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February 2019: Get the latest monthly headline news from multiple news sources and news links. Get real facts, real news from major news originations.  

By Shannon Van Sant
Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller say they take no position on what Paul Manafort's prison sentence should be, but say President Trump's former campaign chairman acted in "bold" fashion to commit a multitude of crimes. Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced next month after pleading guilty in a Washington, D.C. court last year to charges of conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. In a sentencing memo submitted to the court on Friday but made public on Saturday, prosecutors told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that Manafort "brazenly violated the law."  "Manafort chose repeatedly and knowingly to violate the law— whether the laws proscribed garden-variety crimes such as tax fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and bank fraud, or more esoteric laws that he nevertheless was intimately familiar with, such as the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)," they wrote in the filing. Manafort shows a "hardened adherence to committing crimes," the memo said. "His criminal actions were bold, some of which were committed while under a spotlight due to his work as the campaign chairman and, later, while he was on bail from this Court." Manafort had agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation after initially pleading guilty. But the plea deal fell apart after Jackson ruled earlier this month that he intentionally lied to Mueller's office, the FBI and the grand jury in his case. The ruling meant prosecutors were no longer bound by the plea deal.

Indictment by indictment, special counsel Robert Mueller has stitched together a Russia report in plain view. Donald Trump was in full deflection mode. The Democrats had blamed Russia for the hacking and release of damaging material on his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump wasn't buying it. But on July 27, 2016, midway through a news conference in Florida, Trump decided to entertain the thought for a moment. "Russia, if you're listening," said Trump, looking directly into a television camera, "I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing" — messages Clinton was reported to have deleted from her private email server. Actually, Russia was doing more than listening: It had been trying to help Republican Trump for months. That very day, hackers working with Russia's military intelligence tried to break into email accounts associated with Clinton's personal office. It was just one small part of a sophisticated election interference operation carried out by the Kremlin — and meticulously chronicled by special counsel Robert Mueller. We know this, though Mueller has made not a single public comment since his appointment in May 2017. We know this, though the full, final report on the investigation, believed to be in its final stages, may never be made public. It's up to Attorney General William Barr. We know this because Mueller has spoken loudly, if indirectly, in court — indictment by indictment, guilty plea by guilty plea. In doing so, he tracked an elaborate Russian operation that injected chaos into a U.S. presidential election and tried to help Trump win the White House. He followed a GOP campaign that embraced the Kremlin's help and championed stolen material to hurt a political foe. And ultimately, he revealed layers of lies, deception, self-enrichment and hubris that followed.

By Lori Robertson
When asked whether he would impose tariffs on cars imported from the European Union, President Donald Trump, as he regularly does, used an inflated figure for the trade balance between the U.S. and the EU. The deficit was $101 billion for 2017, not $151 billion, as he repeatedly claims. Trump, for years, has been using the goods-only figures for the U.S. trade deficit, instead of the goods-and-services deficit, to justify his trade policies. Since the United States exports a lot of services — such as travel, transportation, finance and intellectual property — Trump skews the trade picture by completely discounting the service trade. The U.S., in fact, has an overall trade surplus in services. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump wrongly claimed again and again that the U.S. trade deficit was “nearly $800 billion,” a generous rounding-up of the goods-only deficit of $758.9 billion in 2015, the latest figure at the time. The overall goods-and-services deficit was $531.5 billion then. He repeatedly claimed the deficit with China was $500 billion — close to the overall deficit with all countries. (The latest figure for China is $335.7 billion for 2017, despite Trump’s assertion on Feb. 15 that a “lot of people think it’s $506 billion.”) Similarly, he has distorted the trade figures for Canada and Mexico. Trump continues to falsely claim the U.S. has “large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada,” when there’s a trade surplus with Canada ($2.8 billion in 2017), and the deficit with Mexico ($68.7 billion) amounts to 11 percent of the total two-way trade with the U.S.

He’s a pioneering attorney and Haitian immigrant who’s leading the emoluments lawsuit. He engineered some of Dems’ biggest wins in 2018. So why haven’t you heard of Karl Racine? A few hours before President Donald Trump went into the Rose Garden last Friday to announce his intent to declare a national emergency so he could build his long-promised border wall, Karl Racine sent a shot across the bow: If Trump was serious about this, he was in for a fight. “We will not hesitate to use our legal authority to defend the rule of law,” the 56-year-old attorney general of Washington, D.C., said in a terse statement. t’s a posture that has become almost routine for Racine, who as co-chair of the national Democratic Attorneys General Association is playing a little-noticed but hugely influential role in fighting the Trump administration at the polls, in the courts and in the news media. The past few years have been uncommonly high profile for the American legal system. The president finds himself in both personal and professional legal jeopardy. Several of his former aides and advisers have been criminally indicted. The administration’s every move is subject to major lawsuits.

By Mark Joseph Stern
The Trump administration’s attempt to deny citizenship to the children of binational same-sex couples suffered a setback on Thursday when a federal court ruled these children are American citizens. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter of California rejected the State Department’s startling assertion that a married gay couple’s son was born “out of wedlock” and thus is ineligible for citizenship. But his decision applies only to these plaintiffs—meaning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may continue to enforce an anti-gay policy on other binational couples. Somehow, nearly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed equal rights to same-sex parents, the U.S. government is still trying to discriminate against their children under immigration law. Thursday’s decision in Dvash-Banks v. Pompeo revolves around a married couple, Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks, and their sons, Ethan and Aiden. Andrew is an American citizen; Elad is Israeli; and the couple’s children were conceived through surrogacy and born in Canada. Under U.S. law, a child born abroad receives citizenship at birth if his parents are married and at least one is an American citizen. Ethan and Aiden’s birth certificates list Andrew and Elad as their parents. Because Andrew and Elad are married, and Andrew is an American citizen, both children would appear to have a right to U.S. citizenship.

By Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, met last month with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, offering information about possible irregularities within the president’s family business and about a donor to the inaugural committee, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Cohen, who worked at the Trump Organization for a decade, spoke with the prosecutors about insurance claims the company had filed over the years, said the people, who did not elaborate on the nature of the possible irregularities. While it was not clear whether the prosecutors found Mr. Cohen’s information credible and whether they intended to pursue it, the meeting suggests that they are interested in broader aspects of the Trump Organization, beyond their investigation into the company’s role in the hush money payments made before the 2016 election to women claiming to have had affairs with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty last summer to arranging those payments. The prosecutors also questioned Mr. Cohen about a donor to the president’s inaugural committee, Imaad Zuberi, a California venture capitalist and political fund-raiser, according to the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to discuss the confidential meeting. Around the time that Mr. Zuberi contributed $900,000 to the committee, he also tried to hire Mr. Cohen as a consultant and wrote him a substantial check, one of the people said.

In a court filing, his team said Stone’s sealed indictment was properly released minutes after the GOP operative’s arrest. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office is formally denying Roger Stone’s claims that journalists got early access to his indictment last month, allowing CNN to film the GOP operative’s arrest. In a court filing Friday, Mueller prosecutors said Stone’s sealed indictment was ordered to be automatically unsealed upon Stone’s arrest on charges of lying to congressional investigators and intimidating a witness. In accordance with that order, Mueller’s office notified reporters of the indictment and posted it on the office’s website shortly after the FBI raided Stone’s South Florida home and took him into custody just after 6 a.m. on Jan. 25, prosecutors said. “The government’s public release of the indictment shortly after the defendant’s arrest was consistent with the order sealing the indictment,” Mueller attorneys and lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington argued in their submission Friday. “The order does not state, as many unsealing orders do, that the indictment shall remain sealed until further order of the Court. Rather, the order conditioned the unsealing of the indictment on one event: the defendant’s arrest,” prosecutors wrote. Stone’s lawyers have objected to the release of the charges, arguing that the indictment should have remained under seal until someone in the court clerk’s office unsealed it and that prosecutors breached grand jury secrecy by releasing it before that time.

By Chris Cillizza
(CNN) On Friday morning, this exchange happened between White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and CNN's Joe Johns: Johns: You said there was no need to collude with Russia but there have been so many indictments and contacts with Russians. How do you balance that? Sanders: It's real simple to me. The President far and away was the better candidate. He had a better message and he outworked Hillary Clinton. That's why he's President. He didn't need to, nor did he, collude with the Russians. Pretty simple. That does seem simple. I guess this is exculpatory evidence that neither President Donald Trump nor anyone is his inner circle colluded with ... Wait a minute. This makes no sense. None. And I'll explain why.

By Sam Charles, Andy Grimm and Michael Sneed
A Cook County judge has approved a no-bail arrest warrant for embattled R&B superstar R. Kelly, who was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims, at least three of them minors, in Cook County Friday morning, records show. The alleged crimes span from 1998 to 2010, records show. The minors were between 13 and 16, prosecutors allege. Kelly’s attorney, Steven Greenberg, said early Friday afternoon that he had not been notified that his client had been charged. Greenberg has said in the past that his client denies any wrongdoing. Cook County prosecutors appeared before Judge Dennis Porter Friday to approve the warrant for Kelly, records show. Michael Avenatti, a well known attorney who said he recently provided a videotape of R. Kelly having sex with a minor to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, applauded prosecutors for filing charges. It is unclear if the charges are related to the videotape the attorney provided. “The day of reckoning has arrived” for R Kelly, Avenatti said in a tweet.

By Greg Farrell
New York state prosecutors have put together a criminal case against Paul Manafort that they could file quickly if the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign receives a presidential pardon. New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is ready to file an array of tax and other charges against Manafort, according to two people familiar with the matter, something seen as an insurance policy should the president exercise his power to free the former aide. Skirting laws that protect defendants from being charged twice for the same offense has been one of Vance’s challenges. Manafort was convicted of eight felonies, pleaded guilty to two more and is scheduled to be sentenced next month for those federal crimes. Prosecutors working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller have recommended as long as 24 years, a virtual life sentence, for the 69-year-old political consultant. The president, who has bemoaned Manafort’s treatment at the hands of Mueller, said in November that he has not ruled out a pardon. He has frequently talked of his broad pardon power, possibly extending even to himself, and acted to liberate two political allies previously. A spokesman for Vance’s office declined to comment, as did Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort. The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment. Prosecutors in Vance’s office began investigating Manafort in 2017, months before Mueller charged him with conspiracy, failure to file reports of foreign bank accounts and failure to register as an agent of a foreign country, activities stemming from his earlier work for Ukraine. Mueller’s team followed up with more charges of bank fraud, filing false tax returns and failure to file reports of foreign bank accounts in early 2018.

By Mary Helen Moore
JUPITER — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in connection with a Florida spa tied to an international human trafficking ring, police said Friday. The NFL owner was charged with paying for sexual services at Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter. The spa was among 10 shut down in the Orlando area, Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast after a several-month investigation revealed women there were in "sexual servitude," according to arrest records.

By Stephen Collinson
(CNN) They once were Donald Trump's strutting, sharp-suited alpha male political and legal fixers, living high and playing the game hard, seemingly immune from the consequences of their willingness to walk on the dark side. But now, hubris has humbled Roger Stone, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. One is already in jail, another is headed there and Stone narrowly escaped with his liberty Thursday but was gagged by a judge he had threatened on Instagram. All three men have been indicted or convicted or have pleaded guilty to crimes and alleged offenses that in most cases are not directly linked to their work for the President. But had they not eagerly dived into Trump's shark tank and had he not run for President they would not have drawn the attention of special counsel Robert Mueller and possibly other prosecutors in cases that led to their downfall. The White House line, whenever one of the President's men goes down, is that none of it has anything to do with Trump. Technically, that is often true: So far none of the trio has been charged with a conspiracy to collude with Russia, for instance. Yet all three are under suspicion of allegedly communicating with Russian intelligence assets, contacts or alleged front organizations like WikiLeaks. Washington is on alert to see if any of those episodes will be referenced in Mueller's final report, which could be delivered to Attorney General Bill Barr as early as next week. What is clear is that these are men who Trump has been happy to have by his side. While their partnerships were working and before prosecutors swooped, he never seemed troubled by their dubious reputations and bare-knuckle tactics. In fact, it may have recommended them to him. Stone, a protege of Trump mentor and mob lawyer Roy Cohn, has moved in the President's world for decades. He is his longest political adviser, after a self-styled career as a dirty trickster fashioned after his hero Richard Nixon. Cohen, who is expected to lift the lid on some of the President's life and business secrets in what could be a sensational Capitol Hill hearing next week, made himself indispensable as a man who cleaned up Trump's messes. And Manafort traded in the life of a jet-setting international political consultant who rubbed shoulders with oligarchs to turn Trump, the 2016 GOP primary victor, into a nominee who could make a run at the presidency itself, as his campaign chairman. If their story has a common moral, it is this: Sooner or later, even hard-charging political and legal bruisers who seem to fly unrestrained by the normal rules can eventually fall foul of the law and see lives of notoriety crash to ruin. Only time, Mueller, various other legal proceedings and a flurry of congressional investigations will tell whether Trump himself will learn the same hard truth or was smart enough to avoid the fate of his tainted operatives.

Bill Wehrum's firm worked extensively to coordinate the power industry’s strategy against the Obama-era regulations. The nation’s biggest coal-burning power companies paid a top lobbying firm millions of dollars to fight a wide range of Obama-era environmental rules, documents obtained by POLITICO reveal — shortly before one of the firm’s partners became President Donald Trump’s top air pollution regulator. Now that ex-partner, Bill Wehrum, is aggressively working to undo many of those same regulations at the EPA, where he is an assistant administrator in charge of issues including climate change, smog and power plants’ mercury pollution. Wehrum’s past role as a utility lobbyist is well-known, but the documents reveal never-before-disclosed details of how extensively his old firm, formerly called Hunton & Williams, worked to coordinate the power industry’s strategy against the Obama administration’s regulations. Twenty-five power companies and six industry trade groups agreed to pay the firm a total of $8.2 million in 2017 alone, according to an internal summary prepared in June of that year — less than three months before Trump tapped Wehrum for his EPA post. POLITICO obtained 26 pages of briefing materials distributed to members of an umbrella group of utilities Wehrum represented while at the firm. Known as the Utility Air Regulatory Group, the secretive organization included some of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country. The materials were marked "CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY-CLIENT COMMUNICATION" and outlined goals for a meeting of the group's policy committee. Wehrum’s past role as a utility lobbyist is well-known, but the documents reveal never-before-disclosed details of how extensively his old firm, formerly called Hunton & Williams, worked to coordinate the power industry’s strategy against the Obama administration’s regulations. Twenty-five power companies and six industry trade groups agreed to pay the firm a total of $8.2 million in 2017 alone, according to an internal summary prepared in June of that year — less than three months before Trump tapped Wehrum for his EPA post. POLITICO obtained 26 pages of briefing materials distributed to members of an umbrella group of utilities Wehrum represented while at the firm. Known as the Utility Air Regulatory Group, the secretive organization included some of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country. The materials were marked "CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY-CLIENT COMMUNICATION" and outlined goals for a meeting of the group's policy committee.

By Rebecca Shabad
It's expected to easily pass the House — and GOP Senate leaders won't be able to block it from reaching the floor for a vote there. WASHINGTON — House Democrats planned to push ahead Friday with a measure that seeks to terminate President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration that he issued last week in order to circumvent Congress and build his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, was set to file a joint resolution in the House that would repeal the president’s declaration. The measure was to be filed during the chamber’s pro forma session, since lawmakers are on recess and don’t return to Washington until Monday. As of Wednesday, more than 90 House Democrats had signed onto the legislation as official co-sponsors. We have 222 cosponsors to terminate President Trump’s national emergency declaration to build his border wall. #FakeTrumpEmergency pic.twitter.com/guCB4PQlK2  — Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) February 22, 2019. In a letter circulated to lawmakers of both parties, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urged all members to back it, saying the president’s move “undermines the separation of powers and Congress’s power of the purse.” “The House will move swiftly to pass this bill,” Pelosi said in the letter, specifying that it would be reported out of committee within 15 calendar days and would be considered on the House floor three days after that. “The President’s decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated.”

By Aris Folley
The New Jersey state Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill that would keep presidential candidates off the state’s 2020 ballot unless they release their tax returns. According to the Courier Post, the Democratic-controlled state Senate passed the measure along party lines in a 23-11 vote on Thursday, sending the bill to the Assembly committee and full legislature for a vote before it heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D) for consideration. The controversial measure would deny candidates for president and vice president a spot on the state ballot if they do not publicly release five of their most recent tax returns at least 50 days before the general election in 2020. The bill, if passed, would also bar the state’s electors from voting for candidates for president and vice president as part of the Electoral College system if they choose not to comply with the legislation. President Trump has drawn ongoing criticism over his refusal to publicly release his tax returns, the first major-party White House candidate in decades not to do so. The New Jersey legislature passed the same bill in 2017, but the measure was blocked by a veto from then-Gov. Chris Christie (R), who called it a “transparent political stunt" at the time. Supporters of the measure have said lawmakers are afforded room under the Constitution to enact such a restriction to ballot access, arguing that voters should have the option of reviewing presidential and vice presidential candidates’ tax returns. “It is so obvious with this president that had voters known some of what seem to be his business interests, he may not have been elected president,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D), a sponsor of the legislation, told the Courier Post.

Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who recently received national backlash for comments supporting white supremacy and white nationalists, said on Thursday that he wasn’t sorry and that he would run for reelection in 2020. “I have nothing to apologize for,” King said during a recording of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press,” after the host, David Yepsen, asked whether King was sorry for anything he’d said, according to the The Des Moines Register. The episode will air Friday evening in Iowa. King earlier this year came under fire after he questioned, during an interview with The New York Times, why the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” had become offensive. The congressman since has repeatedly tried to distance himself from the comments and claimed he was misquoted. Many of King’s fellow Republicans denounced his comments, including both of Iowa’s senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley. Several of King’s colleagues went so far as to call for him to resign, as did the state’s largest paper, the Register, and the Sioux City Journal, a Western Iowa newspaper that is located in King’s 4th Congressional District.

By Pilar Melendez
The ruling comes less than a month after the Department of Justice announced their own investigation into the billionaire’s secret plea deal. Federal prosecutors in Florida—including President Trump’s current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta—broke the law when they signed a secret plea agreement with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a Palm Beach judge ruled Thursday. U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that the decision to keep more than 30 of Epstein’s accusers in the dark about the non-prosecution deal that allowed Epstein, a prominent financier with political connections, to avoid federal prosecution was unconstitutional. By signing the deal, Marra ruled, Acosta and other DOJ lawyers violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), which guarantees victims the right to speak with prosecutors. “Petitioners and the other victims should have been notified of the Government’s intention to take that course of action before it bound itself under” a plea agreement, Marra wrote in the 33-page opinion, which mentioned Acosta multiple times. The evidence, the judge concluded, shows that Epstein, 66, violated federal law in 2008 by running an international sex trafficking operation that recruited underage girls, often times bringing them to the U.S. from overseas. “Epstein used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him,’’ Marra wrote. “Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others.’’ A bombshell Miami Herald report revealed how Epstein—who has been accused of molesting more than 100 underage girls—was granted the sweetheart plea deal by Acosta and other DOJ attorneys after mounting pressure by Epstein’s defense lawyers.

By Ryan Lucas
A federal judge on Thursday barred Roger Stone from talking publicly about his case after an inflammatory photo was posted on his Instagram account of the judge that included what appeared to be a crosshairs. Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected apologies offered by Stone, both in writing and in person at a hearing in Washington, D.C. If Stone violates the order, Jackson warned him, she would be "compelled to adjust your environment." She then spelled out what that meant — she would revoke his bond and order him to be detained ahead of his trial. The judge's decision adds Stone to an existing gag order that prohibits attorneys from speaking about the case and bars any of the parties from talking about it in the vicinity of the courthouse. Stone, 66, has been charged with obstruction, false statements and witness tampering as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The obstruction and false statements charges relate to testimony he gave to Congress about the role he allegedly played in 2016 as an intermediary between Donald Trump's campaign and WikiLeaks. Stone has pleaded not guilty and says he did nothing wrong. He and supporters also have leveled intense criticism at the government before and since his arrest, including of the FBI, the Justice Department and then Jackson herself. Stone's Instagram post on Monday suggested that conspirators within the "deep state" had schemed to put his case before an ostensibly unfair Jackson so she could preside over a "show trial." A shape like the crosshairs of a rifle scope appeared in the backdrop of the photo. The post was then deleted.

By Alan Blinder
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina election authorities on Thursday ordered a new contest for Congress in the state’s Ninth District after the Republican candidate, confronted by days of evidence that his campaign underwrote an illegal get-out-the-vote effort, abandoned his defense and called for a new vote. The unanimous ruling by the North Carolina State Board of Elections was a startling — and, for Republicans, embarrassing — turn in a case of political chicanery that convulsed North Carolina. “It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the Ninth District’s general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, said from the witness stand on Thursday afternoon. Mr. Harris’s announcement represented an abrupt collapse of the Republican effort to stave off a new vote in the Ninth, which includes part of Charlotte and runs through much of southeastern North Carolina. But the evangelical pastor’s political surrender came only after a damaging 24 hours for Mr. Harris and his allies; just before Mr. Harris called for a new election, he acknowledged that some of his earlier testimony had been “incorrect.” Although Mr. Harris maintained on Thursday that he did not know, in real-time, about any illegal behavior by L. McCrae Dowless Jr., a campaign contractor, or his workers, witnesses this week depicted an operation that was rife with misconduct, including the completion and collection of absentee ballots. Both actions are illegal in North Carolina, and witnesses said that they had occurred repeatedly. Mr. Dowless, who refused to testify before the board, has not been charged with any crimes in connection with the 2018 election, nor have any of his workers, who were often friends or relatives with little ideological interest in politics. Prosecutors are examining the operation, though, and are considering whether to bring any criminal cases.

Chicago  police announce the arrest of "Empire" star Jussie Smollett, stating  the actor staged an attack to advance his career. The actor has denied  playing a role in his attack, according to his attorneys. Source: CNN

By Kevin Breuninger
A federal judge will decide Thursday whether to change — or revoke — bond for Republican trickster Roger Stone for posting an Instagram photo of the judge next to an apparent rifle scope's crosshair. Stone is accused of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks regarding internal Democratic emails allegedly stolen by Russian agents. Judge Amy Berman Jackson last year revoked the release bond of Stone's former business associate, Paul Manafort. Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson is set to decide Thursday whether to stiffen — or revoke — the release bond of Republican trickster Roger Stone for posting an Instagram photo of the judge next to an apparent rifle scope's crosshair. The abruptly scheduled hearing in Washington federal court, set for 2:30 p.m. ET, doesn't bode well for Stone, a longtime friend and advisor of President Donald Trump. The 66-year-old defendant could see his recent partial gag order expanded or his $250,000 signature bond modified by requiring him to actually put up that dollar amount with the court, or even more money to retain his liberty. At the very least, Stone is likely to face a serious dressing down by Jackson for his recent conduct. Stone's bail could be revoked, which would put him in jail pending trial.

By Will Sommer
The embattled far-right activist faces pushback from her group’s own members who found her Hitler comments embarrassing. Three chapters of campus conservative group Turning Point USA on Thursday denounced prominent pro-Trump activist Candace Owens, calling on her to step down from her high-ranking communications position in the group. In a statement endorsed by TPUSA chapters at University of Nebraska Omaha, Bowling Green State University, and University of Colorado Boulder, college activists said the group’s leadership has thus far ignored their concerns about Owens. “It seems that controversy has always surrounded Candace Owens,” the statement reads. The statement comes hours before Owens and other young conservative activists are set to go on a White House visit that Owens helped arrange. Owens and TPUSA did not respond to requests for comment. The chapters said in their statement that Owens’ frequent controversies have alienated the group’s allies on the right. We are a chapter of Turning Point USA and we stand by this statement. pic.twitter.com/UU0sQICaIH — TPUSA_UNO (@TPUSA_Omaha) February 21, 2019 “We have seen many hard working activists and chapters across the United States dissociate with Turning Point USA simply because they can’t align themselves with the rhetoric and statements that have come out,” the statement read. The chapters’ statement focuses on Owens’ strange comments about Adolf Hitler made in a speech last year. “When we say nationalism, the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler. He was a national socialist,” she said at Turning Point’s Europe launch event in London. “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine.” She continued in the controversial video: “The problem is he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize, he wanted everybody to be German, everybody to be speaking German, everybody to look a different way.” Owens said after the video surfaced that she was merely trying to point out that Hitler was—by her definition—not a nationalist, but a “globalist.” In their statement, the TPUSA chapters said while they don’t believe Owens meant to praise Hitler, they found her comments indicative of her clumsy communication skills.

By Kara Scannell
(CNN) An analyst with the Internal Revenue Service was charged with disclosing confidential reports about Michael Cohen's bank records that revealed the President's former lawyer sought to profit from his proximity to the White House. The analyst was charged by the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California with the unauthorized disclosure of a suspicious activity report, or SAR. Banks file SARs on any transactions that could be illegal. CNN previously reported that the Justice Department was investigating the leak last year of the confidential reports. The bank transactions of Cohen became public last May when lawyer Michael Avenatti posted a memo online outlining numerous payments to Cohen from a company linked to a Russian oligarch, pharmaceutical giant Novartis, AT&T, which owns CNN, and others.

By Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Rebecca Ballhaus
Paperwork is in hands of federal prosecutors, who are investigating payments to vendors.
In the weeks before his inauguration, top officials on President Trump’s inaugural committee repeatedly sounded alarms about the budgets submitted by several vendors, according to correspondence, committee records and draft budgets reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Some of the materials, which haven’t previously been reported, have been shared with federal prosecutors in New York, according to people familiar with the investigation.

By Aaron Blake
Whitaker told lawmakers Trump never pressured him to take any action related to the SDNY investigation of Michael Cohen. A New York Times report tells a different story. Whitaker told lawmakers Trump never pressured him to take any action related to the SDNY investigation of Michael Cohen. A New York Times report tells a different story. President Trump has denied a New York Times report that he asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker to appoint an ally in the Southern District of New York to run the investigation of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer. U.S. attorney Geoffrey S. Berman had recused himself from the case because of a conflict of interest. But Whitaker’s carefully worded denials suggest there is something to the explosive story. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Whitaker told lawmakers, “At no time has the White House asked for, nor have I provided, any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.” The New York Times anecdote has not been independently corroborated by The Washington Post. But if it’s true, Democrats will surely argue that Whitaker lied under oath. In fact, though, Whitaker seems to have carefully crafted a sentence that would never endanger Whitaker. Whitaker doesn’t deny that Trump tried to get involved; he just says the White House never “asked for . . . any promises or commitment.” As long as Trump didn’t ask him to promise to get Berman back in, Whitaker is probably in the clear. It was also part of Whitaker’s opening statement, meaning it was surely vetted for technical truthfulness. Whitaker gave the impression that he was denying that the White House had ever tried to influence an investigation. But that’s not really what he said.

By Sopan Deb and Jack Healy
CHICAGO — Jussie Smollett, upset by his salary and seeking publicity, staged a fake assault on himself a week after writing himself a threatening letter, the Chicago police said Thursday after the “Empire” actor surrendered to face a felony charge of filing a false police report. The Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson, visibly angry at a morning news conference, said Mr. Smollett had taken advantage of the pain and anger of racism, draining resources that could have been used to investigate other crimes for which people were actually suffering. “I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said, referring to the news media. The police say the staged assault was carried out by two brothers to whom the actor had paid $3,500 and that they have a copy of the check Mr. Smollett used to pay them. Also recovered, they said, were phone records that showed Mr. Smollett speaking to the brothers an hour before Mr. Smollett said the incident took place, and an hour after that time. Superintendent Johnson declined to indicate why investigators now believe that Mr. Smollett had also played the chief role in the mailing of a threatening letter he received. The letter, which arrived a week before the reported assault, contained a harmless white powder and a sketch of what appeared to be a man being hanged. According to Mr. Smollett, the return address said “MAGA,” a reference to a slogan from President Trump’s campaign. Superintendent Johnson referred further comment about the letter to the F.B.I., which is investigating that part of the case. The agency declined to comment.

By Andrew Prokop
Court filings about Cohen, Manafort, and Stone have alleged scandalous activities during the 2016 campaign.
President Trump keeps insisting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has found “no collusion” between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. But a close read of what we already know about what Mueller’s been doing suggests at the very least, some very questionable things were going on during the campaign. Mueller’s team has already laid out a startling story in indictments, plea deals, and other court documents that are full of new revelations about the Trump team’s contacts with Russia that year — contacts that have moved from suspicious to downright scandalous. The special counsel has not alleged any sinister, high-level election interference conspiracy involving Trump himself and the Russian government. But, particularly in recent filings, he has laid out damaging facts on three major matters that certainly seem at least collusion-adjacent. 1) The business opportunity for Trump: The Trump Organization was secretly in talks for a potentially very lucrative Moscow real estate deal during the campaign, and Russian government officials were involved. Trump and members of his family were briefed several times on the project. 2) A key figure with shady Russia connections: Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort had a history of illegal work for pro-Russian interests and was in debt to a Russian oligarch. Then, during the campaign, he allegedly handed over Trump polling data to a Russian intelligence-tied associate. 3) The hacked — and leaked — emails: Russian intelligence officers hacked leading Democrats’ emails, and WikiLeaks eventually posted many of those stolen emails publicly. Trump associates like George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone seem to have had at least some advance knowledge of this. These revelations are all significant, and greatly change what we know about what happened in 2016. They tell us that while Trump was praising Putin on the campaign trail, he and his family were trying to make massive amounts of money in Russia. Meanwhile, Manafort was handing out his polling data for unknown reasons, and Stone was at least trying to get an inside line on the emails criminally stolen from Democrats. We don’t yet know whether there’s more to be revealed about any of these. Mueller also hasn’t indicated how these pieces fit together to form a larger story, and he hasn’t yet assessed how much, exactly, the president knew about each. And there are other incidents, like the infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, that the special counsel has not yet said a single word about. But the bigger picture is that, however you define “collusion,” we’ve learned a great deal more about just what top figures in Trumpworld were doing regarding Russia during the election — and it’s far from being a “nothingburger.”

By Dylan Scott
A state hearing is entering its fourth day as state officials consider whether to call a new election. At a North Carolina hearing, investigators have laid out in detail an “unlawful,” “coordinated,” and well-funded plot to tamper with absentee ballots in a US House election that remains uncalled more than three months after Election Day — finally bringing clarity to one of the most bizarre election scandals in recent memory. State investigators established on Monday their theory of the case — that a Republican-hired local operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, directed a coordinated scheme to unlawfully collect, falsely witness, and otherwise tamper with absentee ballots — and workers who say they had assisted him in the scheme delivered damning testimony over several hours. Monday’s session ended with Dowless, under the advice of his attorney, refusing to testify before the election board. They met again the next two days to continue the hearing and the proceedings extended into Thursday, with Republican candidate Mark Harris expected to take the stand. But as Thursday’s hearing began, the board revealed that Harris’s campaign had produced new evidence the night before Harris was to testify: previously undisclosed contacts between the candidate and Dowless. Harris’s attorneys said they had misunderstood the extent of the investigation’s request. Democratic attorney Marc Elias referred to the documents as “explosively important.” He asked the court to consider the way in which the evidence was released as “adverse interference” by the Harris team. Over Tuesday and Wednesday, a top political consultant for Harris’s campaign and the candidate’s own son had given remarkable testimony about the decision to hire Dowless. The consultant, Andy Yates, and John Harris both insisted Harris did not know what Dowless was doing and proved too trusting about the operative’s claims. Yet John Harris did say he warned his father that Dowless’s prior work on absentee ballots seemed like it could be illegal, a warning that went unheeded by the candidate. As his son closed his testimony with a few kind remarks about his parents, Mark Harris was in tears.

By Stephen Proctor
As per usual, Chris Cuomo briefly joined Anderson Cooper 360 Wednesday night ahead of the start of Cuomo Prime Time, but this conversation was anything but usual. In it, Cuomo responded to being one of dozens of people on a hit list, which included prominent Democrats and critics of Donald Trump in the media. Cuomo’s first thoughts were of his family. “This is scary,” Cuomo said. “This is something that the people who get named, we have to deal with, especially with our family because while we accept it as just the nature of the world we live in these days, my brother, this is very scary to the people and the little ones at home. So we’ve got to deal with that.” Earlier in the day, news broke that a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant, and self-described white nationalist, Christopher Paul Hasson, who was arrested last week on weapons and drug charges, was planning a large-scale terrorist attack. It was also discovered after the arrest that Hasson, who had amassed a large cache of weapons and ammunition, had compiled the hit list shortly after internet searches for things like “what if Trump illegally impeached,” “best place in dc to see congress people,” “civil war if trump impeached” and “social democrats usa.”

By Mary Kay Mallonee and Caroline Kelly, CNN
(CNN) A Coast Guard lieutenant arrested last Friday on gun and drug charges allegedly wanted to conduct a mass killing. Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, of Silver Spring, Maryland, is alleged to be a white supremacist who had a hit list that included prominent Democratic politicians as well as several journalists from CNN and MSNBC. Hasson's case was first circulated by counterterrorism expert Seamus Hughes and the George Washington Program on Extremism. Hasson's hit list includes Democratic politicians -- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Kamala Harris of California, as well as former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas -- as well as CNN journalists Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo and Van Jones and MSNBC's Chris Hayes, Ari Melber and Joe Scarborough. Court documents say Hasson espoused extremist and white supremacist views and allege that he relied on the manifesto of Anders Breivik, a Norwegian who was convicted in 2011 of two terror attacks that killed 77 people. The government says Hasson also stockpiled steroids and human growth hormone "to increase his ability to conduct attacks," consistent with the directions in Breivik's manifesto. "The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct," prosecutors wrote. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Barry Lane, spokesman for US Coast Guard Headquarters, said in a statement that the arrest was part of an investigation led by the Coast Guard.

By Nina dos Santos
London and Moscow (CNN)Senate investigators want to question a Moscow-based American businessman with longstanding ties to President Donald Trump after witnesses told them he could shed light on the President's commercial and personal activities in Russia dating back to the 1990s, multiple sources have told CNN. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is probing allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, has been keen to speak with David Geovanis for several months, the sources say. Geovanis helped organize a 1996 trip to Moscow by Trump, who was in the early stages of pursuing what would become a long-held goal of building a Trump Tower in the Russian capital, according to multiple media reports at the time. Years later, Geovanis worked for the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whose ties to Trump's 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort have also been of interest to investigators. Two witnesses who have given evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee say they were asked about Geovanis' past relationship with the President during interviews last year. The interviews were conducted by staff working for both the Republican and Democratic sides of the committee, according to the sources, who wish to remain anonymous due to the confidential nature of the Senate inquiry. This is the first time that Geovanis' name has been revealed in connection with the various investigations underway into Russian influence on US politics, which include a sweeping new House investigation into Trump's financial interests. The Senate Intelligence Committee's interest in Geovanis indicates its investigation is delving further back into Trump's past in Russia than previously thought.

By Stephen Collinson
Washington (CNN) Robert Mueller's report could land within days, yet rather than offering definitive answers, his hotly anticipated filing might only ignite a new controversy -- over how much of the special counsel's conclusions most Americans get to see. Sources told CNN on Wednesday that the Justice Department is preparing for Mueller to report to Attorney General Bill Barr as soon as next week after an investigation that started as an attempt to find out whether Trump campaign members conspired with a Russian election meddling effort. But the big question is how much of what the special counsel concludes -- after an investigation repeatedly blasted as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt" by the President -- will be made public or even sent to Congress. Whenever it is filed, Mueller's report will mark a critical point in the Trump presidency, given the gravity of the accusations against his team, and offer the theoretical possibility of conclusive answers about the last White House race. The reclusive former FBI director's findings could also put the United States on the road to a new and divisive impeachment saga, if he finds collusion with Russia and an attempt by the President to obstruct justice to cover it up. If there is no case for Trump to answer, Mueller could at least partially lift a cloud that has haunted the White House every day of his presidency, though a flurry of spin-off cases mean the President's legal exposure is far from over. It will be a fraught political time, since so many Americans have invested so much emotion in the outcome, whether they are liberals who dream of Trump being ousted from power or supporters who buy his claims of a huge "hoax." Yet key players in Washington and many Americans beyond, transfixed by the barely believable drama leading up to the final report, at least at first, may be let down. Mueller's endgame is obscured because no one really knows exactly what he will report and the information that Barr will choose -- or feel compelled -- to share with Congress and the public on a scandal that has polarized the nation. The uncertainty is almost certain to spark a new struggle between Congress, the White House and the Justice Department that could lead to litigation and has every chance of reaching all the way up to the Supreme Court. Mueller's filing could also herald the reclusive prosecutor's own exit from the stage -- likely after not speaking to the American people from the beginning to the end of his investigation. That old fashioned reticence, as well as a stellar career in law enforcement, is one reason why Mueller's conclusions will carry such weight -- whether his report is ultimately critical of the President or leaves him in the clear.

In emotional testimony Wednesday, the son of North Carolina Republican Mark Harris said he warned his father about the absentee ballot strategy used by Leslie McCrae Dowless, the political operative now at the center of an election fraud scandal in the state's 9th Congressional District. John Harris testified before the North Carolina State Election Board Wednesday about allegations of election fraud. Though Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial ballot count on election night in November 2018, the election board refused to certify a winner, pointing to the accusations of fraud. John Harris, an attorney himself, said early on he was suspicious of Dowless' operation and shared his thoughts with his father and mother. John's testimony appears to refute comments made by his father that he was never warned about Dowless, who held prior felony convictions of fraud and perjury. After Mark met with Dowless, John sent his father an email on April 7, 2017, that included text of the law on the illegality of collecting a person's absentee ballot. "Good test is if you’re comfortable with the full process he uses being broadcast on the news," John emailed his father as Mark Harris contemplated hiring Dowless. John said he believed his father's mind was already made up despite his warnings.

By Alex Ward
Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, was behind it. A new report from House Democrats reveals disturbing new details about a secretive effort by top Trump administration officials to sell sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia — in defiance of at least some of the nation’s ethics statutes. The House Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday released a report — accompanied by a tranche of internal White House emails — detailing a scheme spearheaded by now-disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to sell technology for roughly 40 nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. The plan was already known due to previous reporting by the Wall Street Journal, for example, but the Democrats’ report does add more insight into what was happening behind the scenes to push the proposal through. The effort was part of a broader Middle East economic development plan Flynn began putting together before Trump’s inauguration while he was serving as an adviser to Trump’s campaign and transition team. During that same time period, though, Flynn was also working as an adviser for a private company called IP3 International — a firm run by retired US military generals that bills itself as a “global enterprise to develop sustainable energy and security infrastructure.” In other words, a company that had a clear financial interest in exporting US nuclear energy technology to Saudi Arabia. Once Trump was inaugurated, Flynn, along with longtime Trump associate Thomas Barrack, worked with other senior officials in the new Trump administration to make the plan a reality. And it seems they got pretty far: On January 27, 2017 — just seven days after the inauguration — several of the retired generals from IP3 went to the White House to meet with Derek Harvey, a senior staffer on Trump’s National Security Council at the time, to discuss the nuclear plan for Saudi Arabia.

By Stephen Collinson
Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump's craving for loyalty from his top law enforcement officials and alleged efforts to topple those whom he perceives as threats could be leading him into deep trouble -- and even put his presidency in peril. The New York Times provided a fresh glimpse into Trump's persistent efforts to shield himself from swirling scandals with a report that the President sought to install someone he saw as an ally atop an investigation by New York prosecutors into his former lawyer Michael Cohen. Then, in an interview with CNN, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe -- who was instrumental in opening an obstruction inquiry against Trump -- made his strongest claim yet that he was fired hours before his scheduled retirement as a result of an internal investigation rigged against him at the instigation of the President. The revelations appear to fit into a consistent pattern of attempts by Trump to influence investigations in which he may be implicated and a constant campaign of public and private pressure on the officials involved. They also beg a mysterious question yet again: Why, if the President insists there was no coordination between his 2016 campaign and Russia's election meddling plot, has he taken such pains to undermine investigations into what he has branded a huge "hoax?" The New York Times reported that Trump called acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker late last year to ask whether it was possible that Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was recused from the case, could take over anyway. Trump lashed out at the report on Wednesday, tweeting: "The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!" Even in his public remarks, the President has often left the impression that top law enforcement officers had a duty to protect him -- like a personal lawyer -- rather than to the neutral administration of justice and to the Constitution. Fired FBI Director James Comey said Trump tried to establish a mob-like relationship of patronage with him. Trump also repeatedly berated his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his failure to rein in the Russia probe. Trump has mounted relentless, almost daily attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry and other investigations targeting his administration. In the worst-case scenario, his incessant private, public and political efforts to influence the investigations could add up to obstruction of justice in plain sight -- and even form part of any future articles of impeachment. Asked by CNN's Brooke Baldwin whether Trump's request to Whitaker amounted to obstruction, Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor, answered: "What else could it be?" "What other reason could the President have for calling Matt Whitaker right as the Cohen investigation was growing and starting to threaten him ... and asking Whitaker, 'Can we get my guy?'" he said.

By Justin Baragona
The judge said Trump’s reported call to Whitaker was ‘an effort to use the levers of power... for a corrupt purpose to deflect an investigation into himself or his allies.’ Shortly after the New York Times dropped an explosive report alleging President Trump called then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put a Trump ally in charge of the Southern District of New York’s case against former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said this request amounted to “an attempt to obstruct justice.” According to the Times, Trump attempted to exert pressure on his newly installed attorney general late last year. With U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman having already recused himself from the Cohen investigation due to a conflict of interest, Trump reportedly asked Whitaker to put Berman in charge of the probe. Trump “soon soured” on Whitaker for not being able to make the move happen, per the Times. Speaking with Fox News anchor Shepard Smith on Tuesday, Napolitano noted that Whitaker himself could be in trouble if the story is accurate, seeing as Whitaker previously testified to Congress that the president had never pressured him on any of the multiple Trump-related investigations. “There’s two potential crimes here for Matt Whitaker,” the judge stated. “One is actual perjury, lying to the Congress. The other is misleading. Remember, you can be truthful but still misleading.” The judge, whom The Daily Beast has described as Fox’s “lonely truth-teller” on all things Trump, further explained that while things may not look good for Whitaker, they look really bad for the president. Napolitano said the president’s reported phone call to Whitaker demonstrates “corrupt intent.”

Chao has met at least 10 times with politicians and business leaders from the state in response to requests from McConnell’s office. A trove of more than 800 pages of emails sheds new light on the working relationship between Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the most potent power couples in Washington — including their dealings with McConnell supporters from their home state of Kentucky. Chao has met at least 10 times with politicians and business leaders from the state in response to requests from McConnell’s office, according to documents provided to Politico by the watchdog group American Oversight. In some cases, those people later received what they were hoping for from Chao’s department, including infrastructure grants, the designation of an interstate highway and assistance in getting state funds for a highway project — although the documents don’t indicate that the meetings led to those outcomes. The records also do not show how frequently Chao has met with people from outside Kentucky, a state her husband has represented in the Senate since 1985, or how readily she has responded to similar requests from other lawmakers. But at least a dozen of the emails show McConnell’s staff acting as a conduit between Chao and Kentucky political figures or business leaders, some of whom previously have had relationships with the couple. In one email from Feb. 2, 2017, just days after Chao was sworn in, McConnell’s state director emailed a Chao lieutenant asking the secretary to meet with maritime industry lobbyist Jim Adams about proposed changes to “Buy American, Hire American” requirements for offshore drilling equipment. The lobbyist and his wife, a Kentucky state senator who used to work for McConnell, donated $1,500 to McConnell’s 2014 reelection campaign, according to Federal Election Commission filings. “The Secretary knows them both well,” McConnell state director Terry Carmack wrote to Todd Inman, who at the time was director of operations at the Department of Transportation. Chao met with the lobbyist the next month, according to her calendar.

By Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt
President Trump’s efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work. WASHINGTON — As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call. Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away. Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative news media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president. An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

President Trump's words are already being used against him in a slew of lawsuits challenging his declaration of a national emergency at the southern border. In at least three federal court lawsuits, lawyers have seized on the president's remark during the press conference he "didn't need to" declare a national emergency. President Donald Trump's words are being used against him in a slew of lawsuits challenging his declaration of a national emergency at the southern border. In at least three federal court lawsuits filed, lawyers have seized on the president's remark during Friday's press conference announcing the declaration that he "didn't need to" declare a national emergency. In suits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Citizen and 16 U.S. states, the challengers have argued that the president's comments show that his national emergency declaration is a matter of personal preference or a negotiating tactic — not a true emergency requiring the use of American armed forces, as the White House has claimed. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has said it will file a lawsuit against the administration this week, has featured the president's comment in news releases. The president's remarks on Friday came after a protracted battle with Congress over his demands for billions of dollars in funding for his proposed border wall. The tussle led to a partial government shutdown that stretched through December and January — the longest in American history. The issue appeared to be resolved last week only after the president agreed to sign a spending bill without funding for the wall, while simultaneously declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress and unlock already appropriated Department of Defense funds. "I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster," Trump said of the national emergency declaration, speaking from the White House Rose Garden, according to an official transcript. "And I don't have to do it for the election. I've already done a lot of wall, for the election — 2020."

President Trump reportedly asked former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker late last year whether the U.S. attorney in New York's Southern District and ally of the president could take over the investigation into hush money paid to women who alleged they had affairs with the president, among other subjects. The New York Times reported that Trump requested that U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman be put in charge of the investigation that has since resulted in jail time for former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, even though Berman recused himself from the probe. Whitaker, whose tenure ended last week with the confirmation of Attorney General William Barr, knew Berman could not un-recuse himself, The Times reported. Trump then grew frustrated with Whitaker and the appointee's inability to address his mounting legal problems. The Times cited the previously unreported request from Trump as one of several examples of the president seeking to influence the investigations into his presidency, his associates and his business interests. Neither the White House nor the Justice Department immediately responded to a request for comment from The Hill.

The Trump administration sought to rush the transfer of American nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the law, a new report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee alleges. Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings' staff issued an "interim staff" report Tuesday, citing "multiple whistleblowers" who raised ethical and legal concerns about the process. "They have warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisers at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump administration officials to halt their efforts," the report states. "They have also warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes." The committee's report alleges that the major drivers behind the effort to transfer U.S. nuclear technology were retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who served as the president's national security adviser, and Thomas Barrack, who chaired Trump's inauguration committee. Flynn was fired in February 2017 for lying about conversations with the Russian ambassador to Vice President Pence and the FBI. For about seven months in 2016, including during the presidential transition, Flynn served as an adviser to IP3 International, a private company seeking to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia. The whistleblowers told the committee that Flynn continued to advocate for IP3's plan even after he joined the White House as the president's national security adviser in 2017.

FBI officials enacted a plan to save evidence gathered in its probe of Russian election interference and the Trump campaign in 2017 after President Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey. A source with knowledge of the discussions at the top of the FBI told The Associated Press that Andrew McCabe, then the deputy FBI director, ordered officials to preserve information obtained as part of the investigation in the event that McCabe or other officials were fired by the president in the wake of Comey's ouster. That source told the AP that a plan was created to preserve the evidence after McCabe became acting FBI director, and a second source confirmed to the AP that FBI officials discussed preserving evidence during that time so as to avoid the investigation being stifled by the president's actions. The report comes after McCabe told "60 Minutes" in an interview that he worked to ensure that the Russia probe would endure beyond his possible firing by Trump in the wake of his appointment to acting FBI director. “I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion. That were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace," McCabe told CBS News. “I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground and if somebody came in behind me and closed it and tried to walk away from it, they would not be able to do that without creating a record of why they made that decision," the former deputy FBI chief added. McCabe added during his interview with CBS that the president "may have committed" a crime by firing Comey, which he suggested could constitute obstruction of justice. “And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, “Why would a president of the United States do that?” McCabe told CBS.

The first tax filing season under the new federal tax law is proving to be surprising, confusing — and occasionally frightening — for some Americans. It is especially so for those accustomed to getting tax refunds. Many Americans have come to rely on refunds: About three-quarters of U.S. taxpayers typically get one and they had averaged around $2,800. For some low-income households it is the biggest cash infusion of the year. Wait, I owe the IRS? The first tax filing season under the new federal tax law is proving to be surprising, confusing — and occasionally frightening — for some Americans, especially those accustomed to getting money back from the government. Take Andy Kraft and Amy Elias of Portland, Oregon. The couple had grown comfortable getting a small refund each year, a few hundred dollars or more. Then they found out they owe $10,160 this year. "I will never forget the moment, I thought 'We look good' and then we added in the next W-2 and my jaw hit the floor," Kraft said. "There was no way I wanted to believe that what I was looking at was accurate.

The Trump administration and key GOP lawmakers are playing defense after early data showed Americans are getting smaller tax refunds in the first filing season under the GOP tax law. The average refund size through Feb. 8 was 8.7 percent smaller than the same period last year, according to IRS figures. Democrats have seized on the numbers, arguing they prove that the 2017 tax-code overhaul by Republicans was a “scam” designed to help the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. Republicans have pushed back, emphasizing that most people are seeing a reduction in their total tax liability and that smaller refunds are preferable because they mean taxpayers were paying a more accurate amount throughout the year via their paychecks. “Critics of the tax cuts are squealing that lower refunds means that taxpayers are paying more in taxes. That argument is pure hogwash,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement Friday, as part of a Q&A document published by his office. “Policymakers ought to know that is intellectually dishonest,” Grassley added. “What’s really happening is they are trying every which way to Sunday to sabotage the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” A senior Treasury Department official earlier in the week warned against reading too much into the preliminary statistics but also acknowledged that the administration expects refund amounts and the number of taxpayers receiving money back from the government to decline this year. The refund statistics have the potential to be the latest political setback for the GOP around the 2017 law. Republicans hoped the tax law would help them in the 2018 midterm elections, as people started receiving more take-home pay due to the IRS updating withholding guidance to reflect the law's lower rates and larger standard deduction. But the GOP ended up losing its majority in the House, and polls found that many people never noticed the increase in their paychecks.

The federal judge overseeing Roger Stone's criminal case in Washington, D.C. has ordered him to appear in court on Thursday to explain why the gag order she issued last week and his condition of release shouldn't be modified. The order comes after Stone, an informal adviser of President Trump, shared and quickly deleted a photo of Judge Amy Berman Jackson on his Instagram account over the weekend with what appeared to be small crosshairs next to her head.

More than 250 rallies held across the US to decry Trump's national emergency declaration to build the border wall. Washington, DC - Thousands of people rallied nationwide on Monday to protest against the national emergency US President Donald Trump declared last week to help fund his long-promised wall across the US-Mexico border. More than 250 rallies were organised across the United States on President's Day, a US government holiday, with protesters carrying banners and placards that called the national emergency "fake". "I do think we have a national emergency in this country, this is an emergency to our democratic system," Angelina Huynh, who joined the rally in Washington, DC, outside the White House with her two preschool children, told Al Jazeera. As the snow fell in Boston, Massachusetts, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley took to the stage to speak against Trump's bid to bypass Congress and help free up $8bn in funds for his wall, which was one of his biggest 2016 campaign promises. Protesters and civil rights organisations called on Congress to take action against Trump's latest move. "Thank you other cities & states filing lawsuits! No better way to spend Presidents' Day than rallying to stop this crazy President [with] his fake emergency to build a wall!" tweeted Congresswoman Maxine Waters before a rally in Los Angeles, California.

MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday warned members of Venezuela’s military who remain loyal to socialist President Nicolas Maduro that they are risking their future and their lives and urged them to allow humanitarian aid into the country. Speaking to a cheering crowd mostly of Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants in Miami, Trump said if the Venezuelan military continues supporting Maduro, “you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You’ll lose everything.” Maduro retaliated late on Monday that Trump’s speech was “nazi-style” and said he acted as if he were the owner of Venezuela and its citizens his slaves. Trump offered strong backing for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States, many of Venezuela’s neighbors and most Western countries have recognized as interim president of Venezuela. But Maduro, who won a second term last year in an election that critics denounced as a sham, retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions, including the security services. Trump cautioned Venezuelan armed forces not to harm Guaido or other opposition politicians, urged them to accept the National Assembly leader’s offer of amnesty and demanded that they allow in food, medicine and other supplies.

(CNN) President Donald Trump crossed a major threshold on Friday, declaring a national emergency at our southern border in order to take money allocated for other purposes and use it to build his much-ballyhooed wall. He announced the move in what has now become characteristic fashion: With a brash and unapologetic press conference larded with falsehoods and foofaraw. Given that the legal and political fight over Trump's emergency declaration -- and the broader immigration issue -- will dominate Washington for weeks (if not months) to come, I thought it made sense to go through the transcript of exactly what Trump said in his press conference.

For starters, they have jurisdiction over the president’s political operation and businesses — subjects that executive privilege doesn't cover. Even as speculation mounts that special counsel Robert Mueller might be winding down his investigation, a parallel threat to President Donald Trump only seems to be growing within his own Justice Department: the Southern District of New York. Manhattan-based federal prosecutors can challenge Trump in ways Mueller can’t. They have jurisdiction over the president’s political operation and businesses — subjects that aren’t protected by executive privilege, a tool Trump is considering invoking to block portions of Mueller’s report. From a PR perspective, Trump has been unable to run the same playbook on SDNY that he’s used to erode conservatives’ faith in Mueller, the former George W. Bush-appointed FBI director. Legal circles are also buzzing over whether SDNY might buck DOJ guidance and seek to indict a sitting president. The threat was highlighted when SDNY prosecutors ordered officials from Trump’s inaugural committee to hand over donor and financial records. It was the latest aggressive move from an office that has launched investigations into the president’s company, former lawyer and campaign finance practices. New York prosecutors have even implicated Trump in a crime. Add it all up and the result is a spate of hard-to-stymie, legally perilous probes that appears on track to drag on well into Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. SDNY stands poised to carry on Mueller’s efforts whenever the special counsel’s office closes shop, and it’s likely to draw even more attention if freshly confirmed Attorney General William Barr — who now oversees the Russia probe as DOJ head — clamps down on the public release of Mueller’s findings.

William Barr was sworn in as President Trump’s second attorney general on Thursday, putting a new face atop the Justice Department who will assume oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Senate confirmed Barr in a largely party-line vote amid intense speculation that Mueller’s probe into links between the Trump campaign and Russia is wrapping up. The investigation — and Barr’s oversight of it — is likely to dominate his first weeks and possibly months as attorney general, depending on when Mueller submits his final report.  Here are five things to watch.   Mueller investigation: Barr, who already served a stint as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, is taking over a sprawling agency with multiple divisions and more than 110,000 employees. However, Mueller’s investigation is by far the most high-profile issue he will contend with in the immediate term. During his confirmation hearing, Barr described it as “vitally important” that Mueller be allowed to complete his investigation and pledged not to allow “partisan politics” to interfere with it. Barr also said he would release as much information about Mueller’s final conclusions as possible consistent with the law — but he was careful not to commit to releasing the report in its entirety. It remains an open question how Barr’s oversight of the probe will play out. His predecessor, Jeff Sessions, faced tremendous pressure from Trump over the probe, which the president regularly derides as a partisan “witch hunt.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Sunday that a lawsuit against the Trump administration for the president's recent national emergency declaration would be coming  "imminently", marking one of the many legal challenges the White House can expect in its efforts to fund the president's long-promised border wall. Becerra   told ABC's "This Week with George Stephanoplous" that the state is "ready to go" with legal action and is expecting to be joined by numerous other state partners. According to the attorney general's office, New Mexico, Oregon, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii and Connecticut are among several states that are joining the lawsuit. Mr. Trump on Friday announced the emergency declaration to free up funding to build the border wall along the southern border. The executive order said "the current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency." Becerra told ABC's Martha Raddatz that he's confident the state has concrete legal standing to challenge the president's order. "We're confident there are at least 8 billion ways that we can prove harm.  And once we are all clear, all the different states are clear, what pots of money that taxpayers sent to D.C. he's going to raid, which Congress dedicated to different types of services – whether it's emergency response services or whether it's fires or mudslides in California or maybe tornadoes and floods in other parts of the country or whether it's our military men and women and their families who live on military installations that might – that might have money taken away from them, or whether it's money taken away from drug interdiction efforts in places like California, a number of states, and certainly Americans, will be harmed.  And we're all going to be prepared," said Becerra.

U.S. District Judge John Bates, who once led the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, defended the Justice Department and embattled intelligence community for how it handled the application process to obtain warrants to spy on onetime Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Bates, who was placed on the FISA court by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and was its presiding judge from 2009 to 2013, said he has seen no evidence lending credibility to Republican concerns that officials misled the court in obtaining a 2016 FISA warrant and three renewals. "I will note and note with some force that I have seen nothing that indicates that the court was misled, that the Department of Justice or the intelligence community made misrepresentations to the court," Bates told Lawfare podcast co-hosts David Kris and Nates Jones, the founders of the Culper Partners consulting firm. "And not only have I seen nothing that would indicate that, I have heard nothing that persuasively makes that case."

USA TODAY - When India Landry was expelled for refusing to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, her mom launched a legal battle against the Houston school. But the Texas Attorney General is fighting against her. An 11-year-old student in Florida is facing charges after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and creating a disturbance in the classroom, police said. The boy was arrested for causing a disruption and refusing repeated instructions from school staff and law enforcement, Polk County Public Schools spokesperson Kyle Kennedy said in a statement. He was not arrested for refusing to participate in the pledge – even though students have the right to do so by Florida law and district policy. The sixth-grader from a Tampa suburb allegedly told his substitute teacher the flag is "racist" and the national anthem is offensive to black people, Bay News 9 reported, citing a statement the teacher gave the district. In response, the teacher said she asked the student why not go to another place to live if it was "so bad here." She said he answered, "They brought me here." The substitute, identified by district officials as Ana Alvarez, said, "Well, you can always go back because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I'm not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live."

US News February 2019 Page 1

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