly escorted out by Capitol Police.

By Vivian Salama, CNN

Washington (CNN)Days before the July 2019 call between President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, US officials were still working to expedite the delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to the country, according to emails and other internal documents reviewed by CNN. The new information underscores how the July 18th decision to hold the military aid stunned officials, who had already assessed Ukraine deserved to receive it and were preparing a Javelin missile order as well. The decision reverberated across the government for weeks. Officials grew so concerned over the deferrals by the Office of Management and Budget that they noted the aid was at "serious risk," and questioned if the move was illegal. In an email to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who was in his first week on the job, a top Defense official communicated his concern over Trump's "reported view that the US should cease providing security assistance" to Ukraine and its impact on national security. Defense officials hoped Esper might be able to persuade the President to drop the hold, and included their rationale in briefing notes provided to him for an August meeting at the White House. The documents reviewed by CNN -- none of which revealed classified information on military operations or sensitive personnel matters -- are linked to communications and meetings from July and August last year related to the aid freeze that was at the center of efforts to impeach Trump. The documents paint a broad picture of bureaucrats scrambling to understand and push back against a sudden, unexplained White House directive that disrupted months of careful planning, contradicted Pentagon decisions based on US national security concerns and undermined Ukraine's efforts to defend itself against Russia. The revelations follow a refusal by the Department of Justice last week to disclose two dozen emails which it said should remain confidential because they describe "communications by either the President, the Vice President, or the President's immediate advisors regarding Presidential decision-making about the scope, duration, and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine." Democratic House impeachment investigators have repeatedly highlighted OMB's refusal to turn over any documents when subpoenaed during the probe and suggested that emails may exist showing acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's role in passing along the President's order to halt the aid to Ukraine.

By Justin Wise

President Trump reportedly dismissed Republican Sen. Susan Collins's (Maine) suggestion that he had learned a lesson from impeachment just a day before his expected acquittal. Asked about Collins's comment during a private lunch with news anchors ahead of the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Trump said that he'd done nothing wrong, The Washington Post reported, citing people familiar with the meeting. “It was a perfect call," Trump added, an apparent reference to his July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he pushed the leader to announce investigations into his political opponents. Trump and his allies have repeatedly argued that his conversations with Zelensky were "perfect." The House in December voted to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after an inquiry into his alleged dealings with Ukraine. Trump is alleged to have withheld nearly $400 million in military aid in an effort to push for probes of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son and an unfounded conspiracy theory related to the 2016 election. The Senate trial, which began last month, is expected to end in an acquittal on Wednesday. The end to the trial comes after Republicans blocked a motion to allow new witnesses and documents.

By Asher Stockler

Siding with President Donald Trump in his quest to prevent New York prosecutors from obtaining his tax return, the Justice Department filed a new brief with the Supreme Court on Monday arguing in favor of presidential immunity. The department defended the broad notion of immunity from cumbersome judicial proceedings by noting that the president can be held accountable in other ways, such as through impeachment, scrutiny from the press, and his desire to maintain a positive reputation. After noting the broad scope of immunity the Justice Department has previously determined applies to the president on questions of arrest and indictment, the filing observes "a wide range of 'alternative remedies and deterrents' to presidential wrongdoing" that fall outside strict judicial action. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is seeking Trump's personal tax returns by way of the president's accounting firm, Mazars USA, as part of a state criminal investigation into potential violations of New York record-keeping laws.

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