Barr balks, as Trump declares himself America’s ‘chief law enforcement officer’

February 20, 2020

During his Senate impeachment trial, Democrats repeatedly asserted that President Donald Trump was and is “not above the law.” But since his acquittal by the upper chamber two weeks ago, the president has taken a series of steps aimed at showing that he is “large and in charge.”

On Tuesday, February 18, Trump granted clemency to a clutch of political allies, The Washington Post reported—thereby, circumventing the usual Justice Department process.

The pardons and commutations followed Trump’s moves to punish witnesses in his impeachment trial, publicly intervene in a pending legal case to urge leniency for his friend Roger Stoneattack a federal judge officiating on that case, accuse a juror of bias, and threaten to sue his own government for investigating him.

According to the Post, Trump defended his actions, saying he has the right to shape the country’s legal systems as he sees fit. “I’m allowed to be totally involved,” he told reporters as he left Washington on Tuesday for a trip that would touch down in California, Nevada, and Arizona. “I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I’ve chosen not to be involved.”

However, the nation’s actual top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Bill Barr, isn’t having any of that—even if he has aligned himself closely with the president and skirted both the legal code and the Constitution to support the POTUS.

Indeed, the president’s post-impeachment behavior—and constant tweets referring to the adjudication of cases—has so alarmed Barr, The Washington Post was first to report, that he told people close to the president that he is willing to quit unless Trump stops publicly commenting on ongoing criminal matters.

It also has appalled several legal experts and former officials, who have said his direct intervention in legal matters risks further politicizing law enforcement at a time of fraying confidence in the Justice Department.

At this point, over 2,000 former Justice Department employees  have signed a public letter this week urging Barr to resign. The head of the Federal Judges Association also has called an emergency meeting to address growing concerns about political interference in the Stone case.

onvicted Stone last year of lying to Congress and obstruction in a case that Trump has repeatedly condemned as unfair, while leaving open the prospect of issuing a pardon for his friend and political ally.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

He’s in: Bloomberg qualifies for Las Vegas debate

February 19, 2020

Former New York City three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg  has qualified for Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas—marking the first time that the big-spending billionaire will appear onstage alongside his Democratic presidential rivals.

And those rivals are certain to pile on him when they get the opportunity—defending their own hard-won positions in the 2020 race.

new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. released on February 18, found that Bloomberg had garnered 19% support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents, ; putting him in second place behind Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, with 31%. That was a substantial surge since the group’s poll in December, when Mr. Bloomberg received only 4% support, The New York Times noted.

The survey was the fourth national qualifying poll since mid-January that showed Bloomberg with at least 10%t support—enough to earn him an invitation to the debate stage before the deadline of 11:59 p.m. (ET) on February 18.

Onstage, Bloomberg will face off against Sanders; Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; former Vice President Joe Biden.; and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the Times reported.  The debate will be hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Telemundo, and The Nevada Independent.

In the new poll, Biden drew 15% of potential voters; Warren, 12%; Klobuchar, 9%; and Buttigieg, 8%. The poll surveyed 527 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents by phone between February 13 and February16; and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5  percentage points.

Bloomberg formally entered the race in November, nearly a year after most of the other candidates. He failed to make the cut for the past several debates in part because he is not accepting outside contributions for his campaign, the Times reported.

But new rules announced by the Democratic National Committee opened the door to his participation, as they enabled candidates to qualify for the Las Vegas debate, as well as the one that will take place on February 25 in Charleston, South Carolina, without meeting a donor threshold.

Tom Steyer, the other billionaire seeking the Democratic nomination, has participated in the five most recent debates, but he is unlikely to be onstage in Las Vegas. He would need to receive 10% support in four national qualifying polls, or 12% in two polls taken in Nevada or South Carolina, before the deadline.

Research contact: @nytimespolitics

In open letter, 1,000 DOJ alumni condemn abuse of power and call for AG Barr to step down

February 18, 2020

More than 1,100 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials called on Attorney General Bill Barr on Sunday, February 16, to step down after he intervened last week to reduce the prosecution’s sentencing recommendation for President Donald Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone.

They also urged current government employees to report any signs of unethical behavior at the Justice Department to the agency’s inspector general and to Congress.

The statement was prompted by the attorney general’s decision to overrule his own prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations for Stone after the president complained they were too harsh. The full text of the letter, distributed by the nonprofit organization Protect Democracy, reads as follows:

We, the undersigned, are alumni of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) who have collectively served both Republican and Democratic administrations. Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice.

As former DOJ officials, we each proudly took an oath to support and defend our Constitution and faithfully execute the duties of our offices. The very first of these duties is to apply the law equally to all Americans. This obligation flows directly from the Constitution, and it is embedded in countless rules and laws governing the conduct of DOJ lawyers. The Justice Manual — the DOJ’s rulebook for its lawyers — states that “the rule of law depends on the evenhanded administration of justice”; that the Department’s legal decisions “must be impartial and insulated from political influence”; and that the Department’s prosecutorial powers, in particular, must be “exercised free from partisan consideration.”

All DOJ lawyers are well-versed in these rules, regulations, and constitutional commands. They stand for the proposition that political interference in the conduct of a criminal prosecution is anathema to the Department’s core mission and to its sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law.

And yet, President Trump and Attorney General Barr have openly and repeatedly flouted this fundamental principle, most recently in connection with the sentencing of President Trump’s close associate, Roger Stone, who was convicted of serious crimes. The Department has a long-standing practice in which political appointees set broad policies that line prosecutors apply to individual cases. That practice exists to animate the constitutional principles regarding the even-handed application of the law. Although there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions, it is unheard of for the Department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the President, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case. It is even more outrageous for the Attorney General to intervene as he did here — after the President publicly condemned the sentencing recommendation that line prosecutors had already filed in court.

Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice. In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.

We welcome Attorney General Barr’s belated acknowledgment that the DOJ’s law enforcement decisions must be independent of politics; that it is wrong for the President to interfere in specific enforcement matters, either to punish his opponents or to help his friends; and that the President’s public comments on DOJ matters have gravely damaged the Department’s credibility. But Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice’s reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign. But because we have little expectation he will do so, it falls to the Department’s career officials to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend nonpartisan, apolitical justice.

For these reasons, we support and commend the four career prosecutors who upheld their oaths and stood up for the Department’s independence by withdrawing from the Stone case and/or resigning from the Department. Our simple message to them is that we — and millions of other Americans — stand with them. And we call on every DOJ employee to follow their heroic example and be prepared to report future abuses to the Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and Congress; to refuse to carry out directives that are inconsistent with their oaths of office; to withdraw from cases that involve such directives or other misconduct; and, if necessary, to resign and report publicly — in a manner consistent with professional ethics — to the American people the reasons for their resignation. We likewise call on the other branches of government to protect from retaliation those employees who uphold their oaths in the face of unlawful directives. The rule of law and the survival of our Republic demand nothing less.

If you are a former DOJ employee and would like to add your name, click here. Protect Democracy will update this list daily with new signatories.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Justice Department said the case had not been discussed with anyone at the White House, but that Trump congratulated Barr on his decision did little to dispel the perception of political influence.

 

Research contact: @ProOurDemocracy

Nevada Poll: Sanders has ‘clear lead’ as state prepares for early voting in presidential caucuses

February 17, 2020

Fully 59% of likely Nevada voters are very motivated to choose the next president: They said they plan to vote early—Saturday, February 15, through Tuesday, February 18—while 31% said they would make their choices on caucus day, according to results of a new Nevada Poll from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

And those early balloters know whom their choice will be: The referendum found that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has the numbers he needs to lead the pack.

Indeed, the poll—produced in partnership with AARP Nevada and conducted by WPA Intelligence—showed Sanders with a “clear lead” over former Vice President Joe Biden, who placed second (25% to 18%) among registered, participating voters.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) came in third in the poll (with 13%) and Tom Steyer placed fourth (with support from 11%).

Two of the leaders who emerged out of New Hampshire—Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota)—did not show comparable strength in the polls leading up to the Nevada caucus.

Additionally, the Review-Journal/AARP Nevada poll found that 76% of Nevada Democrats have confidence that their votes will be counted accurately in the state’s caucuses, which will be held on Saturday, February 22. Nevada’s caucuses come in the wake of problems with Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, where results were delayed by problems with an app. Nevada Democrats had planned to use similar apps in their caucuses, but those plans were abandoned after the problems in Iowa. Just 21% of Nevada Democrats said they do not have confidence that their votes will be counted accurately.

Despite that confidence in the caucus process, registered Democrats support a change in the way Nevadans nominate major-party presidential candidates. In this poll, 67% of registered Nevada voters support changing from a caucus to a secret-ballot presidential primary, while 23% do not support the change, according to the poll.

Research contact: @reviewjournal

All four Roger Stone prosecutors resign from case after ‘Scofflaw AG’ pushes for shorter sentence

February 13, 2020

Attorney General Bill Barr has become the nation’s leading scofflaw, as he continues to put the president and his henchmen ahead of his own Constitutional duties.

Indeed, the entire team prosecuting Roger Stone abruptly resigned from the criminal case on Tuesday, February 12, NBC News reports, after the Justice Department announced that the recommended sentence for Stone, a longtime Trump associate, would be reduced.

The request for a shorter sentence for Stone than the recommended term of seven to nine years in prison came after President Donald Trump blasted the sentencing proposal as “a miscarriage of justice.”

The revised recommendation doesn’t ask for a particular sentence but says the one that was recommended earlier “does not accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in this matter” and that the actual sentence should be “far less.”

It urges the judge in the case, Amy Berman Jackson, to consider Stone’s “advanced age, health, personal circumstances, and lack of criminal history in fashioning an appropriate sentence,” the network news outlet notes.

“The defendant committed serious offenses and deserves a sentence of incarceration,” but based “on the facts known to the government, a sentence of between 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment, however, could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances. Ultimately, the government defers to the Court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case,” the filing said.

After reports that a softer sentencing recommendation was imminent, lead prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky withdrew as a prosecutor in the case. A footnote in his court filing noted that “the undersigned attorney had resigned effective immediately.”

Zelinsky, who was a part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian election interference, is not resigning from the Justice Department but is leaving the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office and returning to his old job with the U.S. attorney in Maryland.

Another prosecutor, Jonathan Kravis, also resigned—both from the case and as an assistant U.S. attorney. Kravis on Tuesday filed a notice with the judge saying he “no longer represents the government in this matter.” The other two prosecutors, Adam Jed and Michael Marando, also withdrew from the case, NBC News reporrted.

Trump in a tweet earlier Tuesday called the department’s initial sentencing proposal “disgraceful!

“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” the president wrote in a follow-up post on Twitter. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Top Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec told NBC News that the decision to reverse course on the sentencing recommendation was made prior to Trump’s almost 2 a.m. tweet.

The president told reporters in the Oval Office later Tuesday that he did not speak to DOJ about Stone’s sentencing. “I’d be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe,” he said, before adding that he “thought the recommendation was ridiculous. I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous.”

“I thought it was an insult to our country and it shouldn’t happen,” Trump said. “These are the same Mueller people who put everybody through hell and I think it’s a disgrace.”

In another tweet, the president suggested that the prosecutors had abused their authority. “Prosecutorial Misconduct?” he wrote in response to a tweet suggesting a pardon for Stone.

In response, NBC News reported, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York)  called on the Justice Department Inspector General to “open an investigation immediately.”

“The president seems to think the entire Justice Department is just his personal lawsuit to prosecute his enemies and help his friends. Rule of law in this grand tradition in this wonderful Justice Department is just being totally perverted to Donald Trump’s own personal desires and needs and it’s a disgrace,” Schumer told reporters in Washington. “Roger Stone should get the full amount of time the prosecutors recommended and we’re going to do some oversight of that.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Bloomberg wins Dixville Notch vote as New Hampshire goes to polls in primary

February 12, 2020

Just after midnight in the tiny city of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire—a township located close to the Canadian border with a population of 12, as of the 2010 Census—Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg scored a big win by garnering just three votes out of the total five ballots cast by residents.

That’s a big deal in Dixville Notch, which started voting at midnight in the 1960s—and 70 years later, still retains the title of the first town to count its votes in the nation’s first primary election, The New York Daily News reports..

Of the other candidates on the ballot, Joe Biden got one vote and Bernie Sanders scooped another. No one voted for President Donald Trump, although the state’s open primary system means voters can choose which party contest to vote in.

“I believe Mike Bloomberg can win the presidency in November and get things done in a way I feel good about,” a resident told the Daily News after casting his ballot for Bloomberg. He said he had never voted for a Democrat before.

Indeed, this is the first time in recent memory that all the votes in Dixville Notch were cast for candidates from one party.

Bloomberg is not on the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballot because he entered the race too late to file for it. All three votes for him were write-ins, and his campaign is not anticipating any significant number of votes statewide.

According to the Daily News, the tiny community has a less-than-stellar record of predicting the outcome of the primary. Hillary Clinton won with four votes in 2016 but went on to get demolished by Bernie Sanders. In 2012, President Barack Obama tied Mitt Romney with five votes each.

Research contact: @NYDailyNews

Editor’s note:  Bernie Sanders took the lead in New Hampshire, with 25.7% of the vote (71,090 votes); Pete Buttigieg came in second with 24.4% (57,706); and in a surprising show of strength, Amy Klobuchar placed third, with 19.8% (57,706 votes) with nearly 96% of the votes counted.

Biden says Buttigieg is ‘No Barack Obama,’ to which Mayor Pete responds ‘Neither are you.’

February 11, 2020

The battle for the nomination is getting more bitter: Days ahead of the New Hampshire primary, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ramped up his attacks on former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg—calculatedly stating that the surging presidential hopeful “is no Barack Obama,” according to a report by The Daily Beast.

Buttigieg, meanwhile, responded in kind on Sunday, sniping back that Obama’s former veep also was not on the 44th president’s level.

In the wake of his weak fourth-place finish in Iowa, Biden has noticeably taken aim at Buttigieg, who is surging in New Hampshire following his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses. This includes a recent campaign ad slamming Buttigieg’s relative lack of experience while touting Biden’s decades of political accomplishments.

Shortly after Friday night’s New Hampshire debate, in which Biden took shots at Buttigieg for complaining about the “politics of the past,” the ex-veep seemed to take issue with the 38-year-old ex-mayor attempting to compare himself to Obama (something that NBC-TV’s Saturday Night Live brutally mocked Buttigieg for over this weekend, the Daily Beast said.)

“I think, you know, being a mayor of a town smaller than Manchester is not quite like being a United States senator from the state of Illinois—even though it was only for a short amount of time,” Biden told ABC on Friday evening, following the debate. “Barack’s experience was much wider as well …. I know Barack Obama, he’s [Pete’s] no Barack Obama. He’s a rare breed, Barack Obama.”

In making that statement, Biden echoed a comment made by Senator Lloyd Benson after Republican vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle referred to the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, during the 1998 debates. “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine and you’re no Jack Kennedy,” Benson retorted, flattening his opponent.

During an interview with ABC-TV’s This Weekthat aired on Sunday morning, Biden continued to take it to Buttigieg, insisting that he wasn’t ready to be president. Host George Stephanopoulos, meanwhile, noted that Biden said the same thing about Obama in 2007 when they were both running for president while questioning his attacks on Buttigieg.

“I didn’t attack Pete,” Biden contended. “He’s been attacking me. I think he has completely misunderstood or misrepresented my record. I’ve done great deal. I have gotten a lot done both as a senator and as vice president. He speaks about being ready. We bailed out his city.”

Asked why he thinks nominating Buttigieg would be a risk, Biden credited the former mayor for being a “smart guy” but added that he has merely been the mayor of a small city.

“Does he know any of the foreign leaders?” Biden wondered aloud. “Barack Obama was a different story. Barack Obama came from a large state, a United States senator, he ran before, he’s been involved in international— he had a clear vision of what he thought the world should look like and so on.”

In a subsequent interview with This Week, Buttigieg fired back while taking some digs at Biden.”He’s right, I’m not Barack Obama, and neither is he. Neither is anyone running for president right now. And this isn’t 2008, it’s 2020.”

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Buttigieg to ‘re-Pete’ Iowa surge in New Hampshire primary?

February 10, 2020

Building on his strong showing in Iowa, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has continued his surge among likely Democratic New Hampshire presidential primary voters—putting him in a statistical dead heat against Senator Bernie Sanders, based on results of a Boston Globe/WBZ-TV/Suffolk University poll released on Thursday night.

Former vice president Joe Biden—whose campaign suffered a self-described “gut punch” from a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Hawkeye State—saw another modest dip in his numbers in the latest canvassing.

That put him in fourth place behind Senator Elizabeth Warren in Thursday’s poll, the fourth of seven that the Suffolk University Political Research Center is conducting in the run-up to the nation’s first primary New Hampshire on Tuesday.

Specifically, the Globe reported, Sanders held steady at 24%; with Buttigieg close at his heels at 23%. Biden slipped to 11%, below Warren’s 13%.

 “It looks like Buttigieg’s momentum is continuing, and he’s really going at the heart of Biden’s strength, which is older voters,” David Paleologos, director of Suffolk’s Political Research Center told the news outlet.

In Thursday’s poll, which had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points, Buttigieg was at 32% among voters over age 65, Paleologos said, while Biden had dropped to just 15%, and Sanders to 14%.

But the 78-year-old Vermont senator continued to outperform the 38-year-old former Indiana mayor among younger voters—with Sanders garnering 43% among those ages 18 to 35, the Globe said, compared to just 14% for Buttigieg.

If the current trends continue, Paleologos said, Buttigieg could become the candidate to beat in New Hampshire, but a lot can still happen before Tuesday—including a televised Democratic debate Friday night that could shift everyone’s numbers again.

Research contact: @BostonGlobe

Pelosi literally rips into Trump’s SOTU address

February 6, 2020

For 80 minutes on February 4, President Donald Trump delivered a State of the Union address that featured a “highlight reel of his presidency,” with a few reality show twists thrown in—including awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh; and introducing a Kansas-born toddler and her mother as the faces of his anti-abortion campaign.

The pageantry enthralled Republicans, who lavished Trump with praise; and disgusted most Democrats, who hissed and booed, later calling Trump’s speech a disgrace, according to a report by Politico.

Indeed, the political news outlet revealed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped into President Donald Trump in a private meeting with Democrats the next day.

Addressing her caucus Wednesday morning, said she felt “liberated” after defiantly ripping up Trump’s speech for the world to see, tearing up each page as she stood behind the president after he concluded his annual address.

 “He shredded the truth, so I shredded his speech,” Pelosi told House Democrats, according to multiple sources in the room. “What we heard last night was a disgrace.”

Democrats gave Pelosi a standing ovation after she concluded her remarks, coming just hours before the Senate will vote to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial. The California Democrat then went on to salute all seven House impeachment managers by name, according to attendees.

“She said that he disgraced the House of Representatives by using it as a backdrop for a reality show,” Representative John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) told the press when he left the meeting.

Pelosi’s remarks follow the latest turn in the long-running feud between the two party leaders, which played out during Trump’s annual address in front of the Congress and millions of viewers.

Speaking to the caucus, some Democrats said Pelosi appeared distraught and frustrated by Trump’s speech. Pelosi specifically called out Trump’s decision to award the divisive conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the middle of the speech.

“He dishonored the State of the Union as an institutional practice,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia). “It was kind of outright pandering to his base. It was just a disgraceful display.”

House Republican leaders were quick to condemn Pelosi —calling her late-night response a petty tantrum. Trump himself weighed in in his own way, rapidly re-tweeting more than a dozen people criticizing Pelosi’s actions, many with the hashtag “#PelosiTantrum” on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the speaker’s top lieutenants were quick to come to her defense.

“As far as I’m concerned, a shredder wasn’t available, so she did what she needed to do,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York.) told reporters after the caucus meeting.

Research contact: @politico

‘Majority’ of Iowa results expected by end of day

February 5, 2020

The 2020 Democratic race faltered before it could forge ahead on Tuesday, when the results of the much-anticipated Iowa caucus could not be produced the morning after the big event.

In a phone call on the morning of February 4, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) told the candidates who had participated in the caucus  to expect that a “majority” of the caucus results would released at 5 p.m. (EST), according to a report by The Hill.

IDP Communications Director Mandy McClure followed up with a statement, saying that the rest of the results will be released “as we are able to.”

“Today we informed campaigns that we will be releasing the majority of caucus results at 4 p.m. CST,” McClure said. “Moving forward—just like we would have on caucus night — we will continue to release results as we are able to. We are also executing our plans and procedures to gather the paper documents and chasing any additional precincts to report results as we normally would on caucus night.”

According to The Hill, the state party’s bungling of the results has raised questions about Iowa’s status as the first state to vote and about the viability of caucuses, which are inherently more chaotic and complicated than primary elections.

The Iowa Democratic Party blamed the reporting issues on a new app the precincts were relying on to transmit results did not function properly.

Now, the IDP remains under intense pressure to produce the results. The caucuses got underway at 8 p.m. (EST) on Monday, February 3. The campaigns, volunteers, voters, and the news media have been furious at the delay and at the lack of transparency into what went wrong.

Most of the presidential candidates hit the road last night or early this morning for New Hampshire, which will hold its primary on February 11.

Research contact: @thehill