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Obama-appointed Roger Stone judge defends Russia investigations

The judge who handed down Roger Stone’s sentence and presided over numerous other spinoff cases from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation delivered an impassioned speech on Thursday condemning the GOP operative’s actions.

“The defendant lied about a matter of great national and international importance. … He lied to Congress. … And there was nothing unfair, phony, or disgraceful about the investigation or the prosecution,” D.C. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said.

Jackson, 65, a Harvard Law School graduate and 2011 Obama appointee, handed down a 40-month sentence.

Stone, 67, a self-described “dirty trickster” and longtime confidant to President Trump, was found guilty in November on one count of obstruction, one count of witness intimidation, and five separate counts of lying to and concealing records from the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 during its investigation into Russian interference about his alleged outreach to WikiLeaks.

Jackson referenced last year’s closing arguments in which Stone defense lawyer Bruce Rogow claimed that “so much of this case deals with that question: So what?” Michael Marando, one of the Department of Justice prosecutors who left the case last week, responded that “truth matters.”

“The truth still exists. The truth still matters,” Jackson said Thursday. “Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t, his belligerence, his pride in his own lies, are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the very foundation of our democracy.”

Jackson added that Congress, the DOJ, the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, the jurors, and the public cared — “and I care.”

The judge pointed to Mueller’s investigation and bipartisan inquiries by the House and Senate, which “all have concluded,” in tandem with the U.S. Intelligence Community, that Russian interference in 2016 “is beyond debate.” Jackson said the House was fully justified in investigating Russian efforts and any connection to WikiLeaks.

Mueller concluded that Russia interfered in 2016 but didn’t establish any collusion between the Kremlin and any U.S. citizens.

Prior to becoming a judge, Jackson spent a decade in private practice at Trout Cacheris & Solomon, a high-powered D.C. law firm, where she notably was on the defense team for William Jefferson, the former Louisiana congressman. Jefferson, nicknamed “Dollar Bill,” was found by the FBI with $90,000 stashed in his freezer and found guilty of leveraging his public office to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in West Africa.

On the bench, Jackson sentenced former Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to 30 months in prison in 2013 for misusing $750,000 in campaign funds. In 2017, she dismissed a lawsuit brought against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by the parents of two men killed in the Benghazi terrorist attacks.

Over the past couple years, Jackson presided over spinoff cases against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, and former Trump campaign deputy-turned-government witness Rick Gates.

When sentencing Gates in December, Jackson argued, “There was ample basis for this Justice Department of this administration to authorize and pursue” its Trump-Russia investigations. Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham are scrutinizing the origins of that inquiry.

“Any suggestion that the prosecution in this case did anything untoward, unethical, or improper is incorrect,” the judge of Stone’s case said, adding, “He was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson pushed back against Jackson’s speech Thursday night.

“That’s totally untrue. Nobody connected to the president has ever been charged with a crime related to spying for Russia or colluding with Russia, much less convicted of one. Stone wasn’t prosecuted for covering up anything,” Carlson said. The host, who has Trump’s ear, added that “if there’s anyone in Washington who deserves to be impeached, it’s Amy Berman Jackson” and called her “a Democratic activist wearing robes.”

During her speech, Jackson said, “The notion that this case rises and falls with whether Russia interference has been proven … is also false.” The judge noted Stone “was not even charged with lying about Russian collusion or who was behind the hack.”

Instead, she said the case was about Stone’s deception and obstruction of the House and his witness intimidation. Jackson said Stone’s claim about not having records of communications about WikiLeaks “was a flat-out lie.” And she added that Stone was asked to provide answers “not to some secret anti-Trump cabal, but to who? Congress.” She pointed out that the GOP controlled the House at the time.

The DOJ’s D.C. office told the court last week it recommended Stone receive up to nine years behind bars, but Trump tweeted that he “cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” The DOJ reversed itself, and the four line prosecutors on the case withdrew as the department walked back the “unduly high” sentence recommendation.

“The original sentencing memorandum from the original trial team was done in good faith,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb said Thursday, adding, “The prosecution was, and is, righteous.”

Trump tweeted last week that the Stone case “was totally out of control.” He also criticized Jackson, tweeting, “Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!”

The judge addressed this on Thursday.

“The dismay and the disgust with any attempts to interfere with the efforts of prosecutors and members of the judiciary to fulfill their duty should transcend party,” Jackson said.

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New York Times Blasted by Its Own Reporter After Publishing Op-Ed by a Terrorist Leader

The New York Times is facing backlash this week from one of its own correspondents in light of the publication’s controversial decision to run an Op-Ed penned by a notorious multinational terror leader.

“What We, the Taliban, Want” was the headline Thursday as Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy to Taliban supreme commander Hibatullah Akhundzada, made his New York Times debut.

Professing deep lamentation for the human costs of the ongoing 18-year war in Afghanistan, Haqqani claimed in his open letter to the world that he looked forward to the signing of an upcoming peace deal with the U.S. — one the Taliban will allegedly work to respect “every single provision” of as the Afghan people strive toward lasting stability.

Times Afghanistan correspondent Mujib Mashal, howver, did not look kindly on the decision to publish Haqqani’s words, reminding readers on Twitter the terror leader has been anything but a “peace-maker” as the bloody conflict has dragged on through its second decade:

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“The piece by Siraj Haqqani in @nytopinion — which’s independent of our news operations & judgment – omits the most fundamental fact: that Siraj is no Taliban peace-maker as he paints himself,” Mashal wrote Thursday. “He’s behind some of most ruthless attacks of this war with many civilian lives lost.”

Mashal followed up less than 20 minutes later, linking to three articles direct from The Times’ archives detailing Haqqani’s involvement in numerous devastating, high-profile bombings in the Afghan capital of Kabul, several of which have come in the last five years.

Do you think it was tasteless of The Times to print this Op-Ed?

And despite writing that “the killing and the maiming must stop,” Haqqani was outed in 2017 by Afghan and U.S. intelligence as the key planner and organizer behind a suicide attack that year with one of the highest death tolls the war has yet seen.

According to a May report in The Times, the attack, a truck bombing, took place in the heart of the city during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, killing more than 80 people upon ignition.

By June, CNN and other outlets were reporting a death toll of approximately 150 and the Trump administration, seeking to fulfill a campaign promise and pursue military withdrawal from the region, was forced to deploy 3,000 more U.S. forces.

The son of the late Jalaluddin Haqqani, a U.S.-backed Mujahideen rebel leader during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Haqqani has deep ties to the rise of radical fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East, The Times reported.

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Haqqani’s father is the founder of a deadly terror cell known as the “Haqqani network,” which operates in eastern Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, and pledged fealty to the Taliban in 1995, closely intermingling with local al-Qaida cells as well.

The Taliban deputy took over as chief of the Haqqani network in the years prior to his father’s widely publicized 2018 death due to an unspecified illness.

According to The Guardian, the Haqqani network gained no shortage of its Western notoriety in 2008, when the organization kidnapped and held in captivity 41-year-old American reporter David Rohde for seven months before his daring escape.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter had been reporting in the region for none other than The Times.

And Mashal was not the only public figure to take aim at The Times in light of its decision to print direct opinion from a high-ranking leader in such an organization.

The decision seemed to have left a bad taste in the mouths of pundits, experts and individuals with ties to Afghanistan alike Thursday, as hundreds piled on the outlet, citing to other stories detailing Haqqani’s history of war crimes and pointing out the exorbitant $5 million reward being offered by the FBI for information leading to his arrest.

“The NYT has decided to amplify and effectively promote the messages of the world’s most notorious terrorist (and Al Qaeda affiliate)-a man who has the blood of hundreds of thousands,” Saad Mohseni, director of the prominent Afghan media group MOBY, tweeted. “An interview is one thing but to allow such a man to express himself unchallenged is a disgrace.”

The Western Journal has reached out to The New York Times for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

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Democratic Party’s Self-Destruction Signals a Trump Win in 2020

President Trump has eviscerated the Democratic Party, reducing it to internecine squabbling between out-of-touch establishment figures and fire-breathing radicals who all have equally dismal prospects of appealing to ordinary voters.

Panic seized the GOP establishment when Donald Trump began to rack up primary victories in 2016. The self-appointed guardians of the Republican Party solemnly informed voters that their misguided support for Trump risked destroying the party and putting an ignominious end to the “conservative movement” as we know it, predicting an electoral disaster of historic proportions if he were to win the nomination.

Fortunately, voters ignored the old hands who have traditionally called the shots in the GOP and chose Donald Trump as their standard-bearer. On the strength of an America First agenda of economic revival at home and anti-interventionism abroad that directly contradicted the reigning party orthodoxy, he went on to achieve an astounding electoral victory by winning Rust Belt states that had not voted for a Republican candidate in 30 years.

The Democratic Party is now undergoing the same routine in reverse. The party has been driven over the political cliff by ideological extremism, bitter infighting and an irrational, all-consuming hatred of Donald Trump. Today, it is the Democratic establishment that is desperate to ward off impending disaster — and this time that panic is prescient.

For months, Democratic Party bigwigs and their lackeys in the mainstream media have been reassuring themselves and their dwindling audience of supporters that all is well: that the party is united in opposition to President Trump and his agenda, and that because Democratic voters grasp the essential imperative of beating Trump in 2020, they would eventually unite behind an electable “moderate” such as former Vice President Joe Biden.

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In the wake of Biden’s humiliating defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire and the corresponding rise in the fortunes of socialist septuagenarian Senator Bernie Sanders, it’s clear that this establishment narrative was pure delusion.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying close attention over the past three years.

Immediately after Donald Trump’s shocking 2016 triumph, Democratic honchos had an opportunity to engage in self-examination and produce an honest appraisal of how they lost so badly to a political neophyte.

Instead of drawing the obvious conclusion — that they gravely miscalculated by taking the core Democratic constituency of working-class Americans for granted in favor of empty posturing on the trendy elitist identity politics of race and gender — the Democrats and their deep-state allies devoted themselves to concocting an utterly absurd fairy tale of treasonous collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Do you think President Trump will win re-election in 2020?

For over three years, they have pursued their goal of overturning the 2016 vote through the impeachment of a duly-elected president by conducting baseless investigations and hurling unsubstantiated accusations against President Trump.

Yet by cynically ginning up the passions of the Trump-hating “#resistance” with disingenuous promises that they would soon be able to remove the president from office, all while attempting to obstruct the administration’s agenda at every turn, they have created huge disappointment and disaffection among their base.

The Democrats embarrassed themselves with their politically motivated crusade to oust the president from office, and the obstructionist efforts of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives have prevented them from fulfilling any of the policy promises they made on the campaign trail in 2018.

At the same time, instead of trying to win back the disaffected working-class voters who sent Donald Trump to the White House by working to address the nation’s problems and formulating a more compelling policy agenda, the Democratic presidential candidates have engaged in a politically suicidal competition to stake out the most extreme positions possible.

Even the so-called “moderates” have endorsed such lunacy as free health care for illegal immigrants, racial reparations, voting rights for convicted felons in prison and the abolition of entire law enforcement agencies — proposals that are all but guaranteed to alienate the very voters they’ll need in November.

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The dilemma facing Democratic leaders and strategists is entirely of their own making. After years of fostering rabid Trump hatred and playing to the far-left obsession with divisive identity politics, they’ve cultivated a highly-invigorated cadre of primary voters who would much rather support a genuine socialist like Bernie rather than the transparent frauds backed by the party establishment.

The Democratic base is now beyond party leaders’ control, and they are just now waking up to the fact that their party is being taken over by rabid leftists with no loyalty to the establishment that rigged the game against Bernie the last time around — but also no sense of how deeply unpopular Bernie’s radical platform is among the broader American electorate.

Establishment Democrats are now frantically using every means at their disposal, including their cable news subsidiaries, to kneecap Bernie’s candidacy, but it doesn’t look like their ploy is going to work.

Their last desperate gambit — using diminutive billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his money to bury the extremist candidates in an avalanche of slickly produced ads — seems doomed to failure after recent revelations of the former New York City mayor’s explosive and offensive comments about crime and policing in the African-American community.

Making the outlook even more grim for the Democrats, President Trump is making significant inroads with Latino and African-American voters — groups that could turn out to be decisive in November — by touting both the roaring economy and broadly popular policies such as the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation he signed last year.

No wonder the post-impeachment celebration at the White House following the Senate’s exoneration of the president was filled with smiling Republican faces, including some who had predicted that Trump would be the downfall of their party just four short years ago.

Not only has he given them a new political lease on life; he has also utterly demolished their political opponents to a degree they never could have imagined, much less achieved.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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Michael Bloomberg’s Threat to Democracy Cannot Be Exaggerated

Political campaigns inhabit zero-sum worlds. A million dollars spent on television ads in Nevada is a million dollars not spent on television ads in Texas. Opening a new field office in South Carolina means less money for a new office in Southern California.

Every day, campaigns have to make tough decisions. How much to invest in field organizing? Direct mailers? How many canvassers should be hired? How many, when things spoil, should be cut?

What if a campaign never had to answer these questions ever again?

Michael Bloomberg’s bid for the presidency carries this terrifying possibility. It has been likened, in the press, to a juggernaut or a Death Star, but even those analogies fail — isn’t a planet-sized spaceship still limited by fuel and gravitational pull? Bloomberg’s campaign is unlike any we’ve witnessed in American history, an inevitable and nihilistic outcome of our absurd campaign finance laws.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, the federal government cannot place limits on the self-financing of campaigns by ultrarich candidates. Bloomberg, who has already spent $400 million in just a few months on the trail, has a net worth north of $60 billion, an unfathomable sum that has bought him alliances and silence in equal measure. This is what oligarchy looks like: mayors, members of Congress, and various officials thirsty to endorse Bloomberg in the hopes his endless cash can aid their future endeavors. And for those who may criticize him, there is the always the threat of the stick outweighing the carrot: the cash spigot can always be turned against you.

Like many, I was initially skeptical of Bloomberg’s chances to disrupt the primary because he was such a late entry and his national poll numbers only recently began to rise dramatically. His odds of seizing the nomination from Bernie Sanders, who seems to be the only candidate left unaffected by Bloomberg’s surge, are still long without a brokered convention. Eviscerating Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar won’t mean that much if Sanders maintains his position of strength. This is the silver lining in what is already a disturbing thought experiment come to life — a campaign devoid of limits and empty of values disrupting the frail democracy we have left.

Without his monstrous wealth, Bloomberg would be another Michael Bennet or Steve Bullock, a charisma-free muddle, utterly lost to history. He has purchased name recognition and credibility, entirely ignoring the kind of painstaking outreach and ordinary coalition-building campaigns must engage in. Much political commentary has been rendered moot by Bloomberg’s spending, which will easily exceed $1 billion. There is no point, anymore, to speculating about Nevada caucus strategy, Buttigieg’s black voter problem, or how well Klobuchar delivers her zingers at the debates. The horse race chatter, always a distraction to begin with, is now consigned to irrelevance in the face of the only story that really matters. Given his existing wealth and ability to passively reap billions without lifting a finger means that even after spending so many millions, he may not even end up with less wealth than he had before. By next year, he could very well be a richer man.

In the meantime, the oligarch is getting antsy. His campaign manager fired off a threat at Sanders, warning of dirt he was ready to unload on the democratic-socialist frontrunner. On one hand, this is an idle threat: Sanders has been a national figure for over four years now and attempts to red-bait him over his trips to the Soviet Union or dredge up political writings from the 1970s have failed miserably. He’s a known, and generally well-liked, quantity. There is probably no single piece of opposition research that can derail Sanders.

On the other hand, those fearing an oligarch’s total seizure of the Democratic Party should take the Bloomberg campaign seriously. Until now, his advertising onslaught has merely been a mix of forgettable Trump-bashing and generic self-promotion. On the radio, Michael Douglas will tell you how Mike Bloomberg, a real middle-class guy, got knocked down and got back up again to build a successful company. On TV, Bloomberg will pretend to be endorsed by Barack Obama. We don’t know yet what a wholly negative Bloomberg campaign expenditure looks like. What if, after burning through the first billion celebrating Mike, the second billion is reserved just for smearing Sanders? What if every major media market in America, each day, is subjected to nothing but an endless barrage of TV and radio ads calling Sanders unfit for office? Sanders could survive it. But we don’t have any precedent.

It is important, always, to keep scale in mind. Four years ago, we witnessed the most expensive election in American history. In just the past three months, Bloomberg has already surpassed the entirety of the 2016 Trump campaign’s spending. By next month, he will have likely eclipsed Hillary Clinton’s $768 million. By the spring, he may spend more than the two top 2016 candidates combined. Bloomberg is a pioneer for oligarchs everywhere, the ultra-billionaires who always long for more than they already have. There is nothing to stop a Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Walton scion, or an anonymous hedge funder from entering a future contest to buy their way to contention.

We know now that the Democratic National Committee will change their debate rules overnight to accommodate prolific self-funders. We know that Democrats can be as receptive as Republicans to oligarchy. What we don’t know is where this all ends. Once more, we are through the looking glass — only Bloomberg knows how much he’s willing to spend to short-circuit our democracy, once and for all.

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Buttigieg’s small-town strategy faces steep test in Nevada

The rural counties “will be significant,” said Ernesto Apreza, who led Kamala Harris’ campaign in Nevada before she dropped out of the race in December. “In 2008, that’s how Obama won, and I think they’ll play a similar role in 2020.”

“Sanders and Warren spent a lot of time in the rural counties early on, but a lot has changed since last summer, and if Buttigieg catches lightning in a bottle in the rurals, then he could be very, very competitive in Nevada,” said one former aide who worked in Nevada for a now-finished presidential campaign, granted anonymity to talk about the state candidly. “He’s gambling on that strategy, and it’s a smart one.”

Last summer, Buttigieg lagged behind Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in organization here, but he quickly scaled up, and he now boasts the most offices in northern Nevada. Earlier this week, Buttigieg swung through Carson City, Sparks and Elko, a sweep of smaller northern Nevada communities where he drew hundred-person crowds, some of his biggest in the state.

Elko County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Anderson called Buttigieg’s team the “most prominent” in his area.

“Sanders has a good foothold here,” Anderson said. “But so does Pete.”

But Buttigieg wasn’t the first to show up in the rural corners of the state. Warren and Sanders built machinery here early, said Alex Goff, a Democratic National Committee member from northern Nevada.

“Pete scaled up more through the fall, but because it takes time to find voters, identify voters, it’ll be interesting to watch if they found people late,” said Goff, who has endorsed Warren. “But based on what I’ve seen in the past, it’s hard to do that when you don’t give yourself enough time to organize.”

In addition to Sanders and Warren and their early investments in organizing northern Nevada, Buttigieg also faces competition from Amy Klobuchar, who is making a last-minute stop in northern Nevada on Friday.

“Rural voters are very biased toward candidates who spend time in the rurals,” said Andres Ramirez, a Democratic consultant based in Nevada. “Pete and Bernie have been there the most consistently, the most frequently and over the longest period of time, organizing and showing up.”

Ramirez also praised Buttigieg’s caucus director, Travis Brock. “The tactics of where to organize, where you’ll do better on realignment, all of that is critically important, and not everyone has a staffer who gets that,” said Ramirez, who worked with Brock on the first caucuses Nevada hosted in 2008.

For Buttigieg, the delegate strategy also works hand in hand with the broader message of the former South Bend, Ind., mayor’s campaign: that he’ll campaign anywhere and everywhere, including traditionally conservative areas, trying to make a case for his electability to voters obsessed with beating President Donald Trump.

“There’s an electoral strategy element that’s important [for] delegate share, but there’s also a messaging element that comes from the awareness that a mistake Democrats have made in the past is focusing on this group or that group, ignoring others,” said Michael Halle, a senior adviser to the Buttigieg campaign. “That is a critical element to Pete’s message.”

Buttigieg’s campaign has evidence demonstrating that this approach has worked so far — although it’s limited to the first two, predominantly white, states to vote in 2020. In Iowa, Buttigieg won the most state delegates out of rural precincts, outperforming Sanders and Joe Biden. And in New Hampshire, Halle pointed to the smaller townships dotting the Vermont state line, where Buttigieg competed strongly against Sanders, the neighboring senator.

“In the Panhandle of Florida and in eastern North Carolina, he’s going to continue to resonate there, and we’ve proven that,” Halle said, citing rural parts of Super Tuesday states set to vote on March 3. “I think Nevada is going to be a continuation of that.”

Rural counties in Nevada “punch above their weight” in the voter-to-delegate ratio, said one national Democratic strategist who worked in Nevada, but those marginal gains may not be enough to deliver the same kind of surprise surge that Buttigieg benefited from in Iowa, where he was better known and had spent more time.

The majority of votes will be cast in Clark County, where Democratic caucus-goers are more likely to be Latino or black — two voting blocs with which Buttigieg has struggled to gain traction so far.

“You’ve got to do well where the people are, and that’s Clark County,” said Josh Ulibarri, a Democratic pollster who is unaffiliated in the presidential race. “But the numbers, the delegates, are just one element. The other question is whether he can afford to fail the first test of winning black and brown voters.”

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Trump Mad That Democrats Got Spy Agency to Say Russia Favors Him

(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump felt blindsided when he learned belatedly that intelligence officials briefed House lawmakers that Russia is continuing to interfere in U.S. elections — and that Democrats elicited their view that the Russians favor Trump’s re-election, according to people familiar with the situation.

Trump blamed Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, for the episode and the failure to inform him. On Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing Maguire, a veteran intelligence official, with Ric Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and a staunch Trump supporter.

The chain of events underscores the continued tensions between Trump and intelligence officials that he and his supporters often depict as part of a “deep state” undermining his presidency.

The classified briefing on Feb. 13 was delivered by Shelby Pierson, the intelligence official charged with monitoring issues related to election security. Among those attending were Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who led the House Democrats who impeached Trump, and the panel’s top Republican, Representative Devin Nunes of California.

In response to questions from Democrats, lawmakers were told that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, prefer Trump over his Democratic challengers and is still actively interfering in this year’s election, according to the people. But little information has emerged on any specific or ongoing interference by Russia detailed in the briefing last week.

‘It’s Disinformation’

Trump said at a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Friday that he was told last week that Democrats were promulgating “a rumor” that Russia sought his re-election.

“I was told it was happening, I was told a week ago,” he said. “They said, ‘You know they’re trying to start a rumor.’ It’s disinformation — that Putin wants to make sure I get re-elected.”

He added: “Doesn’t he want to see who the Democrat’s going to be? Doesn’t he want to see Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow? These people are crazy.” Sanders has said he has visited Moscow but didn’t honeymoon there.

Trump has sought to cultivate a relationship with Putin, regarded by most U.S. lawmakers as an adversary. Trump acknowledged at his rally: “We want to get along with Russia. We want to get along with China.”

The information provided to the House committee was described by one official as more of a general assessment. Democrats asked leading questions to obtain the analysis that Russia favors Trump’s re-election, according to a U.S. official and another person familiar with the matter.

The White House suspects Democrats hoped the intelligence analysis would be leaked, an official said.

Schiff’s Role

Another official said Pierson was challenged by Republicans during the briefing about the raw intelligence behind the claim, and weren’t given specifics. The same officials said Trump’s anger at Maguire focused on the role that Schiff — who Trump considers a prime nemesis — allegedly played.

The president expressed his frustration to Maguire in an Oval Office meeting the day after the House briefing, according to officials. Trump was told that Pierson, who delivered the briefing, felt her comments were being misrepresented and that she could only say that the Russians were continuing to interfere in U.S. politics — not that they were putting a finger on the scale to help Trump.

Trump’s ire over the intelligence briefing was reported earlier by the New York Times.

Schiff tweeted that “we count on the intelligence community to inform Congress of any threat of foreign interference in our elections.” At the same time, Schiff seemed to hedge on what information, exactly, had been provided to him and other House members.

“If reports are true and the President is interfering with that, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling,” Schiff said.

Democrats have blasted Trump for replacing Maguire with Grenell, who has little experience in intelligence-gathering or analysis, and several key Republicans have remained silent on the decision.

‘Inviting’ Interference

“By firing Acting DNI Maguire because his staff provided the candid conclusions of the Intelligence Community to Congress regarding Russian meddling in the 2020 Presidential election, the President is not only refusing to defend against foreign interference, he’s inviting it,” House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi complained in a statement.

On Friday, Maguire’s deputy Andrew Hallman said he was stepping down as the DNI’s principal executive, offering praise for his former boss, who he called a “lifelong patriot and public servant.”

“As I prepare to depart, I have complete confidence in the IC workforce and the enduring qualities of the community — stability, integrity, and relentless dedication to serving the nation,” Hallman said in a statement, referring to the intelligence community. “These qualities will guide the IC through this next chapter and the uncertainties that come with change.”

Grenell is expected to fill the senior DNI role on a short-term basis. Trump tweeted on Friday that he has four candidates under consideration to be nominated for the job. But one potential candidate who Trump floated as a potential nominee late on Thursday — Georgia Representative Doug Collins — said he wasn’t interested.

Collins called Trump’s comments “humbling” and “amazing,” but said he wants to stick with plans to challenge Senator Kelly Loeffler for the Georgia seat this fall, even though Loeffler is backed by the much of the Republican establishment including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Earlier, Trump was close to nominating Representative Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, as director of national intelligence, according to two people familiar with the deliberations. But that idea was scrapped when Trump learned of a 2016 video clip in which Stewart said “Donald Trump does not represent Republican ideals, he is our Mussolini.”

(Updates with Trump comments beginning in sixth paragraph)

–With assistance from Josh Wingrove.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at;Billy House in Washington at;Chris Strohm in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at, Larry Liebert, Alex Wayne

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Russia is looking to help Trump win in 2020, election security official says

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The intelligence community’s top election security official delivered a briefing to lawmakers last week warning them that the intelligence community believes Russia is already taking steps to interfere in the 2020 election with the goal of helping President Donald Trump win, three sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

Last week’s briefing, led by election security official Shelby Pierson and first reported by The New York Times, addressed the overall picture of Russia’s efforts, including hacking, weaponizing social media and attacks on election infrastructure, one of the sources said.

The briefers said Russia does favor Trump, but that helping Trump wasn’t the only thing they were trying to do as it was also designed to raise questions about the integrity of the elections process, the source added.

Trump became irate in a meeting with outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire last week for allowing the information about Russia’s meddling efforts to be included in the briefing, a White House official said.

Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — which the US intelligence community believes was aimed at boosting Trump’s candidacy and hurting his opponent, Hillary Clinton — led to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The prospect of interference in 2020 will further test US defenses against foreign meddling, which Trump has repeatedly downplayed as he has dismissed any suggestion that Kremlin influence played a role in his election.

A national security official in the Trump administration told CNN that Pierson may have mischaracterized the intelligence that Russia has developed a preference for Trump.

“A more reasonable interpretation of the intelligence is not that they have a preference, it’s a step short of that. It’s more that they understand the President is someone they can work with, he’s a dealmaker. But not that they prefer him over (Bernie) Sanders or (Pete) Buttigieg or anyone else. So it may have been mischaracterized by Shelby,” the official said.

James Clapper, who served as director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” Thursday evening that it is “quite predictable” Russia would again try to interfere in the election.

“This is not a big surprise, but it illustrates the tremendous challenge that the intelligence community has where they’re teeing up facts that our President doesn’t want to hear, and with a result that the messenger got shot in the form of Joe Maguire being asked to leave,” Clapper said.

Briefing was factor in DNI change

News of Pierson’s classified briefing to lawmakers on Russia was not well received by either Trump or House Republicans who were present, sources tell CNN. When Trump learned of it, he seemed most frustrated that House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat who has been a prominent critic, was included in the briefing, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Trump believed that Schiff in particular would use the information to try and undermine him over the coming months as he runs for reelection, the person said, and Trump blamed Maguire for the information getting to Schiff.

Schiff, a California Democrat, tweeted Thursday night that if Trump is interfering with intelligence reports to Congress about threats of foreign interference, “he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling. Exactly as we warned he would do.”

The national security official, however, said Trump was upset that he heard about the intelligence conclusion from a member of Congress rather than from the intelligence community, describing Trump as “out of joint with Maguire on that process.”

A former senior intelligence official dismissed the notion that Pierson would have shown preferential treatment for Schiff and the Democrats in her briefing on election security, instead suggesting that Trump’s response indicates that he and the intelligence community “are still unable to communicate on this topic.”

“What the (intelligence community) sees as reporting the truth — simple statement of facts in evidence without judgment — the President sees as undermining his legitimacy,” the former official told CNN.

On Wednesday, Trump announced he was naming Richard Grenell, a staunch loyalist and current US ambassador to Germany, as acting DNI despite him not having experience in intelligence. A source familiar with internal discussions said White House officials saw Grenell as a good stopgap solution for the acting DNI vacancy as time was running out on Maguire’s time in the position and because of Trump’s dissatisfaction with Maguire due to the intelligence briefing.

Trump confirmed in a tweet Thursday night he plans to nominate a permanent DNI soon, and floated Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and a top congressional ally, for the position when speaking to reporters on Air Force One.

Grenell was already being considered for other White House positions when filling the DNI position became a pressing need, the source said.

Thursday night, an intelligence official confirmed to CNN that the second-ranking official at DNI, Andrew Hallman, is also leaving his acting position. Joining DNI as a temporary senior adviser to Grenell is Kash Patel, a former acolyte of Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, three sources told CNN. Patel was key in crafting the controversial Republican House Intelligence Committee memo that accused FBI and Justice Department officials of abusing their surveillance authority.

Repeated dismissals of Russian threat

Trump has repeatedly downplayed Russia’s efforts to interfere in US elections and has dismissed findings by US intelligence agencies.

Most notably, the President appeared to side with Russia’s assurances rather than his intelligence community’s assessment of Russian meddling in the 2016 election when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2018.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump told reporters as he stood alongside the Russian leader. He later claimed to have misspoken.

Since then, US intelligence officials have continued to consistently warn about Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere in American elections, noting threats to both the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential race. Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Russia was continuing to “engage in malign foreign influence” online with the goal of sowing division and discord, “and to generate controversy, to generate distrust in our democratic institutions in our electoral process.”

At the time, Wray said he couldn’t publicly answer a question about whether the Russians were aiming to help or hurt particular political campaigns.

Pierson herself has been out in front on the issue of foreign interference in the 2020 election as top officials have sought to raise awareness about the nature of the threat that caught most of the American public off guard in 2016.

“The Russians, for example, are already engaging in influence operations relative to candidates going into 2020. But we do not have evidence at this time that our adversaries are directly looking at interfering with vote counts or the vote tallies,” she told NPR in an interview last month.

On the day he was replaced, Maguire penned an op-ed along with other top election security officials, including Wray and Attorney General William Barr, issuing a similar warning about Russia and other foreign actors.

“States have made significant progress since 2016, but as long as the threat remains, there is work to be done. We have yet to identify any activity designed to prevent voting or change votes. However, we remain watchful of any malicious activities from cybercriminals and from foreign actors like Russia, China and Iran,” they wrote.

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Poll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate

Former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Bloomberg unveils billboards to troll Trump ahead of campaign stops Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office ‘echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters’ MORE’s momentum in the Democratic presidential race has stalled in the wake of a lackluster debate performance in Las Vegas this week, according to a new poll.

The Morning Consult poll released Friday shows Bloomberg falling into third place behind Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Prominent Texas Latina endorses Warren Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office ‘echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters’ MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office ‘echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters’ Democratic strategist says Biden ‘has to’ get second place in Nevada MORE, dropping 3 points compared to a similar Morning Consult survey from before the debate.

The former mayor is still registering double-digit support, at 17 percent, but Bloomberg’s post-debate dip was the largest of any candidate.

Sanders, meanwhile, held onto his first-place position in the poll and even gained 2 points compared to the pre-debate survey, rising to 30 percent support. Biden stayed steady at 19 percent.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Bloomberg unveils billboards to troll Trump ahead of campaign stops John Legend joining Warren in South Carolina next week: report MORE (D-Mass.) finished in fourth place in the survey with 12 percent support – a 2-point gain since earlier this week – while former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office ‘echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters’ Buttigieg to join striking South Carolina McDonald’s workers next week MORE fell into fifth place with 11 percent support and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Washington Post fact-checker gives Bloomberg 4 Pinocchios for ‘deceptive editing’ in campaign ad The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Dem anxiety grows ahead of Super Tuesday MORE (D-Minn.) trailed at 5 percent.

The Morning Consult poll, which was conducted entirely after this week’s debate, suggests that Bloomberg’s performance has slowed his rise in the Democratic presidential race. 

Throughout Wednesday night’s forum, the former mayor struggled to fend off rapid-fire attacks from his rivals, who targeted his political record, allegations of sexual harassment and willingness to spend his immense personal fortune to outdo his competition. 

The bungled performance also appears to have eroded Bloomberg’s favorability numbers, according to the Morning Consult poll. 

Before the debate, 61 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the former mayor, compared to 25 percent who said they had an unfavorable opinion of him. After the debate, Bloomberg’s favorability dropped to 52 percent while his unfavorability climbed to 35 percent, the poll found.

In fact, Bloomberg’s favorability saw the most significant net decrease among self-described moderate voters. Prior to the debate, 66 percent of moderates reported having a favorable opinion of Bloomberg, while only 21 percent said they had an unfavorable view of him. After the debate, his favorability had dropped to 52 percent and his unfavorability rose to 36 percent.

The Morning Consult poll surveyed 2,609 voters who indicated that they may vote in their state’s Democratic primary or caucus on Feb. 20, the day after the Las Vegas debate. It has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

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Unity Tickets & Bernie Sanders — Why a Unity Ticket Isn’t Likely to Save the Democrats

Sen. Bernie Sanders attends a campaign event in Carson City, Nev., February 16, 2020. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Tim Miller writes a good column over at The Bulwark, laying out the hard lessons learned by the Jeb Bush campaign and NeverTrump forces in the 2016 GOP primary, and more or less screaming at anti-Bernie Sanders Democrats that they have less than two weeks before the Vermont senator accumulates a lead in delegates that will probably prove insurmountable.

Miller lays out a variety of recommendations for anti-Sanders Democrats, and closes by offering one last-ditch maneuver that wasn’t tested in 2016:

The other gambit that wasn’t tried but may have worked was an attempt by Cruz to form a unity ticket with Rubio. (Marco rebuffed it. Because, of course.) Here is a situation where a candidate dropping out could be purely additive to another candidate: if they literally joined the ticket. Unlike the lanes theory — where the voters magically all go to one candidate or the divvy up the states theory — at least this play hasn’t failed yet.

The problem with the unity ticket idea is that Democrats would need to pick two of the other contenders who could conceivably put together more delegates than Sanders does. Pete Buttigieg and . . . Joe Biden? Biden’s already spent eight years as veep. Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar? The Minnesota senator appears to incandescently loathe the former South Bend mayor. Warren doesn’t seem to want to be the running mate of anyone other than Sanders. Bloomberg hasn’t won any delegates yet, and the rest of the field resents him for trying to buy the nomination. Pick any two of the remaining top five contenders at random, and you probably end up with a “unity ticket” without any, you know, unity.

“Unity tickets” are alliances borne out of desperation, and they aren’t likely to work unless both figures like and want to work with each other. A unity ticket is also an enormously unfair imposition upon the nominee. If you win the nomination, you’ve earned the right to pick the person you want to be among your most trusted advisors and a heartbeat away from the presidency.

You shouldn’t have somebody who you disagree with — and beat in the primaries! — foisted onto you, destined to be this contrarian, disgruntled, not-entirely-trustworthy force in your presidency.