A federal judge who questioned Attorney General William Barr’s “credibility” has received an unredacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Justice Department attorneys say that the release of the document was in pursuance to two orders this month by District Court Judge Reggie Walton.
Walton, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said the court had “grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report” and its “impacts on the Justice Department’s subsequent justifications” that its redactions of the report were authorized under the Freedom of Information Act.
The judge said on March 5 that he believed that AG Barr had “dubiously handled” the public release of the Mueller report.
Despite the transfer which included two paper copies and an electronic copy of the two records at issue, the court won’t be able to review them immediately because of the coronavirus crisis.
“Consistent with the [DOJ’s] Notice of Submission of Documents for In Camera Review, the Court has received the unredacted version of the report regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 United States presidential election (the ‘Mueller Report’),” Walton said in a minute order Monday afternoon. “However, in light of the Chief Judge Howell’s March 16, 2020 Order Regarding Court Operations in Exigent Circumstances Created by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Court’s review of the unredacted version of the Mueller Report is unable to occur until the Court resumes its normal operations on April 20, 2020, unless the Court’s normal operations are further suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Mueller’s report, released last April, noted his investigation “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign” but “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Earlier this month, Walton said “the speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller Report, causes the Court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report.”
The judge added that it was “a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller Report.”
DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec pushed back a couple of days later, calling the court’s assertions “contrary to the facts.”
Kupec said the Justice Department “stands by” the work of the DOJ officials who made the redaction decisions and defended Barr’s “efforts to provide as much transparency as possible in connection with the Special Counsel’s confidential report.”
While being practically removed from the news cycle due to coverage of President Trump and COVID-19, behind the scenes, Joe Biden has been waging a campaign to boost his popularity with young progressives.
Apparently the Biden campaign sees that the lack of enthusiasm among the liberal base, particularly young voters, is the biggest weakness of his candidacy.
According to multiple sources familiar with the former VP’s campaign, since his landslide victories earlier this month, Biden’s advisers have engaged in talks with a range of top progressive groups, including some that endorsed his chief rival, Bernie Sanders.
The outreach to left-wing organizations and individuals — representing causes from climate change and immigrant rights to gun control and mobilizing underserved black and brown communities — is focused on young activists. Broadly speaking, that particular demographic has viewed Biden as one of the “least-inspiring” candidates in the sprawling Democratic primary field.
It’s a delicate dance for both sides. For one, Sanders is still in the race. Plus, the progressives recognize that their time and ability to influence Biden is limited since he’s all but wrapped up the nomination. Still, Biden needs to fix his enthusiasm deficit, which was partly masked by his wins this month, and it’s far from certain that animosity toward President Donald Trump alone will be enough to defeat the popular incumbent president.
“The dirty little secret is everyone’s talking to Biden’s campaign,” said Sean McElwee, co-founder of the liberal think tank Data for Progress. “There will be fights, but at the end of the day, progressives still hold votes in the Senate and increasingly Democratic voters stand behind our views. I expect we’ll see Biden embracing key planks of the ambitious agenda progressives have outlined on issues like climate and pharmaceutical policy.”
Biden aides are taking a two-pronged approach. They’re reaching out to what they see as traditional progressive groups with longer legacies such as Planned Parenthood, with which the campaign held a long call ahead of the most recent debate, and movement groups that came of age more recently, including liberal organization Indivisible and climate change-focused Sunrise Movement.
Biden has also backed proposals from Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in recent weeks on the issues of student debt and free college, respectively.
Progressives believe they have leverage because Biden has lost badly among young people to Sanders, and largely trailed among Latinos, too. They also argue that aggressive action on climate change action and Medicare for All, poll well among Democrats.
None of the groups that the Biden campaign is courting has threatened to sit out the election if Biden doesn’t embrace its positions. For instance, Justice Democrats, which made a name for itself backing primary left-wing challengers against more moderate Democratic incumbents — including several with ideological profiles similar to Biden — said in a statement it is “definitely going to support whoever the nominee is.”
But the fact that Biden’s campaign sees the need reach out to these groups, shows that while he may have the support of their leaders, he still has a long way to go to appeal to their memberships at large.
No sooner did former Vice President Joe Biden all but secure his nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate than did the Coronavirus shove him in the shadow of public attention. Contrary to intuitive thinking, it may not be a bad thing for his candidacy.
We must remember that Biden was not exactly hitting the campaign trail with full vigor in those early Democrat primaries. In addition to his lack of fundraising, he was staying home as much as possible. His strategy of laying in the weeds until South Carolina was obviously a good one.
Even after vanquishing the Democrat presidential field on Super Tuesday, Biden was not out on the hustings as much as traditional presidential candidates – not even as much as the older post-heart attack Senator Bernie Sanders.
Biden, his handlers and most Democrats realized that the former Vice President’s public image is best left to virtual crafting by public relations consultants and communication techies. For too often – when Biden presented himself to the public, it resulted in another gaffe.
Apart from those embarrassing misstatements that have marked Biden’s long, long political career, he is starting to show his age. His current gaffes are not like those past misstatements but more like “senior moments.” It is those pauses on stage, when he looks like he is searching for the rest of the sentence. Even the older Bernie Sanders, appears to have greater mental acuity than Biden.
In that it allows Biden to keep himself out of the spotlight, the Coronavirus may have been beneficial to the Biden campaign. It gives him an excuse to stay out of the public eye – except for short structured appearances on friendly news shows. He is not being vetted.
At this stage in a presidential campaign – and despite the suffocating effect of the Coronavirus — Biden should be communicating to the public as much as possible – holding press conferences, rallies and townhall meetings. Despite the situation, he could be holding virtual townhall meetings and responding to unstructured press questions. But instead, Biden is hunkering down at home under the theory that the less you see of him, the better off he will be.
It may work for a while, but eventually he will have to stop being the marionette of his handlers and present himself in public – at least occasionally. When the presidential campaign season revs up after the Republican Convention, Biden will be facing the guy with the bully pulpit – and a guy who knows how to use it. Biden cannot continue to slump in the far corner of the back pew hoping that the grossly biased media will cast and protect his virtual image.
So, there ‘tis.
NOTE: The statistics reported in this commentary were the official numbers as of March 22.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio can go on his favorite cable news networks and point the finger of blame in all directions – especially at President Trump – but that does not explain what is happening in New York – City and State. It would seem that the greatest failure in America to anticipate and be prepared for an epidemic crisis are the Empire State’s political leaders and public healthcare community.
Why should one city – albeit America’s largest – account for nearly one-third of the victims of the Coronavirus in the entire United states. At the time of this writing there are approximately 41,000 cases of Coronavirus in the United states. There are more than 20,000 cases in the State of New York – with 16,000 of them in New York City (5% of the world). Size alone cannot account for that.
Just across the Hudson River from New York is New Jersey, which has just over 2,000 cases – and it is the state with the second most. That’s right. New York has approximately ten times the number of cases as the second-place state – and is not only an adjacent state, but literally a suburb for a lot of Manhattan workers.
Looking at the statistic another way, New York City – with approximately 16,000 cases — has nine times more cases of the Coronavirus than the entire State of California (1,800 cases). Washington State – where it all seemed to start for America – holds third place – behind New Jersey and ahead of California. New York has about eight times more cases than Washington.
With so many of the initial cases coming from China and Asia, in general, one might think that California and Washington would be two of the hardest hit states. But they do not even come close to New York City, alone. Even folks coming from Coronavirus-ravaged Italy cannot explain New York’s extraordinarily high number. However, it has been reported that the first recorded case came from a woman returning from Iran despite Trump’s efforts to ban travel from there.
With its usual political bias, the elitist east coast (New York) media is very kind to de Blasio. They give him airtime to whine and complain – and point the finger at the Trump administration. They do not ask him the tough questions. They do not wonder if closing the schools too late is a contributing factor. Was he too slow to quarantine? Was his own health department behind the curve? Was there a lack of effective emergency planning?
Rather than perform their journalistic function in a fair and honest way, the press attacks Florida’s Republican governor for not acting quickly enough. The Miami Herald editorialized on what the described as Governor Ron DeSantis egregious failure to act in a timely manner – then and now. It was consistent with the general practice of praising Democrat governors and mayors and criticizing Republicans in those positions – despite the facts.
The media focus on Florida – which is in eighth place in terms of the number of cases (1171) – demonstrates a political agenda. New York under Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo has 17 times that number – and the City of New York under Mayor de Blasio has 14 times that number. To pick out Florida, the press must skip over seven states – all with Democrat governors.
While we can all see the bias in the coverage – if we care to look – but that still does not explain why New York is so far in the lead in terms of cases and deaths. The public – especially New Yorkers – might be better served if Cuomo and de Blasio did more explaining and less accusing.
So, there ‘tis.
Former Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar has announced that her husband has been hospitalized due to complications of being infected with COVID-19.
My husband has coronavirus. I love him & not being able to be by his side is one of the hardest things about this disease,” Klobuchar tweeted. “So many are going through this & much worse. I pray for him & you & meanwhile I will do all I can to get help to the American people.”
In a longer statement on the site, Medium.com, Klobuchar said that she and her husband, John Bessler, had been in “different places for the last two weeks” and that because she was “outside the 14-day period for getting sick,” doctors advised her that she did not need to be tested.
Klobuchar, a former 2020 presidential candidate who has since dropped out of the race and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, said her husband had grown quite ill.
After a persistent temperature and a “bad, bad” cough, Bessler began coughing up blood, Klobuchar said, prompting him to get a coronavirus test and a chest X-ray.
He checked into a hospital in Virginia and “now has pneumonia and is on oxygen but not a ventilator,” Klobuchar said.
Xuehua Peng, also known as Edward Peng, a naturalized American citizen originally from China, was sentenced for conducting espionage on behalf of the Chinese government, the US Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.
Peng was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and fined $30,000 by a US District Court judge in California on Monday.
Prior to his arrest, Peng, 56, had been working as a tour guide for Chinese tourists in the San Francisco Bay Area. But when he wasn’t showing his beloved countrymen the Frisco sites, he acted as a courier for classified US national security documents and money on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s equivalent of the CIA.
According to the DOJ, in 2015 Peng was approached by an MSS agent during a trip back home to China. The agent told Peng that he could make use of his American citizenship to help the Chinese government.
Between 2015 and 2018, Peng would leave MSS money and instructions for Chinese spies at five “dead drops” in hotel rooms in San Francisco and Columbus, Georgia. He would then depart for several hours, during which time a Chinese spy would come, retrieve the MSS’ money and communiques, and leave documents behind. Peng would then return and retrieve the documents. In this way, he never had to meet with any of the spies face to face, and thus hoped to evade detection.
Peng would then take the documents with him on trips to Beijing and deliver them to the MSS.
The FBI, which grew suspicious of Peng’s activities, set up hidden cameras in the hotel rooms and filmed him picking up the documents, and also monitored his phone calls with MSS agents.
During the course of his trial, Peng pleaded guilty, confessing to voluntarily working for the MSS.
It seems ironic that for the past several years, the United States has been obsessed with Russia as the government that is supposedly intent on sabotaging the American political system from within. While actual evidence of Russian interference has been hard to come by, here we have actual proof of Chinese efforts to undermine US national security – and yet you won’t be hearing much about that in the mainstream media.
In an increasingly rare showing of bipartisanship, Congress has moved very quickly to send two coronavirus-related spending bills to President Trump’s desk in two weeks and is feverishly working to put together a third, blockbuster package that could be worth upward of $1 trillion.
Trump’s signing of the second coronavirus bill, which will provide $100 billion worth of paid sick leave, unemployment help and free virus testing to Americans, comes as the coronavirus pandemic is hitting close to home on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, were the first two members of Congress to test positive for the disease officially known as COVID-19.
“I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement on his diagnosis. “We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times.”
Congress is certainly working together. The Senate managed to pass the House coronavirus bill without amendments by a 90-8 margin, sending it to Trump’s desk just two days after the House passed a technical fix to the legislation.
The expedited passage of the House legislation was a stark departure from the usual interaction between the chambers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the self-styled “Grim Reaper” for the House’s “socialist agenda,” has been at odds with House Democrats since they took control of the lower chamber in early 2019.
However, in this case he seemed to put that all aside, saying on the Senate floor, “This is a time for urgent bipartisan action, and, in this case, I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers.”
And even before the Senate ushered through the second bill, members of Congress and the Trump administration were falling over each other to offer up ideas for another piece of legislation.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, each proposed different ideas for how the government could send checks directly to Americans who are financially strapped because of the economic slowdown. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., confirmed Tuesday on Sirius XM’s “The Michael Smerconish Program” that a “one-time distribution of $1,000 to every adult citizen” was “being seriously discussed.”
Gabbard, by the way, has just finally announced that she will be ending her campaign for president, saying on Wednesday, “Today, I’m suspending my presidential campaign, and offering my full support to Vice President Joe Biden in his quest to bring our country together.”
Bernie Sanders had better listen for the fat lady singing, because it’s all but over for the independent senator from Vermont.
Joe Biden totally crushed Bernie Sanders in Florida, adding to a series of decisive wins that leaves the self-described democratic socialist with no realistic path to securing the Democratic presidential nomination.
Several outlets called the state for the former vice president as soon as final polls closed. At 8 p.m. EST, with 62% of precincts reporting, Biden had 60.9% of the vote, while Sanders had a dismal 22.6%.
Despite the state accounting for 219 nominating delegates to the Democratic National Convention, neither candidate visited the state in person in the days before the primary due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, Biden had “virtual town halls” via video conference and Sanders held a digital “fireside chat.” Normal campaign operations were also interrupted, with staff members working from home rather than going door-to-door to encourage voters to go to the polls – all due to concerns about the corona virus.
The Vermont senator, though, had little chance in the state, even before the pandemic swept the country. Primary polls showed Biden consistently leading Sanders by 30 to 40 points.
Sanders’s February comments in support of Fidel Castro’s repressive regime in Cuba likely also hurt his chances of ever gaining any ground in the state.
“It’s unfair to simply say, ‘Everything is bad.’ You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program,” Sanders said in a 60 Minutes interview.
Two freshman Florida House Democrats, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, condemned Sanders’s comment. The state is home to an estimated 1.5 million Cuban Americans.
The decisive win will increase Biden’s delegate lead on Sanders. Before the Tuesday primaries, Biden had a lead of about 153 delegates. Delegates are allocated proportionally based on the vote in congressional districts and statewide, meaning that winning by a large margin translates to a greater delegate advantage.
By the end of the evening, it was also clear that Biden racked up primary wins over Sanders in Arizona and Illinois as well, making his delegate lead for the Democratic presidential nomination all but insurmountable before the party’s scheduled convention in July.
A total of 1,991 delegates is needed to win the Democratic nomination at the party’s national convention this summer.
Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was unsuccessful in his bid for Florida Governor – losing to then Congressman Ron DeSantis in a surprisingly close race. Gillum – an African American — was considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. Some have even promoted him as a potential vice-presidential candidate. There has been talk of future high office and even a Cabinet position if a Democrat wins the White House. Gillum was more recently hired as a contributor to CNN News.
All that is not looking very good today.
Responding to a call, police found Gillum with two other males in a room at the Mondrian Hotel in South Beach. Police were called to the scene to check out a report of an overdose by one of the other individuals. Bags of crystal meth were found at the scene.
According to the police incident report, “Mr. Gillum was unable to communicate with officers due to his inebriated state.” Medics were called “to conduct a welfare check on Gillum.”
In a statement to the Miami Herald, Gillum said he was in Miami to attend a friend’s wedding – and admitted that he had drunk too much alcohol. He denied using meth at that time or at any time.
In his statement, Gillum said:
“I apologize to the people of Florida for the distraction this has caused our movement. I’m thankful to the incredible Miami Beach EMS team for their efforts. I will spend the next few weeks with my family and appreciate privacy during this time.”
But as they say … the plot thickens.
The other two men who were in the room at the time were Travis Dyson, 30, and Aldo Mejias, 54. Mejias said he had loaned his credit card to Dyson to rent the room and arrived later to find Gillum vomiting in the bathroom and Dyson overdosed. It is believed that Mejias called police for help with Dyson – who was subsequently hospitalized.
In a statement to the Miami New Times, Dyson cast doubt on Gillum’s cover-story to the Miami Herald. The Times said Dyson seemed “confused’ about Gillum’s public statement. Dyson said, “I personally was not celebrating a wedding. I don’t know if [Gillum] was in town for a wedding. He did not mention that… we’ve been friends for a while.” Friends?
According to media reports, Dyson is listed on a website – rentmen.com – as a gay escorts. Of course, this does not establish the nature of the Gillum-Dyson friendship, but it does raise questions that beg to be answered. Gillum is alone, stumble-down alcohol drunk – if that is what it was — in a hotel room with bags of crystal meth in the company of a gay escort who was not involved in any wedding celebration AND who has overdosed on the meth — and we are expected to accept this as some innocent happenstance.
In his official statement, Gillum begs to have his privacy respected. I am sure he does. But he has chosen PUBLIC life in politics and the media. He cannot not now hide behind pleas for privacy. As the expression goes, Gillum has some ‘splaining to do.
FOOTNOTE: Gillum has now entered a rehab program.
So, there ‘tis.
A rocket barrage killed two American soldiers, an infantryman and an airman, late on Wednesday at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad.
The same attack also killed a British soldier, and twelve other troops were injured. Military spokesman US Army Colonel Myles Caggins said that an investigation of the damage inflicted in the attack is still ongoing.
This attack brings the number of American servicemen killed this week in Iraq thus far to four. Two Marine Raiders were also killed in a battle against ISIS forces on Sunday.
An Iraqi officer noted that this was the twenty-second attack on US forces in Iraq since late October.
While US officials did not accuse any specific group of carrying out the attack, Shi’ite militias backed by Iran are the likeliest culprit. One such militia, Kataib Hezbollah, carried out an attack on the US base in Kirkuk in December that killed an American military contractor. President Trump ordered an airstrike on a convoy carrying Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in retaliation, killing him, which prompted Iranian missile attacks on US bases in Iraq in January. More than 100 American troops were injured in those attacks.
The assassination also led to the Iraqi Parliament voting to demand that all American and coalition soldiers leave the country, although that decision has yet to be ratified by the government, which is in a state of transition following the resignation of the last administration following large protests in December.
The Iranian leadership has vowed “severe revenge” for the death of General Soleimani. General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, warned that there would be further attacks by Iran and the groups it supports against American forces and its coalition allies in testimony before the House on Tuesday.
The US currently maintains a force of approximately 5,000 soldiers supporting Iraqi government forces in the country.