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President to rally supporters in Colorado Springs

President Donald Trump will rally his supporters for the second day in a row on Thursday when his re-election campaign charges into the tough electoral terrain of Colorado. Follow for updates. 

Trump talks Space Force with Colorado governor

President Donald Trump hasn’t even taken the stage for his Colorado rally, but Space Force is already in the news.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who met with the president aboard Air Force One, said in a statement that he urged Trump to make Colorado the permanent home of U.S. Space Command headquarters.

Polis, a Democrat, said noted that the state is already home to multiple space-related installations. Colorado Springs is also home to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“Colorado is the perfect home for Space Command and I was excited to have the opportunity to remind President Trump why that’s true,” Polis said in a statement.

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Bloomberg pursues brokered convention gambit

With Sanders’ emergence as the frontrunner in the presidential primary, Democrats in those states have recently raised the prospect that the democratic socialist could be a top-of-the-ticket liability.

“There’s a whole operation going on, which is genius,” said one of the strategists, who is unaffiliated with any campaign. “And it’s going to help them win on the second ballot … They’re telling them that’s their strategy.”

It’s a presumptuous play for a candidate who hasn’t yet won a delegate or even appeared on a ballot. And it could also bring havoc to the convention, raising the prospect of party insiders delivering the nomination to a billionaire over a progressive populist.

Other candidates have quietly been in contact for months with superdelegates — the DNC members, members of Congress and other party officials who cannot vote on the first ballot at a contested national convention — but none have showcased it as a feature of their campaign, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

Asked about Bloomberg’s efforts, spokeswoman Julie Wood said Thursday, “We have an enormous apparatus that is constantly reaching out to all types of people for support and to explain why we think Mike is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump.”

The rule prohibiting superdelegates, or automatic delegates, from voting on the first ballot of a contested convention was instituted only after the last convention, which followed a primary in which superdelegates overwhelmingly sided against Sanders and with the establishment-oriented Clinton.

The reduction of those delegates’ power was a major victory for the Democratic Party’s left flank, while many Democrats, regardless of ideology, believed it could help broaden the party’s appeal to young voters skeptical of centralized party power. Earlier this year, when a small group of DNC members began gauging support for a potential policy reversal to allow superdelegates to vote on the first ballot, DNC officials quickly dismissed the idea, and even proponents of a change acknowledged they could not get traction for it.

If Sanders secures a plurality of delegates but loses the nomination on a second ballot, many moderate and progressive Democrats alike predict the national convention in Milwaukee would devolve into chaos.

Bloomberg’s effort comes as the prospect of a contested convention becomes less and less remote. That development is in part because of Bloomberg’s own late entry into the race. The billionaire former New York City mayor’s deluge of spending on television advertisements and campaign infrastructure put him into contention, while further muddling the Democratic primary field.

Many moderates, including Bloomberg’s supporters, fear that the centrist vote may be divided, allowing Sanders, the more progressive senator from Vermont, to reach the convention with more delegates than any of them.

If Sanders accomplishes that — but fails to amass the 1,991 delegates necessary to clench the nomination on the first ballot — superdelegates could prove pivotal, a possibility raised in Wednesday’s presidential debate.

Asked if the person who arrives at the convention with the most delegates should become the nominee, even if he or she falls short of a majority, Sanders said “the will of the people should prevail” and that “the person who has the most votes should become the nominee.”

In contrast, Bloomberg and every other candidate suggested convention rules should dictate the outcome — meaning only a candidate with a majority of delegates should claim the nomination.

Following the debate, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has endorsed Bloomberg and chaired the 2012 Democratic National Convention, said a second ballot will likely be required this year.

“I think everybody’s going to be scrambling for delegates,” he said. “And I think all the candidates made that clear, except for Sanders.”

Bloomberg was battered in the debate here Wednesday, his first since announcing his candidacy. Bloomberg, who is bypassing the first four nominating states and focusing instead on Super Tuesday, was criticized for his extraordinary wealth, for allegations that he made derogatory remarks about women and for his years-long defense of “stop-and-frisk” policing.

But Bloomberg’s fortune has allowed him near-limitless spending, and his campaign’s outreach to superdelegates reflects an operation that can afford not only to advertise, but to organize in any state.

Rising in recent polls, he has sought to cast the contest as a two-person race between him and Sanders, despite the votes that other moderates — unlike Bloomberg — have already won in early contests. The campaign this week suggested Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Buttigieg are only siphoning votes away from Bloomberg and enabling Sanders.

“Look, I think if the election were today, Bernie Sanders would come out of Super Tuesday with the delegate lead,” longtime Bloomberg adviser Howard Wolfson told reporters Wednesday night. “In part that is because the moderate lane of the party is split, and … many of the candidates are going to split that vote. Now, that may change between now and Super Tuesday, but I think if the election were today, that would be the result.”

He called Bloomberg “the best-positioned candidate to take on Bernie Sanders.”

Responding to a question at the debate on Wednesday about whether the person with the most delegates should be the nominee, Bloomberg said, “Whatever the rules of the Democratic Party are, they should be followed.”

Asked if that meant the convention should “work its will,” Bloomberg replied, “Yes.”

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Trump says he won’t intervene in Roger Stone case for now

Washington — President Trump said Thursday he won’t intervene in the case of Roger Stone — at least not for the time being. Stone was sentenced to three years and four months in prison for lying to Congress about his efforts to work with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign and threatening a witness to cover up what he did.

“I’m going to let the media know that I’m going to watch the process. I’m going to watch it very closely, and at some point I’ll make a determination, but Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly. And this has not been a fair process, OK?” Mr. Trump said at an event with former prisoners in Las Vegas.

He said he thinks Stone has a “very good chance of exoneration” and that he would “love to see it happen.”

Stone, a longtime associate of the president, has asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the case, for a new trial. Mr. Trump said Jackson should grant the request, claiming the foreperson on the jury in Stone’s 2019 trial was “tainted” and politically biased. Jackson has not said when she would make a decision. 

President Trump delivers the commencement address at Hope for Prisoners graduation ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 20, 2020.


The foreperson, Tomeka Hart, came to the defense of federal prosecutors who abruptly withdrew from the case after the Justice Department overruled their sentencing recommendation last week.

“It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice. For that, I wanted to speak up for them and ask you to join me in thanking them for their service.”

Conservative media figures soon found other posts on Hart’s profiles that were critical of the president. Mr. Trump on Thursday said Hart “was an anti-Trump person, totally.” 

“Now, I don’t know if this is a fact, but she had a horrible social media account, the things she said on the account were unbelievable,” Mr. Trump said. “She didn’t reveal that when she was chosen. And she’s, I guess from what I hear, a very strong woman, a very dominant person. So she can get people to do whatever she wants.”

On Wednesday, Seth Cousins, another member of the jury, defended Hart as “perhaps the strongest advocate in the room for a rigorous process, for the rights of the defendant and for making sure that we took it seriously and looked at each charge.”

At his event in Las Vegas, Mr. Trump said Stone was a “good person” and lamented his trial, conviction and sentence.

“What happened to him is unbelievable,” Mr. Trump said. “They say he lied. But other people lie, too. Just to mention, Comey lied. McCabe lied. Lisa Page lied. Her lover, Strzok, Peter Strzok, lied. You don’t know who these people are? Just trust me, they all lied.”

The president has previously declined to say whether he’ll pardon Stone, although he’s voiced his displeasure with how Stone and other past Trump associates like former national security adviser Michael Flynn have been treated. 

Before Mr. Trump addressed the Stone case, Senator Lindsey Graham gave a preemptive stamp of approval for a presidential pardon.

“Under our system of justice President Trump has all the legal authority in the world to review this case, in terms of commuting the sentence or pardoning Mr. Stone for the underlying offense,” Graham tweeted

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Senate GOP gives Trump’s pick for intelligence chief tepid response

While Grenell received praised from House Republican leaders, Senate Republicans have largely declined to speak out in support of the President’s pick for intelligence chief, after Trump announced Wednesday evening that Grenell would replace outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas said Thursday he would like Trump to quickly appoint a permanent director of national intelligence, saying it’s important to have someone confirmed by the Senate in that sensitive post.

“Certainly I would like to have people in place that are Senate confirmed,” he told reporters in the Capitol after overseeing a brief pro forma session of the Senate.

Asked if Trump should quickly name a full-time director, Boozman said yes. “I think that would be appropriate.”

In the meantime, Boozman, who as a member of the Appropriations Committee has oversight of spending by the intelligence agencies and the State Department, said he doesn’t have any feelings about Grenell being in the post temporarily, which does not require Senate confirmation.

“I don’t know that much about him, to be honest,” Boozman said, noting that he had just returned from a long trip abroad with other lawmakers where he visited Munich for a security conference and Iraq. Boozman voted in 2018 to confirm Grenell for his ambassadorship but said, “that’s a different level of expertise” than the DNI post.

Grenell, who is a staunch Trump ally, was confirmed as ambassador to Germany in 2018 by a 56-42 vote, but congressional sources say that confirmation as director of national intelligence would have been a whole different ballgame — and he likely could not have been confirmed. Grenell tweeted Thursday making clear that he was appointed only as acting DNI, saying that the President “will announce the Nominee (not me) sometime soon.” Grenell will remain as ambassador to Germany while serving as intelligence chief.

Most lawmakers are out of Washington this week during the President’s Day recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not respond to a request for comment about Grenell’s appointment, while Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, declined to comment. Several other Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee also did not comment Thursday, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Susan Collins of Maine and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

At least one Senate Republican on the intelligence panel defended Grenell on Wednesday. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is also a member of Senate Republican leadership, told Politico that Grenell had roughly the same intelligence experience as Maguire before he was tapped as acting director last year.

“If you’re ambassador for some time in a country like Germany, you have a lot of exposure to intel activities and daily briefings and other things and he’s a very smart, capable guy,” Blunt said.

Democrats decried Grenell’s selection, arguing he was a partisan and did not have relevant intelligence experience for the role, which was created to in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to help improve coordination in the US intelligence community.

“Sadly, President Trump has once again put his political interests ahead of America’s national security interests by appointing an Acting Director of National Intelligence whose sole qualification is his absolute loyalty to the President,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

“The President has selected an individual without any intelligence experience to serve as the leader of the nation’s intelligence community in an acting capacity,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “At a time when the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice has been called into grave question, now more than ever our country needs a Senate-confirmed intelligence director who will provide the best intelligence and analysis, regardless of whether or not it’s expedient for the President who has appointed him.”

There have been tensions in the Senate over the director of national intelligence post since Trump tried last year to appoint Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican on the House Intelligence Committee who withdrew amid questions about his resume as a prosecutor and lack of intelligence experience. Many Senate Republicans were cool to Ratcliffe’s selection, and he withdrew in the face of what would have been a difficult confirmation fight, before becoming a key GOP lawmaker defending Trump during the House impeachment inquiry.
Last week, The New York Times reported that Trump was considering Rep. Chris Stewart Utah, another House Republican on the Intelligence Committee, for the DNI role. Burr told CNN last week that he would comment on Stewart if he was nominated, but also noted it had been difficult for Trump to confirm nominees to the position.

“The President can nominate whoever he wants to. I dare say it’s very difficult to get a DNI nominee through the confirmation process,” Burr said.

In the House, top Republican leaders issued statements supporting Grenell’s selection.

“President Trump made a great choice to name @RichardGrenell as America’s next Acting Director of National Intelligence. Ric has a proven track record of fighting for our country, and now, he will work every day to make sure Americans are safe,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted.

Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also praised Grenell.

“Richard Grenell has effectively represented the United States and our interests abroad and I look forward to working with him to protect our national security in his new role as Acting Director of National Intelligence,” McCaul said in a statement.

CNN’s Alex Rogers and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.

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Trump Renews Attack on Justice System, Raising Pressure on William Barr

WASHINGTON — President Trump once again berated the “dirty cops” of the law enforcement establishment on Thursday, accusing the Justice Department of going after his friends but not his enemies in a public outburst that flouted Attorney General William P. Barr’s pleas to stop publicly intervening in individual prosecutions where he had a personal interest.

Speaking out hours after his friend Roger J. Stone Jr. was sentenced to more than three years in prison for lying to protect the president, Mr. Trump belittled the case and hinted broadly that he would use his clemency power to spare Mr. Stone if a judge did not agree to a retrial sought by defense lawyers.

In essentially dangling a pardon or commutation for a friend, Mr. Trump confronted Mr. Barr with a choice about how to respond after declaring last week that the president was making his job “impossible” with his attacks on the criminal justice system.

“A lot of bad things are happening,” Mr. Trump said of law enforcement at a Las Vegas event for former convicts re-entering society. “We are cleaning it out. We are cleaning the swamp. We are draining the swamp. I just never knew how deep the swamp was.”

He added: “We have a lot of dirty cops. F.B.I. is phenomenal. I love the people in the F.B.I. But the people at the top were dirty cops.”

He complained that the Justice Department prosecuted Mr. Stone for lying and obstructing a congressional inquiry, but did not charge his enemies like Hillary Clinton, the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, Mr. Comey’s onetime deputy Andrew G. McCabe and the former F.B.I. officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.

“What happened to him is unbelievable,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Stone. “They say that he lied. But other people lied, too. Just to mention, Comey lied. McCabe lied. Lisa Page lied. Her lover, Strzok, Peter Strzok, lied. You don’t know who these people are? Just trust me, they all lied.”

He went on to revive the email case involving Mrs. Clinton, his 2016 Democratic opponent. “Hillary Clinton leaked more classified documents than any human being, I believe, in the history of the United States,” he said. But, he added, “nothing happened to her.”

In repeating his attacks on his favorite targets, Mr. Trump distorted or misstated the facts. Mrs. Clinton was not accused of leaking classified documents, and certainly not the most in history. She was faulted for using a private computer server that was not as secure as a government server to send emails, some of which were later found to include classified information.

Mr. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, faulted her for carelessness but said no prosecutor would charge a crime on those facts.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, mocked the case against Mr. Stone, including the witness intimidation charge. “It’s not like the tampering that I see on television when you watch a movie,” the president said. “That is called tampering — waving guns to people’s heads and other things.”

He repeated his complaints that the jury forewoman in Mr. Stone’s case was “totally tainted” and an “anti-Trump activist,” which he said should compel the judge to order a new trial.

The forewoman was a Democrat who once ran for Congress, which was disclosed at the time of jury selection, but Mr. Trump and other allies of Mr. Stone argue that she was biased. The Justice Department opposes a new trial in a position approved by Mr. Barr.

Mr. Trump left the impression that he would use his clemency power if the judge did not go along with the defense motion, saying that he “would love to see Roger exonerated.”

“We will watch the process and watch it very closely,” Mr. Trump added. “And at some point, I will make a determination. But Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly and this has not been a fair process. OK?”

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Elizabeth Warren & Transgender Sports — Is Democrat a Feminist?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, November 1, 2019. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Elizabeth Warren issued a tweet this afternoon that perfectly illustrated a serious challenge that transgender ideology poses to the progressive worldview:

Far from being “cruel,” the Arizona bill in question provides that sports teams or athletic events designated for females would be closed “to students of the male sex.” In other words: Biological males who self-identify as women may not enter athletic events to compete against biological females.

Not so long ago, no one would’ve questioned the commonsense nature of such a proposal. No such law would be required. But times have changed, and quickly.

“Female student-athletes should not be forced to compete in a sport against biological males, who possess inherent physiological advantages,” says Arizona state representative Nancy Barto, the bill’s sponsor. “When this is allowed, it discourages female participation in athletics and, worse, it can result in women and girls being denied crucial educational and financial opportunities.”

Barto is correct. Three female high-school athletes in Connecticut, for instance, have just filed a federal lawsuit alleging that they have lost “opportunities for participation, recruitment, and scholarships” as a result of state policy permitting biological males to compete against females if they self-identify as women.

Along with the equally contentious debate over gender-specific restrooms and privacy rights, the burgeoning debate over transgender athletes in female sports has exposed a weakness in the progressive worldview. How can a politician like Elizabeth Warren, a self-styled feminist who explicitly advertises her platform and campaign as an advance for women, justify her opposition to this legislation?

She can’t, which is why she has chosen to claim that the law does something else entirely.

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Trump says he won’t pardon Roger Stone — for now

“I’m not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States, I want the process play out, I think that’s the best thing to do,” Trump said in Las Vegas. “Because I’d love to see Roger exonerated and I’d love to see it happen because I personally think he was treated very unfairly.”

The President didn’t rule out an eventual pardon or commutation, but said the process should play out first.

“At some point I’ll make a determination, but Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly. And this has not been a fair process,” Trump said.

Trump still delivered a full-throated defense of his longtime friend, saying: “They said he lied, but other people lied, too.”

The President made his remarks before an audience of former prisoners graduating from a program designed to give felons a second chance in society and the workforce.

Trump’s familiar rant against the criminal justice system was met with curious looks from some of the graduates and their families, particularly when he declared: “These people know about a bad jury.”

The venue for the speech was also remarkable, with the President launching into a critique of law enforcement — referring to “dirty cops” at one point — from a room inside the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

“Roger has a very good chance of exoneration in my opinion,” Trump said at the prisoner reentry event.

He called Stone a “character.”

“He’s a smart guy, he’s a little different, but those are sometimes the most interesting. But he’s a good person. His family is fantastic,” Trump said at the criminal justice reform event.

Trump attacked the forewoman of the jury in Stone’s case, calling her “totally tainted” and an “anti-Trump activist.” He also insinuated, without evidence, that she may have defrauded the court by not answering questions in jury selection honestly by being forthcoming about her political views.

The juror, Tomeka Hart, made news earlier this month when she defended the four prosecutors who withdrew from the case in response to their sentencing recommendation being changed by Justice Department leadership.

The President added that what happened to Stone and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, “destroyed a lot of people’s lives and I’m here to make a fair system.”

Prosecutors had initially asked for Stone to be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, resting that recommendation on the severity of his crimes and behavior. Trump called that ask “very unfair,” however, in a late-night tweet. Attorney General William Barr overrode the recommendation the next day, saying seven years would be too harsh.

Although Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s sentence was much lower than the original request, the judge said prosecutors had done the right thing when they followed the guidelines in their original efforts.

None of the prosecutors who won the case at trial signed the revised sentencing memo, and two new DC US Attorney’s Office supervisors were assigned, exposing how politically charged the case has become inside the Justice Department.

New prosecutor John Crabb Jr. said he wanted to apologize to the court for the confusion.

“This confusion was not caused by the original trial team,” he said. “The original trial team had authorization to submit” the original sentencing memo.

Crabb said he stands by the original memo, adding, “It was done in good faith.”

The President also attempted to distance himself from Stone, claiming Stone was not involved with his 2016 presidential campaign.

“Roger was never involved in the Trump campaign for president. He wasn’t involved. I think early on, long before I announced, he may have done a little consulting work or something, but he was not involved when I ran for president,” Trump remarked.

Stone worked with Trump during his first presidential bid in the late 1990s. He in was hired onto the campaign in 2015, but terminated him later that year.

This story has been updated to reflect additional reporting.

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Colorado Is Ready To Fire Mitch McConnell As Senate Race Moved To Lean Democrat

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) went all-in on the Trump impeachment trial cover-up, and now his Senate seat rating has been changed to lean Democrat.

According to Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

While polling has been sparse in Colorado, Gardner has long appeared endangered by the Centennial State’s shift toward the Democrats. He has emphasized some local issues but has generally stuck with the president on the bigger-picture ones that are increasingly more salient in our nationalized elections. Gardner is in a tough spot: After distancing himself from Trump in 2016, Gardner risks losing his own base voters if he criticizes Trump, but if Trump again loses the state, voters may not have much reason to split their tickets in Gardner’s favor.


The likely Democratic nominee, Hickenlooper, is not a perfect candidate, but he is a proven one, having won the state’s governorship in the difficult Democratic years of 2010 and 2014. He is hardly a favorite of the left, but that’s probably an asset in a general election environment.

Gardner is in a state that is trending away from Republicans, and he is hoping that Trump will magically do better in a state that the president lost in 2016. Hickenlooper is the likely nominee. The Democratic Party convinced him to drop his presidential campaign and run for Senate, so the odds are good that although other candidates are running, Hickenlooper is the likely nominee.

Cory Gardner joins Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona and Susan Collins in Maine as Republican Senators who have seen polls released this week that show them statistically tied (Maine) or losing (Arizona) to Democratic challengers. All three of these Senators supported Trump’s acquittal, and all three may lose their seats in November.

For more discussion about this story join our Rachel Maddow and MSNBC group.

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Opinion | The Stone Sentence Was Fair. What Barr Did Was Still Wrong.

After much sound and fury, Roger Stone — Trump ally, Nixon devotee and longtime political mischief-maker — was sentenced on Thursday to 40 months in federal prison for lying to Congress and witness tampering. Despite what President Trump has claimed, both the career prosecutors and the judge in the case ensured justice was served. Attorney General William Barr’s actions in the days leading up to the sentencing, on the other hand, appropriately sent a chill down the spines of prosecutors across the country.

Federal prosecutors submitted their sentencing recommendation regarding Mr. Stone on Feb. 10; the following day, the Justice Department called that recommendation excessive and replaced it with a recommendation calling for “far less” imprisonment — and just after President Trump tweeted his own disapproval of the original sentencing recommendation.

All four career prosecutors on the case withdrew from the matter, with one of them resigning from the department altogether — a sign of how extraordinary and unwelcome the intervention was.

Mr. Barr claims the decision to seek a milder sentence was made before the tweets, but it doesn’t really matter — he and other department leaders already knew the president felt strongly that the prosecution of his ally was unfair; they knew what he wanted and were prepared to deliver on his personal and political wishes, tweets or no tweets. It’s pretty obvious that this is anti-democratic and scary.

The sentence that Judge Amy Berman Jackson imposed on Mr. Stone, while lower than the guideline range that the career prosecutors recommended, is not unusual; in 2018, federal judges imposed sentences outside the guidelines in about a quarter of all cases nationwide. As Judge Jackson said in Thursday’s hearing, she made this decision based on her own assessment of the relevant facts, and she likely would have imposed a sentence below the guideline range irrespective of Mr. Barr’s intervention. This is exactly what the law requires.

But an examination of federal sentencing processes and principles makes clear that Mr. Barr’s intervention in the Stone case is actually considerably worse than it initially appeared.

Some background on federal sentencing: The United States Sentencing Guidelines offer guidance on what kind of penalty a convicted criminal defendant should receive based on the crime and the characteristics of the defendant. The guidelines are nonbinding, and judges are permitted to sentence above or below them. But the guidelines seek to add consistency and fairness to the federal criminal justice system so that similar defendants are treated similarly, and the Justice Department in particular has sought to hew closely to them.

In fact, the Trump administration has made clear, in a document colloquially known as “the Sessions memo,” that it expects prosecutors to consistently push for guidelines sentences. “In most cases,” the Sessions memo says, “recommending a sentence within the advisory guideline range will be appropriate. Recommendations for sentencing departures or variances require supervisory approval, and the reasoning must be documented in the file.”

Recommending a sentence within the guideline range was precisely what the career prosecutors in the Stone case did. They engaged in an exhaustive analysis of the applicable guidelines, supported by ample evidence and careful argument, and asked for a sentence precisely within the range called for by the guidelines.

Even the Justice Department’s extraordinary decision to reverse course the next day noted that the guidelines “enhancements” — the factors that led to the original sentencing recommendation — were “perhaps technically applicable,” and prosecutors on Thursday did not dispute the applicability of those enhancements. In other words, Mr. Barr and those carrying out his wishes did not really dispute the facts and the law as carefully laid out by the career prosecutors. Instead, they presented a litany of the arguments that Mr. Stone’s own lawyers had made for ignoring the guidelines and giving him lenient treatment.

So the career prosecutors made exactly the kind of recommendation prosecutors are expected to make in our system, and one that the Trump administration specifically encourages them to make. In contrast, doing what the attorney general did, calling for a sentence “far less” than that called for by the guidelines, is generally frowned upon by the Justice Department.

There is one other factor that makes this move all the more extraordinary. Roger Stone did not plead guilty, cooperate or accept responsibility in any sense. He took the case to trial, showed contempt toward the justice system and disobeyed the presiding judge’s orders. In cases in which a defendant not only fights prosecution but flouts the authority of the government and the court, it is standard practice to aggressively push for a sentence at least within the advisory guideline range.

As a former federal corruption prosecutor and senior staffer at the United States Sentencing Commission, I can say unequivocally that what Mr. Barr and his team did was something I have never seen before. It calls into question his fitness to play a leading role in our nation’s justice system. The top prosecutor in the land must demonstrate a commitment to protecting the rule of law, not the president and his allies.

So here’s a question the Justice Department has not answered: Can it point to a single case in which the defendant was not an ally of President Trump, or someone who could testify against the president, where the department overruled career prosecutors to ask for a sentence “far less” than that called for by the sentencing guidelines in a case that went to trial? Maybe for a drug offender? For someone who broke immigration laws? I’m not expecting an answer any time soon.

Noah Bookbinder is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

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Michael Bloomberg Isn’t Going Anywhere

Rarely in America do we get to watch a billionaire get what’s coming to him, so we have to savor it when we have the opportunity. For two glorious hours during last night’s Democratic debate in Nevada, Americans of various political stripes — centrists, liberals, progressives, socialists, people with inchoate political ideologies but gut-level hatred of the obscenely wealthy — united in celebrating Michael Bloomberg’s humiliation. It was the political equivalent of a nineties summer camp movie climaxing with a bratty rich kid face down in a pile of mud.

If only we could walk out of the theater and never see that smug villain again. Instead, he will resume appearing on every other commercial we see, as if the debate never happened.

If you’ve posted angrily about Bloomberg this last week, you probably know that a surprising number of people will rush to defend this outrageous oligarch’s flex, usually with some version of “sure, but if this is how we can defeat Trump, I’ll take it.” Humiliating as is to have your party bought by a Republican tycoon, their argument goes, perhaps Bloomberg really is more likely than Bernie Sanders to beat Trump. And isn’t that all that matters?

Supporting Bloomberg is actually the worst imaginable strategy for defeating Trump. It’s isn’t even likely that another New York City billionaire with a gross history of racism and sexism, who is hijacking the supposed opposition party, throwing around ungodly sums of money to buy surrogates, and is willing to kneecap the party’s most popular candidate, Sanders, would actually win. Faced with a choice between Bloomberg and Trump in a general election, many voters wouldn’t see much of a difference between the two — and they would be right.

Of course, we should distinguish between regular people who might genuinely believe Bloomberg can defeat Trump and fear that Bernie Sanders can’t win, and the pundits and party hacks cynically selling this line out of fear that he can. Likewise, it’s useful to set aside the anti-Bernie aspect of the campaign to better understand why some genuinely support Bloomberg.

Yes, Bloomberg buys much of his support. But he holds a perverse appeal for a certain cohort of well-off liberals. Understanding this appeal reveals that liberal elites don’t care about equality or democracy any more than elite conservatives do.

Michael Bloomberg is their Donald Trump, a sometimes embarrassing but always genuine spokesperson for the liberal side of their class outlook, a man unafraid to speak truth to the powerless. The Bloomberg message is that there’s no use denying some will be very rich and many will be poor, while soothing troubled consciences with the promise that “highly effective philanthropy” will solve our major problems.

Michael Bloomberg is far more competent than Donald Trump. He’s a more successful businessman, his philanthropy is as genuine as billionaires’ charitable giving can be, rather than the slimy hustle that is Trump’s foundations. He actually cares about issues like gun violence and climate change. Bloomberg isn’t an overt bigot like Trump, and Bloomberg doesn’t push for Muslim travel bans and take out newspaper ads calling for the execution of black teenagers framed on rape charges.

Instead, as New York City mayor, he proclaimed his support for racial diversity and religious tolerance — at the exact same time his police explicitly treated all of the city’s Muslims as potential terrorists and all of its young men of color as likely violent criminals.

The recent circulation of clips of Bloomberg supporting redlining and racial profiling is a reminder that Bloomberg has always been brutally frank in his defense of state-sanctioned racism.

The corporate media repeatedly casts Bernie Sanders as a Trump-like figure on the shallowest grounds: Both say mean things about Jeff Bezos! Both hold large rallies! But it’s Michael Bloomberg who actually echoes Trump’s cynical message that our broken political system requires an ultrarich autocratic leader to get things done.

The Bloombergian strongman is not a Trump-style nationalist bully but an arrogant CEO who holds up his wealth as proof of his brilliance and, in his telling, endows him with the unique ability to rise above the “special interests.” While Trump feels eternally stung by elite rejection, Bloomberg seems constantly aggrieved that more of us plebians aren’t grateful for his noblesse oblige, not understanding why we don’t see his bid for ultimate power as a selfless act of public service.) Both are recognizable global archetypes in the post-democratic era.

Democrats continue to complain that Sanders is only winning because he hasn’t yet been vetted, but Bloomberg’s entire blitzkrieg strategy is based on not giving the media and public time to consider his record. Consider that even as the political world digests the fallout of Bloomberg’s comments on redlining and racial profiling, there may be too many scandalous things in his past and present to get our full attention. Remind you of anyone?

Will there be time before Super Tuesday to expose the history of sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits that Bloomberg utterly failed to address during the debate? Or that the major media company he owns has instructed its reporters not to investigate their boss? Or that this is just a taste of the massive and unprecedented conflicts of interests that a Bloomberg White House would face regarding its treatment of Wall Street banks that are the primary customers for Bloomberg LP?

We’ve never seen one person inject this much money this fast — $300 million already and as much as $2 billion by November — into the veins of the body politic, and it’s anybody’s guess what the long-term effects on our politics will be.

It’s possible that Bloomberg will spend hundreds of millions of dollars but actually help Bernie Sanders win the nomination by further splitting the moderate vote. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll win the nomination, despite his shameless purchasing of endorsements from mayors across the country whose cities have received major grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies. But Bloomberg’s impact may be less direct but no less powerful.

Some analysts have speculated that Bloomberg’s primary goal is to win enough delegates to deny Sanders a majority and force a brokered convention where Bloomberg could play kingmaker. But Bloomberg isn’t just aiming to amass delegates. With more money in hand than the entire Democratic Party apparatus, his campaign is creating a state-of-the-art national electoral infrastructure entirely beholden to him, one that’s likely a lot better run than the clown show on display at the Iowa caucus.

Bloomberg has recruited executives from Facebook, Foursquare, and advertising giant GroupM,” “reassigned employees” from Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and launched a secretive data business called Hawkfish to help his campaign and “help Democratic races across the country in future election cycles” (“The fact that he is a candidate,” notes the Washington Post, “gives him greater access to party data than he would otherwise have.”)

The twelfth richest American is so rich that all this spending only comes out of the interest he’s earning on his wealth, but billionaires don’t spend even small amounts of money without expecting something in return.

Bloomberg is making an unprecedented investment in Democratic Party leverage — to deny Bernie the nomination for sure, but also over whatever present and future candidates gratefully accept the help of Hawkfish and the rest of his operation. That’s leverage that will not only benefit Bloomberg, but all those Wall Street banks — Bloomberg LP terminal leasees, all — who want to keep taxes and regulation light.

If there’s one legitimate comparison to be made between Trump and Sanders, it’s the way that both candidates express the radicalizations and polarizations inside their parties. But Republican Party elites surrendered to Trump in 2016 and afterward in a way that Democratic Party leaders never have and probably never will, because Sanders’s class-struggle social democracy threatens American plutocracy in a way that even Trump’s erratic dysfunction never can.

Now Bloomberg’s run is adding a new dimension to the polarization inside the Democratic Party. Rather than funding a moderate like Pete Buttigieg, the debate showed how Bloomberg’s wealth is capable of sucking up all the centrist oxygen in the room, creating a dynamic where primary voters increasingly have to choose between two extremes, with Sanders’s popularity pushing some centrists to give up on democracy and turn to oligarchy, and Bloomberg’s momentum convincing others that Bernie was right after all about the need for political revolution.

As bad as Bloomberg performed in his first debate — and he was gloriously bad — he’s not going anywhere. Ultimately, it’s more likely that the main threat he poses to the socialist left is not his presidential candidacy itself, but his massive infusion of resources into the forces inside the Democratic Party defending the rotten status quo that has given Bloomberg his vast fortune. That’s a fight that Bloomberg can continue long after the party chooses its nominee.