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US Monthly Headline News November 2019 Page 4

Ivanka Trump: First Daughter's secret meetings held as ‘leverage’ against her and Kushner
IVANKA TRUMP and husband Jared Kushner’s secret meetings were exposed by Robert Mueller and almost used against them by Steve Bannon as “leverage”.
By Naomi Adedokun

President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, took a vacation in Croatia “with a Russian oligarch” and Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, Wendi Deng. This is according the documents released from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump administration’s corruption. The information was discovered by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who planned to use it as “leverage” against the couple.

Ivanka and Jared took the Croatia vacation with a mystery 'Russian billionaire' and Ms Deng during the 2016 presidential campaign. According to Mueller’s documents, Mr Bannon raised questions about the vacation and wanted to use the knowledge to his advantage. A summary of an investigative interview with him read: “Bannon knew Kushner was on vacation off the coast of Croatia with a Russian Billionaire when Bannon took over the campaign.” Mr Bannon told friends in the intelligence community that he thought Kushner's choice of vacation company was 'questionable,' according to the interview summary.

The former Breitbart Editor contacted a colleague from the far-right news site to plan what to do with the information. In an email from 2017, he wrote: “Jared was on 'vacation' off the coast of Croatia with a Russian billionaire when I took over the campaign.” The Breitbart employee replied: “How do we prove that? That's game set match.” Mr Bannon was widely known to be in a bitter power struggle with Jared and Ivanka while serving in the White House. Full Story

Customers at Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville says staff tried to reseat them over skin color
WGN News - Several employees of a Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville were fired after a group of mostly African-American people said they were asked to change tables because of their skin color. Video

Maria Butina: The Russian accused of trying to influence U.S. policies for the Kremlin
In an interview while she was incarcerated in a Florida federal prison, Marina Butina was defiant and resentful talking about charges that she worked as a Russian agent in the United States
Correspondent Lesley Stahl

It's rare that Russian agents come out from the shadows. But tonight you will hear from 30-year-old Maria Butina, who was front page news when she was charged, not with espionage, but with acting as an agent of a foreign government and not registering with the U.S. government. A judge in her case said Butina sought to collect information that could be helpful to the Russian government, under the direction of a Russian official, at a time when the Russian government was interfering in our electoral process.

There was no trial because Butina, who was here on a student visa, cooperated and pled guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent. After serving time in a federal prison, she was just deported back to Moscow. Maria Butina was arrested on July 15, 2018, portrayed at the time as a sexy covert agent, planted by the Putin government to infiltrate the NRA. Photos of Butina at NRA events were posted by her on her own social media accounts. They're a far cry from the young woman we met while she was still an inmate at a federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida

The dazzle was gone, replaced by resentment and defiance. Her story, she told us, began in Siberia where she grew up, hunting with her dad. After  university, she moved to Moscow, and said she started a group called "The Right to Bear Arms."  Lesley Stahl: You were seeking a second amendment for Russia. Is that correct? Maria Butina: We were trying to get the changes in Russian law that would allow guns for self-defense.

Lesley Stahl: Okay. So you hear that, an American hears that, and they say, "Come on, Putin is not going to allow people to run around owning guns." Here's the case against you, that you started this organization as a way to infiltrate the NRA here to meet people as a way in to influence us.  Maria Butina: That's nonsense.  Lesley Stahl: But you did that. You used your organization to meet people in the NRA. Maria Butina: The NRA, for us, has always been an example. Because there is no more powerful lobbyist gun group in the world than the NRA. Learning from them was an honor. Full Story

Former Ambassador To Ukraine Says She Was Told To 'Watch Her Back'
By Domenico Montanaro

Ousted former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told congressional investigators that she was warned to "watch her back" by a senior Ukrainian official, according to the transcript of Yovanovitch's newly released closed-door deposition before Congress. The Ukrainian official told her that Rudy Giuliani's associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have since been arrested on an unrelated charge, wanted a different ambassador in the post. Why?

"I guess for — because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine or additional business dealings," Yovanovitch told House Intelligence Committee members, which include Republicans. "I didn't understand that, because nobody at the embassy had ever met those two individuals. And, you know, one of the biggest jobs of an American ambassador of the U.S. Embassy is to promote U.S. business. So, of course, if legitimate business comes to us, you know, that's what we do — we promote U.S. business." The October 11 testimony is among the first transcripts of closed-door depositions from individuals at the center of the Ukraine affair, which has landed President Trump in an impeachment inquiry.

The transcripts, released Monday, are of the separate, hours-long depositions of Yovanovitch and Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. McKinley, a career foreign service officer, said Yovanovitch's treatment "raised alarm bells," "had a very serious effect on morale" at the State Department and described "bullying tactics." "I'm just going to state it clearly," McKinley told Congress. "As a foreign service officer, to see the impugning of somebody I know to be a serious, committed colleague in the manner that it was done raised alarm bells for me."

Yovanovitch, who has decades of diplomatic experience, was recalled as ambassador in May, and, on his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump referred to her as "the woman" and "bad news." The Ukrainian official who gave Yovanovitch the heads-up of Parnas's, Fruman's and Giuliani's involvement was Arsen Avakov, the country's minister of internal affairs. He told Yovanovitch that he had become aware of Giuliani's pressure campaign to get Ukraine to investigate conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

On his call with Zelenskiy, Trump asked for the same investigations to be undertaken as "a favor," according to a White House-released record of the call. Trump's request came right after Zelenskiy asked to buy more U.S. weapons. The U.S. also was withholding military funding that had already been allocated by Congress. Trump encouraged Zelenskiy to work with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr on the investigations. (There's no indication that Barr played any role in the affair.)

Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was vice president and handling issues related to Ukraine. There is no evidence of wrongdoing from either Biden, but Trump and Giuliani have used the fact of Hunter Biden's serving on the board as a way to politically deflect to the Bidens. Full Story

Attorney offers to let GOP submit questions to whistleblower
The offer would allow Republicans to ask questions of the whistleblower directly, without going through the Democratic-controlled committee.
By KELSEY TAMBORRINO

A lawyer for the whistleblower who filed the complaint that sparked the House's impeachment probe told CBS News he has offered to have Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee submit questions to the whistleblower. The offer would allow Republicans to ask questions of the whistleblower directly, without going through the Democratic-controlled committee.

Attorney Mark Zaid told CBS News he contacted ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on Saturday to tell him his client would answer Republicans' written questions under oath and penalty of perjury if lawmakers submitted them to the whistleblower's legal team, according to CBS. The whistleblower, whose identity remains undisclosed, sparked the inquiry by reporting on a phone conversation between President Donald Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that involved a request for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked about the offer on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday but said he was not aware of it. "I have never received that offer, and I'm the lead Republican in the House," McCarthy said. McCarthy said Nunes had not told him about the offer prior to Sunday, adding "let's see how they submitted." Full Story

Trump could get whacked by legal losses in coming months
Court rulings could say Trump is illegally profiting from foreign governments, that he must hand over financial records and that lawmakers should see more Russia probe evidence.
By DARREN SAMUELSOHN and JOSH GERSTEIN

The final year of President Donald Trump’s first term will be loaded with legal landmines — and it’s not just the impeachment cases. Trump could face court rulings that say he is illegally profiting from foreign governments, that he must hand over his tax returns and that lawmakers should see more of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe evidence. He may even get hit with Supreme Court decisions that rebuff his administration’s bold claims of presidential immunity from prosecution and congressional investigations.

Nothing is certain with the courts, of course. The Supreme Court might not take up every case, while others could drag out beyond Election Day 2020. Judges could rule narrowly in some matters and Trump could prevail in others. But the president’s no-compromise, litigation-first defense strategy has created a queue of potentially perilous disputes that could force embarrassing testimony or unflattering document disclosures at the peak of his bid for a second term.

Bigger issues are at play, too.

Any Supreme Court ruling on these cases could define the contours of executive branch power for Trump and his successors, setting precedents on heated questions such as whether a sitting president can be criminally investigated and when the White House can resist a congressional subpoena. It could also offer some clarity to the Constitution’s vague and largely untested emoluments clause, which bars federal officials from receiving payments from foreign governments.

Most important is a traditional January deadline that looms for securing a coveted spot on the Supreme Court’s April calendar, which comes with the prospect of a decision in late June, well before voters go to the polls. Any case it doesn’t take for this term is highly unlikely to be decided before next November’s election. Here’s a look at the court cases and where they stack up with respect to potential Supreme Court review.

Impeachment witnesses

Who has the ultimate power to get witnesses to talk — or to keep them quiet? That’s the question at the heart of a court battle stemming from the House’s impeachment inquiry. Lawmakers are looking at whether Trump pressured Ukraine to launch politically advantageous probes and has subpoenaed a slate of current and former White House officials involved in those efforts.

But the White House has issued a blanket, do-not-comply order to anyone who ever worked in the administration, leaving potential congressional witnesses in a tough spot: Do they follow the boss or risk the legal ramifications of being a no-show on Capitol Hill? In an effort to get clarity, Trump adviser Charles Kupperman last month went to the courts to request a ruling on the matter. Should he comply with the House subpoena or the White House no-show directive?

District Judge Richard Leon, appointed by President George W. Bush, set a Dec. 10 hearing in the case and indicated he’d like to rule by late December or early January. There’s an added wrinkle. Kupperman shares a lawyer with his former boss, John Bolton, the former Trump national security adviser who is also expected to get a congressional subpoena to discuss the Ukraine affair. During a preliminary hearing on the Kupperman case last week, the attorney for both men acknowledged Bolton could soon join the case. Full Story

Trump ‘invents insane conspiracy theory’ in wild impeachment outburst
‘Democracy erodes when previously unthinkable conduct becomes so routine,’ academic says
By Zamira Rahim

Donald Trump has accused Adam Schiff, the congressman leading the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, of corruption. The president is under increasing pressure from Congress over his alleged behaviour during a call with the leader of Ukraine. In a series of increasingly angry tweets Mr Trump said congressional testimony from inquiry witnesses should not be released publicly.

“If Shifty Adam Schiff, who is a corrupt politician who fraudulently made up what I said on the ‘call’, is allowed to release transcripts of the Never Trumpers [and] others that are [and] were interviewed, he will change the words that were said to suit the Dems purposes,” he wrote on Sunday evening. In an extraordinary claim, the 73-year-old alleged that Mr Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, could manipulate witness transcripts. Full Story

Georgia to purge over 300,000 voters from rolls ahead of 2020 election
Advocacy groups worry efforts to purge voters are targeted attacks to suppress legal access to ballot
By Clark Mindock

A planned purge of 300,000 names from voting rolls in Georgia has advocates concerned that efforts to slash access to the ballot could re-emerge as a major issue heading into 2020. The purge was announced this past week by officials in the state, who cast the effort as a routine part of ensuring that voting rolls are up to date, and that individuals who have died or moved away are no longer capable of voting in the state. The figure amounts to roughly 4 per cent of the registered voters in the state, which gained notoriety for alleged voter intimidation in 2018 that may have directly impacted the results of the governor’s race.

This is “a routine process that every state does,” said Walter Jones, a spokesman for the Georgia secretary of state’s voter education programme. Voters identified by the purge will now receive a letter to their last known address, and must respond using one of several forms of communication to ensure they remain on the ballot. Mr Jones claimed that these purges have occurred for years, and that they are overseen by Democratic and Republican establishments. But advocates are wary of the efforts, especially after the 2018 election in which now-governor Brian Kemp beat out Democrat Stacey Abrams by 1.4 per cent of the vote – a slim margin in the state. Full Story

Trump threatens smear campaign against Alexander Vindman, the Purple Heart recipient who said the White House left out some phrases from its Ukraine call memo
By Alexandra Ma, Business Insider US

US President Donald Trump has threatened to release damaging intelligence against the White House national security aide who testified that the White House omitted some phrases from its summary of the phone call that sparked Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient who is a top official on the White House National Security Council, testified last Tuesday that the White House left out some information from its memo summarizing Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Examples included direct mentions by Zelensky of Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter worked, and by Trump of the elder Biden discussing Ukraine corruption. Hours after news outlets reported on Vindman’s testimony, Trump claimed that the White House aide was a “Never Trumper,” or a member of the Republican movement that opposed Trump’s candidacy in 2016.  There is no evidence that Vindman was part of this group. But when reporters asked about it Sunday, Trump threatened to release information “real soon.”

Here’s how the exchange went down, as can be seen in the video below: Reporter: Sir, what evidence do you have that Col. Vindman is a Never Trumper? Trump: We’ll be showing that to you real soon, OK? The president then ignored a follow-up request to describe the information he claimed to have. Full Story

Amid impeachment drive, the pro-Trump search for dirt on Ukraine and the Bidens goes on
Those working in common cause with the president's and Giuliani's campaign to get Ukraine to investigate Trump's political opponents are moving ahead.
By Josh Lederman

KYIV — While Congress heard closed-door testimony last week about President Donald Trump pushing Ukraine to investigate his opponents, Rudy Giuliani was holding his own private Ukraine meeting in his Manhattan office. Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer at the center of the firestorm as Trump faces likely impeachment, met with former Ukrainian diplomat Andriy Telizhenko, who alleges that Ukraine's government conspired with the Democratic National Committee to hurt Trump in 2016.

"We discussed what's happening in Ukraine, political updates, what the new (Ukrainian presidential) team is up to, what are the reforms going to be," Telizhenko said in an interview with NBC News. Giuliani has interviewed him for hours about his Ukraine allegations, although Telizhenko said their most recent meeting wasn’t focused on investigations. "We're friends now. He respects our country."

Far from keeping their heads down, those working in common cause with the president's and Giuliani's campaign to get Ukraine to investigate Trump's political opponents are moving ahead unabated, interviews in Kyiv and Washington with several of those involved reveal. Their efforts come despite intense scrutiny from Congress, law enforcement and the media. Under oath, a parade of current and former U.S. officials have testified that Trump and his envoys leveraged a coveted White House meeting and military aid to Ukraine to pressure new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to commit publicly to investigations into both the 2016 election and the Biden family.

In Ukraine, a group of parliamentarians are even working to stand up a new investigative commission — the Ukrainian analogue to a congressional select committee — to probe what they say was a Ukrainian government campaign to smear former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in a bid to take down Trump in 2016. They also want to investigate the Bidens.

"Ukraine was involved in like the biggest scandal in recent U.S. political history, let alone Ukrainian. Definitely most of my colleagues here pretend it doesn't exist," said Oleg Voloshin, a lawmaker and Manafort associate, in an interview just outside the Rada, Ukraine's Parliament. "It started here, and it should finish here." In Telizhenko's case, it's the continuation of a collaboration that started earlier this year when he said he saw Giuliani appear on Fox News alongside Victoria Toensing, a pro-Trump lawyer who State Department inspector general documents show worked with Giuliani on Ukraine. Full Story

Trump wants whistleblower to do what he wouldn't: Answer questions in person
"He must be brought forward to testify," Trump tweeted. "Written answers not acceptable!"
By Allan Smith

President Donald Trump said Monday that written answers from the whistleblower to Congress would be unacceptable — although such answers were fine for the president when dealing with former special counsel Robert Mueller.

"The Whistleblower gave false information & dealt with corrupt politician Schiff," Trump tweeted. "He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable! Where is the 2nd Whistleblower? He disappeared after I released the transcript. Does he even exist? Where is the informant? Con!"

Trump was responding to news that Mark Zaid, the attorney for both known whistleblowers who came forward with concerns about Trump's conduct toward Ukraine, said the first whistleblower offered to provide written answers to House investigators to protect his or her identity. Zaid told NBC News on Sunday that he had not yet received a substantive response from House Intelligence Committee Republicans about his offer.

Trump's actions with regard to Ukraine, which included placing a months-long hold on military aid and asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had business dealings in the country, as well as a debunked conspiracy involving Democrats and the 2016 election, are at the center of the House impeachment probe. The inquiry began after the existence of the first whistleblower's complaint, which focuses on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, became known. Trump has repeatedly claimed the whistleblower made false claims, though the complaint was corroborated by the call summary his White House released.

Contrary to Trump's assertion, the existence of a second whistleblower was revealed two weeks after the White House released the partial transcript. While Trump decried the idea of the whistleblower providing written answers, he refused to provide Mueller with anything more than that during his years-long probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump's attorneys warned the president against doing a live interview with Mueller, saying he could be setting up a "perjury trap" for the president. Full Story

Trump loses appeal in New York tax case, must hand over returns
The president had filed appeal after losing the initial case at the district court level.
By Allan Smith

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that President Donald Trump's tax returns must be turned over to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who had subpoenaed the documents from Trump's accounting firm as part of an investigation into the pre-election payoffs to two women who alleged affairs with Trump. Full Story

Trump's obsession with Ukraine has deep roots: Is it all a cover-up for his 2016 crimes?
Mueller documents reveal that Paul Manafort pushed Ukraine conspiracy theory on Trump during the 2016 campaign
By Heather Digby Parton

During the 2016 campaign candidate Donald Trump was always a bit odd about Russia. He claimed he knew Russian President Vladimir Putin, then denied he knew him a dozen different times. He insisted that the Russian president thought he was a genius based upon a mistranslated comment. We now know that the entire top tier of Trump's campaign was eager to accept "dirt" from Russia on his Democratic opponent in June of 2016. But in real time one of the first clues that something was weird with Trump and Russia was the fact that his campaign changed only one aspect of the Republican platform: military aid to Ukraine, of all things.

Robert Mueller was unable to prove there was anything nefarious about that request, only concluding that the Trump campaign adviser who made it had conversations with the Russian ambassador and had called Trump's top foreign policy adviser, Jeff Sessions, at the time. Why this was the only policy change in the entire convention remained a big mystery.

It's now been reported that Ukraine has been on Trump's mind since at least June of 2016, when news reports started to surface about Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee. According to documents released to BuzzFeed under the Freedom of Information Act, Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, told him that Ukraine was likely responsible for the hacking, not Russia. As time went on and it became obvious that the hackers were actively helping his campaign, Trump latched on to that alternative narrative.

According to interviews with Manafort's deputy Rick Gates, who participated in the campaign at the highest level, this theory was first shared by none other than Konstantin Kilimnik, a pro-Russian Ukrainian with apparent ties to Russian intelligence who served as Manafort's conduit to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to whom Manafort owed millions of dollars. This theory was evidently passed around at meetings with top campaign officials as they tried to figure out how to access the hacked material themselves.

Gates also told Mueller's team that Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, agreed that it was likely Ukraine had done the hack, because U.S. intelligence agencies were so incompetent that their conclusion it was the Russians had to be incorrect.  Apparently, Flynn believed he could use his intelligence sources to get hold of those "missing emails." It never occurred to any of them, apparently, that Russia wasn't trying very hard to hide its tracks for a reason.

Just after the Republican convention in July 2016, Trump was asked about the Russian invasion of Crimea. In fact, it was at the same press conference when he made the famous "Russia, if you're listening" comment that he said this: Full Story

Joe Walsh warns that Americans listening to Fox News are lied to daily
CNN - During an interview with CNN's Brian Stelter, 2020 Republican presidential hopeful Joe Walsh slammed Fox News and conservative talk radio for their coverage of the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump. Video

CNN reporter: This Trump claim at rally 'is fascinating to me'
CNN - President Donald Trump touted several false claims during a GOP rally in Mississippi, including an attack on the media before insisting CNN turned off the live feed. CNN's Daniel Dale joined New Day Weekend to fact-check the President's false claims. Video

All four White House officials scheduled for House inquiry depositions Monday won't testify
By Pamela Brown, Rene Marsh and Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Washington (CNN) - All four White House officials who are scheduled to give depositions on Monday during the House's impeachment inquiry won't show up, as a source with knowledge of the situation tells CNN that National Security Council lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis will not testify. The two officials will join Robert Blair, assistant to the President and senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Brian McCormack, associate director for natural resources, energy & science at the Office of Management and Budget, in not testifying on Monday, CNN reported earlier. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was scheduled to appear Wednesday, will not participate in a closed door deposition, an Energy Department spokesperson said Friday.

An administration official says Eisenberg isn't showing up due to executive privilege while Blair, Ellis and McCormack aren't going to appear because they won't be able to have an administration lawyer present. Blair's attorney, Whit Ellerman, told CNN Saturday that "Blair is caught between the assertions of legal duty by two coequal branches of government, a conflict which he cannot resolve." Two other OMB officials, Michael Duffey and Russell Vought, also won't show up to their depositions later this week, a source with knowledge of the situation tells CNN. As more witnesses in the impeachment probe continue to refuse to give testimony, House investigators are signaling they are prepared to begin the next phase of their inquiry -- even if their subpoenas are ignored across the board. Full Story

Jared Kushner gave Saudi Prince PERMISSION to arrest Jamal Khashoggi before he was killed - but Turkey intercepted the call and used it to force Trump to leave Syria, report claims
By Ariel Zilber For Dailymail.com and Reuters

Jared Kushner gave permission to Saudi ruler Mohammad bin Salman to arrest Jamal Khashoggi before he was killed and dismembered, a whistleblower claims. However, Turkish intelligence intercepted the call and President Recep Erdogan then used the information to force President Trump to remove his troops from northern Syria, according to the Spectator. The report claims that investigators on the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee are aware of these allegations and are planning to dig further into them while pursuing the impeachment inquiry over Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.    

It also claims that the number of intelligence whistleblowers who are willing to give evidence to the impeachment committee is seven.  The three already known are the original anonymous CIA officer, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Tim Morrison, the NSC’s director for European and Russian Affairs. The Khashoggi whistleblower takes that tally up to four, meaning there are three others waiting in the wings.   Khashoggi was a Washington Post columnist who at one point was considered close to the ruling Saudi royal family but later became disillusioned by its powerful young prince. In October 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to sort documents before he was to be married to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. He never emerged.

The Turkish government said it has evidence that Khashoggi was killed and his body was dismembered. The Central Intelligence Agency and other Western governments believe that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing. In recent interviews with American media outlets, bin Salman said he bears responsibility for the Khashoggi killing ‘because it happened under my watch.’ But he denies ordering the murder. ‘It happened under my watch,’ he told PBS. ‘I get all the responsibility, because it happened under my watch. After initial denials, the official Saudi narrative blamed the murder on rogue operatives. Full Story

Inside the Republican Plan to Deep-Six the Trump Impeachment Hearings
Trump allies plan to call for witnesses who could bolster their narrative and hammer away at the anonymous whistleblower whose account launched the inquiry in the first place.
By Sam Brodey

As House Democrats ramp up their impeachment push, their adversaries on the Republican side are preparing to unleash a counter-push to disrupt impeachment proceedings, discredit the whistleblower, and interrogate every person the whistleblower spoke with. In a show of unity, House Republicans unanimously voted on Thursday against a resolution recognizing the framework of the impeachment inquiry and outlining its next phase. Though that resolution passed, it was a chance for the GOP to lock arms on the proceedings and beat back lingering questions over just how committed Hill Republicans are to risk their political hides in defense of the president.

With the party now relatively focused, the Republicans leading the counter-impeachment campaign are taking this moment to lay out their next steps, which will continue to center on claims that the impeachment process is profoundly unfair to Trump and Republicans—and that the whole Ukraine matter was a sham to begin with. According to GOP lawmakers and aides, the party’s game plan includes calling for witnesses who could bolster their narrative and hammering away at the anonymous whistleblower whose account launched the inquiry in the first place. They’re also holding out the possibility of more tactics to disrupt impeachment—like last week’s stunt to shut down the inquiry’s secure hearing room. Lawmakers are also likely to release a report when the probe is concluded to counter the report the Democratic majority will release to form the basis for impeachment.

Through it all, Republicans will need to pull off a tricky balancing act: keeping a focus on process—which many in GOP leadership believe is the best way to lower the public’s confidence in the impeachment inquiry—while keeping satisfied a mercurial president, who has proven eager to air his anger at Republicans he deems insufficiently loyal, or insufficiently interested in defending him on substance.

According to Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman and an ally of the president, House Republicans have been doing a “decent job given the tools they have,” but added it would be better if they had a few more of a certain kind of Republican—naming specifically Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Jim Jordan (R-OH)—out there defending the president.

“Everyone was an activist during the Clinton thing on the Democratic side,” said Kingston, who served in the House during President Clinton’s impeachment. “Everybody needs to get off the bench and start talking about it.” One subject that particularly riles up Republicans—and marries their fairness arguments with the Trump-friendly case that the Ukraine probe is some kind of deep-state machination—is the anonymous whistleblower. At first, Republicans dismissed the whistleblower’s complaint because it was not based on firsthand information. Full Story

Fact-checking Eric Trump's claim The Trump Organization has no business ties overseas
By Tara Subramaniam

Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump's business is back in the spotlight. Less than a week after the President reversed course on his plan to host next year's G-7 at his Trump National Doral Miami in Florida, reports surfaced that his company plans to sell its DC Hotel, which has been the subject of several lawsuits alleging the President is profiting from it in violation of the Constitution. Trump's defense is that he says he's put his business "stuff" in a trust and that his family runs it. As of 2018, the President held more than $130 million in foreign assets in this trust, according to an analysis compiled by Open Secrets. As a trustee, Trump's eldest son Donald Trump Jr., who is also executive vice president of The Trump Organization, is responsible for looking after the beneficiary (the President) and the business's bottom line. This arrangement has raised concerns that Trump and his family could use the presidency to profit personally.

Since the 2016 election, Trump and his family members have defended the decision, claiming there is nothing improper about their business operations. The recent controversy surrounding former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter and his international business ties has added a new layer to conversations about the ethics around business done by the families of powerful politicians while they're in office. It's also spurred the President's family to attempt to defend their own holdings.

In a recent Fox News interview, Eric, discussing Hunter's dealings, noted that "the difference between us and Hunter is when my father became commander-in-chief of this country, we got out of all international business, right?" Not quite. Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a non-profit government watchdog group, told CNN that Eric's claim was the "worst lie I've heard in a while."
Facts First: President Trump's three oldest children have all been involved with international business in some manner since his election. Furthermore, the President has made millions of dollars from foreign assets associated with the Trump Organization in 2017 and 2018, according to his public financial disclosure reports. The Trump Organization also continues to market, promote and expand Trump-branded properties all over the world, as recently as last month.

International footprint:

On October 10, The Trump Organization firm TIGL Ireland Enterprises received approval for a new development that the Irish Times reports will double the size of the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland. Per The Trump Organization's website, the Trump brand is associated with an estate in Scotland, residential property in India, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, the Philippines and Uruguay, and public golf courses in Scotland, Ireland, Dubai, Bali and Indonesia. The golf courses in Ireland and Scotland have accompanying Trump hotels. There's also a Trump International Hotel & Tower in Vancouver, British Columbia which formally opened in February 2017. As executive vice presidents of The Trump Organization, Trump's eldest sons have continued to conduct international deals for the family company, despite the President's initial promise to the contrary. Full Story

In February 2017, Eric went to the resort island of Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic, where The Trump Organization has had ties since 2007. After the visit, the president and vice president of Cap Cana's Council said the relationship between the two organizations "remains incredibly strong, especially with Eric, who has led the project since its inception," adding that "we are excited to be working with the Trump Organization in the future phases of the project."

Licensing agreements

While the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Vancouver was the first property to open with the Trump name after President Trump was sworn in, it was not the last. The month after their father's inauguration, the Trump sons attended the grand opening of a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai. While The Trump Organization did not itself develop the course, the Trump brand is associated with the property as part of a licensing agreement. Full Story

Trump Admits His Border Wall is Not Impenetrable after Reports Parts Have Been Sawed Through: 'You Can Cut Through Anything'
By Khaleda Rahman

President Donald Trump has admitted his border wall is not as impenetrable as he had initially claimed after reports that some parts had been sawed through. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that smuggling gangs have used commercial power tools to cut through the new parts of Trump's controversial wall along the Mexican border. The gangs used a cordless reciprocating saw, which can be purchased at hardware stores starting from as little as $100, to make gaps big enough for people and drugs to pass through, U.S. agents and officials who have knowledge of the situation told the newspaper.

Once fitted with specialized blades, the saws can cut through the steel-and-concrete bollards of the barrier in minutes, according to the unnamed agents. Trump, who spent years insisting his border wall would be impenetrable, conceded that any wall can be cut through but insisted the damage could be "easily fixed." "We have a very powerful wall. But no matter how powerful, you can cut through anything, in all fairness," Trump told reporters in Washington, D.C. before his departure for New York City on Saturday evening. "We have a lot of people watching,' Trump added, according to Politico. "Cutting is one thing, but it's easily fixed. One of the reasons we did it the way we did it, it's very easily fixed. You put the chunk back in."

But according to the Post, smugglers have learned how to cut the bollards and then return them to their positions so that the damage goes unnoticed, allowing the passage to be used multiple times. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents reportedly drive along the barrier and kick the bollards with their boots to check for any defects in the metal. If any are found, welding crews are sent in to fix the damage. But smugglers have also returned to the same bollards once they have been fixed and cut through the welds as the metal on those bollards is softer, the Post reported. They have also tried to trick agents by using a putty that looks like welding to make a bollard that has been cut look as if it is still intact. Full Story

US debt surpasses $23 trillion for first time
By Niv Elis

The federal government's outstanding public debt has surpassed $23 trillion for the first time in history, according to data from the Treasury Department released on Friday. Growing budget deficits have added to the nation's debt at a speedy rate since President Trump took office. The debt has grown some 16 percent since Trump's inauguration, when it stood at $19.9 trillion. It passed $22 trillion for the first time just 10 months ago.

Of the $23 trillion figure, just under $17 trillion was in the category of debt held by the public, which is a more useful gauge of the debt the government has to pay down, and the number typically used in calculating the nation's debt burden. The other $6 trillion comes from loans within government bodies.

Still, the $23 trillion figure marks a milestone. “Reaching $23 trillion in debt on Halloween is a scary milestone for our economy and the next generation, but Washington shows no fear," said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the fiscally conservative Peter G. Peterson Foundation. "Piling on debt like this is especially unwise and unnecessary in a strong economy," he added. Full Story

GOP lawmakers guide a White House grappling with closed-door impeachment
By Jeremy Diamond and Pamela Brown, CNN

Washington (CNN) - As House Democrats build their case for impeaching President Donald Trump through a succession of closed-door depositions, a pair of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill are quietly offering guidance to the White House lawyers responsible for crafting the President's defense strategy. Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who have attended the depositions, have been informally helping attorneys in the White House Counsel's office sort through publicly reported aspects of the testimony to the extent they can, according to four administration officials.

The conversations are primarily aimed at helping White House lawyers get a better grasp of the allegations being leveled at Trump and potential weak points as the White House begins to craft a legal strategy to defend Trump during his impeachment trial, two administration officials said. White House lawyers have not been permitted to attend the closed-door depositions -- a top GOP complaint about the impeachment inquiry -- and people familiar with the matter said the conversations are aimed at helping the White House gauge the seriousness of leaked allegations from the testimony that have painted a damning picture of the President's conduct.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Meadows said he has only shared "broad characterizations" and is "not sharing specifics" of the testimony with the White House, pointing to House rules preventing him from disclosing details of the testimony, which are held in secure rooms called Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, or SCIFs. When some witnesses -- such as US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland -- have backed up aspects of the President's defense of his conduct, he has pointed that out. Full Story

Released Mueller documents reveal Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump enjoyed a vacation in Croatia 'with a Russian oligarch' and Wendi Deng - a meeting Steve Bannon thought was so dubious he planned to 'leverage' it against Trump's son-in-law
By Keith Griffith For Dailymail.com

A tranche of newly released documents from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation have revealed that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump took a vacation in Croatia with a mystery 'Russian billionaire' during the 2016 campaign. Also on the trip was and Rupert Murdoch's former wife Wendi Deng. According to the notes, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon raised questions about the vacation and found it so dubious that he planned to 'leverage' the meetup with the Russian against Donald's Trump's son-in-law, Jared.  The documents, including 274 pages of Mueller team interview notes, emails and other documents related to the investigation, were released on Saturday in response to a lawsuit from CNN and Buzzfeed.

'Bannon knew Kushner was on vacation off the coast of Croatia with a Russian Billionaire when Bannon took over the campaign,' a summary of an investigative interview with Bannon read. The summary said that Kushner was with Deng, the Russian billionaire, and the Russian's girlfriend, but it does not name the Russian. Bannon told friends in the intelligence community that he thought Kushner's choice of vacation company was 'questionable,' according to the interview summary. Kushner's and Ivanka Trump's vacation in August 2016 was previously documented in photos obtained by DailyMail.com, but the presence of a Russian billionaire had not been reported.

Throughout the trip, Deng was photographed with Kushner and his wife Ivanka. In an email dated July 24, 2017 to an individual with a Breitbart domain email, Bannon referenced Kushner's vacation and appeared to indicate that the information, if reported and confirmed, could be valuable against Kushner. Full Story

Trump Attends UFC Championship in NYC Only to Be Met With Loud Boos at Second Sporting Event This Week
Donald Trump Jr. says he was told his father's entrance was actually “the most electrifying entrance” seen in the past several decades.
By Allison Quinn

Fresh off his not-so-enthusiastic reception at the World Series Game 5 in Washington earlier this week, President Trump attended a UFC Championship in New York City on Saturday night only to once again be greeted by jeers and boos, according to reporters at the event.

Accompanied by House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. Peter King, and his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, the president reportedly faced a crowd of angry protesters outside Madison Square Garden before getting largely the same response inside the venue, where fighters were due to duke it out for a new belt and the title of “BMF” or “Baddest Motherfucker.”

Video posted to Twitter by Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire captured the sound of shouting and booing as the president took his seat, though Lemire noted there were some cheers as well. Trump’s appearance in the city came just two days after he announced that he’d be switching his permanent residency from New York City to Florida, suggesting the “political leaders” in the city were partly to blame and later going on to call the city “dirty & unsafe.” It also came less than a week after he was met with chants of “lock him up” at Game 5 of the World Series in Washington. Full Story

Pro-Trump Channel One America News Deploys a Former Kremlin Propagandist to Blast the 'Russia Hoax'
The Trumpist cable channel enlisted an alum of the Putin propaganda machine to undercut a report about Russian propaganda.
By Kevin Poulsen

News out of the UK about Russian propaganda targeting that county’s politics is a new “Russia hoax” being perpetrated by liberals and the mainstream media, according to One America News. The pro-Trump network put its very best alum of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine on the story.

One America News’ Kristian Rouz covered the controversy in Britain surrounding an unreleased parliamentary report investigating Russia’s interference in UK politics and its online trolling in support of the 2016 Brexit vote. Lawmakers are accusing prime minister Boris Johnson of slowing-walking the report to keep it under wraps until after the December 12 election.

“The mainstream media continues attempts to revive the failed Russia hoax, designating as a Russian agent none other than British prime minister Boris Johnson,” Rouz reported.

As The Daily Beast reported in July, Rouz, a graduate of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, was a regular contributor to the Kremlin-run propaganda site Sputnik while simultaneously working in the San Diego, California offices of OAN, a Trumpist cable channel with a history of regurgitating conspiracy theories and Russian propaganda. Full Story

Trump’s New Favorite Network Embraces Russian Propaganda
One America News Network has no qualms with playing the mouthpiece for Kremlin-hatched conspiracy theories. And one of its most loyal viewers lives in the White House
By Kevin Poulsen

When it comes to putting disinformation in front of American eyeballs, Vladimir Putin has long been able to count alt-right social media stars like Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich as reliable allies. Now the One America News Network, a pro-Trump cable news and commentary channel, is joining them in embracing some of Moscow’s most vile fake news.

On Wednesday OANN aired a segment claiming to reveal that dozens of members of the Syrian Civil Defense, a humanitarian group known as the White Helmets, have confessed to faking chemical weapons attacks in Syria to frame Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator propped up by Putin.

“At least 40 members of the terrorist-linked White Helmets have admitted they staged fake chemical attacks to provoke retaliation against the Syrian Government,” began the report by OANN correspondent Pearson Sharp. “Members of the group, who won an Oscar for their Netflix documentary, came out in recent interviews for a study presented to the United Nations and confessed they had in fact faked the attacks.”

In the real world, the White Helmets are a humanitarian group whose rescue workers are credited with saving at least 100,000 civilians caught in the crossfire of Syria’s bloody civil war. Until recently group was partly funded by the US State Department, and it’s routinely praised as heroic by Western world leaders. A 2016 Netflix documentary on the White Helmets won an Oscar for its British producer.

This cable news smear traces directly to a frenzied disinformation campaign by Russia aimed at linking the White Helmets to a broad range of wrongdoing: things like running a black market in human organs, colluding with terrorists and faking Assad’s chemical weapons attacks. Moscow has been relentless in pushing these claims, tirelessly falsifying videos and photographs, creating phony news outlets and fake think tanks to do so. Some of the same GRU officers involved in the 2016 election interference created fake freelance journalists to pitch stories smearing the White Helmets to legitimate news outlets. Full Story

Republicans go lower: They're publicly spreading the name of purported Ukraine whistleblower
Rep. Louie Gohmert dropped the name during a public hearing while Rand Paul shared it with millions on Twitter
By Igor Derysh

Republican lawmakers are publicly spreading the name of a CIA officer named in a RealClearInvestigations report as the whistleblower who reported President Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The unconfirmed report named a 33-year-old CIA analyst as the purported whistleblower, although mainstream media outlets have declined to disclose the name after his attorneys warned that they have received death threats targeting their client. Republican lawmakers have reportedly repeatedly attempted to get the whistleblower’s name on record at impeachment hearings in hopes that it will be released publicly. (Salon has made the decision not to publish this person's name, although it will no doubt soon be in the public record.)

The report, which relied primarily on quotes from former Trump administration officials and a “dossier” compiled on this individual that has circulated around Capitol Hill, identifies the purported whistleblower as a “registered Democrat” who worked on the National Security Council under the Obama administration and was held over in the early days of the Trump administration before he was “accused of working against Trump,” according to the report. As a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, this CIA analyst is said to have worked closely with Vice President Joe Biden, who was Obama’s point man on Ukraine. The whistleblower’s attorneys have declined to confirm his identity and have condemned the attempts to expose him.

But the report was not the first public mention of the CIA analyst’s name. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, dropped the name of the purported whistleblower during a public House Natural Resources Committee hearing last week, The Dallas Morning News has reported. “A lot of us in Washington know who it is,” Gohmert told a Dallas radio station after the hearing, claiming that the whistleblower is a “very staunch Democrat” who was “supposed to be a point person on Ukraine, during the time when Ukraine was its most corrupt, and he didn’t blow any whistles on their corruption."

After the report was published, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., shared the claims with his 2.6 million followers. “It is being reported that the whistleblower was Joe Biden’s point man on Ukraine,” Paul tweeted. “It is imperative the whistleblower is subpoenaed and asked under oath about Hunter Biden and corruption.” “Stop trying to endanger the life of the whistleblower, Senator,” replied national security attorney Bradley Moss. The name quickly spread among conservative circles and the report was shared by right-wing pundits like Ann Coulter and reporters for far-right news outlets like The Daily Wire. Full Story

Trump defends border wall design after report smugglers are sawing through it
By CHRISTIAN VASQUEZ

After years of touting the impenetrability of a border wall, President Donald Trump said Saturday that "you can cut through any wall" as reports surfaced of smugglers sawing through newly erected barriers with readily available power tools. "We have a very powerful wall. But no matter how powerful, you can cut through anything, in all fairness. But we have a lot of people watching. You know cutting, cutting is one thing, but it's easily fixed. One of the reasons we did it the way we did it, it's very easily fixed. You put the chunk back in,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

A Washington Post report published Saturday said smugglers have repeatedly sawed through newly built sections of the wall using a widely available cordless reciprocating saw that costs as little as $100. Gangs are also using makeshift ladders to scale the barriers, the Post reported. Trump's statement is a far cry from years of campaigning that a border wall would be nearly impossible for smugglers to overcome. In a visit to one of the construction sites in September, Trump said the border wall is "virtually impenetrable" and could not be climbed. Full Story

Manafort pushed conspiracy theory blaming Ukraine for election hacking as far back as 2016
By Katelyn Polantz and Kevin Bohn, CNN

Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort blamed Ukrainians for the hack into computers of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign rather than the long-held conclusion of US intelligence that the Russians played a role in the election meddling, newly released documents from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation show.

The documents are notes from interviews the Mueller team conducted with witnesses, including former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, who served alongside Manafort. "Gates recalled Manafort saying the hack was likely carried out by the Ukrainians, not the Russians," read a summary of one interview done with Gates. Manafort has extensive ties to Ukrainian politicians and businessmen and is serving prison time for fraud and for illegally lobbying in the US on their behalf, among other crimes. The newly released documents show how far back some people in the Trump political operation theorized Ukraine's unsubstantiated role in the Democratic hacking.

Read the interview notes

Trump has continued pushing this conspiracy theory as he has asked for investigation into Ukraine's possible role in the 2016 campaign and as he has also called for investigations of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden. The newly released documents are part of a group of Mueller interview notes released Saturday to CNN, after CNN and BuzzFeed sued the Justice Department seeking the records from the Mueller investigation. Full Story

Trump said the new border wall was “impenetrable.” Smugglers are sawing through it.
Smugglers have found that all you need to cut through the wall is a $100 saw.
By Catherine Kim

President Donald Trump promised a wall on the border would radically change undocumented immigration and customs enforcement. But it turns out newly built sections of the president’s wall aren’t as sturdy as he promised: Smugglers have been using a commercial saw to cut through it, according to the Washington Post. Smuggling people and goods into the US is a profitable industry for criminal organizations, which is why they are motivated to innovate when it comes to breaching barriers. Of late, smugglers have reportedly been cutting through the wall — which is made of steel bollards that are partially filled with concrete — to make gaps large enough for people and goods to pass through.

To do so, smugglers are reportedly using a reciprocating saw that can be bought for as little as $100. The tool can cut through the wall’s steel and concrete in minutes when fitted with the appropriate blades, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have said. After cutting the steel bollards, smugglers have taken to returning them to their original positions in hope of reusing the passage without being detected by border officials.

Agents now reportedly patrol the wall in search of defects, which are mended. However, those repaired sections of wall are prime targets for smugglers, as it is easier to cut through the welded metal than it is to make new cuts. And the repair policy has also been targeted by smugglers who attempt to fool agents into believing a severed bollard has been fixed by applying putty to the site of the cut. All of this should be unsurprising to the Trump administration. NBC News has reported border barrier prototypes tested in 2017 were found to be vulnerable to reciprocating saws. At the time, CBP spokesman Ralph DeSio argued that no wall, however well designed, would be impenetrable.

That didn’t stop Trump from touting the wall as “virtually impenetrable” when he visited a construction site close to San Diego in September, according to NBC News. At the time, he said the wall — which has cost roughly $10 billion so far and has been mostly funded by taxpayers — would successfully block human traffickers from entering the US. He added that not even world class climbers would be able to scale the structure, especially because the materials that comprise it would become too hot to hold in the desert sun. Yet smugglers have also found ways of climbing the wall. A method that involves using rebar ladders to scale one side and rope ladders to descend the other has become especially popular near San Diego, despite the risk of falling from the height of a three-story-building (the barrier can be up to 30 feet tall).

It is unclear how many breaches there have been so far because the US government has yet to disclose any incidents. Some officials who spoke to The Washington Post anonymously played down the situation, saying there had been only “a few instances” and the wall has “significantly increased security and deterrence.”  Full Story

Trump officials propose rule to let faith-based adoption groups bar LGBT parents
By Rebecca Klar

The Trump administration is proposing a rule that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption groups to exclude LGBT parents. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the proposal Friday, citing concerns about religious freedom. The rule would allow organizations that deny LGBT parents adoption rights to continue getting federal funding, rolling back an Obama-era rule that included sexual orientation as a protected trait under anti-discrimination protections. The proposed rule was first reported by The Associated Press.

"HHS is committed to fully enforcing the civil rights laws passed by Congress. The proposed rule would better align its grants regulations with federal statutes, eliminating regulatory burden, including burden on the free exercise of religion," the agency said in a statement. "HHS is affirming that it will comply with all applicable Supreme Court decisions in administering its grants programs," it added. The agency said it had heard concerns that language adopted by the Obama administration violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Constitution and exceeded the department's authority. Full Story

An unseemly meeting at the US Supreme Court raises ethics questions
By Ephrat Livni in Washington DC

Just how friendly should US Supreme Court justices be with friends of the court, the amici who file briefs based on their interests in a case where they aren’t litigants? On Oct. 29, Brian S. Brown, president of the conservative advocacy group National Organization for Marriage (NOMA), tweeted a photo of himself with justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito and boasting about a “great day” at the US Supreme Court. The tweet raised alarm bells for court critics.

NOMA regularly files amicus briefs with the court, as it already has this term in some of the most controversial cases before the justices. Brown’s organization, as a “friend of the court,” submitted a filing opposing a finding that Title VII, an anti-employment-discrimination statute, protects gay and transgender people.

The court is considering the issue in three cases and heard arguments on Oct. 8. Less than three weeks later, while justices were still mulling the matters, two of the bench’s conservatives had a friendly meeting with an activist who has made it abundantly clear how he feels they should rule.

While the justices might not necessarily be swayed by anything Brown said when they all hung out, and they probably didn’t discuss their upcoming decision, the mere fact of the meeting casts doubt on their impartiality. And the appearance of fairness, the sense that litigants have a fair chance in court, is key to public confidence in the legal system. That’s why US Code Section 455 provides that “[a]ny justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

In response to the revelation of the meeting on social media, Fix the Court, a nonpartisan organization advocating for judicial transparency, sent a letter to the chief justice’s counsel asking that the court either withdraw NOMA’s brief or explain why the justices may continue to sit on the cases given the standard in federal law. The organization’s executive director, Gabe Roth, told Quartz that as of Nov. 1 it had not received a response.

“A case isn’t finished until the opinion is out,” Roth noted. So, any meeting between a justice and an advocate who has expressed positions on a matter is problematic because it undermines public trust in the judge’s ability to be fair. He calls these engagements failures of a “basic ethics test” and is concerned about how commonly these failures occur. “These types of things keep happening and it shows a lack of awareness on the court’s part,” he said. Full Story

Mueller interview notes obtained by CNN show Trump's push for stolen emails
By Katelyn Polantz, CNN

(CNN) - President Donald Trump and other top 2016 Trump campaign officials repeatedly privately discussed how the campaign could get access to stolen Democratic emails WikiLeaks had in 2016, according to newly released interview notes from Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation. CNN sued the Justice Department for access to Mueller's witness interview notes, and this weekend's release marks the first publicly available behind-the-scenes look at Mueller's investigative work outside of court proceedings and the report itself. Per a judge's order, the Justice Department will continue to release new tranches of the Mueller investigative notes monthly to CNN and Buzzfeed News, which also sued for them. A retelling of events from former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, who served alongside campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is the fullest detail revealed by the Justice Department yet on discussions within the Trump campaign as it pursued damaging information about its Democrtatic opponent Hillary Clinton. The documents were stolen by the Russians, the American intelligence community has found.

"[Rick] Gates recalled a time on the campaign aircraft when candidate Trump said, 'get the emails.' [Michael] Flynn said he could use his intelligence sources to obtain the emails," investigators wrote in a summary of Gates' April 2018 interview with Mueller's team. Flynn was a foreign policy adviser on the campaign and became Trump's first national security adviser. "Flynn had the most Russia contacts of anyone on the campaign and was in the best position to ask for the emails if they were out there," the investigators also wrote about Gates' interview. Gates described in an interview with Mueller investigators last year how several close advisers to Trump, Trump's family members and Trump himself considered how to get the stolen documents and pushed the effort, according to investigators' summary. "Gates said Donald Trump Jr. would ask where the emails were in family meetings. Michael Flynn, [Jared] Kushner, [Paul] Manafort, [Redacted] [Corey] Lewandowski, Jeff Sessions, and Sam Clovis expressed interest in obtaining the emails as well. Gates said the priority focuses of the Trump campaign opposition research team were Clinton's emails and contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Flynn, [Redacted] [Jeff] Sessions, Kushner, and [Donald] Trump Jr. were all focused on opposition topics,"

Gates told investigators, according to the interview summary. Previously, Mueller wrote in his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election that Trump's campaign showed interest in the hacked documents WikiLeaks had in summer and fall 2016. But many of the details are still redacted in the Mueller report, leaving holes in the story that the release to CNN somewhat fills in. The release, received by CNN on Saturday, includes 274 pages of Mueller team interview notes, emails and other documents related to the cooperation of Gates, former top campaign official Steve Bannon and former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen. Both Cohen and Gates pleaded guilty to criminal charges from Mueller. Bannon was not charged with any crime. Large parts of the interview notes are still redacted by the Justice Department. Full Story

Testimony: White House lawyer told Vindman not to discuss Ukraine call
By NATASHA BERTRAND

The senior White House lawyer who placed a record of President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president in a top-secret system also instructed at least one official who heard the call not to tell anyone about it, according to testimony heard by House impeachment investigators this week. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Army officer who served as the National Security Council’s director for Ukraine, told lawmakers that he went to the lawyer, John Eisenberg, to register his concerns about the call, in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, according to a person in the room for Vindman’s deposition on Tuesday.

Eisenberg recorded Vindman’s complaints in notes on a yellow legal pad, then conferred with his deputy Michael Ellis about how to handle the conversation because it was clearly “sensitive,” Vindman testified. The lawyers then decided to move the record of the call into the NSC’s top-secret codeword system—a server normally used to store highly classified material that only a small group of officials can access. Vindman did not consider the move itself as evidence of a cover-up, according to a person familiar with his testimony. But he said he became disturbed when, a few days later, Eisenberg instructed him not to tell anyone about the call—especially because it was Vindman’s job to coordinate the interagency process with regard to Ukraine policy.

Eisenberg’s decision to move the call record to the codeword system following his conversation with Vindman was first reported by The Washington Post. But Eisenberg’s subsequent request that Vindman not disclose the content of the call to anyone has not been previously reported. An NSC spokesperson and Eisenberg did not return requests for comment. Tim Morrison, the NSC’s top Russia and Europe adviser, reportedly told lawmakers in his opening statement during a deposition on Thursday that he was worried the July 25 call, which he listened in on along with Vindman, would leak. According to CNN, Morrison “was involved with discussions after the call about how to handle the transcript.” Full Story

Cillizza: 4 GOP impeachment arguments just blew up
Newsroom
CNN's Chris Cillizza outlines four arguments Republicans make against impeachment that no longer hold water as new facts come to light. Video

GOP embraces impeachment fight in 2020 ads, betting Trump inquiry will backfire on Democrats
By John Fritze, Michael Collins, Courtney Subramanian - USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump delivered a warning to Democrats during a raucous Minnesota rally last month: The impeachment inquiry, he predicted, would backfire in next year's election. "The Democrats' brazen attempt to overthrow our government will produce a backlash at the ballot box," Trump said at the time. "We will defeat them." Nearly a month later, as the White House prepares for the next phase of the investigation, the president's combative remarks in Minneapolis have emerged as a central theme in Republican advertising as groups loyal to Trump gamble that his woes will be an asset rather than a hindrance next November.

Far from avoiding the impeachment inquiry, or the president’s now infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Republican groups are hammering vulnerable Democrats in digital and television ads for abandoning pocketbook issues in favor of what they describe as a relentless drive to remove Trump from office. Republican political strategist Ron Bonjean said GOP groups are moving away from attacking the impeachment process to accusing Democrats of playing politics. “You’re either defining this environment right now or you’re going to get defined by it politically,” Bonjean said.

Trump camp spends heavily

Trump’s campaign spent more than $1 million on Facebook ads in October that mentioned “impeachment,” according to an analysis by Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic group. But while the Trump campaign was the largest player, it was far from alone.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the campaign arm of Senate Republicans spent nearly $200,000 on Facebook ads referring to impeachment during that same time. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to House GOP leaders, launched a new digital ad campaign soon after the House voted Thursday to formalize the impeachment investigation. The ads, aimed at Democratic-held districts Trump carried in 2016, tell voters that “your member of Congress just voted for impeachment!"

With a sepia-toned photo of an angry-looking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the ads slam Democrats for focusing on impeachment at the expense of health care, the economy and infrastructure. The ad fails to mention the Trump administration made little progress on health or infrastructure during its first two years, when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. Full Story

As Trump moves to bully witnesses and derail impeachment, Democrats see obstruction
By Philip Rucker, Rachael Bade and Rosalind S. Helderman

President Trump has sought to intimidate witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, attacking them as “Never Trumpers” and badgering an anonymous whistleblower. He has directed the White House to withhold documents and block testimony requested by Congress. And he has labored to publicly discredit the investigation as a “scam” overseen by “a totally compromised kangaroo court.” To the Democratic leaders directing the impeachment proceedings, Trump’s actions to stymie their investigation into his conduct with Ukraine add up to another likely article of impeachment: obstruction.

The centerpiece of House Democrats’ eventual impeachment charges is widely expected to be Trump’s alleged abuse of power over Ukraine. But obstruction of Congress is now all but certain to be introduced as well, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers and aides, just as it was five decades ago when the House Judiciary Committee voted for articles of impeachment against then-president Richard Nixon. But Nixon resigned before the full House vote. “It’s important to vindicate the role of Congress as an independent branch of government with substantial oversight responsibility, that if the executive branch just simply obstructs and prevents witnesses from coming forward, or prevents others from producing documents, they could effectively eviscerate congressional oversight,” said Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.). “That would be very dangerous for the country.”

Democrats argue that the Trump administration’s stonewalling — including trying to stop subpoenaed witnesses from testifying and blocking the executive branch from turning over documents — creates a strong case that the president has infringed on the separation of powers and undercut lawmakers’ oversight duties as laid out in the Constitution.  Laurence H. Tribe, a constitutional law scholar at Harvard Law School who has informally advised some Democratic House leaders, said Trump’s actions are unprecedented.

“I know of no instance when a president subject to a serious impeachment effort, whether Andrew Johnson or Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, has essentially tried to lower the curtain entirely — treating the whole impeachment process as illegitimate, deriding it as a ‘lynching’ and calling it a ‘kangaroo court,’ ” Tribe said. “It’s not simply getting in the way of an inquiry,” he added. “It’s basically saying one process that the Constitution put in place, thanks to people like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, for dealing with an out-of-control president is a process he is trying to subvert, undermine and delegitimate. That, to me, is clearly a high crime and misdemeanor.” Full Story

Former GOP Rep. Justin Amash Slams Republicans: 'History Will Not Look Kindly' on 'False Defenses' of Trump
By Jason Lemon

Independent Representative Justin Amash called out his Republican colleagues ahead of Thursday's House vote on a resolution laying out the rules for the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, warning them that "history will not look kindly" on their defenses of President Donald Trump. Amash, who has been described as one of the most conservative members of the House, was elected as a Republican but formally declared himself an independent on July 4. The Michigan congressman parted ways with the vast majority of GOP lawmakers following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report regarding Trump's 2016 campaign and Russian election interference. Like many Democrats, he believed the report showed that the president had engaged in impeachable conduct.

With the House Democrats' launch of a formal impeachment inquiry last month, Amash has been a lonely conservative voice in Congress supporting the investigation. "This president will be in power for only a short time, but excusing his misbehavior will forever tarnish your name," he tweeted on Thursday. "To my Republican colleagues: Step outside your media and social bubble. History will not look kindly on disingenuous, frivolous, and false defenses of this man."

This president will be in power for only a short time, but excusing his misbehavior will forever tarnish your name. To my Republican colleagues: Step outside your media and social bubble. History will not look kindly on disingenuous, frivolous, and false defenses of this man.   — Justin Amash (@justinamash) October 31, 2019

Despite the urging by Amash and Democrats, the impeachment rules vote in the House passed along partisan lines, with 232 in favor and 196 opposed. All GOP representatives voted against the resolution, except for three who abstained. Almost all Democrats voted in favor, except for two congressmen who chose not to vote on the resolution. Amash, the chamber's lone independent, voted "yes" along with Democrats.

We swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, not an oath to support and defend Donald Trump’s abuse of the office of the presidency.    — Justin Amash (@justinamash) October 30, 2019. Full Story

Judge Pushes Back On Trump Lawyers Trying To Block Possible Impeachment Witnesses
By Bobby Allyn

A federal judge on Thursday fired skeptical questions at lawyers for the Trump administration who argued that current and former senior White House aides have "absolute immunity" from being questioned by House impeachment investigators. The hearing, before U.S. District Judge Ketanji Jackson in Washington, was the first time Trump lawyers tested in open court their attempt to block White House aides from cooperating with the impeachment inquiry into the president. Jackson at times struggled with the Trump administration's argument that former White House counsel Don McGahn does not have to comply with a subpoena filed by House Democrats for him to sit for testimony related to conversations he was party to that could implicate Trump in possible articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice.

"So what does the separation of powers mean to you then?" Jackson asked Trump administration lawyers. "How can the legislature actively exert its oversight power unless it has the ability to exercise its investigative powers?" James Burnham, a lawyer with the Justice Department, responded that applying "absolute immunity" to current and former aides close to the Oval Office is "not an exotic thing that we just cooked up." Burnham said it has been the legal position of the White House for decades so that information covered by executive privilege will not be exposed.

Jackson sounded incredulous at this line of argument, noting the difficulty in enforcing it given the number of White House aides who have cycled through the Trump administration. The judge said Trump does not invoke that concern when former White House staff appear on cable news. "For some reason, the president doesn't own it when former officials appear on MSNBC," Jackson said. House attorney Doug Letter, who previously spent decades working in the Department of Justice, said the Trump administration "made up" the concept that all senior Trump aides have an absolute shield from any kind of testimony.

"This is what they wish the law were. It is not what the law is," Letter said. He said it may be the current position of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, but those opinions change with administrations and sometimes conflicting opinions exist at once. More importantly, Letter said, a Justice Department legal opinion should not persuade a federal court. Full Story

“He’s Made the Faustian Bargain”: Mike Pompeo Floats Ukraine Conspiracy Theories as He Loses a Grip on State
The House impeachment inquiry has gutted the secretary of state’s standing among diplomats, hobbled his potential Senate campaign, and even his presidential ambitions, leaving him trapped in the Trump bunker.
By Abigail Tracy

As a parade of current and former diplomats have testified before Congress in the House impeachment inquiry, Mike Pompeo has largely treated the spectacle on Capitol Hill as a solar eclipse, refusing to look directly at it. Two days after Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, told investigators under oath that he sent a cable to the secretary of state outlining his concerns about a quid pro quo involving military aid to Kiev, Pompeo was galavanting around his home state of Kansas for the fourth time this year to talk about “workforce development” with Ivanka Trump and certainly, he insisted, not laying the groundwork for a Senate bid in the Midwestern state.

Despite Pompeo’s protestations that he would not engage with the “noise” in Washington, a reference to the inquiry quickly engulfing him, diplomats saw it as an inevitability that he would eventually have to address the shadow diplomacy campaign Rudy Giuliani was running on his watch. And they certainly were not ignoring it. “I think his sycophancy is on collision course with his ambition,” a former State Department official told me Wednesday afternoon. “I guess we have to wait to see which one is stronger.”

Hours later, back-to-back interviews with two of the president’s favorite outlets, Fox News and the New York Post, laid bare Pompeo’s decision to toe the Trump line. Rather than defending the procession of diplomats who have appeared under subpoena before the House, Pompeo picked a different tack entirely and dipped his toe into the right wing fever swamp by floating a fresh conspiracy theory about Hunter Biden and the Obama administration’s policy toward Ukraine. “There is all this breathless discussion about this administration’s Ukraine policy,” Pompeo told the Post. “This is the administration that actually provided defensive weapons systems [to Ukraine]. I could not tell you why the Obama administration chose not to [arm Ukraine]. Was it because of Hunter Biden? I don’t know!” Without evidence, he echoed the same theory to Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, suggesting a strategy, not just a slipup. “And it begins,” a former ambassador texted me as Pompeo’s remarks began to circulate among diplomats Wednesday night.

That Pompeo chose to don a tinfoil hat as opposed to defending his subordinates is hardly shocking. He is a Benghazi mouth breather, after all. And the writing was really on the wall when the secretary largely turned a blind eye to the Giuliani-led smear campaign against former ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch, which Pompeo’s deputy John Sullivan confirmed under oath in a Senate confirmation on Wednesday. But beyond that, as a cockroach of the Trump administration, Pompeo’s fate is undeniably intertwined with Trump’s. His political ambition—widely believed to extend to the Oval Office—hinges on his relationship with Trump, and more acutely, the Trump base. “He’s made the Faustian bargain and understands the terms: As long as Trump’s in charge, the only thing that matters is hewing to the Trump view,” a former senior U.S. official told me. “This ‘America’s back, standing tall, and we’ve restored respect for America since Obama left’ is utter bullshit and Pompeo has to know this.” Full Story

The Republican Party must choose between Donald Trump and the party's fundamental values
Trump aims to discredit and delegitimize the impeachment process by turning it into a circus. But circuses need clowns. Is the GOP up for that?
By Charles Sykes - Opinion contributor

This is the stark political reality: on Thursday not a single House Republican voted for the resolution formalizing the inquiry into the impeachment of Donald Trump. Congressman Justin Amash, who left the GOP this year, reminded his colleagues that Trump will only be in power for a short time, “but excusing his misbehavior will forever tarnish your name.” He appealed to Republicans to step out of their media bubbles. “History will not look kindly on disingenuous, frivolous, and false defenses of this man.” When it came time to vote, not one Republican followed his advice.

The lockstep vote is a reminder of Donald Trump’s extraordinary hold over the GOP and the party’s cult-like unwillingness to break with Trump, despite the mounting evidence of his misconduct. To imagine now that Republicans will somehow show a flash of independence and conscience seems like the triumph of hope over experience.

Sticking by Trump

For the time being, Republicans have decided that sticking with Trump is the safe move, given his solid support among the base. But history’s verdict is unlikely to be kind, and what is about to happen is anything but safe. A party line vote to exonerate the president irretrievably bonds the GOP to Trump’s conduct, character and ethics,  and risks toxifying conservatism for a generation.

Republicans have already abandoned the notion that character matters, jettisoned fiscal conservativism and free markets, and accepted lying as simply the price of doing business with this president. They have watched as constitutional norms have been battered and the rule of law bent to partisan advantage. Time and again, they have convinced themselves that it was all worth it. But the stakes are about to rise dramatically. Full Story

Here's How Warren Finds $20.5 Trillion To Pay For 'Medicare For All'
Heard on All Things Considered
By Danielle Kurtzleben

Sen. Elizabeth Warren says paying for "Medicare for All" would require $20.5 trillion in new federal spending over a decade. That spending includes higher taxes on the wealthy, but no new taxes on the middle class. The Democratic presidential candidate released her plan to pay for Medicare for All on Friday after being dogged for months by questions of how she would finance such a sweeping overhaul of the health care system. That pressure has been intensified by the fact that Warren has made detailed proposals a central part of her brand as a candidate. Medicare for All is a single-payer health care proposal introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders and cosponsored by multiple candidates in the presidential race, including Warren. It would virtually eliminate private insurance, including employer-sponsored coverage.

It also represents a political risk, as multiple polls show that introducing a public option for health insurance coverage is more popular than a Medicare for All plan that almost entirely does away with private insurance. Here's a look at what Warren has laid out to provide single-payer health care, including proposals to cut costs, where new revenue would come from, where funds would not be taken from and what comes next.

How Warren wants to reduce spending

Warren bases her plan off of a recent analysis from the Urban Institute, which estimated that under current law, Americans would spend $52 trillion over the next decade on health care — that includes many types of spending, from employers, individuals and all levels of government. In that analysis, the Urban Institute calculated that under a single-payer plan that looks a lot like Medicare for All, costs would total $59 trillion over a decade, which would require $34 trillion in new federal spending.

Warren's plan estimates that total health costs could be held to $52 trillion and that $20.5 trillion in new federal spending would be necessary. Like Urban, Warren's plan assumes that Medicare for All would pay doctors what Medicare pays them right now. It would also pay hospitals 110 percent of what Medicare pays right now — slightly less than Urban's 115 percent assumption. This question — what to pay hospitals and doctors — is a big part of what determines how much Medicare for All would cost. That's because Medicare pays doctors and hospitals much less than private insurance. Full Story

"It's not like he paid taxes here anyway": Governor of New York reacts to Trump moving to Florida
By Caitlin O'Kane

Lifelong New Yorker Donald Trump has officially changed his primary residence from Trump Tower in Manhattan to Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York is one of the people who is glad to see the high-profile resident go. "Good riddance," Cuomo tweeted. "It's not like [Trump] paid taxes here anyway... He's all yours, Florida." Cuomo is a born-and-bred New Yorker whose father, Mario Cuomo, also served as governor. Though the governor is politically at odds with Mr. Trump, the two actually have something in common: they were both born in Queens.

   Good riddance.

   It’s not like @realDonaldTrump paid taxes here anyway...

   He’s all yours, Florida. https://t.co/9AX0q1aBkQ
   — Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) November 1, 2019


Rudy Giuliani pushes dual loyalty smear against decorated Iraq War hero Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: ‘I thought he worked for US’
By Dave Goldiner - New York Daily News

Hey Rudy, he’s a real American hero — and he’s from Brooklyn! Rudy Giuliani slammed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman as a traitor over reports that the White House official discussed the presidential lawyer’s activities with Ukrainian counterparts in their mother tongue. “(Vindman was) giving advice to two countries,” Giuliani tweeted. “I thought he worked for US.”

Schiff is thanking him for his secret testimony and for giving advice to two countries. I thought he worked for US. Schiff is using this to cover-up major Pay-for-Play Dem scandal. Ukraine corruption was not only one. Corrupt media is enabling this phony. The truth will emerge. https://t.co/co3SenQ07V
   — Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) October 31, 2019

Vindman, who was was born in Ukraine and came to Brighton Beach with his family as a toddler, is the White House’s top expert on Ukraine, so it’s not surprising that he interacted with Ukrainian counterparts in any language. Full Story

How the FBI tracked down 'the spy who couldn't spell'
By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, CNN

(CNN) - Before Edward Snowden's infamous data breach, the largest theft of government secrets was committed by a man whose intricate espionage scheme and coded messages were made even more complex by his dyslexia. His name was Brian Regan, and he would become known as "the spy who couldn't spell." Regan foreshadowed Snowden in exploiting digital access to defense secrets on a massive scale, devising a meticulous strategy to download, copy and bury hundreds of pages of classified documents. He deployed a multi-layered encryption system to mask his messages to foreign governments and the location of burial sites. Although he muddled the execution through a series of mistakes, Regan came dangerously close to succeeding. His heist revealed how vulnerable government secrets had become in the digital age.

Regan's plot might never have been uncovered but for an informant who passed on a series of coded letters to the FBI in the fall of 2000. Those letters sent FBI Special Agent Steven Carr on a hunt to identify the sender, and authorities eventually tracked down and arrested Regan two weeks before September 11, 2001. Carr would spend the next two years hunting down and retrieving the cache of stolen secrets that Regan hid. On the morning of December 4, 2000, FBI Special Agent Steven Carr hurried out of his cubicle at the bureau's Washington, D.C. field office and bounded down two flights of stairs to pick up a package that had just arrived by FedEX from FBI New York. Carr, 38, was thoughtful, intense and meticulous in his work. Because of his aptitude for deduction and his intellectual doggedness, he'd been assigned to counterintelligence within a year after coming to the FBI in 1995. In his time at the bureau -- all of it spent in the nation's capital -- he had played a supporting role in a series of high-profile espionage cases, helping to investigate spies such as Jim Nicholson, the flamboyant CIA agent who sold U.S. secrets to the Russians.

But like most agents starting out in their careers, Carr was keen to lead a high stakes investigation himself. That's why he had responded with such alacrity when his squad supervisor, Lydia Jechorek, had asked him to pick up the package that morning. "Whatever it is, it's yours," she had said.
Carr raced back to his desk and laid out the contents of the package: a sheaf of papers running into a few dozen pages. They were from three envelopes that had been handed to FBI New York by a confidential informant at the Libyan consulate. The envelopes had been individually mailed to the consulate by an unknown sender. Breathlessly, Carr thumbed through the sheets. In the first envelope was a four-page letter with 149 lines of typed text consisting of alphabets and numbers. The second envelope included instructions on how to decode the letter. The third envelope included two sets of code sheets: one that contained a list of ciphers, and another that listed dozens of words along with their encoded abbreviations, a system known as brevity codes. Together, the two sets were meant to serve as the key for decryption. Full Story

The 5 People Who Could Have Stopped Trump
Gambling regulators once contemplated yanking Trump’s casino licenses. Why they didn’t holds a lesson for lawmakers today.
By MICHAEL KRUSE

In the spring and summer of 1991, a handful of state watchdogs in Atlantic City, New Jersey, considered whether to put an end to Donald Trump. The members of the Casino Control Commission, in a series of hearings in the Arcade Building on the corner of Tennessee Avenue and Boardwalk, had to determine whether or not Trump was sufficiently “financially stable” to merit renewals of his licenses to own and operate his three casinos in the perpetually ground-down regional gaming capital. The stakes hardly could have been higher.

Trump was in his mid-40s and only four years earlier had published the pure brand boost of The Art of the Deal, but now he was in trouble. He needed the licenses to keep his casinos open to have any shot at staving off personal bankruptcy and potentially permanent reputational stain. No licenses would have meant no casinos would have meant less collateral for the banks as Trump tried to dig out from under billions of dollars of debt. And the regulators had overwhelming reason to question his financial stature and overall fitness to continue. In addition to Trump’s dismal individual straits, the cash flow at his debt-riddled casinos wasn’t enough to make them profitable as the industry sagged in the throes of a recession. Trump’s “financial viability,” Steven P. Perskie, the chairman of the commission, stated at a meeting in May, “is in serious peril.” He and his fellow commissioners had a choice to make: renew Trump’s licenses and hope his bottom line improved—or strip him of them and risk delivering a debilitating blow to Atlantic City’s wheezing economy.

Today, more than a generation later and a year out from the 2020 election, Trump in the White House is staring at a fundamentally similar scenario—the growing probability that his fate will be decided by a group of regulators, albeit of a different, more high-profile ilk but nonetheless obligated to determine whether he can remain in office long enough for voters to decide if he deserves a second term. Just as there are people who are empowered to stop him now—members of Congress, in particular Republicans—there were people who could have stopped him then. And didn’t.

What the casino commissioners—Perskie and vice chair Valerie H. Armstrong along with W. David Waters, James R. Hurley and Frank J. Dodd—opted for instead was a different form of oversight, enacting stricter monitoring, mandating a regimen of daily, weekly and monthly updates and reports from Trump and his upper-tier staff. Some of the commissioners, too, engaged in occasional harrumphing and finger-wagging, logging into the record words like “incomplete,” “confusing,” “disappointing” and “disheartening,” sounding at times like precursors to GOP lawmakers’ mostly toothless tsk-tsking toward Trump these last few years. In the end, though, worried about the prospect of shuttered casinos, thousands of jobs lost and general area economic disarray that might have rippled on account of his ousting, they essentially let him skate. “I move that the Commission find the Trump Organization financially stable,” Perskie said at a decisive meeting in late June. Full Story

The most important number from today's House impeachment vote
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) - The most important number coming out of the House vote Thursday to formalize the rules of the impeachment investigation is this one: 0. (Get it? One? Zero? Right? Right!) Zero is the number of House Republicans who voted for the formal rules. Not a single one. Which is, plainly put, a win for President Donald Trump, who lobbied hard to keep his party in line on a much-watched vote, where even a a half-dozen GOP rebels could have fundamentally altered the storyline of the day on impeachment.

Remember this: Republicans control 53 seats in the Senate. Even if the Democratic-led House impeaches Trump, he will not be removed until 67 senators vote to convict him. Which, by a bit of back-of-the-envelope math, means that 20 GOP senators would have to side with all 47 Democrats (and independents who caucus with Democrats) in the Senate for Trump to actually be removed. Full Story

California braces for another day of ‘critical fire weather’ as a new blaze rages
By Alex Horton and Andrew Freedman

Firefighters attacked blazes on multiple fronts into the predawn California morning, as meteorologists warned residents to brace for more of the dry winds that have whipped some wildfires into monster infernos. The Maria Fire ignited in the dry brush in Ventura County late Thursday afternoon and quickly consumed thousands of acres, illuminating the contours of South Mountain in a smoky orange glow by nightfall. The Storm Prediction Center warned of another day of “critical fire weather” in parts of Southern California, including Ventura County. The area remains under a “red flag” warning from the National Weather Service, which said a “long duration of single digit humidities will continue” near the Maria Fire through Friday afternoon. The Maria Fire’s size had grown to 8,000 acres by early morning, and officials ordered evacuations in an area that covers 7,000 people, the Los Angeles Times reported.

But the Ventura County Fire Department said it welcomed potentially colder temperatures and weaker winds compared to the past few days to blunt the fire’s rush down the dry slopes of South Mountain. “Ground and air resources are strategically attacking the perimeter,” the department said. Helicopter pilots donned night vision equipment to drop their payloads in darkness, but officials once again warned residents that flying drones could impede efforts after one of them briefly halted operations, KGET reported. Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, has been hit hard by wildfires this week. The Easy Fire in Simi Valley approached the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’s front door and prompted evacuations of thousands Wednesday before firefighters wrangled control, bringing it to 65 percent containment by Thursday evening. Full Story


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