September 18, 2018
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said on September 17 that he is willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to address the accusations of a woman who alleges that, when they both were teenagers, he sexually assaulted her at Georgetown Preparatory School in suburban Washington.
According to a report by The Hill, Kavanaugh in a new statement called the woman’s accusation—framed in a letter given to the FBI by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California)—a “completely false allegation
“I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said. “Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.”
The federal judge said he would speak to the Judiciary panel “in any way the committee deems appropriate” in order to “defend my integrity.”
Kavanaugh was spotted by television cameras walking to the White House shortly before his statement was released, The Hill reported, noting further, “
It is the latest sign the White House is digging in as his nomination has been thrown into turmoil.”
Initially reluctant to reveal her identity, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California, went public on September 16 with her accusation, because, she said, she believed it was her “civic responsibility.”.
She told The Washington Post that she thinks the alleged incident took place in 1982, when she was a 15-year-old sophomore at an all-girls school in suburban Maryland. Kavanaugh, who attended an all-boys school, would have been 17.
At an off-campus party, she encountered Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge—whom she said had been drinking earlier and were very drunk—when she went upstairs to use the bathroom after having one beer.
She said she was pushed into a bedroom and Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed and tried to remove her clothing, while both boys laughed “maniacally.”
When she tried to scream, she told the Post, Kavanaugh held a hand over her mouth. I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she told the Post. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
Eventually, Ford said, Judge jumped on top of them, and she managed to get free and lock herself in a bathroom. After she heard the boys “going down the stairs, hitting the walls,” she told the news outlet, she made it downstairs and out the door, but doesn’t remember how she got home.
Ford’s attorney said on September 17 that her client is also willing to testify publicly about the charges.
“She is. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth, yes,” Debra Katz, who is representing Ford, said on NBC’s Today show.
Despite denials from Kavanaugh and the White House, several senators have voiced concerns about moving ahead with the nomination before hearing from Ford, The Hill reported.
No polls on the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination have been released since news of the letter’s contents was reported over the weekend.
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September 17, 2018
Paul Manafort—who held out far longer than most Trump confidantes who’d been caught in the high beams of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation—flipped on Friday, September 14.
The POTUS’s former campaign chairman pleaded guilty on Friday to two counts and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann called Manafort’s plea deal a cooperation agreement during an 11 a.m. hearing at the federal courthouse in Washington, NBC News reported.
A charging document filed Friday in the District of Columbia accuses Manafort, 69, of participating in a conspiracy against the United States—involving, the network news outlet said, money laundering, tax fraud, failing to file Foreign Bank Account Reports, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and lying and misrepresenting to the Department of Justice.
The second charge, conspiracy to obstruct justice, is tied to his efforts to guide witness testimony after he was indicted last year.
President Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had dangled a pardon for Manafort, provided that he remained “loyal” to the administration. In August, Trump praised Manafort for having “refused to break” in order to get a deal, and said he had “such respect for a brave man.”
Reacting to Friday’s guilty plea, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”
Giuliani commented, as he has for weeks, … “The President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”
Giuliani later amended the statement to omit “and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”
Earlier this week, NBC News said, Giuliani told reporters that Manafort and President Trump had a joint defense agreement, meaning defense attorneys for the two men were sharing confidential information. He said he was unconcerned about a potential plea because Manafort had nothing damaging to say about Trump.
As part of the plea, Manafort will be required to admit to the conduct outlined in the charging document, which describes a criminal scheme to launder money, defraud banks, evade taxes and violate lobbying laws. The document describes the conduct Manafort was charged with in both Virginia and Washington and additional criminal conduct.
With his guilty plea, the network’s report said, Manafort will forfeit three properties in New York—his home in the Hamptons, a property in Manhattan on Howard Street, and a property in Brooklyn—as well as a property on Edgewood Street in Arlington, Virginia, according to the filing.
In addition, Manafort forfeits all funds contained in four bank accounts, as well as a life insurance policy.
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September 14, 2018
Build the wall! Build the wall! That was the rallying cry from Trump’s base throughout his presidential campaign. After which the candidate would lead the chant, “Who’s gonna pay for it? Mexico.”
In a recent notice sent to Congress, the administration said it intended to take $20 million in foreign assistance funds and use it to help Mexico pay plane and bus fare to deport as many as 17,000 people who are in that country illegally, The New York Times reported on September 12.
According to the news outlet, the funding will help the POTUS to increase deportations of Central Americans, many of whom pass through Mexico to get to the American border.
In addition, in an effort to hype the plan to his nationwide base, the president has said that “any unauthorized immigrant in Mexico who is a known or suspected terrorist” will also be deported under the program, according to the notification, although such people are few in number.
Katie Waldman, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, told the Times that the program was intended to help relieve immigration flows at the United States border with Mexico.
“We are working closely with our Mexican counterparts to confront rising border apprehension numbers—specifically, a 38% increase in families this month alone—directly and to ensure that those with legitimate claims have access to appropriate protections,” Waldman said.
A spokesperson for the Mexican Embassy did not immediately respond to the news outlet’s request for comment.
Following the disclosure on September 13 that FEMA funds needed for hurricane recovery had been redirected to ICE for expansion of its detention center program, the plan to redirect foreign assistance funds becomes another example of the ways in which the administration is diverting money to serve its own priorities.
The administration has yet to spend nearly $3 billion in foreign aid, according to the Times—money allocated last year by Congress with broad bipartisan support. Hundreds of millions of dollars meant to help stabilize Syria and support Palestinian schools and hospitals already has been redirected.
The money will be transferred from the State Department to the Department of Homeland Security, and then sent to Mexico.
“Congress intended for this money to lift up communities dealing with crime, corruption and so many other challenges, not to expand this administration’s deportation crusade,” Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Times. “I want answers about why the State Department thinks it can ignore Congress and dump more cash into deportation efforts. Until then, I’ll do whatever I can to stop this.”
Under the program, Mexico would be responsible for detaining and providing judicial review of immigrants before deporting them. The sometimes cumbersome and lengthy legal process in the United States to deport asylum seekers has long frustrated President Trump, who has often said the laws must be changed to speed deportations. Getting Mexico to do deportations instead would bypass that process.
“We shouldn’t be paying another country to do our dirty work; we should actually be fixing our immigration system and helping these countries get back on solid footing,” said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “It smacks of desperation.”
Meanwhile, population levels at federally contracted shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times, reaching a total of 12,800 this month. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May 2017.
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September 13, 2018
Just as political pundits are predicting that the president’s response to Hurricane Florence—forecast to be the strongest storm “in decades”—will either make or break the GOP’s chances in the midterm elections, disturbing news has been released by The New York Times.
In a September 12 report, the Times reveals that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) transferred nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a budget document released by a Democratic senator on September 11—diverting funds from the relief agency at the start of the hurricane season that began in June. The story hits comes even as Florence barrels toward the East Coast.
The document, which was released by the office of Senator Jeff Merkley, of Oregon, shows that the money would come from FEMA’s operations and support budget and be transferred into accounts at ICE to pay for detention and removal operations. The document also shows that the Department of Homeland Security transferred money from accounts at Customs and Border Protection that pays for border fencing and technology.
Merkley, appearing Tuesday night on MSNBC’S The Rachel Maddow Show, said the Trump administration was taking money from FEMA’S “response and recovery” and “working hard to find funds for additional detention camps.” The senator has been a vocal critic of the administration’s immigration policies.
The document casts doubt on DHS’s denials that such a transfer occurred. “Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from @fema to immigration enforcement efforts,” Tyler Q. Houlton, an agency spokesperson, said on Twitter. “This is a sorry attempt to push a false agenda at a time when the administration is focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.”
Holton added that money transferred from FEMA could not have been used to pay for hurricane relief efforts because of “appropriation limitations.”
“DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs,” he said.
The release of the budget documents showing the money transfers between FEMA and ICE came after President Trump in an interview called last year’s hurricane response efforts by FEMA in Puerto Rico an “unsung success”
“The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous,” Trump told the media.
In an early Wednesday morning Twitter post, the POTUS doubled down on the agency’s performance and got a jab in at San Juan officials: “We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!”
New data show that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and many people continue to live without power on the island. An after-action report by FEMA released in July found that they agency vastly underestimated how much food and fresh water it would need, the Times said—as well as how hard it would be to get additional supplies to the island.
Research contact: @nytimes
September 12, 2018
In a new, 30-second campaign ad, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) literally takes out a rifle and shoots a document representing the Republican-led lawsuit that could end a key and very popular Affordable Care Act provision. The ad takes direct aim against the GOP effort to invalidate Obamacare’s insurance protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, the Huffington Post reported on September 10.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, Manchin’s Republican challenger in the midterm election, is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that would allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people with various pre-existing conditions.
In a state where polls show approval of President Donald Trump is among the highest in the country, Manchin is making healthcare the central focus of his re-election bid, the Huffington Post noted.
And it’s not hard to see why: West Virginia has the highest share of adults with pre-existing conditions of any state.
The Obamacare protections are “the difference between life and death for the 800,000 West Virginians with a pre-existing condition. I will continue doing everything in my power to protect their access to affordable health care,” Manchin said at a Pre-Existing Conditions Forum in Huntington, West Virginia,
Last week, attorneys representing 20 Republican state officials walked into a Texas courtroom and ask a federal judge to invalidate all or parts of Obamacare.
District Judge Reed O’Connor for the Northern District of Texas appeared sympathetic to their case in oral arguments, but he did not immediately rule on the lawsuit’s motion for an injunction against the law.
If it succeeds, experts say it will unleash chaos on the health insurance markets, the news outlet reports, and, eventually, leave an estimated 17 million Americans without coverage.
The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, released on September 5, finds recent political events weighing heavy on the minds of voters when it comes to the 2018 midterm elections. Kaiser Family Foundation polling continues to find pre-existing conditions as a widespread concern and with the impending lawsuit Texas v. United States, a majority of the public say it is “very important” that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) protections for people with pre-existing conditions ensuring guaranteed coverage (75%) and community rating (72%) remain law.
About half (52%) of the public are “very worried” that they or someone in their family will have to pay more for health insurance and four in ten (41%) are “very worried” they will lose their coverage if the Supreme Court overturns these protections.
Research contact: @KaiserFamFound
September 11, 2018
Speaking on CBS-TV’s Face the Nation political talk show on September 9, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said he would sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, if asked.
“I would. I would be more than willing to continue to provide any and all support in that,” Pence said during one segment of the show. And we have outside counsel that will advise me accordingly.”
Mueller and his team are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and are probing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. On Sunday, Pence told Magaret Brennan during an exclusive interview at the White House that Mueller’s team hasn’t broached the topic of an interview.
“He has not” asked for an interview, Pence said. “Although we’ve provided any and all information, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Mueller has been haggling with President Donald Trump’s legal team over an interview—in-person and/or in writing.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, said last week that the two sides remain at odds over the subject of the interrogation—specifically, whether prosecutors could ask questions about obstruction of justice—as well as the way in which it would be conducted.
Trump has confirmed that “he’s open” to an interview—under the right conditions. What those conditions would be is unclear, as the president’s team seems to be “moving the goalposts,” depending on the ask from the Mueller probe.
And while Trump has publicly disparaged the Russia probe as a “witch hunt” meant to undermine him, Pence said Sunday the investigation isn’t a “focus” for him or the president.
“It’s just not been my focus, and it’s not the president’s focus,” Pence said, in his ongoing function as obfuscator-in-chief.
“I mean,” the vice president said, “the reason why we’re making the progress that we’re making all across this country, rebuilding our military, restoring America’s strength in the world, seeing the opportunity for peace emerge on the Korean Peninsula.”
As of June 10, President Trump’s approval rating was posted on the Gallup Poll as 40%; with disapproval up to 54%.
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September 10, 2018
Former President Barack Obama has delivered two major speeches since the start of September—one at Senator John McCain’s funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on September 1 and another at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on September 7—a sure sign that the crucial midterm elections are approaching.
The occasion for the latest speech was the presentation to the 44th president of the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government by the university in acknowledgement of his belief in the principles of equality and decency over division.
I’m here today,” he said on Friday, “because this is one of those pivotal moments when every one of us as citizens of the United States need to determine just who we are, what it is that we stand for. As a fellow citizen, not as an ex-president, I’m here to deliver a simple message, which is that you need to vote, because our democracy depends on it.”
Obama characterized the upcoming election as the most significant in American history. “Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different,” he noted. “The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”
And, according to a September 7 report by Politico, for the first time since leaving office, he said Trump’s name. “It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom [of our tribal divisions], not the cause,” Obama said, to applause. “He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.”
He laid a great deal of the blame for the country’s climate of contention on U.S. legislators. “It’s not just about Trump, he said. It’s about Republicans “who know better in Congress … bending over backwards to shield” Trump. They’re hypocrites, he said, and they’re just as dangerous to America. At times mocking them and at times laying into them, Obama said they’ve abandoned all that they’re supposed to stand for as Republicans, and as citizens of this country, Politico reported.
“None of this is conservative. I don’t mean to pretend I’m channeling Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I don’t think, when he formed the Republican Party. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says our protection of our power is all that matters,” Obama said.
What’s more, Obama said, no American should feel good about the idea, expressed in the anonymous New York Times op-ed on September 6, that there are adults in the room managing Trump.
“That is not a check. That’s not how our democracy’s supposed to work. These people aren’t elected,” he said. “They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90% of the crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House, and saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’re preventing the other 10%.’”
He ended by imploring the public to do the right thing: “Even if you don’t agree with me or Democrats on policy, even if you agree with more libertarian economic views, even if you are an evangelical and the position on social issues is a bridge too far,” Obama said. “I’m here to tell you that you should still be concerned and should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government. It should not be Democratic or Republican. It should not be partisan to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.”
“We are Americans,” Obama said.
At press time, Trump’s favorability polls remained stable. Gallup reported that 41% of Americans approved of the president’s job performance and 53% disapproved.
Research contact: @IsaacDovere
September 7, 2018
As White House Staff Secretary during the administration of President George W. Bush, Brett Kavanaugh reviewed “literally every [policy] document that went to the Oval Office,” according to then-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who described the current SCOTUS nominee’s role at the time as “central” to Newsweek in July.
Bush also nominated Kavanaugh for the position of judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—a role he has played since 2006.
Now, it has come out that, during Bush’s term in office, Kavanaugh questioned the accuracy of deeming the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision to be “settled law of the land,” according to a secret email obtained by The New York Times and posted on its site on September 6.
The email, written in March 2003, is one of thousands of documents that a lawyer for President George W. Bush turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Supreme Court nominee, but deemed “committee confidential”—meaning that it could not be made public or discussed by Democrats in questioning him in hearings this week.
However, it was among several communications leaked to the Times late on September 5.
According to that news outlet, Judge Kavanaugh was considering a draft opinion piece that supporters of one of Bush’s conservative appeals court nominees hoped they could persuade anti-abortion women to submit under their names. It stated that “it is widely accepted by legal scholars across the board that Roe v. Wade and its progeny are the settled law of the land.”
However, Judge Kavanaugh proposed deleting that line, writing: “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.”
He was presumably referring to then-Justices William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia, along with Justice Clarence Thomas, conservatives who had dissented in a 1992 case that reaffirmed Roe, Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
The court now has four conservative justices who may be willing to overturn Roe—Justices Thomas and John C. Roberts Jr., Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — and if he is confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh could provide the decisive fifth vote.
Still, the Times noted, his email stops short of saying whether he personally believed that the abortion rights precedent should be considered a settled legal issue.
Democrats have complained about relying on the advice of Bush’s lawyer rather than the National Archives to decide what to provide to the Senate, as one part of a larger faceoff over how many documents from Kavanaugh’s stint in the Bush administration the Senate and public should be able to vet before his confirmation vote.
Other leaked materials provided to The Times included a document showing that in September 2001, after the terrorist attacks, Judge Kavanaugh engaged with a Justice Department lawyer about questions of warrantless surveillance—even before the Bush administration began its warrantless surveillance program.
And in yet another, Kavanaugh disparage Department of Transportation affirmative action regulations, writing: “The fundamental problem in this case is that these DOT regulations use a lot of legalisms and disguises to mask what is a naked racial set-aside,” he wrote, adding that he thought the court’s four conservative justices at the time would probably “realize as much in short order and rule accordingly.”
What’s more, on September 6, other potentially compromising emails were released by Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), who posted a series of emails about racial issues that included the affirmative action-related email obtained by The Times.
Meanwhile, In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Tuesday morning, Americans were split on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court— coming in at the the lowest support levels for a high court nominee in polling back to 1987. Thirty-eight percent of Americans say Kavanaugh should be confirmed, 39% not, with the rest undecided in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Only two nominees have had weaker public support: Harriet Miers, who withdrew her nomination, in 2005; and Robert Bork, rejected by the Senate in 1987.
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September 6, 2018
On September 4, Ayanna Pressley joined the cadre of progressive Democratic women who are winning over voters nationwide. The first African-American woman elected to the Boston City Council in 2009, Pressley now has made history again—defeating Representative Michael Capuano (D-7th District), a ten-term incumbent heavily backed by the political establishment.
According to a September 4 report by Michael Levenson of The Boston Globe,with no Republican in the race, Pressley, 44, is poised to become the first woman of color from Massachusetts to serve in the U.S. House, in a storied district that, although reconfigured, was once represented by John F. Kennedy and the legendary Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.
Pressley’s victory over Capuano, a 66-year-old down-the-line liberal first elected to Congress in 1998, “represents a generational, gender, and racial shift in Boston politics, and an upending of the wait-your-turn ethos that has pervaded the Democratic Party locally and statewide,” Levenson said.
Pressley won with an unofficial 63.8% of the votes. However, Capuano saw the loss coming—and reportedly capitulated with barely 13% of the votes counted. In conceding the election, the long-time politician said, ““I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but this is life, and this is OK. America is going to be OK. Ayanna Pressley is going to be a good congresswoman and Massachusetts will be well-served.”
A now-viral video captured Pressley’s emotional reaction to the news that she had won.
“It’s a new day,” Alfreda Harris, a veteran African-American activist and former Boston School Committee member from Roxbury, told the Globe. “Younger people are getting involved in politics, and, particularly, black women. It’s good for the country and it’s good for the state of Massachusetts.”
While Pressley and Capuano had agreed on most issues, she argued that it was “not a profile in courage” to have a progressive record in a deep-blue district. She vowed to bring “activist leadership” that reflected the take-it-to-the-streets mood of voters who are marching for gun control, immigrant rights, and women’s rights in the Trump era.
With her refrain, “The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power,” she evoked the #MeToo movement and cemented her case with the voters.
Despite broad support from major political figures, Capuano was unable to secure endorsements from the state’s two US senators, Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, who remained publicly neutral. Attorney General Maura T. Healey backed Pressley.
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