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US Monthly Headline News February 2020 Page 4

By Laura Jarrett, CNN

(CNN) More than 1,110 former Justice Department officials who served in Republican as well as Democratic administrations posted a statement Sunday calling on Attorney General Bill Barr to resign. "Mr. Barr's actions in doing the President's personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice's reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign. But because we have little expectation he will do so, it falls to the Department's career officials to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend nonpartisan, apolitical justice," the officials wrote in a statement. The rare statement from the officials -- mostly former career prosecutors, but also some former political appointees -- came in the wake of an extraordinary week at the Justice Department. In just one week, career prosecutors withdrew from a case after Barr overruled their sentencing, the attorney general pushed back against the President in an unusual interview and separately ordered an examination of politically charged cases involving those close to President Donald Trump. The statement went on to say career attorneys should report any troubling actions they see to the department's Inspector General. CNN has reached out to the Justice Department for comment. Barr has so far not given any indication that he is considering stepping down from his current role. The upheaval at the Justice Department began when all four federal prosecutors who took the case against Roger Stone to trial withdrew from the case Tuesday afternoon after Barr overruled their sentencing recommendation hours after the President criticized it on Twitter.

by Robert Reich

After Watergate, we worked for impartiality. Trump, Roger Stone and William Barr have dragged us back to the swamp. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes,” Mark Twain is supposed to have said. My first job after law school was as an attorney at the Department of Justice (DoJ). I reported for work September 1974, weeks after Richard Nixon resigned. In the years leading up to his resignation, Nixon turned the justice department and FBI into his personal fiefdom, enlisting his appointees to reward his friends and penalize his enemies. He brought conspiracy charges against critics of the Vietnam war, for example, and ordered the department to drop an antitrust case against ITT after the conglomerate donated money for the 1972 Republican convention. During the Senate Watergate investigation, Nixon’s stooges kept him informed. Reports about how compromised the justice department had become generated enough public outrage to force the appointment of the first Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Before Nixon’s mayhem was over, his first two attorneys general were deep in legal trouble – John Mitchell eventually served 19 months in prison – and his third resigned rather than carry out the demand to fire Cox. Watergate also ushered into politics a young man named Roger Stone – who, as it happens, also graduated from my small rural high school in Lewisboro, New York, although I didn’t know him. Stone’s first job was on Nixon’s 1972 campaign, working for the Committee to Re-elect the President, known then, and forevermore, as Creep. Stone joined some two dozen dirty tricksters hired to lie about, harass and dig up dirt on Democrats. After Nixon resigned, the entire slimy mess of Watergate spawned a series of reforms designed to insulate the administration of justice from politics. During the years I worked at the justice department, officials teamed up with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders with the goal of making justice the most independent part of the executive branch.

By Nick Watt and Jack Hannah, CNN

Beverly Hills, California (CNN)Buried deep in the small print of deeds to a home that sold recently in this ritzy city lurks this stunning caveat: "Said premises shall not be rented, leased, or conveyed to, or occupied by, any person other than of the white or Caucasian race." That is known as a racial covenant. And though now illegal, language like it still exists in the deeds to homes all across the United States. "Pretty much every community in the country is going to have racial covenants," said historian Kirsten Delegard, a founder of the Minneapolis-based Mapping Prejudice project, which researches the covenants that barred nonwhites from buying property in the city's most desirable neighborhoods. "Every city, large or small, that I'm aware of, where anybody has looked for racial covenants, they have found them." The practice began in the 1920s. And for nearly 50 years, developers and realtors wrote racial covenants into the deeds of millions of new homes. Federal law eventually banned the practice, but changes to laws in every state and laborious legwork -- searching through millions of documents -- would be required to expunge the exclusionary language. So, it remains in property records, shocking some would-be sellers and buyers who stumble across it. Now, debate simmers over whether racial covenants should be removed. Some experts warn that hiding the mistakes of the past could stymie efforts to somehow make amends and compensate communities of color that still feel the economic hit of being denied access to lucrative property ladders. "We need to know where these restrictions were put in place if we're ever going to dismantle the system of racism in a logical, consistent way," Delegard said. But others, including those whose forebears were targeted by racial covenants, say it's time for the insidious language to vanish for good. "We don't need to maintain that language in a document to understand the history of where we've come from," said Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of The 1619 Project, which aims to reframe American history by including the contribution of black Americans. "It is akin to leaving up in the South, where you had Jim Crow laws, keeping up the 'no coloreds' or the 'white only' signs at water fountains, bathrooms, other facilities and saying, 'Oh, just ignore the sign. You can drink out of either one. Just ignore it,'" said Hector De La Torre, a former state lawmaker in California. "That's what this is."

Nonwhites welcome only as 'servants or employees'
De La Torre, whose parents moved to the United States from Mexico in the 1960s, now lives in a house in South Gate, California, that still has a racial covenant clause that at one time would have barred him from living there.

By Ray Sanchez and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN

New York (CNN) A 14-year-old boy has been arrested in the stabbing death of Barnard College freshman Tessa Majors in New York City, police and prosecutors said Saturday. The boy has been indicted on two counts of murder in the second degree -- one for intentional murder, the other for felony murder committed during a robbery, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance told reporters. He's also charged with four robbery counts. The teen, who investigators believe wielded a knife in the deadly assault, was arrested without incident at a Harlem housing project Friday night, police said. He was with his mother and other family members. Majors, 18, was walking in Manhattan's Morningside Park near Barnard College on December 11 when she was attacked, NYPD said. She had moved from Virginia for her freshman year. The killing shocked a city that had seen declines in violent crime. It unsettled the sprawling urban campus that Barnard shares with Columbia University. "Sadly, it cannot bring back this young woman, this student, this victim," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said of the arrest. "That is something even the best most impartial investigation simply cannot do. What we can do is say that we are confident we have the person in custody who stabbed her."

Agents with military-style training will help Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in a move decried by rights groups.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has announced plans to deploy highly trained tactical border control agents to so-called "sanctuary cities" across the country to boost arrests of undocumented immigrants. Members of the US Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) will be among the officers deployed to cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Officers will also be sent to San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, CBP spokesman Lawrence Payne said in a statement on Friday. The move is the latest escalation in the administration's pressure campaign against cities and towns that have enacted "sanctuary" policies in which local law enforcement do not coordinate with federal immigration officers. "ICE is utilizing CBP to supplement enforcement activity in response to the resource challenges stemming from sanctuary city policies," ICE acting Director Matthew T Albence said in a statement. "As we have noted for years, in jurisdictions where we are not allowed to assume custody of aliens from jails, our officers are forced to make at-large arrests of criminal aliens who have been released into communities." BORTAC's members undergo a "grueling" training program designed to "mirror aspects" of US Special Operation Forces courses, according to details about the programme published on the CBP website.

“I think as a government and as a society we’re going to pay a price at some point for this,” Judge Reggie Barnett Walton told DOJ attorneys.
By Betsy Swan, Adam Rawnsley

Justice Department attorneys struggled with mounting frustration and skepticism from a federal judge about producing documents related to the investigation of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, according to transcripts of closed-door conversations released in response to a lawsuit from a government watchdog group. The McCabe case—and President Donald Trump’s personal involvement in it—prompted federal judge Reggie Barnett Walton to call the government’s handling of it “disturbing,” a “mess,” and veering close to a “banana republic.” “I think it’s very unfortunate,” Judge Walton told prosecutors as the case hung in limbo in late September. “And I think as a government and as a society we’re going to pay a price at some point for this.” The comments were made in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) against the Justice Department. Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for CREW, said the eventual release of the court transcripts on Friday, after a lengthy court battle, showed that the government was “trying to cover up the fact that they were stringing this [lawsuit] along while looking for a reason to indict McCabe.”

By James Crowley

During a television interview, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that 395 bills sitting in the Senate are not going to be passed. On Fox News Friday, anchor Bret Baier asked McConnell if Democrats' statements about those bills were true and whether they could move forward. McConnell confirmed that it was the case, but also said that proposed legislation would be rejected. "It is true," the senator said. "They've been on full left-wing parade over there, trotting out all of their left-wing solutions that are going to be issues in the fall campaign. They're right. We're not going to pass those." McConnell explained that the bills would not get passed, because the government is divided. He said that instead they "have to work on things we can agree," listing government spending, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement, an infrastructure bill, a parks bill and some environmental issues as examples of bills that they may be able to agree on. When asked about a bipartisan infrastructure bill, McConnell said that it may not be a "big" bill, because it would "require dealing with the revenue sources that both sides are nervous about raising the gas tax, which is a regressive tax on low-income people." When asked about legislature regarding prescription drugs, McConnell said that while there are "differences on both sides," there is a chance that the Senate will be able to legislate on the issue.

By Caroline Kelly, CNN

(CNN) Federal prosecutors in New York have advanced their investigation into President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, pursuing more documents and witness testimonies while the Justice Department simultaneously accepts information from the former New York mayor on Ukraine, according to The Washington Post. Citing people familiar with prosecutors' activities, the paper reported Friday that the department has been looking into Giuliani's business dealings as well as those of his indicted associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman throughout the final steps of Trump's Senate impeachment trial earlier this month, including witness interviews as recently as last week. Attorney General William Barr on Monday confirmed that the Justice Department has been receiving information from Giuliani on Ukraine, saying the department has an "obligation to have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information that they think is relevant." He added there's skepticism about anything coming from Ukraine, which has prompted the department to establish an "intake process in the field" so the department and intelligence community can scrutinize Ukraine information. The Ukraine allegations that Giuliani is providing to the Justice Department are being vetted by investigators in the US Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh, two US law enforcement officials told CNN on Tuesday. The officials told CNN that the Pittsburgh office has expertise on Russia and its cyber operations, including the 2016 disinformation campaign the Russians carried out. Meanwhile, prosecutors in the investigation into Giuliani have pursued details on Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine who Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman conspired to have removed, a person familiar with the request told the Post. A source familiar with the matter confirmed that Yovanovitch's name has appeared on a recent subpoena from Southern District of New York prosecutors that inquires about Giuliani and Parnas. Over the last few weeks, they have also looked into Giuliani in relation to his consulting firm Giuliani Partners, the paper reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. People familiar with the matter told the Post that Barr had been informed of the New York investigation into Giuliani's associates not long after becoming attorney general last year -- though whether or how much he is involved remains unconfirmed.

CBS News

The Trump administration on Thursday announced it plans to make yet another multibillion-dollar transfer of Pentagon funds to finance the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, tapping into money originally allocated for military weapons and hardware.

By Aaron Cooper and Darran Simon, CNN

(CNN) Michael Avenatti is guilty on all three counts he was facing, according to a decision by a jury in federal court in New York on Friday. Prosecutors said the lawyer threatened to publicly accuse athletic apparel maker Nike of illicitly paying amateur basketball players unless the company paid him millions of dollars. The government said Avenatti also betrayed his client, a youth basketball coach who made the allegations against Nike, by advocating for money for himself instead of the client. Avenatti was charged with transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, attempted extortion and honest services wire fraud. He still faces two additional trials for allegedly stealing Stormy Daniels' book advance and committing fraud in California. He is being held in jail for allegedly violating the terms of his bail in the California case. Gary Franklin, the youth basketball coach who Michael Avenatti represented, testified last week that he was bullied by Nike executives who forced him to make the illicit payments to top high school basketball players and their families. In 2018, the company ended its sponsorship of Franklin's program, the California Supreme. Franklin said he wanted Avenatti to get Nike to renew his team's sponsorship and get two Nike executives fired. Avenatti was in "crushing debt" at the time and wanted to use Franklin's case to make money, prosecutors said. The high-powered attorney saw Franklin as a "meal ticket," they argued.

Amid turmoil in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, the attorney general has also sent outside prosecutors to review other politically sensitive cases.
By Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William P. Barr has assigned an outside prosecutor to scrutinize the criminal case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, according to people familiar with the matter. The review is highly unusual and could trigger more accusations of political interference by top Justice Department officials into the work of career prosecutors. Mr. Barr has also installed a handful of outside prosecutors to broadly review the handling of other politically sensitive national-security cases in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, the people said. The team includes at least one prosecutor from the office of the United States attorney in St. Louis, Jeff Jensen, who is handling the Flynn matter, as well as prosecutors from the office of the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen. Over the past two weeks, the outside prosecutors have begun grilling line prosecutors in the Washington office about various cases — some public, some not — including investigative steps, prosecutorial actions and why they took them, according to the people. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive internal deliberations. The Justice Department declined to comment. The intervention has contributed a turbulent period for the prosecutors’ office that oversees the seat of the federal government and some of the most politically sensitive investigations and cases — some involving President Trump’s friends and allies, and some his critics and adversaries. This week, four line prosecutors quit the case against Roger Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s close adviser, after Mr. Barr overruled their recommendation that a judge sentence him within sentencing guidelines. Mr. Barr’s intervention was preceded by criticism of the original sentencing recommendation by Mr. Trump and praised by him afterward, and Mr. Barr on Thursday publicly asked Mr. Trump to stop commenting about the Justice Department.

How are Republicans feeling right about now?
By Bess Levin

Years after O.J. Simpson was found not guilty for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, he wrote a book called If I Did It, in which he basically explained exactly how the two were killed with a level of detail that only someone who participated in the murders could possibly have been privy to. Now that Donald Trump has been acquitted by Republicans for extorting Ukraine for personal gain, he’s kind of doing the same thing, except (1) he freely admitted to many of the details of the alleged crime even before his Senate trial, and (2) he’s not even doing the people who let him get away with it the courtesy of throwing an “if” in there for plausible deniability’s sake. In a podcast interview with Geraldo Rivera that aired on Thursday, Trump was asked, “Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?” Rather than stick with his previous denials of ever having dispatched Giuliani to Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in the first place, Trump happily copped to it all, responding: “No, not at all...I deal with the Comeys of the world or I deal with Rudy,” the former of whom, per the president, left “a very bad taste” in his mouth due to the whole Russia investigation. “So when you tell me, why did I use Rudy, and one of the things about Rudy, number one, he was the best prosecutor, you know, one of the best prosecutors, and the best mayor,” Trump said. “But also, other presidents had them. FDR had a lawyer who was practically, you know, was totally involved with government. Eisenhower had a lawyer. They all had lawyers.” FDR and Eisenhower didn’t use their personal lawyers to uncover nonexistent dirt on their political rivals, but, sure, great history lesson.

Rudy Giuliani separately reveals on Fox Business that he went to Ukraine " three weeks ago to interview a witness"
By Igor Derysh

President Donald Trump contradicted his legal team's impeachment defense Thursday when he admitted that he sent his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to hunt for damaging information on his political rivals. Trump made the comment during a podcast interview with Fox News' Geraldo Rivera despite previously claiming that he "didn't direct" Giuliani to go to Ukraine. "Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine? Your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?" Rivera asked. "No, not at all," Trump replied. "Here's my choice: I deal with the Comeys of the world, or I deal with Rudy." "One of the things about Rudy — number one, he was the best prosecutor. You know, one of the best prosecutors and the best mayor," Trump continued. "But also, other presidents had them. FDR had a lawyer who was practically, you know — was totally involved with government. Eisenhower had a lawyer. They all had lawyers." "And it's really circumventing . . . but very legally and maybe getting things done faster," he added. "But Rudy is a high-quality guy who by the way has a treasure trove of information." The remarks come after Trump, newly emboldened by his acquittal in the Senate, purged his administration of officials involved in the impeachment investigation. At the same time, Attorney General William Barr has reportedly intervened in cases related to Trump and created a process for Giuliani to transmit any dirt he found on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter to the Justice Department. Trump denied that he had anything to do with Giuliani's trip during the impeachment proceedings. "Well, you have to ask that to Rudy," Trump told former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly in November when asked what his lawyer was doing in Ukraine. "But Rudy . . . I don't even know . . . I know he was going to go to Ukraine, and I think he cancelled the trip."


CNN's Daniel Dale says President Donald Trump contradicted himself when he told Geraldo Rivera that he sent his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to Ukraine when just months before he said that he didn't. Dale also fact-checks Trump's comments about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and the the call with Ukraine.  

By Amanda Macias

MUNICH — Germany’s president kicked off the annual Munich Security Conference on Friday by taking a swipe at President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy approach. In his opening remarks, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that the United States would put its own interests first at the expense of allies. “Our closest ally, the United States of America, under the current administration, rejects the very concept of the international community,” he said. ”‘Great again’ but at the expense of neighbors and partners,” Steinmeier added without naming Trump but referring to his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. “Thinking and acting this way hurts us all,” he said. Listening to Steinmeier’s speech, delivered at the 56th Munich Security Conference, were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Adam Schiff along with other representatives, making it the largest U.S. delegation to attend the forum.

By Kathryn Watson

President Trump says he's considering ending the standard protocol of having top administration officials listen to his calls with foreign leaders, following his conversation with Ukraine's president, a call that culminated in his impeachment. Mr. Trump floated the possibility in an interview with Geraldo Rivera. Rivera asked the president why so many people are allowed to listen to his phone calls, a longstanding practice for the purposes of recordkeeping and consistent policymaking. "Well that's what they've done over the years, when you call a foreign leader, people listen. I may end the practice entirely, I may end it entirely. Sometimes you have 25 people," Mr. Trump said during the Thursday radio interview. Keeping any other American officials from hearing such calls would prevent records from being created, and any officials from sharing what they heard. And that could result in enabling a foreign nation to shape the narrative of a phone call with the leader of the free world, with no record or witnesses to counter it.

By Katelyn Polantz, CNN

Washington (CNN) The Department of Justice is dropping its criminal investigation involving former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe without bringing charges, it announced on Friday. McCabe's attorneys received a letter from the US Attorney's Office in DC on Friday announcing the declination. "We write to inform you that, after careful consideration, the Government has decided not to pursue criminal charges against your client, Andrew G. McCabe, arising from the referral" made by the Inspector General's office to investigate his behavior, the DC US Attorney's Office wrote. McCabe's attorneys released the letter on Friday. McCabe, who is a CNN contributor, has been one of President Donald Trump's foes for his work on the early Russia investigation for the FBI.

A day after the attorney general publicly rebuked him, President Trump rejected the tradition of an independent Justice Department.
By Michael D. Shear

WASHINGTON — President Trump asserted Friday that he had the legal right to intervene in federal criminal cases, a day after Attorney General William P. Barr publicly rebuked him for attacks on Justice Department prosecutors and others involved in the case of Roger J. Stone Jr., the president’s longtime friend. In a morning tweet, Mr. Trump quoted Mr. Barr saying that the president “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” The president said he had “so far chosen” not to interfere in a criminal case even though he insisted that he was not legally bound to do so. “This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!” he said. Though he and Mr. Barr both said the president had not directly asked for any specific inquiries, Mr. Trump has long pressured law enforcement officials both publicly and privately to open investigations into political rivals and to drop inquiries. Mr. Trump also pressed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to retake control of the Russia investigation after he recused himself. The assertion by the president, which implicitly rejected a request by Mr. Barr to stop tweeting about the department’s cases, adds to the mounting controversy over the decision by senior Justice Department officials to overrule prosecutors who had recommended a seven- to nine-year sentence for Mr. Stone, who was convicted of seven felonies in a bid to obstruct a congressional investigation that threatened the president. That recommendation infuriated Mr. Trump, who called the department’s handling of the case “a disgrace” and later praised Mr. Barr after his top officials intervened to recommend a lighter sentence for Mr. Stone. The four prosecutors who were overruled resigned from the case in protest; one quit the department entirely.

By Marshall Cohen, CNN

Washington (CNN) Emboldened after his impeachment acquittal, President Donald Trump now openly admits to sending his attorney Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to find damaging information about his political opponents, even though he strongly denied it during the impeachment inquiry. The reversal came Thursday in a podcast interview Trump did with journalist Geraldo Rivera, who asked, "Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?" Trump responded, "No, not at all," and praised Giuliani's role as a "crime fighter." "Here's my choice: I deal with the Comeys of the world, or I deal with Rudy," Trump said, referring to former FBI Director James Comey. Trump explained that he has "a very bad taste" of the US intelligence community, because of the Russia investigation, so he turned to Giuliani. "So when you tell me, why did I use Rudy, and one of the things about Rudy, number one, he was the best prosecutor, you know, one of the best prosecutors, and the best mayor," Trump said. "But also, other presidents had them. FDR had a lawyer who was practically, you know, was totally involved with government. Eisenhower had a lawyer. They all had lawyers." Trump had previously denied that he sent Giuliani to Ukraine. Asked in November if he directed Giuliani to "do anything" in Ukraine, Trump said, "No, I didn't direct him," but went on to call Giuliani a "great corruption fighter." Giuliani says he's exposing legitimate corruption in Ukraine, even though his claims about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden have been widely debunked. In the new interview, Trump defended the decision to "use" Giuliani, even though US diplomats previously testified that Giuliani had undermined long-standing US policy toward Ukraine. Giuliani was a central player in the scandal that got Trump impeached, though the President was acquitted by the Senate last week. Multiple witnesses described how Giuliani met with former Ukrainian officials in search of dirt against Joe and Hunter Biden. Other key players described how Giuliani and his allies pressured Ukraine to announce investigations into the Bidens.

By Kevin Breuninger

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks, a favorite former aide of President Donald Trump’s, is rejoining the administration to work for the president’s senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Hicks, 31, was hired as the chief communications officer at Fox after she left the White House in April 2018. She had worked for Trump since the 2016 election. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Hicks will serve as “counselor to the president and senior advisor, working for Jared Kushner’s office.” Kushner told NBC News in a statement: “There is no one more devoted to implementing President Trump’s agenda than Hope Hicks. We are excited to have her back on the team.” Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior advisor, tweeted “Welcome back Hope!” on Thursday, after The New York Times first reported Hicks’ career switch. The Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted later Thursday that another ex-Trump official is expected to return to the White House: Johnny McEntee, Trump’s onetime personal assistant who was fired amid a reported Secret Service probe into his finances.

By Brian Fung, CNN

(CNN) A federal judge has agreed to temporarily block Microsoft (MSFT) from beginning work on the Pentagon's multibillion-dollar cloud computing contract, in an early court victory for Amazon. The contents of the decision, issued Thursday by Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith in the US Court of Federal Claims, remains under seal. But the order increases the pressure on the US government as it defends against a formal protest filed by Amazon Web Services over its handling of the contract process. Earlier this week, Amazon (AMZN) asked the court for permission to gather testimony from President Donald Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former Defense Secretary James Mattis. A decision is expected on that request within weeks. Amazon has alleged that President Trump exercised undue influence over the Defense Department as it weighed competing bids from Microsoft and Amazon for the cloud computing project, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI.

"He's holding New York state hostage to try to stop investigations into his prior tax fraud," tweeted Rep. Val Demings.

President Donald Trump appeared Thursday to link his administration's policies toward New York to a demand that the state drop investigations and lawsuits related to his administration as well as his personal business and finances. Hours before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was set to meet the president at the White House, Trump tweeted that Cuomo “must understand” that National Security far exceeds politics,” a reference to his administration’s recent decision to halt New York’s access to the Global Entry and other “trusted traveler” programs that allow New Yorkers faster border crossings and shorter airport lines. Trump continued, “New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes.” Trump’s invocation of “lawsuits & harrassment” was a reference to the state’s numerous lawsuits against his administration and also against Trump’s business, which is based in New York. That prompted Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), one of the House managers who prosecuted Trump’s impeachment in the Senate, to accuse the president of “expanding his abuse of power to blackmailing U.S. states (threatening millions of people he supposedly works for). In this case, he's holding New York state hostage to try to stop investigations into his prior tax fraud.” State attorney general Letitia James has subpoenaed for Trump’s financial records, and the state is pursuing multiple inquiries about the Trump Organization’s business practices. James also just secured a $2 million settlement from Trump’s now-defunct charitable foundation, which was accused of numerous violations of misuse of funds.

By Virginia Heffernan

Any bloodshed this week during the so-called Tuesday Afternoon Massacre at the Justice Department was, of course, metaphorical. But the casualties were real. And while President Trump and his redhats like to cry “coup” and “treason,” and recklessly threaten Civil War II, the bigfoot move by Atty. Gen. William P. Barr’s Department of Justice, on behalf of Roger Stone, may have done more damage to the republic than all the war whoops combined. Barr’s fixer factory, an obstruction-of-justice department, can no longer be counted on as any sort of brake against the president’s rapacity and gangsterism. The Tuesday Afternoon Massacre extinguished more lights in our already benighted nation. In November, a federal court jury found Stone guilty of witness tampering, lying to government officials under oath and obstructing a congressional investigation into the Trump-Russia affair. This week, the scrupulously nonpartisan prosecutors who handled the case offered well-reasoned sentencing recommendations: seven to nine years in prison for Stone. They justified the recommendation with chapter and verse: Stone threatened physical harm to a witness, comedian Randy Credico, and he kept at his dirty tricks even after he was indicted. The president was not happy. Stone was a Trump crony who’d been acting both to advance Trump’s 2016 campaign and to keep Congress from investigating Russian campaign meddling. The president tweeted that the prospect of substantial prison time for Stone was “horrible and very unfair.” Never mind that Stone was convicted of serious crimes. The pathetic Twitter hazing might be expected from Trump, but no one imagined that the prosecutors’ recommendations would be flat-out contradicted from the top. Nonetheless, a day after the sentencing recommendations were filed, the judge in the case got a revised sentencing memo on Department of Justice letterhead. This one suggested she give Stone “far less” time than the prosecution team had asked for. Officials at the White House and the Justice Department said — as usual — that there was no collusion. But it sure looked like Trump’s disapproval of Stone’s recommended sentence was enough to inspire a DOJ in his thrall to jump in and protect Stone. The four career prosecutors immediately removed themselves from the case. One went so far as to quit the Justice Department itself. Later on Tuesday, Jessie Liu, who had headed the Washington office that oversaw the Stone case, was pulled from consideration for the head job at the Treasury Department. She resigned Wednesday morning. On Thursday, the president accused the Stone jury forewoman of “significant bias,” as former federal prosecutors howled about jury intimidation.

By Madeline Holcombe and Chuck Johnston, CNN

(CNN) Former first lady Michelle Obama will soon have a second California school as her namesake. In a unanimous vote, the West Contra Costa Unified School District Board decided to change the name of Wilson Elementary School to Michelle Obama Elementary School. The idea was first proposed when the PTA sent a letter to the school board, the school board said. Two ad hoc meetings received unanimous support from parents, students and community leaders. "We wanted to choose someone on a global level," Wilson PTA President Maisha Cole said. "With a new school and new learning environment, we want our children to think beyond Richmond, to think beyond California, and remind them that they can make a difference locally and globally." The new name will have a new school to match. The elementary school will be rebuilt for the 2020-2021 school year, the school said.

The impeachment and subsequent acquittal of President Trump have revealed deep flaws in the constitutional system.
By Michael Gerhardt

The Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is over, ending with all but one Republican voting to acquit. But the effort to make sense of its constitutional ramifications is only beginning. Almost a half century ago, President Richard Nixon’s resignation was thought to have proved that the constitutional system worked, with the House, the Senate, and a special prosecutor each having conducted long, painstaking investigations into his misconduct; the Supreme Court having directed President Nixon to comply with a judicial subpoena to turn over taped conversations; and the House Judiciary Committee having approved three articles of impeachment shortly before Nixon resigned. Margaret Taylor: The Founders set an extremely high bar for impeachment In sharp contrast, few think that the acquittal of President Trump is a triumph for the Constitution. Instead, it reveals a different, disturbing lesson, about how the American political system—and the Constitution itself—might be fundamentally flawed. Since the writing of the Constitution, three developments have substantially altered the effectiveness of impeachment as a check on presidential misconduct. The first is the rise of extreme partisanship, under which each party’s goal is frequently to vanquish the other and control as much of the federal government as possible. This aim is fundamentally incompatible with the system that James Madison designed, premised as it was on negotiation, compromise, and a variety of checking mechanisms to ensure that no branch or faction was beyond the reach of the Constitution or the law. In 2018, this extreme partisanship and its detrimental effects were on full display at the Senate confirmation hearing for the then–Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Senators, by nearly the same vote as they acquitted Trump, expedited Kavanaugh’s confirmation and thwarted an investigation into his possible misconduct that would have delayed or derailed it. Similarly, in 2016, a slim majority of Republican senators held no hearings on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, preserving the vacancy for President Trump to fill. In both of these events, Republican partisans sought only to prevail, and would not allow for an independent Senate review and investigation of the sort that Madison would have hoped for. Furthermore, the rabid partisanship of the Senate, which Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, denounced in her statement explaining her vote to acquit Trump, is all the more disturbing because the thin majority of the Senate that stalled Garland, confirmed Kavanaugh, and voted to hear no witnesses and not to seek further document production in the Trump trial represents less than half of the American electorate.

The episode also brought to a head tensions in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.
By Katie Benner, Charlie Savage, Sharon LaFraniere and Ben Protess

WASHINGTON — For decades after Watergate, the White House treated the Justice Department with the softest of gloves, fearful that any appearance of political interference would resurrect the specter of Attorney General John Mitchell helping President Richard M. Nixon carry out a criminal conspiracy for political ends. In 2001, William P. Barr, describing his first stint as attorney general, under President George Bush, spoke of the department’s protected status in the post-Watergate era. “You didn’t mess around with it, didn’t intervene, you didn’t interfere,” he recalled in an oral history. Fast forward to 2020, and Mr. Barr is attorney general once more. But President Trump’s ground-shaking conduct has demolished those once-sacrosanct guardrails. Mr. Barr’s intervention to lessen a prison sentencing recommendation for the president’s convicted friend Roger J. Stone Jr. prompted all four career prosecutors handling the matter to quit the case.

By Eliza Relman

John McEntee, President Donald Trump's body man who was fired in 2018 amid an investigation into allegations of financial crimes, will lead the Presidential Personnel Office, multiple news outlets reported Thursday. When he was the White House chief of staff, John Kelly forced McEntee out over issues with the young aide's security clearance. The Wall Street Journal reported that the issues were related to online gambling problems and mishandling of his taxes. McEntee was also the focus of a financial-crimes investigation by the Department of Homeland Security, CNN reported. McEntee, 29, who joined Trump's small team early in his presidential campaign, was escorted out of the White House in March 2018 without being allowed to collect his belongings, including his jacket, The Journal reported. "It's not going to be great for morale," a White House official told The Journal about McEntee's firing.

By Jennifer Hansler and Jamie Crawford, CNN

Washington (CNN) Retired Ambassador Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch -- a highly respected career diplomat who unwittingly became one of the central figures in the impeachment drama -- warned about the degradation of the State Department and took veiled jabs at the Trump administration in her first public remarks since leaving the diplomatic service. Speaking at an event at Georgetown University on Wednesday where she was honored for "Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy," Yovanovitch called for a "vigorous Department of State" to regain its stature in the nation's capital, warning that "right now the State Department is in trouble." The retired career foreign service officer, as she did in her testimony before the House during the impeachment inquiry, cautioned that the department was being "hollowed out" and helmed by "senior leaders (who) lack policy vision, moral clarity and leadership skills." "The policy process has been replaced by the decisions emanating from the top with little discussion," Yovanovitch said Wednesday. "Vacancies at all levels go unfilled and officers are increasingly wondering whether it is safe to express concerns about policy, even behind closed doors." "We need to re-empower our diplomats to do their job. We can't be afraid to share our expertise or challenge false assumptions," Yovanovitch said. "Working off of facts is not the trademark of the deep state but of the deeply committed state in the words of Ambassador McFaul. Truth matters," she added, referring to the former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

'An amoral, keep-'em-guessing foreign policy'
Yovanovitch said the department needs "a coherent foreign policy," one that is "principled, consistent and trustworthy." "To be blunt: An amoral, keep-'em-guessing foreign policy that substitutes threats, fear and confusion for trust cannot work over the long haul, especially in our social media-savvy, interconnected world," Yovanovitch said. "At some point, the once-unthinkable will become the soon-inevitable: that our allies, who have as much right to act in their own self-interest as we do, will seek out more reliable partners, partners whose interests might not align well with ours." She quipped that international institutions -- which have faced the ire of President Donald Trump throughout his tenure -- need "a reboot, not the boot." Yovanovitch was critical of the Trump administration's proposed 22% cut to the budget for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

By Kaitlan Collins, CNN

(CNN) The US attorney whose nomination for a top Treasury Department job was yanked because she ran the office that oversaw Roger Stone's prosecution has resigned, an administration official tells CNN. Jessie Liu, who previously headed the US attorney's office in Washington, submitted her resignation to the Treasury Department, effective Wednesday evening. She went to the Treasury Department with the intention of filling a Senate-confirmed position, which is no longer available after her nomination was withdrawn earlier Wednesday, the official said. The revoked nomination -- paired with the mass withdrawal of the career prosecutors from Stone's case on Tuesday -- punctuated a stunning cascade of developments set into motion on Monday. Prosecutors from the DC US Attorney's Office, who are Justice Department employees, wrote Monday in a filing that a judge should issue Stone a seven- to nine-year sentence after he was convicted on seven charges last year that came out of Mueller's investigation, including lying to Congress and witness tampering. Top Justice Department officials later overruled that recommendation after Trump complained publicly on Twitter, though he has insisted he did not intervene directly. While head of the US Attorney's Office in Washington, Liu inherited many of the major ongoing cases from Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation and was also handling the politically charged case of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of Trump's ire who is also a CNN contributor. Trump's decision to abruptly withdraw her nomination was directly tied to her former job. As Trump and administration officials weighed pulling Liu's nomination to serve as the Treasury Department's under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes, a central factor in the talks was how she had run the US Attorney's Office. The problem wasn't that she necessarily did anything wrong, one person familiar with the thinking said, but that she didn't do more to get involved in those cases, though it's not clear what leeway she would have had.

By Greg Sargent

It’s becoming inescapably obvious that Senate Republicans are perfectly willing to allow President Trump to continue consolidating his power in increasingly dangerous ways, while offering nothing but the most transparently absurd excuses for doing so. Senate Republicans are about to face another big test in this regard. Will they allow one of Trump’s leading allies to get away with a bad-faith maneuver that would gut efforts to constrain Trump’s warmaking authority, at a time when he is adamantly demanding that they leave it unchecked? Trump has been raging at GOP senators, to frighten them away from taking new steps to rein in his authority to make war. This comes after the House passed a measure to compel Trump to seek congressional authorization for new hostilities against Iran, after Trump ordered the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani on the thinnest of pretexts. The Senate is now set to vote on this measure. And believe it or not, a small group of GOP senators actually does support it, which could very well enable it to pass the Senate. We know this, because on Wednesday, eight GOP senators joined with Democrats to support proceeding to debate on the measure. But now one of Trump’s GOP allies in the Senate — Tom Cotton of Arkansas — is set to offer an amendment that would in effect render it a dead letter, according to Senate Democratic aides. Will those GOP senators go along? Here’s why this matters: This is yet another area in which Trump is not just asserting unconstrained authority; he’s also openly and explicitly declaring that he feels zero obligation to offer any meaningful legal or substantive justification for acting on that authority.

Trump has contempt for institutional constraints

In the Soleimani killing, Trump rapidly discarded even the pretense of offering any such justification. After floating numerous rationales that quickly fell apart — such as the claim that an attack was imminent — Trump then blithely asserted that “it doesn’t really matter” whether he had any such justification, because of Soleimani’s “horrible past.” Indeed, the rationales for the assassination were so laughably flimsy that a Republican senator — Mike Lee of Utah, who now supports limiting Trump’s war powers — erupted in a rage over an intelligence briefing to lawmakers that was supposed to justify it. On top of all this, Trump delighted a rally crowd by mocking the very notion that he should seek congressional authorization for military actions — demonstrating seething contempt for the very idea that he should be subject to any institutional constraints at all while wielding the awesome power of the U.S. military. All these things, of course, effectively demonstrate precisely why further constraints are urgently necessary.

“War is the most solemn responsibility we have, and it cannot be outsourced to anyone,” Tim Kaine says.

The Senate on Thursday passed a resolution limiting President Donald Trump’s authority to attack Iran without congressional approval, delivering the president another bipartisan foreign-policy rebuke and flexing its constitutional power over military actions. The 55-45 vote came nearly six weeks after Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general who led the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds force. The strike drew immediate condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans, and it prompted Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) to introduce a War Powers resolution aimed at re-asserting Congress’ constitutional authority to declare war. Kaine’s resolution requires the president to cease all hostilities targeting Iran within 30 days unless explicitly approved by Congress. It is expected to pass the House later this month, but Trump is likely to veto the measure. It needed only a simple majority to clear the Senate. “War is the most solemn responsibility we have, and it cannot be outsourced to anyone,” Kaine said ahead of the final vote. “We have a special obligation to make sure we deliberate — and deliberate carefully — before we send troops into harm’s way.” In the years following the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force against al Qaeda and Iraq, Congress has largely abdicated its war-making powers to the executive branch. If Kaine’s bill clears through the House as expected, it will be the second time a War Powers resolution has reached Trump’s desk — after last year’s House and Senate passage of a similar bill to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war. Trump vetoed that measure. Thursday’s vote capped a weeks-long push by Kaine and other senators to respond to Trump’s decision to strike Soleimani in Iraq, where administration officials claimed he was plotting attacks against Americans.

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