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Prosecutor says DOJ told him to go easy on Roger Stone

A federal prosecutor is expected to testify before Congress on Wednesday that he faced political pressure to go easy on Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Trump who was convicted of lying to Congress in its probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The bombshell allegations were made in prepared testimony that prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky is expected to deliver at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday examining alleged political interference at the Justice Department.

In the statement, made public by House Democrats, Zelinsky alleges that his agency’s leadership intervened to recommend a more lenient sentence for Stone, in part because the acting U.S. attorney “was afraid of the president.”

“What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President,” Zelinsky wrote, adding that he was told acting U.S. Atty. Timothy Shea was “receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break.”

The disclosure comes as the Justice Department has been roiled by controversy over Atty. Gen. William Barr’s repeated efforts to weigh in on cases in ways that appear to benefit the president.

Just this weekend, Barr successfully removed the top federal prosecutor in New York City who had overseen politically sensitive investigations involving the president’s associates. He also has pushed prosecutors to dismiss the case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his pre-inauguration conversations with a Russian diplomat.

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for Barr, did not immediately respond to Zelinsky’s allegations, nor did a spokeswoman for Shea.

Stone, 67, a self-described “dirty trickster” who has a tattoo of President Nixon on his back, was convicted in November of seven felonies including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a House investigation during the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Stone was the sixth Trump associate to be convicted of charges arising from Mueller’s Russia investigation.

In his testimony, Zelinsky described how he and three colleagues won the conviction and submitted a draft of a sentencing recommendation in February to his superiors that called for Stone to receive a sentence in the range of seven to nine years in prison. He was told the memo was strong and that Stone deserved “every day” of the recommendation, Zelinsky wrote.

Two days later, Zelinsky wrote, he was ordered to drop some of the enhancements — essentially aggravating factors that boost a proposed punishment — prosecutors had included in their draft. The result would have reduced the sentencing range. When prosecutors resisted the pressure, he wrote, supervisors told them to recommend a sentence below the guidelines.

“We repeatedly argued that failing to seek all relevant enhancements, or recommending a below-Guidelines sentence without support for doing so, would be inappropriate,” Zelinsky wrote in his prepared testimony.

In response, he wrote, a supervisor told them that the “U.S. attorney had political reasons for his instructions, which our supervisor agreed were unethical and wrong. However, we were instructed that we should go along with the U.S. attorney’s instructions because this case was ‘not the hill worth dying on’ and that we could ‘lose our jobs’ if we did not toe the line.”

The prosecutors refused to modify the sentencing recommendation and were allowed to submit it on Feb 10. The next morning, Trump erupted on Twitter, calling the memo “horrible and very unfair.”

Zelinsky and his colleagues were told by their superiors that the Justice Department would soon be filing a new sentencing memo. The four prosecutors withdrew from the case. That night, a supervisor filed a new memo in federal court, arguing that the original recommendation was excessive but said that Stone deserved prison time.

“The Department of Justice treated Roger Stone differently and more leniently in ways that are virtually, if not entirely, unprecedented,” Zelinsky wrote.

On Feb. 20, U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson sentenced Stone to three years and four months in prison. He has not yet reported to prison; Trump has indicated he will pardon him before he is jailed.

At the sentencing, Jackson criticized how the Justice Department handled the sentencing, calling it “unprecedented” and said the original prosecutors had written a brief that had been well-researched and was supported by the facts.

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Trump ally Roger Stone was ‘treated differently’

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal prosecutor is prepared to tell Congress on Wednesday that Roger Stone, a close ally of President Donald Trump, was given special treatment ahead of his sentencing because of his relationship with the president.

Aaron Zelinsky, a career Justice Department prosecutor who worked on cases as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including the case against Stone, will say he was told in no uncertain terms by supervisors that political considerations influenced the handling of the case, according to testimony released by the House Judiciary Committee. Zelinsky now works in the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland.

“What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Zelinsky says in the prepared testimony.

The panel subpoenaed Zelinksy and John Elias, a career official in the department’s antitrust division, as part of its probe into the politicization of the department under Attorney General William Barr. The Democratic-led panel and Barr have been feuding since shortly after he took office in early 2019, when he declined to testify about Mueller’s report.

The Democrats launched the investigation earlier this year over Barr’s handling of the Stone case, but have expanded their focus to several subsequent episodes in which they believe Barr is doing Trump’s bidding. That includes the department’s efforts to dismiss the criminal case against Gen. Michael Flynn and the firing last weekend of the the top prosecutor in New York’s Southern District. The prosecutor, Geoffrey Berman, has been investigating the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has threatened to subpoena Barr himself for a hearing next week if he doesn’t agree to appear. The attorney general has never testified before the panel.

Zelinsky, one of four lawyers who quit the Stone case after the department overruled their sentencing recommendation, plans to say Wednesday that the acting U.S. attorney at the time, Timothy Shea, was “receiving heavy pressures from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to give Stone a break.” He does not say who was doing the pressuring, but says there was “significant pressure” on line prosecutors to “obscure” the correct sentencing guidelines and “water down and in some cases outright distort” what happened at Stone’s trial and the events that resulted in his conviction.

The Justice Department did not immediately comment Tuesday.

Before Stone’s Feb. 20 sentencing, Justice Department leadership changed the sentencing recommendation just hours after Trump tweeted his displeasure at the recommendation of up to nine years in prison, saying it had been too harsh. Stone was later sentenced to serve more than three years in prison plus two years’ probation and a $20,000 fine.

Barr has said the president’s tweet played no role in the change. He said he ordered the new filing hours before the president’s tweet because he was caught off guard by the initial sentencing recommendation and believed it was excessive based on the facts of the case. Filing a new one was a “righteous decision based on the merits,” he has told The Associated Press.

According to his prepared testimony, Zelinsky will describe having learned from the media that the Justice Department planned to overrule the trial team’s sentencing recommendation, something he said he found unusual given the department’s conventional practice of not commenting on cases. Though the U.S. attorney’s office initially said the reports were false, the team was later told that a new sentencing memorandum would be issued that would see a lighter punishment for Stone.

“We repeatedly asked to see that new memorandum prior to its filing. Our request was denied,” Zelinsky will say. “We were not informed about the content or substance of the proposed filing, or even who was writing it. We were told that one potential draft of the filing attacked us personally.”

Zelinsky says he was also told that the acting U.S. attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was “afraid of the President.”

Stone was convicted on all seven counts of an indictment that accused him of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.

On Tuesday, Stone filed a motion asking to extend his surrender date until September because of coronavirus concerns. He is scheduled to report to a federal prison in Georgia by June 30.

In separate testimony released by the committee, Elias plans to detail antitrust investigations that he says were started over the objections of career staff. He says he asked the department’s inspector general to investigate “whether these matters constituted an abuse of authority, a gross waste of funds, and gross mismanagement.”

___

Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

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Biden campaign restricts contacts with foreign officials

Trump was impeached late last year over his attempts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, though he was later acquitted in the Senate. U.S. intelligence officials have warned that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2020 race as it did in 2016, when they believe Moscow tried to boost Trump.

“Because of this poisonous environment created by the president, and so that there is no confusion as to whether or not we are inviting any assistance from foreign governments … our campaign has refrained from engaging in substantive conversations with foreign government officials, and would only do so under conditions that ensure transparency,” Antony Blinken, a senior adviser to Biden, said in a statement to POLITICO.

Blinken accused Trump of having “debased” the office of the presidency by “even begging foreign governments to shore up his re-election campaign.” Trump has denied that allegation, though he has publicly called on the Chinese and Ukrainian governments to investigate the Bidens.

Biden has for years “forcefully argued against any campaign” accepting foreign assistance, Blinken said.

The Biden campaign said it did not foresee any circumstance in which it would engage in any substantive interaction with a foreign official. But if such a situation did arise, it would involve a pre-set agenda cleared with campaign lawyers and foreign affairs staffers, that a notetaker would summarize the conversation, and that a readout would be given to the press.

The Biden campaign’s choice is in many ways more symbolic than anything.

Biden has longstanding relationships with an array of foreign officials, including heads of state, dating back to his years in Congress as well as his time as Barack Obama’s vice president. Some of his top foreign policy advisers – among them Blinken, a former deputy secretary of State; Jake Sullivan, a former top State Department official; and Julie Smith, who advised Biden at the White House – are veteran Washington figures with massive Rolodexes who have published essays and other position papers that speak to what a Biden presidency might look like.

And because Biden and many of his advisers served in the Obama administration, their negotiating styles as well as their views on plenty of foreign policy issues also are well-known.

Still, the decision to adhere to such a rule is irking some foreign diplomats. Many governments, often through their ambassadors and other embassy officials, try to ingratiate themselves with American presidential campaigns, especially once both parties’ presumptive nominees are clear.

“It’s frustrating,” a Middle Eastern diplomat said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “I know people are talking about election interference, but we’re talking about building a relationship with, say, the foreign policy adviser who might become the next national security adviser. You want to do that in this day and not when they’re in the position. When they’re officially in office, they’re harder to get to.”

It’s not unusual for presidential contenders to talk to foreign diplomats or even heads of state during their campaigns, though it can come with risks.

In 2016, both Trump and Hillary Clinton met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, drawing fierce criticism for engaging with the brutally repressive dictator. Trump also drew headlines for a quick trip to Mexico, a country he’d repeatedly insulted, to meet with its then-president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

The Biden campaign’s decision to restrict contacts with foreign officials was quietly made within a couple of months after the former vice president formally launched his White House run in April 2019.

It’s a notable move given how much attention Trump has drawn for his questionable dealings with foreign officials as he seeks a second term.

Bolton’s revelations in particular have rattled Washington. The former national security adviser, a man with lengthy conservative credentials, asserts that Trump pushed China’s Xi to boost purchases of U.S. agricultural products, a move that could improve Trump’s standing in the heartland.

“He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome,” wrote Bolton, who was pushed out of the White House last year as his relationship with the president soured.

Trump has shot back that Bolton’s book “is a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad” and called for him to be prosecuted for allegedly publishing classified information. Bolton denies any wrongdoing.

“Many of the ridiculous statements he attributes to me were never made, pure fiction,” the president tweeted June 18. “Just trying to get even for firing him like the sick puppy he is!” (Bolton maintains that he resigned.)

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not reply to questions related to this story, including whether it has a similar policy.

In 2016 and after the election, several Trump campaign aides’ dealings with foreign officials came under scrutiny. A drunken encounter between one volunteer adviser, George Papadopoulos, and the Australian ambassador to London launched a secret FBI investigation into whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia to swing the election. The FBI also surveilled Carter Page, a volunteer who had worked in Moscow and had ongoing ties to Russian officials. Jeff Sessions, then a U.S. senator, met with several foreign officials in his capacity as the campaign’s top foreign policy adviser — including, controversially, the Russian ambassador.

In 2020, even before effectively wrapping up the primary, Biden had already won the allegiance of much of the Democratic foreign policy establishment, with many former Obama appointees flocking to his campaign.

According to two people on calls with the Biden campaign during which the issue was discussed in the spring, at least 800 foreign policy and national security hands are on the Biden team. Another 400 had applied to join at that point.

Such positions are unpaid and less influential than official campaign staffers such as Blinken, but they can be key stepping stones for people who wish to join the next administration, and a place to hash out new ideas and firm up policy positions. These volunteer advisers also have been told not to talk to foreign officials about the campaign.

“A number of our over 1,000 informal volunteers, in the course of their own professional work, deal with foreign government officials – but they have been given strict guidance to never interact with any such officials on behalf of the campaign and not to share anything about their advice to the campaign or other substantive campaign matters,” a Biden aide said.

The Biden campaign has set up some 20 committees to tackle foreign policy and national security issues, such as relations with China, the two people said.

While the numbers are large, they’re not entirely unprecedented.

During the 2016 campaign, Clinton locked down the expertise of hundreds of foreign policy analysts, leaving few available to offer their time to Bernie Sanders, her main rival for the Democratic nomination.

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Bernie flexes muscle in Tuesday’s primaries

“He always said ‘not me, us’ and I think he’s really living those values by throwing his power and the power of his supporters behind some of the most progressive candidates out there,” said Misty Rebik, executive director of his campaign committee Friends of Bernie Sanders. “We really just see this as an extension of the movement that largely was started back in 2015.”

The candidates who have received Sanders’ support include left-wing insurgents bucking the Democratic Party, including Jamaal Bowman and Charles Booker, both of whom have seen a surge in endorsements and momentum in recent weeks. Bowman is looking to unseat longtime incumbent Rep. Engel Eliot (D-N.Y.), while Booker is running for the Senate in Kentucky against party establishment favorite Amy McGrath.

Other congressional candidates Sanders raised money for include Mondaire Jones, who is competing in New York’s open 17th District; Samelys López, who is campaigning in New York’s open 15th District; and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sanders specifically brought in more than $650,000 for the congressional contenders he endorsed, and about $100,000 for those running at the state and local level.

The fact that Sanders invested a significant amount of money and time into these candidates will give him the opportunity to claim a win if they succeed. At the same time, any losses by Tuesday’s high-profile contenders will be another letdown for Sanders and the left in a year that has given them plenty. All eyes are on Bowman, in particular, who has won endorsements from several progressive politicians and organizations that hope to pull off another Ocasio-Cortez-style triumph against an entrenched incumbent Democrat.

Sanders activated his grassroots volunteers to try to help progressive candidates on Tuesday as well, recruiting 3,500 people to help get out the vote for them over the weekend, according to his staff.

His aides said there are still more than 60,000 volunteers on Slack channels maintained by his campaign during the primary. He recently decided to give access to the channels to the candidates he has endorsed, as well as progressive organizations that backed him, so they have the opportunity to recruit his volunteers.

After Sanders dropped out, thousands of his volunteers signed on to a petition warning that their networks were on the verge of collapsing. Some of Sanders’ former aides have also complained that he was letting data on volunteers and supporters that could help elect down-ballot progressives go to waste.

“We’re just now really starting to reengage that group. We didn’t want to do a false start,” said Rebik of the volunteers on his Slack channels. Now, “if the field director of [Minnesota Rep.] Ilhan Omar’s operation wants to build up for a big weekend of action, they would be permitted to post and promote that through all of the Slack channels.”

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June 23 primaries: Live results for Kentucky, New York, Virginia, and runoffs in North Carolina and Mississippi

Amid a long list of Tuesday primaries and runoffs in Kentucky, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Mississippi, progressives are looking to notch some wins.

A number of progressive primary candidates — most notably state Rep. Charles Booker challenging retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath in the Kentucky Senate primary and educator Jamaal Bowman running against House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel in New York — could be a test for how progressive candidates of color fare against more moderate candidates.

In New York City, Bowman may have the best chance of replicating progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise 2018 win against a powerful member of Congress. Engel has faced criticism for not spending enough time in his district, which has been hard-hit by Covid-19. Further south in Kentucky, Booker is still considered the underdog candidate in his Senate primary against McGrath, but massive protests over police brutality in Louisville have propelled the young black state lawmaker forward. Kentucky voted for Trump by 30 points in 2016 and may not be the most friendly environment for policies like Medicare-for-all and a Green New Deal. The biggest Democratic win statewide there recently was the successful campaign of Gov. Andy Beshear, who ran on a moderate agenda. But Booker is projecting confidence he can win the primary and beat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (arguably the most powerful man in the Senate) in the general election.

“People are rising up,” Booker told Vox in a recent interview. “They’re looking at structural issues, they’re looking at the fact that poverty is generational and we criminalize poverty. It’s going to surprise folks to know you can lean into issues that address poverty, issues that are progressive, and build an incredible coalition of support.”

The other primary to watch in Kentucky is on the GOP side, where libertarian Rep. Thomas Massie is facing a serious Republican challenger in attorney Todd McMurtry. Massie could be on thin ice this year after Trump called him a “third-rate grandstander” and said he should no longer be in the Republican party after Massie held up a massive coronavirus aid bill by calling for a recorded vote and forcing lawmakers to return to Washington, DC, in the midst of a pandemic.

In Virginia, a slate of Republicans is competing to see who will challenge Sen. Mark Warner in the fall (a seat that’s expected to stay Democratic). Republicans are also vying to take on a handful of moderate House Democrats who flipped districts blue in 2018.

It could take time to know for sure who has won competitive primaries this year. Due to Covid-19, there are huge numbers of absentee votes that need to be counted, meaning some races likely won’t be called on Tuesday night.

Vox is covering the results live, with our partners at Decision Desk HQ.

Kentucky

The primary contest between Democrats Amy McGrath and state Sen. Charles Booker — both vying to compete against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the fall — is without a doubt the marquee race in Kentucky this summer. McGrath is the moderate Marine veteran who has become a fundraising juggernaut, despite narrowly losing a Kentucky House race in 2018, and she has a serious challenge from the more progressive Booker.

While the Senate contest will be the most closely watched race on Tuesday night, there are other primaries playing out for congressional districts around the state. Republicans are competing to be the nominee to try to take down longtime Rep. John Yarmuth, the only Democratic member of the Kentucky congressional delegation and the powerful chairman of the House Committee on the Budget. Democrats and Republicans alike are competing to challenge embattled Rep. Thomas Massie, an outspoken member of the House Freedom Caucus, and there are also primaries in both parties for the Sixth Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Andy Barr.

For more detail on all the state’s most interesting races, Vox has you covered.

Kentucky Democratic Senate and House primaries

Kentucky Republican Senate and House primaries

New York

While the Engel-Bowman showdown may be the most closely watched New York primary this year, it certainly isn’t the only one that’s competitive or interesting. Reps. Yvette Clarke, Carolyn Maloney, and Jerry Nadler are all facing significant challengers, though of those, Clarke’s seat appears to be the only one that might be at risk. And the crowded primaries to fill the open seats of Reps. Jose Serrano and Nita Lowey, neither of whom are running for reelection, have uncertain outcomes. The race in Serrano’s district is an interesting test; it’s a chance for progressive candidates to prove they can win open seats in addition to primarying establishment incumbents.

Many of New York’s congressional districts encompass diverse communities with significant splits along socioeconomic and racial lines, which will also come into play on Tuesday. The 16th District, which Engel represents, contains parts of both the Bronx and Westchester County. And New York’s entire delegation is emblematic of the inequalities of New York: both the richest congressional district in the country — Maloney’s, District 12 — and the poorest — Serrano’s, District 15 — are seeing competitive races right now.

There are also competitive Democratic and Republican House primaries in upstate New York, including both a special election and primary for former Rep. Chris Collins’ open seat in the 27th Congressional District, outside Buffalo.

For more detail on all the state’s most interesting races, read Vox’s coverage here.

New York Democratic primaries

New York Republican primaries

Virginia

The 2018 midterms saw a number of Virginia battleground House districts flip from red to blue. This year, many of those first-time lawmakers will have to fend off attempts to flip those districts back.

One main Republican House primary to watch is in the state’s Second Congressional District, which was flipped by Rep. Elaine Luria in 2018. Voters will pick Luria’s competitor for the battleground district, which is located on the state’s eastern border encompassing Virginia Beach and Williamsburg. Republicans will also vote on which candidate they’d like to see take on Sen. Mark Warner, who is running for his third term. Republicans in the Seventh Congressional District still have to decide who’s going up against moderate first-term Rep. Abigail Spanberger who flipped Republican David Brat’s seat last cycle, too, but that will happen at a party convention on July 18, rather than a primary.

Democrats, meanwhile, are weighing in on a contested primary in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, an open seat that’s currently held by Rep. Denver Riggleman that has become more competitive because the GOP is running a hardline social conservative this cycle.

For more detail on all the state’s most interesting races, read Vox’s coverage here.

Virginia’s Republican Senate and House primaries

Virginia’s Democratic House primaries

North Carolina 11th Congressional District runoff

On Tuesday, Republican voters in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District will go to the polls — again — to pick a replacement for White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who represented the district in Congress until this year. Though the state held its presidential and congressional primaries on March 3, a crowded field meant that no Republican in the 11th district broke the 30 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff. Now, Republicans Lynda Bennett and Madison Cawthorn will go head to head for the seat.

Bennett led the first round of the primary with 22.7 percent of the vote, but Cawthorn came in a close second with 20.4 percent support. The two candidates represent a generational divide far more than an ideological one — as Roll Call’s Chris Cioffi points out, both are “fiscally conservative, pro-Trump, anti-abortion, and a hard-liner on immigration.” However, Bennett, whom Meadows has endorsed as his successor, is 62, whereas Cawthorn, a motivational speaker, is just 24.

Whoever wins Tuesday will face Democratic nominee Moe Davis for the seat in November, but the true competition is happening today. While North Carolina’s congressional map was redrawn late last year, the Cook Political Report still considers the 11th district to be Solid Republican.

Mississippi Second Congressional District runoff

On Tuesday, two Mississippi Republicans will vie for the chance to challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson in November. In Mississippi’s Second district, Brian Flowers led Thomas Carey in the March 17 primary by less than two points, which could point to a close race in Tuesday’s runoff.

Flowers is a Navy veteran who currently works a nuclear power plant; Carey was a GOP Senate candidate in 2014 who made headlines after he won a tiny fraction of the vote — less than 2 percent — but may have played a role in forcing the race into a runoff.

Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, all signs point to it not being a close race in November. Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee and has served in Congress since 1993, won his district with more than 71 percent of the vote in 2018, and the race isn’t considered competitive by the Cook Political Report.


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Trump rally flop in Tulsa, but a hit on television

NEW YORK (AP) — Now it’s apparent where many of President Donald Trump’s supporters who stayed away from Saturday’s campaign…

NEW YORK (AP) — Now it’s apparent where many of President Donald Trump’s supporters who stayed away from Saturday’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were instead: they were home watching it on television.

Fox News Channel, which aired Trump’s speech live, had the biggest Saturday night audience in the network’s 24-year history, the Nielsen company said. During Trump’s address at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Fox had 8.2 million people watching.

CNN and MSNBC aired only clips of Trump talking, yet each news network had about twice as many viewers as they normally get on Saturday nights. Collectively, the three networks had nearly 12 million viewers for its Trump coverage, Nielsen said.

For those in Oklahoma, the night’s biggest story was the arena’s empty seats.

In the absence of sports or first-run scripted series, news continues to be the dominant force in television viewing. Fox News Channel’s prime-time average of 3.68 million viewers for the week topped all broadcast and cable networks.

ABC’s prime-time interview of John Bolton by Martha Raddatz was seen by 6.2 million people on Sunday, third only to “America’s Got Talent” and “60 Minutes” on broadcast networks last week.

CBS, with an average of 3.4 million viewers, was the most-watched broadcast network last week. NBC had 3.1 million, ABC had 2.7 million, Univision had 1.38 million, Fox had 1.35 million, ION Television had 1.2 million and Telemundo had 760,000.

After Fox News, MSNBC had 1.98 million for second among the cable networks in prime time, CNN had 1.64 million, HGTV had 1.26 million and TLC had 1.19 million.

ABC’s “World News Tonight” led the evening newscasts with an average of 8.7 million viewers. The “NBC Nightly News” had 7.4 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 5.2 million.

For the week of June 15-21, the top 20 shows, their networks and viewerships:

1. “America’s Got Talent,” NBC, 8.57 million.

2. “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” Fox News, 8.2 million.

3. “Watters World,” Fox News, 7.11 million.

4. “60 Minutes,” CBS, 7.1 million.

5. “Interview with John Bolton,” ABC, 6.23 million.

6. “NCIS,” CBS, 5.9 million.

7. “Young Sheldon,” CBS, 4.931 million.

8. “FBI,” CBS, 4.927 million.

9. “The Greg Gutfeld Show,” Fox News, 4.64 million.

10. “Hannity” (Wednesday), Fox News, 4.54 million.

11. “Yellowstone,” Paramount, 4.23 million.

12. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Monday), 4.21 million.

13. “World of Dance,” NBC, 4.16 million.

14. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Wednesday), Fox News, 4.051 million.

15. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Tuesday), Fox News, 4.048 million.

16. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Thursday), Fox News, 3.98 million.

17. “Hannity” (Tuesday), Fox News, 3.9 million.

18. “Hannity” (Thursday), Fox News, 3.861 million.

19. “The Neighborhood,” CBS, 3.859 million.

20. “FBI: Most Wanted,” CBS, 3.829 million.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Trump’s New Immigration Pause Will Kill Prospects of a Quick Economic Recovery – Reason.com

The temporary 60-day pause that President Donald Trump declared on legal immigration in mid-April after the coronavirus hit was not so temporary after all. Starting tomorrow, Trump will extend this pause until the end of 2020. But that’s not all. He is also expanding the scope of the ban to cover even more categories of immigrants.

Trump is justifying all this as an effort to save American workers from foreign competition. But if America’s past experience with restrictionist policies is any indication, the ban will backfire and end up hurting, not helping, American workers, its intended beneficiaries, while crimping America’s economic recovery.

Trump’s new proclamation extends his April ban on new green cards for anyone other than children and spouses of American citizens because, it maintains, lawful permanent residents get instant “‘open-market’ employment authorization documents” that allows them to immediately “compete for almost any job in any sector of the economy” with American citizens. In addition, it will also impose a moratorium on temporary work visas including H-1Bs for foreign techies, H-2Bs for low-skilled non-agricultural work, J visas for summer jobs, and L visas for intra-company transfers. All of these, he says, “present a significant threat to employment opportunities for Americans” given that the “overall unemployment rate in the United States quadrupled between February and May.” (None of this explains why he banned H-4 visas for the spouses and dependents of foreign techies, something that will cruelly split families. He had already cancelled the work authorization for H-4 visa holders so there is not even the theoretical possibility of any of them competing with American labor.)

It would be possible to take Trump’s economic rationales for slamming America’s door shut now more seriously if he hadn’t also been trying to do the exact same thing when the unemployment rate was at a record low. Indeed, his labor interventionism shows that he is as hostile to letting the free market regulate economic decisions as the socialists he reviles.

There are already significant obstacles built into labor and immigration law that make it far more time consuming and costly for businesses to hire foreign workers. So businesses already automatically prioritize American workers over foreign workers. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) tweeted after Trump’s announcement: “Work visas for temporary and seasonal jobs covering industries like hospitality, forestry, and many economic sectors can only be issued AFTER American workers have had a chance to fill the position.”

The fact of the matter is that American employers only hire immigrants to fill niches at the top and the bottom end of the labor spectrum where qualified Americans aren’t available or willing to take jobs. Restrictionists like White House aide Stephen Miller, the real architect of Trump’s immigration pause, claim that starving businesses of foreign workers will force them to invest in training domestic workers and/or paying them more, resulting in more jobs and higher wages for Americans.

But this is the flawed logic of central planning. It ignores the fact that there are limits to the price increases that a market can bear. Businesses will automate functions that can’t be performed abroad and will outsource other functions to keep a lid on the costs of a key input—all of which will hurt, not help, American workers.

American businesses did the first after President John F. Kennedy posthumously succeeded in killing the bracero program in 1964 that had allowed American farmers to hire around half a million Mexican guest workers on a seasonal basis. Did American workers see any windfall due to that? No. A study by Michael Clemens and Hannah Postel of the Centre for Global Development and Ethan Lewis of Dartmouth College found that the end of the program did not result in more jobs or higher wages for Americans in states that had relied on it. There was a small rise in native employment and wages for a short while before it all evaporated as farmers that relied on braceros switched to machines.

Interestingly, Trump’s immigration ban does not extend to H-2A visas for farm workers. In fact, that’s the one category of visas that has expanded on his watch. Why? Because agriculture is the mainstay of many red state economies whose leaders have indicated that they would not take kindly to being cut off from a key source of labor. Trump has also carved a very narrow exemption for foreign workers “involved with the provision of medical care to individuals who have contracted COVID-19” and who are “currently hospitalized.”

But high-skilled foreign workers that blue states like California, Washington, and New York depend on are out of luck. What is likely to happen in these states? Will they rush to hire Americans with big bucks in hand? Not really.

For starters, there just aren’t enough high-skilled Americans sitting around to be hired. The unemployment rate last month—the peak of the pandemic—for computer jobs was 2.5 percent compared to the overall rate of 13.3 percent for all jobs, according to an analysis by the National Foundation for Policy Analysis.

So as high-tech companies are choked off from hiring foreign workers, they’ll start outsourcing more operations abroad. This is what happened in 2004 when Congress slashed the H-1B cap from 195,000 to less than half, according to research by Wharton School of Business professor Britta Glennon.

She examined the operations of multinational companies after the reduced cap and found that they increased employment in their existing affiliates abroad and also were more likely to open more affiliates. The trend was most pronounced among R&D intensive firms and computer software industries whose services were more easily outsourced.

The chief beneficiaries of the outsourcing boom, unsurprisingly, were China and India, the main donor countries for high-skilled foreign talent. But Glennon also found that Canada became a hot destination for multinational companies. Given its immigrant-friendly policies and proximity to the United States, many companies opened affiliates in America’s northern neighbor, often to hire the very same foreign techies who could not land H-1Bs in the United States.

Although Glennon’s research was limited to multinational companies, she believes that many American companies at the time also formed partnerships with companies abroad, a trend she expects will accelerate in the wake of the new H-1B restrictions.

This will be bad news for American workers. As University of North Florida professor Madeline Zavodny has found, a 1 percentage point increase in the share of H-1B workers in an occupation reduces the unemployment rate in that occupation by about 0.2 percentage points and boosts the earnings growth rate by about 0.1 to 0.26 percentage points. Indeed, each H-1B supports around 1.83 native jobs overall.

The more Trump tries to turn America into a fortress, the louder will be the sucking sound of jobs fleeing overseas, to use the immortal words of failed presidential candidate Ross Perot.

There will be other economic downsides too. Measured by the number of patents, Glennon found that innovation increased in the foreign affiliates of multinational companies, benefiting the countries where they were located. Likewise, economist Charles I. Jones found that the increase in the share of scientists and engineers explains about half of total factor productivity gains in the U.S. in recent decades.

It is never a good idea to spurn foreign talent of any kind, low skilled or high. But it is a particularly bad time to do so right now given that the generous unemployment benefits that Congress handed Americans in the wake of the pandemic have already dried up the domestic source of workers for employers wishing to reopen. With another source of labor cut off, many more businesses will be forced to shut down, making the quick economic recovery that Trump so desperately wants that much less achievable.

A savvy businessman would understand that.

 

 

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Senate Democrats: Republican police reform bill is “not salvageable”

Senate Democrats, in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have unequivocally rejected further consideration of Republicans’ police reform bill — legislation they think falls far short of the policy changes they’d like to see.

“We will not meet this moment by holding a floor vote on the JUSTICE Act, nor can we simply amend this bill, which is so threadbare and lacking in substance that it does not even provide a proper baseline for negotiations,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Book write in the letter. “This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point.”

Both congressional Democrats and Republicans have introduced police reforms as hundreds of thousands of protesters around the country continue to condemn police brutality toward Black Americans, though they’ve differed noticeably in scope. While Democrats’ wide-ranging bill, the Justice in Policing Act, addresses a national use of force standard and a raft of legal protections police currently have, Republicans’ legislation focuses much more heavily on data collection and training protocols.

It’s worth noting, too, that both are much narrower than what protesters have demanded. Democrats, thus far, have shied away from backing efforts to “defund the police,” which focus on shifting funds from law enforcement toward other social services like education and food aid that could address the root causes of inequities.

McConnell had previously announced that the Senate would hold a floor vote to open debate on the Republican bill, led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), this Wednesday. That would need 60 votes to move forward, meaning seven Democrats would have to join the 53 Republicans in the upper chamber and vote in favor of it for the legislation to advance.

As Politico’s Burgess Everett reported, the nature of the vote appeared to put some Democrats in a tough position: Since the vote would open debate on the measure, some lawmakers wondered whether supporting it could help kick off discussion about amendments and worried that opposing it would look obstructionist as voters across the country demanded change.

As Tuesday’s letter indicates, however, Democrats ultimately determined that the bill — which does not curb “qualified immunity” protections police have that shield them from legal accountability for misconduct, nor establish a federal ban on chokeholds — didn’t warrant floor debate.

Instead, lawmakers are urging Republicans to negotiate the text of the bill before holding any further votes on the legislation.

“The bill that is being put forth by Leader McConnell is wholly unacceptable to bringing accountability, transparency, consequences, when our common values as a country are violated,” Booker said during a floor speech on Tuesday.

Democrats are calling out key differences between the two bills

Although there is some overlap between the police reform bills recently introduced by Democrats and Republicans, there are also massive differences, which Democrats called out point by point in their letter.

Chief among these is the lack of legal accountability demanded of police in the Republican bill.

“In a moment calling for police accountability, the JUSTICE Act, your proposed answer to this crisis, does not contain any mechanisms to hold law enforcement officers accountable in court for their misconduct,” Harris, Booker, and Schumer write.

Democrats’ legislation would limit “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that makes it difficult to sue police for misconduct: In order to even go to trial with an allegation of police misconduct, an individual needs to show not only that the alleged misconduct was a violation of their civil rights, but also that there’s precedent for that same action being considered unlawful in prior cases. Republicans’ bill, meanwhile, does not restrict qualified immunity. Scott has previously dubbed the provision a “poison pill” and noted that including it would prevent Republicans from supporting the bill.

Additionally, Democrats’ bill would further empower prosecutors to scrutinize police for misconduct and grant the Justice Department subpoena power in “pattern or practice” investigations examining whether police departments have engaged in racial discrimination, two areas the Republican version fails to address.

Beyond its focus on legal accountability, Democrats’ bill would also impose federal bans on chokeholds and the use of “no knock” warrants in drug cases, while the Republican legislation would use funding to incentivize state and local police departments to ban chokeholds and study data on the use of no-knock warrants.

Areas where the bills overlap include a focus on ramping up the usage of police body cameras and a measure that would make lynching a federal crime.

Democrats’ move puts pressure on Republicans

Senate Democrats’ decision now shifts the focus on to Republicans, who’ve been determined to hold a vote on the bill on Wednesday — one that’s now widely expected to fail.

McConnell, in a floor speech on Tuesday, noted that the vote was intended to demonstrate the party’s interest in making progress on reforms. “Discussion. Debate. Votes on amendments. Tomorrow, we’ll find out whether even these modest steps are a bridge too far for our colleagues on the Democratic side,” he said.

Democrats, however, are eager to include more of their input before any bill comes to the floor. Rather than mark up the JUSTICE Act in committee, for example, Senate Republicans immediately brought it to the floor for a vote. By expressing their intentions to sink the floor vote on Wednesday, Democrats are forcing Republicans to consider possible concessions on their legislation.

Meanwhile, the House is on a parallel track: After the Judiciary Committee approved Democrats’ police reform bill along party lines last week, the entire chamber is poised to vote on its legislation this Thursday, and it will likely pass.

At that point, the Senate is able to either take up the House bill or commit to developing a compromise bill that can receive the 60 votes needed to advance in the upper chamber. Since Republicans have already dismissed Democrats’ legislation as a nonstarter, it’s likely lawmakers will need to put together another offering entirely.

“It is within our grasp,” said Harris in a floor speech on Tuesday. “People from every state, all 50 states, every walk of life, are demanding we take the problem of police brutality seriously. We have this opportunity, and we should see it as such.”


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Tina Fey asks to pull ’30 Rock’ episodes that featured blackface

By DAVID BAUDER

NEW YORK (AP) — Jimmy Kimmel apologized Tuesday for his 1990s blackface impressions of NBA player Karl Malone and other Black celebrities but said his delay in addressing the subject came in part to avoid handing a victory to his foes.

“I apologize to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke,” the ABC late-night star said in a statement.

It’s part of the entertainment world’s continuing reckoning triggered by the protests against police treatment of Black Americans. On Monday, four episodes of the comedy “30 Rock” were pulled from circulation because they featured characters performing in blackface.

Kimmel’s impersonation of Malone, which he started on radio and then brought to television on Comedy Central, was frequently criticized by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, among others.

Kimmel said he had long been reluctant to address the subject, “as I knew doing so would be celebrated as a victory by those who equate apologies with weakness and cheer for leaders who use prejudice to divide us.

“That delay was a mistake,” he said.

“30 Rock” aired on NBC from 2006 to 2013, but episodes are still being shown in television syndication and on streaming services including Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Peacock.

Show creator Tina Fey, who also starred as Liz Lemon in the series about the backstage world of a television show, said in a note to distributors that “I understand now that ‘intent’ is not a free pass for white people to use these images.”

“I apologize for the pain they have caused,” Fey wrote. “Going forward, no comedy-loving kid really needs to stumble on these tropes and be stung by their ugliness.”

Other examples of how the Black Lives Matter protests have impacted entertainment include cancellation of the long-running TV show “Cops” and temporary removal of “Gone With the Wind” from the HBO Max service.

Two of the four eliminated “30 Rock” episodes originally aired in 2010, with the others first shown in 2008 and 2010. They include the East Coast version of an episode first shown live. Series regular Jane Krakowski and guest star Jon Hamm appeared in blackface.

The 2012 episode with Hamm also included “Tonight” show host Jimmy Fallon as a guest. Fallon, who did not appear in such makeup on “30 Rock,” apologized last month after online circulation of an earlier “Saturday Night Live” skit where he wore blackface to impersonate Chris Rock.

___

Associated Press TV Writer Lynn Elber contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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Obama returns to the campaign trail with Biden fundraiser

“There’s two groups of voters that Biden needs to move,” said Dan Pfeiffer, former White House communications director. “You have the 4 million Obama 2012 voters that sat out in ’16, Obama obviously has cache with them. And you have to persuade some number of voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and either Trump or a third party candidate in 2016, and Obama obviously is very, very high-performing with those as well.”

Obama endorsed Biden with a video message in April, but kept an otherwise low profile throughout the primary and largely avoided wading into national politics. In recent weeks, however, he’s reemerged publicly to speak out on policing and the civil unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Some Democrats say that, in the wake of Floyd’s killing, Obama’s voice as an advocate for Biden and a leader for the party is needed.

“Biden doesn’t have the strongest record on criminal justice reform so having Obama there is helpful in reinforcing that issue,” said Ben Tulchin, who polled for progressive Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

“Given what’s going on with criminal justice reform and Black Lives Matter, having the first African American president out there publicly backing Biden is extremely helpful.”

But Obama’s reemergence is not without risks for Biden.

For Trump’s campaign, it offers an opportunity to resurface some of their favorite political attacks — charges that the Obama administration’s policies undermined the American middle class and U.S. interests abroad.

They believe the focus on Obama will help reinvigorate Trump’s base, and remind waffling Trump voters — those considering voting for Biden, or staying home — of their dissatisfaction with the prior administration. And they see a potential opportunity to drive a wedge between Biden and his base by resurfacing issues from the Obama administration — like the high rate of deportations — that riled progressives during the Democratic primary.

Trump campaign deputy communications director Ali Pardo said that together, Obama and Biden “put ‘kids in cages’ and failed to stop China from ripping off Americans while overseeing the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression and stagnant wage growth for American workers.”

Trump himself has pushed unfounded conspiracy theories about Obama, hoping to taint Biden by association.

Still, Democrats say Obama is eager to take Trump on to defend his legacy in a debate over whose policies have better benefited Americans.

“Trump’s election just devastated the country and Obama’s legacy,” Tulchin said. “Beating Trump is important for his legacy and important for the country.”

Biden’s embrace of Obama during the Democratic primary created some headaches for the former vice president within his own party as well.