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US Monthly Headline News January 2020 Page 2

By Jordain Carney

A watchdog group is asking the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over his pledge to not be impartial during the upcoming impeachment trial.  Public Citizen filed a complaint with the committee on Monday questioning if the GOP leader has violated both the U.S. Constitution and the Senate’s rules. “The public declarations by Senator McConnell that his role in the impeachment process is to coordinate with the White House and thereby make a mockery of the trial directly contradict his oath of impartiality,” Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, said in a statement.

McConnell has come under criticism for his public statements about coordinating with the White House on impeachment trial strategy. He also told reporters during a press conference that he is not an "impartial juror" in the upcoming trial.  The outside group, in its letter to the Ethics Committee, argued that McConnell's comments are "contrary to this oath of impartiality." "McConnell’s comment appears to directly contradict the Senate rules oath – not because he recognizes that impeachment is a political process or because he enters the process believing President Trump should be acquitted, but by his direct statement that he will not be impartial," the letter reads.

By Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg

With President Trump facing an impeachment trial over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, Russian military hackers have been boring into the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the affair, according to security experts.

The hacking attempts against Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden served, began in early November, as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment was dominating the news in the United States.

It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for. But the experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens — the same kind of information that Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.

By MJ Lee, CNN Political Correspondent

(CNN) The stakes were high when Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren met at Warren's apartment in Washington, DC, one evening in December 2018. The longtime friends knew that they could soon be running against each other for president. The two agreed that if they ultimately faced each other as presidential candidates, they should remain civil and avoid attacking one another, so as not to hurt the progressive movement. They also discussed how to best take on President Donald Trump, and Warren laid out two main reasons she believed she would be a strong candidate: She could make a robust argument about the economy and earn broad support from female voters.

Sanders responded that he did not believe a woman could win. The description of that meeting is based on the accounts of four people: two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting. After publication of this story, Warren herself backed up this account of the meeting, saying in part in a statement Monday, "I thought a woman could win; he disagreed." That evening in 2018, Sanders expressed frustration at what he saw as a growing focus among Democrats on identity politics, according to one of the people familiar with the conversation. Warren told Sanders she disagreed with his assessment that a woman could not win, three of the four sources said.

By Kylie Atwood, CNN

Washington (CNN) State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies, two State Department officials tell CNN, further undermining President Donald Trump's claims that the top Iranian general he ordered killed earlier this month posed an imminent threat to the diplomatic outposts. Without knowledge of any alleged threats, the State Department didn't issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Qasem Soleimani, Iran's second most powerful official, according to the sources.

The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack. One senior State Department official described being "blindsided" when the administration justified the deadly Reaper drone strike on Soleimani by saying Iran's "shadow commander" was behind an imminent threat to blow up US embassies. CNN has reached out to the White House for comment on claims that the State Department officials were taken by surprise.

Trump claimed at an Ohio rally that Soleimani "was actively planning new attacks," then told Fox News, "I believe it probably would've been four embassies," naming Baghdad as one. Senior administration officials around the President have repeatedly pointed to danger facing US embassies in the Middle East.

By Kara Scannell, CNN

(CNN) An attorney for Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, has turned over photos, dozens of text messages and thousands of pages of documents to House impeachment investigators in an effort to win his client an audience with lawmakers. Joseph A. Bondy, Parnas' New York attorney, traveled to Washington, DC, over the weekend to hand-deliver the contents of an iPhone 11 to Democratic staff on the House Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, according to a series of Bondy's tweets. "After our trip to DC, we worked through the night providing a trove of Lev Parnas' WhatsApp messages, text messages & images—not under protective order—to #HPSCI, detailing interactions with a number of individuals relevant to the impeachment inquiry. #LetLevSpeak #LevRemembers," according to Bondy's tweet.

   After our trip to DC, we worked through the night providing a trove of Lev Parnas' WhatsApp messages, text messages & images—not under protective order—to #HPSCI, detailing interactions with a number of individuals relevant to the impeachment inquiry. #LetLevSpeak #LevRemembers pic.twitter.com/HdHaCyZXIm
   — Joseph A. Bondy (@josephabondy) January 13, 2020

Parnas has also provided investigators with documents, recordings, photos, text messages on What's App, an encrypted messaging platform, and materials from a Samsung phone, according to Bondy. Material from two other devices, an iPad and another iPhone, are also expected to be shared with them.

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) President Donald Trump's reputation for bending truth for political ends and conflicting administration rationales for taking out Iran's top general are stirring a new debate over intelligence with troubling echoes in recent history. Administration officials are tying themselves in knots to avoid contradicting Trump's statement that Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks on four US embassies and that the President was therefore justified in ordering his killing. Lawmakers say the hugely significant claim was not included in briefings on Capitol Hill last week by the administration to explain the Soleimani strike amid a fast widening controversy over whether its risks were justified. Given the serious nature of Trump's claim, arguments that intelligence surrounding the attack is too sensitive to be released is unlikely to quell the controversy.  Discord over the rationale for the Soleimani attack is awakening history's ghosts of US foreign interventions that went bad after questionable rationales for war -- for instance in Iraq -- as well as contemporary questions about this administration's attitude toward trust and truth.

By Daniel Politi

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday that he did not see any specific evidence that showed Iran planned to attack four U.S. embassies as President Donald Trump had claimed. The Pentagon chief later appeared to try to row back what he had said, insisting he shared the same assessment as the commander in chief but refused to detail whether there was any actual intelligence that would back up the claim. “I didn’t see one, with regard to four embassies,” Esper said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “What I’m saying is that I shared the president’s view that probably—my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country.”

The Iran debate shows Republicans don’t believe in fighting tyrants. They believe in smearing their opponents.
By William Saletan

What does the Republican Party stand for? Lately, that’s been hard to figure out. In 2016, the party adopted a platform that talked about “moral leadership,” “the cause of liberty,” fighting “tyranny and injustice,” and standing up to “countries with repressive governments.” For three years, President Donald Trump, backed by Republicans in Congress, abandoned those commitments. Then last week, Trump reverted to the old Republican habit of using force. He killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani with a drone strike. And when Democrats questioned the wisdom of the strike, Republicans accused them of disloyalty to America. From hawkishness to appeasement, the GOP has zigged, zagged, and zigged. Only one thing has remained constant: its partisan exploitation of the military and the flag. Republicans don’t believe in standing up to enemies abroad. They believe in impugning the patriotism of Democrats.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t a decision.
By Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick

One thing few people know about the architecture of the U.S. Supreme Court building concerns the turtles. They are built into the lampposts around the exterior courtyard of the building. They are adorable, but they are also meaningful—they are meant to signify the slow deliberative pace of justice. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor liked to call attention to the turtles as emblematic of an institutional virtue in a high-speed world: “They move slowly,” she said, in 2005. “That’s what we do.”

Justices and judges may pride themselves on not being rushed into precipitous action, but the judiciary also has the capacity to move very quickly when circumstances demand it. That’s why it is particularly noteworthy that the current failure to move things along is so advantageous to Donald Trump and his chances for success in the November 2020 election, and also so obviously disadvantaging the Democratic-held House of Representatives. One could be forgiven for starting to wonder whether the courts are taking sides but doing it in a way that looks measured and restrained. The thing is: Sometimes not resolving an exigent case is a decision.

By Max Fisher and Amanda Taub

Allegations that killing Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani crossed a line draw on two definitions of the term — one legal, one colloquial — whose dissonance reveals how far executive power has expanded. A single word has become a focal point of concerns about President Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s top general: assassination. There is no fixed, formal definition of assassination. But, as with many politically charged labels, the word has taken on significance broader than any one meaning, shorthand for concerns that Mr. Trump’s decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was unethical, illegitimate or dangerous.

The Trump administration says that its strike on General Suleimani was not an assassination, calling it a lawful and justifiable use of force. Assassination is colloquially defined as a killing, or sometimes murder, for political purposes, particularly but not necessarily of a senior political leader. Mr. Suleimani’s killing seems to fit that description. He was one of the senior-most figures in the government of Iran, a country that is not formally at war with the United States. While the Trump administration’s justifications have focused on halting what it says was an “imminent” attack, they have also included political aims, such as changing Iran’s behavior.

But there is also a second definition.

The United States banned assassination in 1976 but did not define it. Ever since, decades of legal interpretation and precedent-setting have evolved into a legal understanding of assassination that is intricate, disputed and narrower with each administration.

By Colby Itkowitz

Disgraced former House speaker Dennis Hastert’s name was trending on Twitter Saturday morning after President Trump suggested “Nancy Pelosi will go down as the absolute worst Speaker of the House in U.S. History!” Trump’s morning tweet is the third time in 24 hours the president has made this prediction about the California Democrat’s legacy, placing the first woman in the role below the 53 other men to have served as speaker since 1789.

“She is obsessed with impeachment, she has done nothing. She is going to go down as one of the worst Speakers in the history of our country,” Trump said Friday night during an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham. “And she’s become a crazed lunatic. But she will go down as — I think maybe the worst speaker in the history of our country.”

But some Twitter users were quick to point out the track record of other past speakers, namely Hastert (R-Ill.), the longest -running Republican speaker, from 1999 to 2007, and an admitted sex offender who molested teenage boys he had coached in high school wrestling. Hastert was convicted of bank fraud in a scheme to buy the silence of his victims.

By Adam Bienkov

Donald Trump's decision to assassinate Qassem Soleimani has triggered a major rupture between the United States and its historically closest ally in the United Kingdom. In remarkably outspoken comments, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Sunday that Trump's isolationist foreign policy stance meant the UK was now looking for alternative allies around the world. "I worry if the United States withdraws from its leadership around the world," he told the Sunday Times. He added: "The assumptions of 2010 that we were always going to be part of a US coalition is really just not where we are going to be." The comments came after Boris Johnson's government distanced itself from the attack last week, with the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab labelling it a "dangerous escalation," which risked a conflict in which "terrorists would be the only winners."

By Chandelis Duster, CNN

Washington (CNN) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's supporting a resolution to dismiss the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump a "cover up." "The dismissing is a cover-up. Dismissing is a cover-up," Pelosi said during an interview on ABC's "This Week." "If they want to go that route, again the senators who are thinking now about voting for witnesses or not, they will have to be accountable for not having a fair trial." McConnell signed onto a resolution from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri last week to allow for the dismissal of the obstruction of Congress and abuse of power charges against Trump because Pelosi has not yet transferred the articles to the Senate for a trial. Republicans don't have the votes to dismiss the articles. The California Democrat, who has so far withheld the articles as congressional leadership disagree on the shape of trial procedures, said in a letter to her caucus on Friday she was prepared to send the articles of impeachment this week.

“Don't make me start giving out the phone number!”
By Justin Baragona

During his radio show on Friday, Fox News host Sean Hannity appeared to threaten to publicize Republican senators’ phone numbers if they vote to allow witnesses to be called during the Senate impeachment trial, which could begin as early as next week. “They now get to present their case to all of you Republican senators,” Hannity said, in comments first spotted by Media Matters. “Don't make me start giving out the phone number!” It isn’t entirely clear, however, what phone number Hannity was threatening to start “giving out.” Within the context of his remarks, though, it would appear to be either senators’ office numbers or the United States Capitol switchboard number.

Hannity has a history of urging his listeners to call up lawmakers or other political figures in an effort to sway opinion. Earlier this week, he aired Congress’ main number on his primetime show, telling viewers to tell their Congress members to “do their damn job.” Last month, he told listeners of his radio show to call the Georgia governor to switch his choice for a Senate replacement. The pro-Trump media star went on to complain that it is the House of Representatives’ “sole Constitutional role” to impeach, claiming that they “decided in their insanity and psychosis and rage to abuse that power and bring up what is a non-case.”

By Joshua Keating

In the wake of the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iraq says it wants Americans gone once and for all. In a conversation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi asked the U.S. to send a delegation to set up a mechanism for withdrawing U.S. troops from his country. This came after a confusing and violent week in which the Iraqi Parliament voted to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the U.S. sent and then disavowed a letter agreeing to do so, and Iran launched a missile strike against bases hosting U.S. troops.

The U.S. response to Mahdi’s demand has been more or less “No.” A State Department statement on Friday, after beginning dramatically, “America is a force for good in the Middle East,” made clear that any future negotiations would be “dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership—not to discuss troop withdrawal.”

By Nicole Gaouette and Jamie Gangel, CNN

(CNN) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a driving force behind President Donald Trump's decision to kill a top Iranian general, sources inside and around the administration tell CNN, a high-stakes move that demonstrates Pompeo's status as the most influential national security official in the Trump administration. Taking Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani "off the battlefield" has been a goal for the top US diplomat for a decade, several sources told CNN. Targeting Iran's second most powerful official -- the leader of the Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, the politically and economically powerful military group with regional clout -- was Pompeo's idea, according to a source from his inner circle. That source said the secretary brought the suggestion to Trump. Pompeo "was the one who made the case to take out Soleimani, it was him absolutely," this source said.

The president’s first rally of 2020 put his hostility to blue-state Democrats on stark display.
By Aaron Rupar

President Donald Trump had a brief, unusual moment of radical honesty toward the end of his rally on Thursday night in Toledo, Ohio. During a portion of his speech in which he was heaping scorn on the “stone-cold crazy” and “radical” Democrats, Trump paused and said, “You know, it’s interesting, as I’m saying this stuff — you know, ‘they want crime, they want chaos’ — I’m saying all this stuff, and then I say, ‘Gee, I understand why they hate me!’” But as soon as those self-reflective words left his lips, Trump returned to bashing Democrats as “vicious, horrible people.” “What they do to people is a disgrace,” Trump said.

Phones were sold to low-income people under the FCC's Lifeline Assistance program.
By Dan Goodin

An Android phone subsidized by the US government for low-income users comes preinstalled with malware that can't be removed without making the device cease to work, researchers reported on Thursday. The UMX U686CL is provided by Virgin Mobile's Assurance Wireless program. Assurance Wireless is an offshoot of the Lifeline Assistance program, a Federal Communications Commissions plan that makes free or government-subsidized phones service available to millions of low-income families. The program is often referred to as the Obama Phone because it expanded in 2008, when President Barack Obama took office. The UMX U686CL runs Android and is available for $35 to qualifying users.

Researchers at Malwarebytes said on Thursday that the device comes with some nasty surprises. Representatives of Sprint, the owner of Virgin Mobile, meanwhile said it didn't believe the apps were malicious. The first is heavily obfuscated malware that can install adware and other unwanted apps without the knowledge or permission of the user. Android/Trojan.Dropper.Agent.UMX contains striking similarities to two other trojan droppers. For one, it uses identical text strings and almost identical code. And for another, it contains an encoded string that, when decoded, contains a hidden library named com.android.google.bridge.Liblmp.

Once the library is loaded into memory, it installs software Malwarebytes calls Android/Trojan.HiddenAds. It aggressively displays ads. Malwarebytes researcher Nathan Collier said company users have reported that the hidden library installs a variant of HiddenAds, but the researchers were unable to reproduce that installation, possibly because the library waits some amount of time before doing so.

Published Thu, Jan 9 20203:50 PM ESTUpdated 2 hours ago
By Christina Wilkie @christinawilkie

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he would support witnesses testifying in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial, as long as it meant his legal team could summon House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, and the anonymous whistleblower whose 2019 complaint sparked the probe that ended in Trump’s impeachment.

“I’m going to leave it to the Senate, but I’d like to hear from the whistleblower, I’d like to hear from shifty Schiff, I’d like to hear from Hunter Biden and Joe Biden,” Trump told reporters at a White House event. The president said he also wanted “the second whistleblower” to testify, referring to a second official who sought legal protections in order to share concerns about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president. - If Biden or his son has to testify then Trump, Pompeo, Pence, Giuliani and Bolton have to testify.

US attorneys say the jail mistakenly saved footage from the wrong cell. Epstein, a convicted sex offender, hanged himself in jail in August while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges. He had pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing dozens of girls, some as young as 14. The issue over this footage comes from the case of Nicholas Tartaglione, a former New York police officer who shared a cell with Epstein in July. Epstein was found semi-conscious in his prison cell with injuries to his neck on 25 July. After this incident, he was placed on suicide watch.

Eventually, Epstein was moved to a different cell, where he died on 10 August. Two prison guards have since been accused of failing to check on Epstein during this time and falsifying records to say that they had. There have been ongoing questions over the July recording, which was initially deemed missing and then was said to have been located by jail staff.

By Heidi Glenn

GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah says he found a classified military briefing from administration officials Wednesday so "upsetting" that he will now back a proposal to limit President Trump's power to take military action against Iran and to reassert Congress' role in authorizing the use of military force.

Lee says that at the Senate briefing about the military strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was led by administration officials, including Defense Secretary Mike Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and CIA Director Gina Haspel. He said the briefers instructed lawmakers not to ask tough questions about the president's ability to use military force against Iran.

"It was terrible. It was an unmitigated disaster," Lee told Morning Edition host Rachel Martin Thursday. Lee says his frustration is not over Soleimani's killing. "It was instead about the possibility of future military action against Iran. And it was on that topic they refused to make any commitment about when, whether and under what circumstances it would be necessary for the president — for the executive branch of government — to come to Congress seeking authorization for the use of military force," he says. "I find that unacceptable."

By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

Washington (CNN) The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel is arguing that the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment has expired, a blow to supporters' push to enshrine the long-sought effort. "We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA and, because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the States," the OLC said in an opinion released Wednesday. The opinion, issued in response to a lawsuit filed by three conservative-leaning states, effectively prevents the archivist of the United States, who administers the ratification process, from verifying that the amendment is valid and part of the Constitution after the necessary number of states approve it. But his authority doesn't prevent states from acting on their own to ratify the amendment -- or preclude them from legally challenging the Justice Department's opinion in court.

"OLC's opinion doesn't directly affect the litigation, but unless it is overruled by the attorney general or the President, it likely will bind the archivist -- meaning that the only way a new ratification by a state like Virginia would likely be effective is if the courts say so," Stephen Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN. "This opinion suggests that, from the Executive Branch's perspective, the matter is closed." Supporters say the ERA would ban discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantee equality for women under the Constitution, while opponents argue that the ERA would allow more access to abortion and that many protections are already enshrined at the state level. ERA proponents see Virginia as the next, and 38th, state to ratify the amendment, which would meet the three-fourths threshold necessary for an amendment to be added to the Constitution. Virginia's state legislature returned to session on Wednesday and its Democratic lawmakers, who control both chambers, have said passing the ERA is a priority.

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants California, home to nearly 40 million people, to contract with generic drug companies to make prescription medications on its behalf so it could then sell them to the public.
By The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California could become the first state with its own prescription drug label under a proposal Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled Thursday. Newsom wants California, home to nearly 40 million people, to contract with generic drug companies to make prescription medications on its behalf so it could then sell them to the public. The goal, according to the governor's office, is to lower prices by increasing competition in the generic market. “The cost of health care is just too damn high, and California is fighting back,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement.

By Maegan Vazquez, Betsy Klein, Veronica Stracqualursi and Dan Berman, CNN

Washington (CNN) The Trump administration plans to rewrite decades-old regulations to make it easier to build major infrastructure such as pipelines, which would have the effect of relaxing government efforts to fight the climate crisis. President Donald Trump announced Thursday morning the changes to National Environmental Policy Act rules, which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of projects such as the construction of mines, highways, water infrastructure and gas pipelines.

Trump and administration officials said the changes are necessary to speed up approval for needed infrastructure projects. "These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation's incredible workers. From day one, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority," Trump said at the White House. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said NEPA rules are a "Frankenstein of a regulatory regime" and "welfare project" for trial attorneys.

The proposal would set time limits on environmental assessments and changes what impacts must be considered, two significant moves that could make it easier to approve projects. Agencies will no longer have to consider "cumulative" effects of new infrastructure under the new rule, which courts have interpreted as a mandate to study effects of emitting more greenhouse gas emissions, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post, which reported the proposals earlier Thursday. That includes the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels.

By Greg Farrell

The New York City Bar Association has asked Congress to investigate U.S. Attorney General William Barr, saying his recent actions and statements have positioned the Justice Department and its prosecutors as “political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others.” The request disclosed on Thursday appears to be the first time the New York bar or any comparable bar association has asked Congress to investigate a sitting attorney general. Last year, 450 former federal prosecutors from Republican and Democratic administrations signed a statement chastising Barr for his handling of the Mueller report on Russian election interference.

In a letter sent this week to the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. House and Senate, New York City Bar leaders described public statements by the attorney general as troubling for an official whose job is to enforce the law without bias. “The duties to act impartially, to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities are bedrock obligations for government lawyers,” according to the letter, which was posted Thursday on the association’s website. “Mr. Barr has disregarded these fundamental obligations in several public statements during the past few months,” the letter continued.

The parents of four children are planning to file a $12 million lawsuit against the Longwood Central School District on Long Island.
By Minyvonne Burke

The parents of four black students in New York are planning to file a $12 million lawsuit against a school district after a teacher wrote the caption "Monkey do" above an image of their children, and then showed it to the class during a slideshow. In November, students at Longwood High School on Long Island took a class trip to the Bronx Zoo. During the outing, a teacher snapped a photo of four students standing behind each other with their arms on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The image was included in a slideshow played during class the following month and was accompanied by the caption "Monkey do."

The “Late Night” host busts “Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt for only believing U.S. intelligence agencies when it’s convenient.
by Matt Wilstein

“2020 is off to a great start,” Seth Meyers said at the top of his first “A Closer Look” segment of the new year. “I’m just fucking with you. 2020 is already the worst.” The Late Night host spent most of his blistering piece going after President Donald Trump and members of his administration for trying to lie America into war with Iran much in the same way the Bush administration falsified intelligence to sell the war in Iraq. “But that’s not good enough for Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt, who said today that we just have to trust the intelligence agencies,” he said.

With that, he cut to a clip of Earhardt expressing shock and disbelief that anyone would be “critical” of U.S. intelligence agencies. When her co-host Steve Doocy suggested that some Americans just want “details,” she shot back, “Well, they can’t have it. They can’t have it. Everything can’t be made public.” She summed up the administration’s position as “you just have to trust us.”

By Sarah Blaskey and Nicholas Nehamas

The ritzy Mar-a-Lago club — one-time Jeffrey Epstein hangout, target of eccentric intruders, nexus of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation — had another unusual occurrence Monday evening. Palm Beach police say they are conducting an “open and active criminal investigation” at the club, also President Donald Trump’s South Florida home, following an unspecified incident.

The Secret Service is leading the investigation and no arrest has been made, according to the Palm Beach Police Department. “During an encounter with local law enforcement, an individual made non-threatening statements about a person under Secret Service protection,” a law enforcement official with knowledge of the incident told the Miami Herald. “As part of standard practice, Palm Beach police contacted the local Secret Service office.”

By Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner

Federal prosecutors Tuesday recommended that former national security adviser Michael Flynn serve up to six months in prison, reversing their earlier recommendation of probation after his attacks against the FBI and Justice Department. The government revoked its request for leniency weeks after Flynn’s sentencing judge categorically rejected Flynn’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct and that he had been duped into pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russian contacts after the 2016 U.S. election.

“In light of the complete record . . . the government no longer deems the defendant’s assistance ‘substantial,’ ” prosecutor Brandon Van Grack wrote in a 33-page court filing. He added, “It is clear that the defendant has not learned his lesson. He has behaved as though the law does not apply to him, and as if there are no consequences for his actions.”

By John Bowden

A Colorado woman was arrested in Montana after allegedly plotting a raid with fellow believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory to kidnap her daughter, who does not live with her. The Denver Post reported that 50-year-old Cynthia Abcug was arrested and accused of conspiring with at least one other believer of the QAnon conspiracy theory to conduct an armed raid of a house in which her daughter, of whom Abcug does not have custody, currently lives.

Abcug's daughter told police ahead of the planned raid, however, reportedly out of concern that Abcug or others would hurt people or be injured themselves during the attack. "She could not understand why her mother did not see how this was a bad thing," read the affidavit of Abcug's arrest, according to NBC News. "Initially [Abcug] only discussed the QAnon group, however more recently Abcug has escalated into talking more about 'the raid' plan," it continued.

By Joshua Keating

Yesterday, the future status of U.S. forces in Iraq was plunged into confusion by a withdrawal announcement that may or may not have been intentionally sent. Today, the story somehow got even more ridiculous. To recap, on Monday the Iraqi prime minister’s office circulated a letter from the commander of U.S. forces in the country indicating that those forces would be repositioned in preparation for “onward movement” in response to a recent Iraqi Parliament vote calling for their removal. The U.S. military confirmed the letter was real and it was generally interpreted as statement of intent to remove the troops.

But back in Washington, things got complicated. After some initial suggestion from the Pentagon that the letter was a fake and potentially an Iranian intelligence operation, senior officials then settled on the line that the letter was real, but they had not meant to send it —an “honest mistake” in the words of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley. The line the Pentagon is going with is that it was a “poorly worded” draft that meant to suggest the repositioning of U.S. troops rather than their withdrawal, and as CNN puts it, it was “shared with the Iraqi military for the purposes of coordination and was never sent as a formal memorandum.” Someone in the Iraqi military seems to have shared it with the prime minister’s office.

By Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly, CNN

(CNN) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he has the votes to set the ground rules of the impeachment trial for President Donald Trump -- without Democrats' support. McConnell first made the remarks during a closed-door lunch with his fellow Republican senators on Capitol Hill, an official in the room told CNN, before McConnell made the announcement publicly during a news conference following the lunch. McConnell made clear he had no plans to move forward on a trial until the two articles of impeachment are sent to the Senate, as he has said publicly.

"We have the votes once the impeachment trial has begun to pass a resolution essentially the same, very similar to the 100-to-nothing vote in the Clinton trial, which sets up what's best described as a phase one," McConnell said Tuesday. All McConnell needs is 51 senators -- or a simple majority of the 100-member chamber -- to vote to approve those ground rules. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah have said they back the leader's approach. This is different than the Senate trial for then-President Bill Clinton in 1999, when the ground rules were set by a 100-0 vote. This time it will likely be approved on a party-line vote.

Democrats want a deal up front to hear from witnesses and get documents, but McConnell says those matters should be dealt with later after opening statements. Republicans won't act until they get the two articles of impeachment from the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has held on to them since they were voted on in the House in December. "It continues to be my hope that the speaker will send them on over," McConnell said Tuesday at his news conference.

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