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Past US Headline News March 2019 Page 3

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

By Mary Papenfuss - HuffPost US
Erik Prince, former head of mercenary business Blackwater, revealed in a bombshell interview Friday that he attended a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and a representative of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss “Iran policy” during the presidential campaign. The interview marked the first time Prince has publicly acknowledged such a meeting. Prince said in congressional testimony in 2017 that he had no “official” or “unofficial” role in the campaign — other than a “yard sign” and writing “papers” — according to the transcript of his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Nor did he mention the meeting in his testimony, according to transcripts. The New York Times reported last year that Prince organized the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s eldest son and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader. Nader revealed at the meeting that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to aid Trump in his bid for the presidency, according to the newspaper. The meeting also reportedly included now-top White House aide Stephen Miller and Israeli social media expert Joel Zamel. The August meeting is yet another secret huddle with a representative of foreign governments that may have provided illegal international aid to sway the American election. Just months earlier Donald Jr. and the president’s son-in-law and now senior White House aide Jared Kushner met at Trump Tower with a  Russian lawyer connected to the Kremlin. Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, acknowledged the meeting in an on-camera interview on Al Jazeera’s “Head to Head” aired Friday. Asked by host Mehdi Hasan why he didn’t reveal the meeting in his congressional testimony, Prince insisted he had. When his actual response was read back to him, he suggested the transcript was “wrong,” drawing titters from the interview audience. He later also insisted that “not all of the discussion that day was transcribed.”

By Virginia Heffernan
As a convicted tax cheat, Paul Manafort stole $6 million from taxpayers. President Trump’s former campaign chairman then blew his fat stacks on Richie-Rich jive — eye-rollers such as monstrous houses, giraffe lawn ornaments, a limited-edition titanium watch, an ostrich skin jacket, a moat, four Land Rovers, blah blah blah. Even Judge T. S. Ellis III, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, who obsequiously praised Manafort at the sentencing hearing Thursday, had to concede that the fancy felon’s crimes were “serious,” that he had jacked the American people for his bunk lifestyle fetishes. This, said Ellis, was “a theft of money from everyone who pays their taxes.” But none of Ellis’ obligatory tut-tutting kept him from yielding to his own disturbing admiration for the infinitesimally repentant convict. In defiance of federal sentencing guidelines, which recommended 19 to 24 years in prison for Manafort-caliber misdeeds, Ellis gave him 47 months in federal prison, with nine months off for time served. A sentence as light as an ostrich feather. Who knows how someone like Ellis decides someone like Manafort deserves such magnificent leniency? To start, there’s this: The two men have class, race, gender and, evidently, party in common. It was when Ellis reflected on Manafort’s character that the proceedings turned downright creepy. Ellis, who turns 80 in May, was appointed to the bench by President Reagan in 1987. In the same decade, Reagan also appointed Manafort, who campaigned for him, associate director of the personnel office at the White House. It should go without saying that federal sentencing guidelines are no one’s partisan whim. They were established in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which passed with majority support in both houses. (The ’80s were evidently a weird time when both parties cared about equality and justice.) The reform was intended to ensure uniformity in the punishment of convicts who might otherwise have their sentences influenced by a judge’s biases or bigotry. The guidelines further serve as a check on a judge’s caprices because anyone who bucks them, as is his or her privilege, risks being seen as biased, or even in someone’s pocket. Indeed, soon after Ellis announced Manafort’s sentence, his decision came in for scrutiny. He seems to have given Manafort a fair amount of credit for his purported cooperation with the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, even as prosecutor Greg Andres, of Mueller’s team, insisted that Manafort’s cooperation had been close to useless: odd bits the team already knew, plus stone-cold lies. Andres and the rest of the prosecuting team made it clear they thought the 19-to-24-year guidelines were appropriate.  The Eastern District of Virginia, according to federal data, doles out considerably longer sentences for those convicted of fraud than other courts. Not this time. On Twitter came even more eyebrow-raising comps: People not of the ostrich-jacket class sentenced to far more prison time for far, far less serious crimes. But the judge was well within his powers to choose a short sentence. It was when Ellis reflected on Manafort’s character that the proceedings turned downright creepy. Ellis commended Manafort as “a good friend” (to murderous oligarchs?) and “a generous person” (with his haberdasher?). Aside from all that bank and tax fraud, Ellis went on, Manafort had lived an “otherwise blameless life.” To anyone who craves justice or simply a return to reality, that “otherwise blameless” was a punch to the gut — a flat-out Trumpian denial of the public record. Manafort has been known for more than 40 years as a member of the torturers’ lobby, a list compiled by the Center for Public Integrity in 1992. With his partners, Manafort acted as an all-purpose concierge to brutal dictators and war criminals in Nigeria and Kenya. He also represented Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Somalia. Manafort amassed millions by essentially deflecting criticism of his brutal clients and opulently enabling them. Sounds like he found a kindred spirit in Judge Ellis. For most of us, looking into Manafort’s otherwise blamelessness would have to include questioning his intimacy with one Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI has long believed has links to Russian spy services. Specifically, there was a Manafort-Kilimnik rendezvous in a cigar bar, according to court documents, that Andrew Weissmann of Mueller’s team said goes “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.” Still: otherwise blameless in Ellis’ courtroom. Compare Ellis’ gratuitous hymn to Manafort’s angelic nature with the sentencing memo filed last month by Mueller’s team, which laid out how Manafort “repeatedly and brazenly violated the law” over the course of a decade. Even Manafort’s daughter described her father’s fortune as “blood money” and said he had no “moral or legal compass.” And even when Thomas J. Barrack Jr., Trump’s real estate crony, warmly recommended Manafort as campaign chair, he cited not the operator’s pure heart but his cold blood. He’s “lethal,” Barrack wrote.

Cashless stores are convenient, but they also marginalize low-income shoppers.
By Chavie Lieber
Shop at a trendy, millennial-oriented business like Sweetgreen or Everlane and the odds are pretty high that it won’t let you pay with cash. Instead, you’ll have to pay with credit card, an app, or Apple or Google Pay. That’s because these companies are pushing out cash payments, arguing that touchless pay makes shopping hassle-free. Lawmakers and public advocates, on the other hand, have long said this concept marginalizes low-income shoppers who might not be tech-savvy or have access to credit lines. Now these cashless stores are starting to come under scrutiny. Philadelphia just passed a bill banning stores from going cashless. The law won’t apply to businesses like parking garages, stores with membership models like Costco, or transactions that require a security deposit, like rental cars. But come July 2019, all stores in Philly will have to give customers the option to pay with cash. Mayor Jim Kenney signed the bill last week, making Philadelphia the first city in the US to take legal action against cashless stores. Massachusetts has had a law against cashless businesses since 1978, but other American cities are trying to follow in Philadelphia’s footsteps. Last year, Chicago tried to ban cashless institutions last year but did not succeed. In February, on the other hand, similar legislation passed to make cashless businesses illegal in New Jersey (although New Jersey’s governor has yet to sign a bill), and New York City politicians are pushing laws against cashless stores as well. Some oppose the idea that a city can take such a stance; one top official from Philadelphia’s Commerce Department complained that “modernization is going to happen with or without Philadelphia,” and Amazon had already warned the city that passing such a law would “impede” its plans to open an Amazon Go store in Philly. But others are supporting this move, and this disagreement represents a wider schism between those pushing for technological innovation in retail and those who argue that it’s exclusionary. Why cities are pushing back against cashless stores. William Greenlee, a council member in Philadelphia, told the Wall Street Journal that he decided to introduce this bill against cashless stores after finding that simple sandwich shops in major urban areas within Philly, like the Center City District, wouldn’t accept cash. “Most of the people who don’t have credit tend to be lower income, minority, immigrants. It just seemed to me, if not intentional, at least a form of discrimination,” said Greenlee. Now, he said, these stores have “to do what businesses have been doing since Ben Franklin was walking the streets of Philadelphia.” But where did this idea come from in the first place? Although it isn’t the only company exclusively pushing for this sort of tech, Amazon heavily subscribes to the idea of going cashless. Its bookstores don’t take cash and instead encourage shoppers to set up Amazon accounts, where they can link their credit card and pay with automated payment machines that are set up via kiosks. Many restaurants, especially in New York City, are cashless, too, as are digital-first brands like Drybar and Reformation. These stores argue that it’s better for their business, and that “digital payments are the future,” as the Sweetgreen founders wrote in 2016 upon announcing their switch to cash-free payments.

By Li Zhou
It’s indicative of the disparities in the criminal justice system. Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort officially received his sentence on Thursday and it’s quite a bit lighter than many were expecting. For conviction on eight counts of bank fraud, filing fake tax returns, and failure to report foreign assets, Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in jail, which comes out to just shy of four years. Legal experts across the board were flummoxed. Many called out the length of the sentence as well as the message it sent: The leniency granted to Manafort only seemed to highlight the inequities in the criminal justice system, which has led to excessively harsh — and often biased — sentencing that favors wealthier, white defendants.

   This Manafort sentence "suggests that the wealthy and the powerful do better in court that many other defendants do, and I think it is an attack on the legitimacy of the criminal justice system." -Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney pic.twitter.com/06ennWBbDJ
   — Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) March 8, 2019

   Paul Manafort’s lenient 4-year sentence — far below the recommended 20 years despite extensive felonies and post-conviction obstruction — is a reminder of the blatant inequities in our justice system that we all know about, because they reoccur every week in courts across America
   — Ari Melber (@AriMelber) March 8, 2019

Public defender Scott Hechinger, a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, helped provide some additional context that underscores this point.

In a thread on Twitter, Hechinger noted how many of his clients received sentences that were far longer or comparable to Manafort’s, for minor offenses. His first tweet embodies this stark contrast.

   For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room.
   — Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) March 8, 2019

Hechinger went on to highlight others who had received incredibly long sentences for offenses that included “simple possession of a firearm,” or voting while on probation.

By Betsy Klein, Kaitlan Collins and Jim Acosta, CNN
Washington (CNN) White House deputy chief of staff and de facto communications director Bill Shine has stepped down to join the Trump campaign, press secretary Sarah Sanders announced in a statement Friday. Shine, a former Fox News executive, joined the White House in July 2018, the sixth person to fill or be tapped for the top communications role. Jason Miller, Sean Spicer, Mike Dubke, Anthony Scaramucci and Hope Hicks all came before him. He offered his resignation to President Donald Trump on Thursday but was spotted on the White House South Lawn on Friday ahead of the President's trip to Alabama. He will be joining the 2020 re-election campaign as a senior adviser. "Serving President Trump and this country has been the most rewarding experience of my entire life. To be a small part of all this President has done for the American people has truly been an honor. I'm looking forward to working on President Trump's re-election campaign and spending more time with my family," Shine said in a statement. Shine's effectiveness inside the West Wing came with mixed results and it was unclear how much he was able to change the White House's communications strategy. One source close to the White House told CNN that Trump had questioned Shine's judgment on a number of issues in recent months, from the midterm election to the government shutdown. Shine had been slated to travel with Trump to Vietnam for the second North Korea summit but unexpectedly dropped off the trip two days before, according to an administration official. While administration officials were in Hanoi, Shine was wandering the halls of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Asked why he was there, he declined to answer. Trump had been down on Shine for at least a few months, believing him ineffective and not what he'd hoped for when he hired him, according to people familiar. Shine's role basically became the person who adjusted the lighting and focused the cameras, and he showed no ability to shape a narrative or communications strategy. Shine was a key force behind shutting down much of the press access to the White House, including the daily press briefing, per the source. There has not been a White House press briefing since January 28.

By Eileen Sullivan
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday seized on a portion of a federal judge’s remarks during the sentencing of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in a financial crimes case to again criticize the Russia investigation and falsely declare a finding of “no collusion.” Both the Judge and the lawyer in the Paul Manafort case stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia. But the Witch Hunt Hoax continues as you now add these statements to House & Senate Intelligence & Senator Burr. So bad for our Country!  — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 8, 2019. Speaking to reporters before he left for Alabama to inspect tornado damage, Mr. Trump said that the sentencing judge, T.S. Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., had said “there was no collusion with Russia.” Mr. Trump added that he was “very honored” Judge Ellis made that statement. Mr. Trump, however, twisted Judge Ellis’s words. What Judge Ellis actually said Thursday was that Mr. Manafort was “not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election.” There was “no collusion” because Mr. Manafort was not charged with or convicted of any crimes of collusion, a word that has no legal definition but has become a term of art for the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Manafort on Thursday received a sentence of nearly four years for financial crimes for which sentencing guidelines recommend a prison term of 19 to 24 years. He was convicted in August of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. Mr. Manafort’s attorneys used the same false talking point as the president on Thursday, saying in a brief statement after the hearing, “There is absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved in any collusion with any government official or Russia.”

By Franklin Foer Staff writer for The Atlantic
Trump’s former campaign chair has always acted with impunity, as if the laws never applied to him. “He has lived an otherwise blameless life,” said Judge T. S. Ellis as he sentenced Paul Manafort to just 47 months in prison on Thursday. In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations. In an otherwise blameless life, he helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent. In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees. In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals. In an otherwise blameless life, he tried to use his perch atop the Trump campaign to help salvage his sorry financial situation. He installed one of his protégés as the head of the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America. His friend allegedly funneled $125,000 from the super PAC to pay off one of Manafort’s nagging debts. In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was found guilty of tax evasion on an industrial scale. Rather than paying his fair share to help fund national defense and public health, he kept his cash in Cyprus and wired it home to buy more than $1 million in bespoke clothing. In an otherwise blameless life, he disguised his income as loans so that he could bamboozle banks into lending him money. In an otherwise blameless life, he attempted to phone a potential witness in his trial so that they could align their stories. In an otherwise blameless life, he systematically lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, after he promised them his full cooperation. In an otherwise blameless life, he systematically lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, after he promised them his full cooperation. In an otherwise blameless life, he acted with impunity, as if the laws never applied to him. When presented with a chance to show remorse to the court, he couldn’t find that sentiment within his being. And with Ellis’s featherweight punishment, which deviated sharply downward from the sentencing guidelines, Manafort managed to bring his life’s project to a strange completion. He had devoted his career to normalizing corruption in Washington. By the time he was caught, his extraordinary avarice had become so commonplace that not even a federal judge could blame him for it.

By Will Sommer
Corsi used to work for Infowars. Now he’s warring with it. Jerome Corsi sued Infowars founder Alex Jones on Thursday, heating up the feud between two of the nation’s top conspiracy theorists. Corsi and his lawyer, conservative activist Larry Klayman, are both named as plaintiffs in the case against Jones, Infowars, Jones’ father David Jones, and Infowars host Owen Shroyer. The complaint alleges the defendants defamed Corsi and Klayman by questioning their mental fitness, with Jones saying that Corsi has dementia and has become “extremely mentally degraded.” Infowars and Jones didn’t respond to requests for comment. In their lawsuit, Corsi and Klayman allege that Jones and Infowars are hurting their careers as rival right-wing commentators, costing them “financial support and sales.” Corsi and Jones weren’t always at odds. A year ago, Corsi, a promoter of conspiracy theories like the “birther” claim that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, worked as Infowars’ Washington bureau chief. He appeared at events with Jones and went on Jones’ Infowars show. After Corsi left Infowars last June, the outlet paid him a hefty $15,000 monthly severance for six months. But Corsi’s relationship with Jones has soured as Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether Corsi connected the Donald Trump campaign with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 presidential election. The connection allegedly came through Trump adviser Roger Stone, himself an Infowars host who was arrested and charged with lying to Congress in January. As Mueller’s investigators closed in, Corsi became unusually vocal about the investigation and hinted that he might cooperate with Mueller, prompting former allies like Jones and Stone to attack his credibility.

(Axios) - From a White House source, the House Oversight Committee has obtained documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's security clearances that the Trump administration refused to provide, according to a senior Democratic aide involved in handling the documents. Why it matters: The Trump administration's problems with leaks will now benefit Congress, making it harder for the White House to withhold information from Democratic investigators. The news: The White House this week rejected the committee's request for documents on the process for granting security clearances to staffers.     The twist: But the House Oversight Committee in early February had already obtained the leaked documents that detail the entire process, from the spring of 2017 to the spring of 2018, on how both Kushner and Trump were ultimately granted their security clearances. The senior Democratic aide who was involved in handling the documents told Axios that two staffers on the Oversight Committee said the documents are "part of the puzzle that we would be asking for" from the White House, "so we appreciate having this upfront." The House Oversight Committee, via deputy communications director Aryele Bradford, declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. The documents leaked to the Oversight Committee provide detailed information on the timeline for how Kushner's and Trump's security clearances were approved and who the people were involved in processing and the final decision.

By Rachel Weiner, Lynh Bui, Justin Jouvenal and Devlin Barrett
Paul Manafort, who once served as President Trump’s campaign chairman, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Thursday for cheating on his taxes and bank fraud — a spectacular fall for a once high-flying political consultant who told the judge he is now “humiliated and ashamed.” Manafort had faced up to 24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis called that calculation “excessive” and sentenced him instead to 47 months. Ellis said the sentence he imposed was more in line with others who had been convicted on similar crimes. “The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous sentences” for similar crimes, the judge said. Ellis noted that he must consider the entirety of Manafort’s life when issuing a sentence, noting Manafort has been “a good friend” and a “generous person” but that “can’t erase the criminal activity.” Manafort’s tax crimes, the judge said, were “a theft of money from everyone who pays taxes.” But the judge expressed some sympathy for Manafort, a 69-year-old GOP consultant who worked on the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. “He’s lived an otherwise blameless life,” Ellis said. The judged noted Manafort has no past criminal history and “earned the admiration of a number of people” who wrote letters to the court support Manafort. Wearing a green jail uniform with the words “ALEXANDRIA INMATE” in block letters on the back, Manafort entered the courtroom in a wheelchair. “The last two years have been the most difficult years for my family and I,” Manafort told the judge. “To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement.” He asked the judge “for compassion,” adding, “I know it is my conduct that has brought me here.” Speaking from his chair, Manafort did not apologize for his crimes, but thanked the judge for how he had conducted the trial. “I appreciate the fairness of the trial you conducted,” he said. “My life is professionally and financially in shambles.” Manafort said the “media frenzy” surrounding the case had taken a toll on him, but that he hopes “to turn the notoriety into a positive and show who I really am.” The worst pain, he said, “is the pain my family is feeling, ” adding that he drew strength from the “outpouring of support” he had received. The hearing came just days before Manafort is set to be sentenced for related conspiracy charges in a case in D.C. federal court. Manafort’s trial last year documented his career as an international lobbyist whose profligate spending habits were part of the evidence showing he’d cheated the Internal Revenue Service out of $6 million by hiding $16 million in income. Prosecutors painted the former Trump campaign chairman as an incorrigible cheat who must be made to understand the seriousness of his wrongdoing. Manafort contends he is mere collateral damage in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. At the outset of the hearing, Ellis addressed the larger special counsel investigation, saying Manafort was not convicted “for anything to do with Russian colluding in the presidential election.” But the judge also rejected Manafort’s attorneys claims that the lack of any such evidence undermined the case, saying he had considered that issue at the beginning of the case. “I concluded that it was legitimate” for the special counsel to charge Manafort with financial crimes, Ellis said. Sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case had called for Manafort to serve somewhere between 19½ and 24 years in prison, after a jury found him guilty of eight charges and deadlocked on 10 others. The first skirmish in the sentencing hearing came when Manafort’s attorneys argued with federal prosecutors over whether he deserved any sentenced reduction for “acceptance of responsibility.”

By Margaret Sullivan
Chris Wallace is an exceptional interviewer, and Shepard Smith and Bret Baier are reality-based news anchors. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the overall problem of Fox News, which started out with bad intentions in 1996 and has swiftly devolved into what often amounts to a propaganda network for a dishonest president and his allies. The network, which attracts more viewers than its two major competitors, specializes in fearmongering and unrelenting alarmism. Remember “the caravan”? At crucial times, it does not observe basic standards of journalistic practice: as with its eventually retracted, false reporting in 2017 on Seth Rich, which fueled conspiracy theories that Hillary Clinton had the former Democratic National Committee staffer killed because he was a source of campaign leaks. Fox, you might recall, was a welcoming haven for “birtherism” — the racist lies about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. For years, it has constantly, unfairly and inaccurately bashed Hillary Clinton. And its most high-profile personality, Sean Hannity, is not only a close confidant of President Trump but appeared with him onstage at a campaign rally last year. Anyone who was paying the slightest bit of attention knew all of this long before Jane Mayer’s 11,000-word investigation in the New Yorker magazine was published a few days ago. But because Mayer is so highly respected, and the piece so thorough, it made an impact. Within days, DNC Chairman Tom Perez announced that Fox wouldn’t be chosen as one of the hosts of the Democratic primary debates. This was a mild, reasonable step that recognizes the reality that Fox News shouldn’t be treated as an honest broker of political news. It was not censorship as some bizarrely claimed, merely a decision not to enter into a business relationship.

By Jane Mayer
Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda? n January, during the longest government shutdown in America’s history, President Donald Trump rode in a motorcade through Hidalgo County, Texas, eventually stopping on a grassy bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. The White House wanted to dramatize what Trump was portraying as a national emergency: the need to build a wall along the Mexican border. The presence of armored vehicles, bales of confiscated marijuana, and federal agents in flak jackets underscored the message. But the photo op dramatized something else about the Administration. After members of the press pool got out of vans and headed over to where the President was about to speak, they noticed that Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, was already on location. Unlike them, he hadn’t been confined by the Secret Service, and was mingling with Administration officials, at one point hugging Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security. The pool report noted that Hannity was seen “huddling” with the White House communications director, Bill Shine. After the photo op, Hannity had an exclusive on-air interview with Trump. Politico later reported that it was Hannity’s seventh interview with the President, and Fox’s forty-second. Since then, Trump has given Fox two more. He has granted only ten to the three other main television networks combined, and none to CNN, which he denounces as “fake news.” Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.” Hemmer argues that Fox—which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox—acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base—it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.” Fox’s defenders view such criticism as unfounded and politically biased. Ken LaCorte, who was in senior management at Fox News for nearly twenty years, until 2016, and recently started his own news service, told me, “The people at Fox said the same thing about the press and Obama.” Fox’s public-relations department offers numerous examples of its reporters and talk-show hosts challenging the Administration. Chris Wallace, a tough-minded and ecumenical interviewer, recently grilled Stephen Miller, a senior Trump adviser, on the need for a border wall, given that virtually all drugs seized at the border are discovered at checkpoints. Trump is not the first President to have a favorite media organization; James Madison and Andrew Jackson were each boosted by partisan newspapers. But many people who have watched and worked with Fox over the years, including some leading conservatives, regard Fox’s deepening Trump orthodoxy with alarm. Bill Kristol, who was a paid contributor to Fox News until 2012 and is a prominent Never Trumper, said of the network, “It’s changed a lot. Before, it was conservative, but it wasn’t crazy. Now it’s just propaganda.” Joe Peyronnin, a professor of journalism at N.Y.U., was an early president of Fox News, in the mid-nineties. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he says of Fox. “It’s as if the President had his own press organization. It’s not healthy.” othing has formalized the partnership between Fox and Trump more than the appointment, in July, 2018, of Bill Shine, the former co-president of Fox News, as director of communications and deputy chief of staff at the White House. Kristol says of Shine, “When I first met him, he was producing Hannity’s show at Fox, and the two were incredibly close.” Both come from white working-class families on Long Island, and they are so close to each other’s children that they are referred to as “Uncle Bill” and “Uncle Sean.” Another former colleague says, “They spend their vacations together.” A third recalls, “I was rarely in Shine’s office when Sean didn’t call. And I was in Shine’s office a lot. They talked all the time—many times a day.” Shine led Fox News’ programming division for a dozen years, overseeing the morning and evening opinion shows, which collectively get the biggest ratings and define the network’s conservative brand. Straight news was not within his purview. In July, 2016, Roger Ailes, the co-founder and C.E.O. of Fox, was fired in the face of numerous allegations of chronic sexual harassment, and Shine became co-president. But within a year he, too, had been forced out, amid a second wave of sexual-harassment allegations, some of them against Fox’s biggest star at the time, Bill O’Reilly. Shine wasn’t personally accused of sexual harassment, but several lawsuits named him as complicit in a workplace culture of coverups, payoffs, and victim intimidation.

By Patricia Zengerle, Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Retired General John Abizaid, President Donald Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia, defended the US-Saudi relationship on Wednesday as lawmakers accused the kingdom of a litany of misdeeds and criticized its crown prince as going "full gangster." Senators at Abizaid's confirmation hearing including Trump's fellow Republicans as well as Democrats condemned the kingdom's conduct in the civil war in Yemen, heavy-handed diplomacy and rights abuses. Among those were the torturing of women's activists and a US citizen and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Abizaid called for accountability for the murder of Khashoggi, a US resident, and support for human rights, but repeatedly stressed the strategic importance of Washington-Riyadh ties. Despite increasing tension between the two countries, the United States has not had an ambassador to Saudi Arabia since Trump became president in January 2017.  "In the long run, we need a strong and mature partnership with Saudi Arabia," Abizaid told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It is in our interests to make sure that the relationship is sound." Abizaid, a retired four-star Army general who led US Central Command during the Iraq war, is expected to easily win Senate confirmation.  Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Riyadh government, was killed at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. His death fueled simmering discontent in Washington over Saudi Arabia's human rights record and heavy civilian casualties in Yemen's civil war, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The Senate and House of Representatives have passed resolutions that would end US support for the Saudi-led coalition, an important rebuke of Riyadh. But Abizaid said the Trump administration believes strongly that US support should continue.

By Tal Axelrod
(The Hill) Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded with a federal judge for mercy Thursday at his sentencing trial for a slew of financial crimes. “The last two years have been the most difficult years for my family and I,” Manafort said at the Eastern District of Virginia courtroom. “To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement.” Asking for “compassion,” Manafort added that “I know it is my conduct that has brought me here,” according to The Washington Post. Manafort did not apologize for his crimes, but praised Judge T.S. Ellis, saying he steered the hearing in a professional manner. “I appreciate the fairness of the trial you conducted,” he said. “My life is professionally and financially in shambles.” Manafort added that the national scrutiny over his case has weighed on him, though he aims “to turn the notoriety into a positive and show who I really am.” Manafort is being sentenced to bank and tax fraud charges in Virginia Thursday and will be sentenced in a D.C. federal court in the coming days on conspiracy charges related to his lobbying on behalf of the Ukrainian government. His trial over the summer showed Manafort cheated the Internal Revenue Service out of millions of dollars. The former campaign chairman has criticized the financial charges levied against him, noting they fell outside of special counsel Robert Mueller’s initial purview of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. However, Ellis dismissed lawyers’ claims that the widened scope of Mueller’s probe delegitimized the charges against Manafort.  “I concluded that it was legitimate” for Mueller to bring forth financial charges, Ellis said. Virginia sentencing guidelines dictate Manafort should serve between 19.5-24 years in prison on the eight financial charges on which he was convicted.

By Richard Leiby
Objecting to an abundance of sealed and redacted records in the criminal case against Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, The Washington Post petitioned a federal court Thursday to open those records to public view. The paper’s motion cited “the profound public interest in these proceedings” — as well as in the overall investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, which has swept up Manafort and scores of others. “The investigation, which concerns the integrity of this country’s elections, goes to the core of the interests protected by the First Amendment,” the motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, said. The filing comes as Manafort, 69, faces sentencing Thursday in Virginia and next Wednesday in Washington. He pleaded guilty in Washington to two conspiracy counts of hiding millions he earned as an unregistered lobbyist for Ukrainian politicians over a decade and, after he was charged in October 2017, attempting to tamper with witnesses. He was convicted at a federal trial in Alexandria in August on related charges of bank and tax fraud. At issue are redacted or sealed filings, sentencing memos, hearing transcripts and more than 800 pages of exhibits submitted after the special counsel’s office alleged in November that Manafort voided his cooperation agreement with prosecutors in Washington by lying to them about five subjects over more than 50 hours of interviews before and after his guilty plea. Prosecutors submitted the materials to substantiate their allegations but did so under seal or with heavy redactions, arguing that information related to uncharged individuals or ongoing criminal investigations, including secret grand jury matters, should not become public. “The long-standing principle of open criminal proceedings deserves to be sustained in this important case, especially considering that it comes in the context of an investigation into the integrity of a presidential election and relentless attacks on the investigation itself,” Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said in a statement. The Supreme Court has recognized the public’s right of access to records under the First Amendment and common law, including to pre- and post-trial documents and court proceedings. However, courts have upheld that the presumption of access can be overcome when the government proves it has a “compelling interest” to protect, such as grand jury secrecy, individuals’ privacy or a pending law enforcement investigation. But such exceptions must be narrowly tailored and can be time-limited, courts have found, given the impact on core First Amendment rights and the principles of self-government and government transparency. Federal judges in Washington have upheld the public’s right to access criminal case materials, particularly in closed investigations, finding that the government can keep matters sealed only by showing a substantial probability that disclosing them would harm the compelling interest at stake and that no alternatives would adequately protect them.

By Ewan Palmer
Former President Barack Obama has decried the divided nature of American society and took some shots at the current White House administration while speaking at a tech conference in Utah. Obama, who was one of the main guest speakers at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City, never mentioned Donald Trump by name but seemed to vent his frustration at the present political climate and the president's rhetoric while speaking with Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith. Obama described how the U.S. is currently in “such a polarized time,” and that people’s preferred choice of media has widenied the gulf. “If you watch Fox News, you’re in one reality, and if you read The New York Times, you’re in a different reality, and if you’re at BuzzFeed, you’re someplace else,” he said, reported the East Idaho News. “What we have in common matters more. And if we listen to the voices that help us rediscover our common hopes and dreams and values rather than constantly gravitating to those things that push us apart, that oftentimes are designed to make us angry…we can accomplish big things.” Obama also said that during his time in the White House he tried to install a culture of problem solving as opposed to “who’s getting the credit or 'how much money am I making out of this,'” which he said was a crucial strategy for making good decisions. "Because there’s clarity about the goals and objectives and values at the heart of the organization,” Obama said, reported Desert News. "And it also means that you don’t have big scandals and indictments." In another thinly veiled attack on Trump, Obama said he could handle the difficult challenges and decisions during his time in the White House because he was "old-fashioned" and believed in "things like facts and reason and logic,” a remark that brought laughter and applause from the audience, reported The Associated Press. “We have a fact-based crowd here,” Obama responded. “That's good." Elsewhere, Obama talked about his concerns of how social media affected children in today’s world: “I am worried about what it is doing to our children, in making them so absorbed in thinking: ‘What is the world thinking about us?’ in a way we weren’t as kids,” he said.

By Tim Marcin
Most Republicans wouldn't support impeaching President Donald Trump, even if special counsel Robert Mueller found that the billionaire worked with Russia to get elected president in 2016, a new poll released this week found. A survey from YouGov/The Economist asked respondents if they would "support or oppose Congress beginning the impeachment process if Special Counsel Robert Mueller found" a number of different things, among them that "Donald Trump accepted Russian assistance during the 2016 presidential campaign." That would effectively amount to the collusion allegations that Trump has repeatedly swatted away as untrue. But most Republicans would not want the president to be impeached, even if Trump did accept Russia's help. Sixty-three percent of GOP respondents said they opposed impeachment in that situation, while just 18 percent supported it and 19 percent weren't sure. And most of the GOP also wouldn't want Trump to be impeached if Mueller found he obstructed justice. Sixty-two percent of Republicans said they opposed impeachment in that case, while 18 percent supported it and 20 percent were not sure. Predictably, there was a divide along party lines when it came to impeaching Trump. Seventy-six percent of Democrats would support impeaching Trump if Mueller found he accepted assistance from Russia, and 80 percent would support impeaching him if the special counsel found he obstructed justice. For Americans overall, those figures were 46 percent supported impeachment of accepting assistance (31 percent opposed), while 47 percent supported impeachment for obstruction (31 percent opposed). The poll from The Economist/YouGov surveyed 1,500 adults from March 3 through March 5. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

By D.L. Davis
More than two years after losing the 2016 presidential race to Republican Donald Trump, it seems Hillary Clinton is still focused on Wisconsin -- a state she narrowly lost. And one where she, quite notably, never campaigned during the general election. In a March 3, 2019 speech shown by national news outlets, including C-Span, Clinton claimed tens of thousands of people in Wisconsin were "turned away" from the polls because of their skin color or other factors. Her remarks were part of a program marking the 54th anniversary of the first march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Marchers that day were met and beaten by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in what became known as "Bloody Sunday. "

By Jessica Kwong
George Conway, the husband of Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, tweeted early Monday that if President Donald Trump had ordered ex-White House economic adviser Gary Cohn to pressure the Department of Justice to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, it would “unquestionably be grounds for impeachment.” Conway, a fierce Trump critic despite his wife’s prominent position at the White House, was responding to a New Yorker story that reported Trump had directed Cohn to press the Justice Department to prevent the merger in the summer of 2017. “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!” Trump told then-chief of staff John Kelly, The New Yorker reported, citing “a well-informed source.” “If proven, such an attempt to use presidential authority to seek retribution for the exercise of First Amendment rights would unquestionably be grounds for impeachment,” Conway tweeted. Conway, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton & Katz, proceeded to quote a full paragraph from The New Yorker story in two separate tweets. “Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage...and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, “Don’t you f***ing dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way,” Conway wrote, quoting directly from the article.

By Michael Gold
Michael D. Cohen, the former personal lawyer and fixer for President Trump, sued the Trump Organization on Thursday, accusing the company of breaking a contract by refusing to pay about $1.9 million in legal costs after Mr. Cohen began cooperating with federal prosecutors. The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, said that the Trump Organization had failed to live up to an agreement to pay for Mr. Cohen’s legal fees or related costs connected to his work with the Trump Organization. Mr. Cohen is also seeking reimbursement for an additional $1.9 million he was ordered to pay in fines, forfeiture and restitution after he pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, evading taxes and lying to Congress, the lawsuit said. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Michael Cohen v. Trump Organization, Mr. Cohen is suing the organization for breach of contract. The lawsuit was the latest salvo in an escalating feud between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen, who represented Mr. Trump for close to a decade and once said that he would “take a bullet” for his client. Last week, in a dramatic hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Mr. Cohen accused Mr. Trump of deceptive, criminal behavior and called the president a “cheat,” a “racist” and a “con man.” On Wednesday, Mr. Cohen also provided documents to a House committee that he said supported his claim that he had made false statements to Congress in July 2017 at the request of Mr. Trump’s lawyers.

By Stacy Carey
On Wednesday, former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified behind closed doors in front of the House Intelligence Committee. Last week, Cohen testified publicly for the committee, and shared numerous bombshells. It seems that this testimony ended up being the tip of the iceberg, as the committee then decided they wanted him back for a closed-door session as well. While lawmakers cannot share specifics about what they learned, it seems clear that Cohen and his team brought a lot of documentation — and shared a fair amount of jaw-dropping information. A video showing Cohen and his team’s arrival on Wednesday quickly went viral across social media. The former Trump fixer had already provided intriguing documentation during other recent days of testimony. However, many people on Twitter speculated over how much more was to come as the team walked in ahead of the day of testimony, wheeling several large bags or suitcases behind them. After the day of testimony, California Democratic Representative Jackie Speier spoke with Chris Cuomo on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time. The segment, shared via CNN Politics, shows that Speier called Cohen’s latest testimony compelling, revealing, and explosive. Rep. Speier said that a number of topics were discussed, ones that covered entirely different issues compared to what Cohen addressed in his public testimony last week. Obviously, the congresswoman couldn’t provide specific examples of what Cohen revealed. However, she did claim that there is building evidence that points toward tax evasion, fraud, and conspiracy to suborn perjury on the part of President Trump.

By Paul Waldman
Though he has used it only a few times so far, President Trump is clearly enamored of his power to pardon those who have committed federal crimes, no doubt because his decision is not subject to any pesky oversight from Congress or the courts. And it appears that many of the criminals with whom Trump has surrounded himself are, or at least were, eager to have him use that power to benefit them. Though he has used it only a few times so far, President Trump is clearly enamored of his power to pardon those who have committed federal crimes, no doubt because his decision is not subject to any pesky oversight from Congress or the courts. And it appears that many of the criminals with whom Trump has surrounded himself are, or at least were, eager to have him use that power to benefit them. Let’s begin with our good friend Michael Cohen: Michael Cohen’s former legal team reached out to President Trump’s lawyers seeking a pardon, Cohen’s current attorney said late Wednesday, largely settling speculation about who initiated conversations about the matter but raising new questions about whether Cohen was honest in his public testimony to Congress last week. Cohen’s lawyer Lanny J. Davis said in an interview that Cohen directed his former attorney, Stephen Ryan, to contact Trump’s representatives after they “dangled” the possibility of pardons “in their public statements.” Davis did not specify which public statements swayed Cohen, saying only that the outreach took place before federal law enforcement raided Cohen’s home and office in April 2018. But that’s not all: President Trump’s lead lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said Wednesday that lawyers for several people facing scrutiny from the Justice Department in the investigations into the Trump campaign and presidency had contacted him to see whether the president would pardon their clients. Several people! Well, you might say, that’s not the president’s fault. Anyone can ask for a pardon. It doesn’t mean he’ll say yes, and Giuliani says his response to these supplicants was that they’d have to wait until the investigation was over before Trump would even consider it (though Trump’s other lawyers had discussions with attorneys for Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn about the possibility of pardons). So what could possibly have convinced these people that a man of Trump’s unquestionable integrity would even consider something so unethical as using his pardon power to get free one of his former aides from accountability in an investigation in which he himself is under suspicion? To answer that question, we might start with the extraordinary number of Trump aides and associates who have either been convicted or pleaded guilty to crimes, a list that includes his former national security adviser, his former campaign chairman, his former deputy campaign chairman and his former personal attorney, among others. It’s almost as though people with questionable ethics and a propensity toward criminality gravitate toward him, the kind of people who think that if all else fails they can get the boss to make their problems go away. Then we might move on to the fact that Trump has been trying to obstruct the investigation into the Russia scandal from the beginning. He pressured then-FBI Director James B. Comey to back off the probe of Flynn, and reportedly asked the director of national intelligence to intervene with Comey for the same purpose. Then he fired Comey and said on national television that he did it amid anger over the Russia investigation.

By CAITLIN OPRYSKO
Former White House chief of staff John Kelly spoke freely for the first time Wednesday evening about his tenure in President Donald Trump’s administration and broke with the president on immigration and other core issues. In an onstage interview at Duke University, the retired four-star general said he viewed his nearly two-year stint in the Trump administration — first as Homeland Security secretary and then as Trump’s chief of staff — as his civic duty to the country. He also said he likely would have made the same choice had a President Hillary Clinton offered him the job, according to several media outlets. Though he had once reportedly called his service for Trump “the least enjoyable job” he’d ever had, Kelly insisted that it was the most important one he’d held. While Kelly said Wednesday he couldn’t answer questions about whether the president ordered him to grant Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a security clearance over the objections of intelligence officials, citing executive privilege, he notably diverged from Trump on his marquee campaign issue: immigration. Kelly rebuked one of the president’s constant refrains about undocumented immigrants: That migrants who cross into the U.S. illegally are dangerous criminals and pose a serious threat. “They’re overwhelmingly not criminals,” Kelly said Wednesday. “They’re people coming up here for economic purposes. I don’t blame them for that.” He also reiterated his position that a border wall spanning the entire U.S.-Mexico border would be a “waste of money,” despite overseeing the beginning of what would become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history over Trump’s demand that Congress fund such a project. Though there are areas where a border wall would be effective, Kelly said, “We don’t need a wall from sea to shining sea.” The retired general also defended NATO, which Trump has repeatedly maligned as having a cost to the U.S. that outweighs its benefits.

Manafort faces up to 24 years for eight convictions in Virginia. Sentencing for other crimes next week in Washington. Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, will be sentenced by a US district judge in Virginia on Thursday for bank and tax fraud uncovered during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Judge TS Ellis could effectively deliver a life sentence to Manafort, 69, if he follows federal sentencing guidelines cited by prosecutors that call for 19½ to 24 years in prison for the eight charges the veteran Republican political consultant was convicted of by a jury in Alexandria last August. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for 3.30pm EST. Manafort was convicted after prosecutors accused him of hiding from the US government millions of dollars he earned as a consultant for Ukraine’s former pro-Russia government. After the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, prosecutors said, Manafort lied to banks to secure loans and maintain an opulent lifestyle with luxurious homes, designer suits and even a $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket. Mueller’s charges led to the stunning downfall of Manafort, a prominent figure in Republican party circles for decades who also worked as a consultant to such international figures as the former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and Yanukovych. Mueller: Paul Manafort is hardened criminal who 'repeatedly' broke law Manafort faces sentencing in a separate case in Washington on 13 March on two conspiracy charges to which he pleaded guilty last September. While he faces a statutory maximum of 10 years in the Washington case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson potentially could stack that on top of whatever prison time Ellis imposes in Virginia, rather than allowing the sentences to run concurrently. Jackson ruled on 13 February that Manafort had breached his agreement to cooperate with Mueller’s office by lying to prosecutors about three matters pertinent to the Russia investigation including his interactions with a business partner they have said has ties to Russian intelligence. Jackson’s ruling could have an impact on the severity of his sentence in both cases.

Kevin Breuninger, Tucker Higgins, Brian Schwartz
President Donald Trump's former longtime attorney and fixer Michael Cohen on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Trump Organization, claiming his former company has failed to pay "fees and costs" owed to Cohen. Cohen argues that the Trump Organization, where Cohen worked for roughly a decade as an executive vice president and special counsel to Trump, had a "contractual agreement" to compensate Cohen and "to pay attorneys' fees and costs incurred" by Cohen related to his "work with and on behalf of the Organization and its principals, directors, and officers." That work involves special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia investigation, the filing says, as well as "multiple congressional hearings." Cohen is scheduled to report to federal prison in May for a three-year sentence based on charges lodged by Mueller's team and federal prosecutors in New York. Once a staunch loyalist of Trump's, Cohen broke with his former boss after FBI agents raided Cohen's properties in April 2018. He pleaded guilty last year to committing campaign-finance violations related to hush-money payments made to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump years before he ran for president, as well as lying to Congress about details surrounding an aborted Trump Tower Moscow project. Cohen testified before multiple congressional committees in public and private hearings at least four times in late February and early March. He accused Trump of committing potentially criminal activity since becoming president. Cohen now says he has "incurred millions of dollars in unreimbursed attorneys' fees and costs" which continue to pile up. Attorneys and spokespersons for Cohen did not immediately reply to CNBC's requests for information about the reported lawsuit. Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

By Jordan Fabian
(The Hill) President Trump on Thursday doubled down on his assertion he did not break the law when he involved himself in a scheme to pay two women who alleged in the lead-up to the 2016 election that they had extramarital affairs with him. “It was not a campaign contribution, and there were no violations of the campaign finance laws by me. Fake News!” Trump tweeted. It was not a campaign contribution, and there were no violations of the campaign finance laws by me. Fake News! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2019. The comments come after The New York Times reported Trump signed checks to reimburse his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, while he was serving as president. Cohen last year pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, in addition to other financial crimes, and lying to Congress. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Cohen implicated Trump in the scheme in court and in congressional testimony. Federal prosecutors in December alleged that Cohen acted at the direction of “Individual-1,” a person widely believed to be Trump, when he committed the campaign finance violations. Prosecutors said the payments to Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress who said she slept with Trump, broke the law because they were meant to influence the outcome of the election. Cohen reached the agreement with Daniels in October 2016, one month before Election Day. During his explosive testimony last week to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cohen presented several checks signed by the president he said were meant to reimburse him for payments to Daniels. The Times reported Wednesday that Trump authorized one of the checks for $35,000 in October 2017, nine months after his inauguration. While the checks do not prove Trump committed a crime, they could be used as evidence by prosecutors should they pursue a case alleging that the president directed an illegal hush money scheme while in office. Trump initially denied any knowledge of the payments to Cohen, but then shifted his explanation after Cohen pleaded guilty, saying the payments did not violate the law because they “didn’t come out of the campaign.” Then in December, Trump said he “never directed Michael Cohen to break the law” while repeating his assertion that Cohen’s actions in the hush money scheme were not illegal.

By Katie Lobosco, CNN
Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump routinely talks about how his predecessors' trade deals were "the worst," usually before pledging as he did in last month's State of the Union to reverse "decades of calamitous trade policies" in order to bring back jobs, expand agricultural markets and sell more US-made cars abroad. He's clearly taken care of the first part by upending a number of trade relationships the United States has around the world. But so far, there's been relatively little progress toward his goal of revitalizing struggling American industries and cutting US dependence on the rest of the world's products. Despite Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum as well as billions in consumer goods from China, Americans are importing more than they're selling abroad. The trade deficit has widened by more than $100 billion since Trump took office and hit a 10-year high in 2018, according to data released by the Census Bureau on Wednesday. "The administration made it seem like a quick tweak in some trade agreements would bring back the manufacturing workforce, but the problems have to do with technological change," said Phil Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs who served as a senior economist for trade under President George W. Bush. "That's an impossible thing to fix with aggressive trade policy." The President promised as a candidate and since taking office that he would use his deal-making skills to extract better deals from other nations, including allies. The latest target is India, which learned on Monday that the Trump administration is taking steps to end a special tariff agreement after a round of talks in late February. One of Trump's first moves was to pull out of the new 11-country Trans-Pacific Partnership. He then renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. He's also put tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to get Beijing to the table to negotiate a new trade deal, and is considering new tariffs on autos as his administration pursues a separate deal with the European Union. Foreign steel and aluminum have also received tariffs as a way to protect US industries from unfair trade practices. But so far, the results have largely been invisible to American workers and consumers. Tariffs on steel, for example, have bolstered the US industry, which saw an increase in demand and prices for its products last year. But the rebound hasn't translated into a huge new demand for steelworkers. While some mills have reopened and more than 2,000 jobs were created last year, employment in the industry is still down about 43% since 1990. And the jobs being created on the producer side are coming at the expense of industries that buy steel, like nail and farm equipment manufacturers. Tariffs have made foreign steel more expensive, and allowed US companies to raise prices. That holds true for US importers that buy Chinese goods from abroad, like luggage, hats and semiconductors, that have been hit by tariffs. While Trump has often suggested that the tariffs have forced China to pay billions of dollars to the United States, it's actually US businesses that pay the tariffs on foreign goods.
Import tariffs cost American consumers and businesses $3 billion a month at the end of 2018, according to a paper released this week by the Center for Economic Policy Research. Plus, foreign countries have retaliated to Trump's tariffs by putting taxes on US goods. They've hurt manufacturers and farmers that rely on big exports markets, like soybean growers. The clearest effect of Trump's trade moves is the economic slowdown in China. That in turn, hurts US companies like Apple, which has warned investors to expect lower iPhone sales in China this year.

By Kate Briquelet
A lawyer for one of Epstein’s victims claims he was part of sex-trafficking ring with Dershowitz and others—but the Harvard attorney says sealed documents will prove his innocence. Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz was accused of involvement in billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking ring by an attorney for one of Epstein’s victims, who claimed in federal court on Wednesday that the release of sealed documents will prove it. Paul Cassell, who represents Virginia Roberts Giuffre, told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that the testimony of other witnesses will show Dershowitz’s involvement in the alleged trafficking of “his close friend Jeffrey Epstein.” “When all the records come out it will show that Epstein and [Epstein’s alleged madam Ghislaine] Maxwell were trafficking girls to the benefit of his friends, including Mr. Dershowitz,” Cassell said in oral arguments for a case filed by the Miami Herald to unseal a collection of court documents relating to Giuffre’s now settled lawsuit against Maxwell. The hearing came nearly two weeks after a Florida judge ruled federal prosecutors violated the law when they inked a non-prosecution deal with Epstein in 2007—and concealed that agreement from more than 30 of Epstein’s victims. The Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the secret deal, which was handled by Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, who was U.S. Attorney in Miami at the time. Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, was one member of Epstein’s legal team that helped broker the unusual non-prosecution agreement. For his part, Dershowitz and his lawyers are also requesting the court release the trove of documents to the public—but they say it’s in order to prove his innocence. Outside the courtroom, Dershowitz railed against Giuffre and her attorneys, accusing them of fabricating Giuffre’s claims that Epstein forced her to have sex with Dershowitz. He alluded to emails between Giuffre and a friend that he claims will reveal Giuffre made up the claims against Dershowitz at the behest of her lawyers. “I’ve denied ever meeting her or even knowing who she was,” Dershowitz said. Moments later, he added of Giuffre, “She is hurting the #MeToo movement terribly. This was all about money and undercuts the many people who are victimized.” Asked if he still represents Epstein, Dershowitz said, “I don’t represent Epstein” before walking back his answer: “You never stop being someone’s lawyer.” “I was his lawyer until this deal was made,” Dershowitz added, before claiming he hasn’t seen Epstein in years. As The Daily Beast previously reported, Epstein faced life behind bars for his alleged sex acts with minors but walked away with a slap on the wrist, pleading guilty to two state charges: solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution. The 66-year-old financier served 13 months of his 18-month sentence in a private wing of a Palm Beach jail and was allowed to leave on “work release” for 16 hours each day. A recent Miami Herald investigation identified more than 80 women who claim they were molested by Epstein via a “sex pyramid scheme” from 2001 to 2006, at his Palm Beach mansion and elsewhere, though the number of victims is likely in the hundreds. Indeed, Epstein’s former butler kept a black book containing the names of hundreds of girls and young women that the billionaire recruited for sex and massages, the Herald reported. Epstein hired girls as young as 13 to give him massages. Once they arrived at his home, he would molest his victims or masturbate, according to court records and police reports. In some cases, he forced his victims into intercourse with him or a young woman he called his Yugoslavian sex slave. After his sickening assaults, Epstein allegedly paid the girls $200 or $300, though sometimes as much as $1,000.

By Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen
(Axios) Even without seeing Robert Mueller's report, or knowing what prosecutors with the Southern District of New York have unearthed, or what congressional investigators will find, we already have witnessed the biggest political scandal in American history.  Historians tell Axios that the only two scandals that come close to Trump-Russia are Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, and the Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s, in which oil barons bribed a corrupt aide to President Warren Harding for petroleum leases.     Mueller has already delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in U.S. history, author Garrett Graff points out — up there with Aldrich Ames (a former CIA officer convicted in 1994 of being a KGB double agent), or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed in 1953 for spying for the Soviets). Watergate yielded more charges than Mueller has so far: A total of 69 people were charged in Watergate; 48 people and 20 corporations pleaded guilty. Mueller so far has indicted 27 people; seven have been convicted or pleaded guilty. But historians say that both Watergate and Teapot Dome were more limited because a foreign power wasn't a central player, and a much narrower band of potential offenses was under investigation. A fourth notable scandal, the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s — in which arms were traded for hostages held by Iran, with the money used to fund rebels in Nicaragua — also involved a more limited range of issues. The "biggest" realization might strike Trump supporters as overblown or plain wrong. But consider what we already know about actions of Trump and his associates:

Scandal 1: Trump secretly paid hush money to two mistresses on the eve of his presidential victory, and lied about it. His longtime personal lawyer is going to prison after carrying out the scheme on his behalf. The historical parallel: Bill Clinton was impeached (but acquitted by the Senate) for lying under oath about an affair with a White House intern. Clinton impeachment Article 3, passed by the House, was obstruction of justice. Earlier presidents, or their friends, had also been known to pay off mistresses.

Scandal 2: During the presidential campaign, Trump confidantes continued negotiating for a tower in Moscow, potentially one of Trump's most lucrative deals ever. He hid this from the public and lied about it. His lawyer is going to prison for making false statements to Congress about the deal. The historical parallel: None. Scandal 3: Russian officials had more than 100 contacts with Trump associates during the campaign and transition, including his son, his closest adviser, his lawyer, and his campaign manager. The Russians offered assistance in undermining Hillary Clinton. The FBI and other government authorities weren't alerted about this effort to subvert our election. The historical parallel: None.

Scandal 4: Michael Flynn was national security adviser at the same time U.S. intelligence officials believed he was compromised by the Kremlin. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. The historical parallel: None.

Scandal 5: Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, and told NBC's Lester Holt it was at least in part because of the Russia investigation: "[T]his Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." The historical parallel: In the "Saturday Night Massacre" of 1973, Nixon tried to stop the Watergate investigation by abolishing the office of Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox; and accepting the resignation of Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and firing Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, when they refused to fire Cox.

Scandal 6: Trump overruled the advice of his lawyers and intelligence experts, and granted his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a top-secret clearance. This so alarmed his White House chief of staff John Kelly that he recorded his opposition in a memo. Trump and his family repeatedly denied he had interfered. The historical parallel: None. The big picture: Presidential historian Jon Meacham tells us that this "transcends scandal — it’s a national crisis in the sense of a period of elevated stakes, high passions, and possibly permanent consequences." "We’re in the midst of making history more than we are reflecting it." Be smart: Trump himself might survive all of this — and even more. Republican voters seem basically unmoved by the mounting evidence.

By Hanna Alshaikh
The conversation must center on the plight of the Palestinians. A controversy is brewing in Washington, DC, over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments about the influence of Israel lobby groups and the uncritical support that many members of Congress give Israel’s increasingly hardline, right-wing government. Backlash against Omar’s remarks even prompted House Democrats to make plans to introduce and vote on a resolution this week that would conflate statements like her with anti-Semitism. However, pressure from the Congressional Black and Progressive caucuses forced them to “put off” the issue. But amid the frenzy, there’s been a glaring lack of context surrounding Omar’s beliefs. Perhaps most of all, there has been total disregard for the plight of the Palestinian people. One might be inclined to ask, “Why is Rep. Omar steadfast in her criticism of Israeli policies and groups like AIPAC, knowing it will spark attacks, smears, and mischaracterizations?” One of the core issues of the Palestinian human rights struggle is that Palestinians have faced 70 years of refugeehood. Omar, who is a refugee herself and continues to identify as such, chooses to uplift the voices and affirm the struggle of refugees worldwide — including Palestinians. As a researcher of the Palestinian diaspora, and as a descendant of a Palestinian family that was ethnically cleansed from their land in 1967, it is a relief to me to finally hear voices in Washington speaking out for Palestinian rights like that of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Reps. Betty McCollum, Rashida Tlaib, and Omar. Omar has experienced firsthand how innocent humans pay the price for militarism, warfare, and systemic injustice, and is using her platform to protect the most vulnerable. She challenges the Democratic Party to adopt a more progressive and humane foreign policy, one that will not inflict upon others the type of suffering she has faced. Instead of dismissing her, or questioning her role on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, we should defer to her expertise as a survivor of war and refugeehood. Omar has shared her own story of fleeing civil war in her homeland of Somalia, living in a refugee camp, being unable to dream of a better future in those harsh conditions, and how her passion for public service was born while serving as her late grandfather’s interpreter in the US as a teen. She knows intimately how innocent civilians are forced to endure injustice from governments and other powerful actors, and is attempting to use her voice as a member of Congress to protect the most vulnerable.

By Erin Banco
When a member of the administration travels overseas, the embassy often helps coordinate the trip. Not when Jared Kushner meets his buddy MBS. Officials and staffers in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh said they were not read in on the details of Jared Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia or the meetings he held with members of the country’s royal court last week, according to three sources with knowledge of the trip. And that’s causing concern not only in the embassy but also among members of Congress. On his trip to the Middle East, Kushner stopped in Riyadh. While there, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman to discuss U.S.-Saudi cooperation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic investment in the region, according to the White House. But no one from the embassy in Riyadh was in the meetings, according to those same sources. The State Department did have a senior official in attendance, but he was not part of the State Department team in Saudi. He is a senior member of the department focused on Iran, according to a source with direct knowledge of the official’s presence in Riyadh. “The Royal Court was handling the entire schedule,” one congressional source told The Daily Beast, adding that officials in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh had insight into where Kushner was when in Saudi Arabia. “But that is normal for his past trips.” Kushner, who has developed a personal relationship with the crown prince, embarked on several trips to Saudi Arabia over the last several years. On one occasion, he traveled overseas without announcing his trip publicly. He often travels to the region with Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. When a member of the administration travels to another country, the embassy often helps coordinate the trip and provides some kind of security. This time, though, the Saudi government provided security for Kushner and his entourage, sources said. And the embassy was largely left in the dark on the details of Kushner’s schedule and his conversations with Saudi officials, according to two individuals with knowledge of the trip to the country. The State Department referred The Daily Beast to the White House for comment. “This reporting is not true and the sources are misinformed,” a senior administration official told The Daily Beast, adding that the embassy in Riyadh was involved in Kushner’s visit and meetings.

By David Nakamura, Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey
President Trump proclaimed in a freewheeling speech to a conference of conservatives last weekend that “America is winning again.” But his administration has been on a pronounced losing streak over the past week. Trump is losing ground on top priorities to curb illegal immigration, cut the trade deficit and blunt North Korea’s nuclear threat — setbacks that complicate his planned reelection message as a can-do president who is making historic progress. Late last week, Trump flew home empty-handed from a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi — and, within days, new satellite images appeared to show that the North was secretly rebuilding a rocket-launching site. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that unauthorized border crossings have spiked to the highest pace in 12 years — despite Trump’s hard-line rhetoric and new policies aimed at deterring migrants. And on Wednesday, the Commerce Department said that the nation’s trade deficit is at a record high — in part due to punitive tariffs Trump imposed on allies and adversaries. Trump vowed throughout his 2016 campaign and during his presidency to shrink the trade deficit, which he views as a measure of other nations taking advantage of the United States. “The president hasn’t shown much of an ability to cut good deals with Congress or anyone else,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), who is mulling a Senate run in 2020. “Almost the only time he has been successful at one of his goals is when he can set the terms unilaterally. That’s why he’s done a lot of executive orders, executive actions, like the travel ban, deregulations, emergency declaration. Those are things that don’t require any negotiation at all.”

By Tal Axelrod
President Trump on Wednesday responded to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) refusing to let Fox News host a Democratic primary debate by threatening to “do the same thing” with other networks during the general election. “Democrats just blocked @FoxNews from holding a debate. Good, then I think I’ll do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats in the General Election debates!” Trump tweeted Wednesday. Democrats just blocked @FoxNews from holding a debate. Good, then I think I’ll do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats in the General Election debates!  — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2019. President Trump on Wednesday responded to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) refusing to let Fox News host a Democratic primary debate by threatening to “do the same thing” with other networks during the general election. “Democrats just blocked @FoxNews from holding a debate. Good, then I think I’ll do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats in the General Election debates!” Trump tweeted Wednesday. Democrats just blocked @FoxNews from holding a debate. Good, then I think I’ll do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats in the General Election debates! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2019. Trump has maintained a bitter relationship with the press since the campaign trail, often painting mainstream media outlets as “fake news” following critical coverage of himself or his administration. The president alone would not have the power to prevent outlets from hosting a general election debate. The DNC and Republican National Committee (RNC) work with media outlets on arrangements for hosting their respective primary debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates, which the DNC and RNC jointly sponsor, sets up the general election debates. The DNC announced that it would not allow Fox News to host a primary debate after The New Yorker reported on the network's deep ties to Trump. “Recent reporting in the New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates. Therefore, Fox News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in the statement.

US News March 2019 Page 1

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