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White House and GOP struggle to unite around virus relief plan

Just before McConnell faced reporters on Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) slammed his own party for even considering new spending.

“I just walked out of a meeting that could be sort of a Bernie Bros, progressive caucus,” Paul told reporters. “I’m alarmed that we’re talking about spending another trillion dollars we don’t have.” Already, Congress has approved about $3 trillion in coronavirus relief.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said several senators “were expressing serious concerns that we are spending too damn much money.” During the GOP lunch, Cruz criticized the proposed $1 trillion price tag and said Republicans should focus instead on restarting the economy, according to a source familiar with the discussion.

“What I said to my colleagues is what the hell are we doing,” the Texas Republican said. “We can’t keep shoveling cash at this problem.”

In the meantime, Democrats are highlighting these GOP intra-party divisions as they push for their own massive spending bill. Speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the GOP’s ideas “inadequate” and said Republicans are “paralyzed by internal divisions among themselves, and by divisions with the president.”

Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with Mnuchin and Meadows Tuesday afternoon, the first bipartisan meeting on the next package. But Mnuchin and Meadows emphatically told senators ahead of the meeting that they were not negotiating yet with Democrats.

Schumer and Pelosi emerged from the roughly one-hour meeting with White House negotiators with a clear stance that they would not begin bipartisan talks until Senate Republicans release their plan.

Schumer said Meadows was only willing to outline a general proposal, but with no specifics.

“We can’t negotiate on a vague concept. We need a specific bill,” Schumer said.

“We have a bill, let’s see their bill, and see where we go from here,” Pelosi added. “I think their delay is their disarray.”

Senate Republicans have made some progress after two days of talks with the White House, including pushing back on the administration’s initial vow to reduce funding for state-level testing.

“We’ve had a really good discussion on testing,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who has been involved in talks on the spending side of the GOP plan. “I feel better about that.”

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Senate Republicans: No reason for Biden to ‘sound the alarm’ on Russia

“It’s not new. It’s something we’re going to face for a long time, unfortunately,” said Rubio, adding that he didn’t know what, if any, specific incidents Biden was reacting to. Rubio is the favorite to get the Intelligence committee gavel permanently if Republicans keep control of the Senate in November.

Senate Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) suggested that Russia has been interfering in Western elections “for decades.”

“Does it surprise me if China’s probably doing the same thing? Not at all,” he told POLITICO.

The GOP comments came a day after Biden offered his starkest warnings to date against any interference by Russia or other foreign governments like China.

“I am putting the Kremlin and other foreign governments on notice,” the former vice president said Monday, three days after disclosing that he had begun to receive briefings from U.S. intelligence officials as the presumptive Democratic nominee. “If elected president, I will treat foreign interference in our election as an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government.”

He echoed that statement later during a campaign event where he promised economic sanctions, cyber reprisals and any other necessary actions to “counter such clear assault on our national sovereignty.”

The remarks did receive a warm welcome from one group: congressional Democrats dismayed by the Obama administration’s muted public response to the Kremlin’s efforts in 2016.

Biden’s statement “was the kind of statement, frankly, that a president would make,” House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Tuesday. “I think it will have a deterrent impact.”

Schiff noted that it has been almost exactly four years since he and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued their own joint statement on the Kremlin’s election interference “because we could not get the administration at that time to issue a statement of their own.”

“Ironically it was because they were concerned that they would be perceived as rigging the election by calling out foreign interference,” Schiff noted. “Now that never made sense to me.”

More harshly, Johnson argued that the Obama administration “didn’t do anything” to stop the Kremlin’s attack in 2016.

The Obama administration eventually called out Moscow publicly in October 2016 for Russia’s hacking of computers at the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But those charges were drowned out within hours by major news bursts — the revelation of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted of sexually assaulting women, and WikiLeaks’ mass dumping of emails from Clinton’s campaign chair.

Months after Trump’s victory, U.S. intelligence agencies issued a joint statement that the Russians had “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” a conclusion that Burr’s committee endorsed just three months ago.

“We’ve all learned that we need to call out foreign interference early and often if it continues, there needs to be repercussions for it, the American people need to be kept informed of it,” Schiff said.

Biden himself has said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped the Obama administration from speaking out more bluntly about Russian interference in 2016 by refusing to sign onto a bipartisan statement of condemnation — a charge the Kentucky Republican has denied.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), herself once a 2020 presidential contender, said Biden’s latest remarks show he has learned from 2016, especially considering how Russian hackers have stepped up their online operations since then.

She cited last week’s joint announcement by the U.S. and the United Kingdom that hackers backed by Moscow were attempting to steal Covid-19 vaccine research.

“If you think they have a limit, they have no limit,” she said.

While he welcomed the former vice president’s more assertive approach, Schiff suggested that Biden be more specific when talking about the kinds of interference he is warning about.

“We have to be careful to distinguish operations — like hacking and dumping and covert social media campaigns, paid intelligence operations and those types of malign activities — from much more overt influence operations that include writing of editorials and giving public speeches and engaging in diplomatic efforts,” Schiff said. “We need to be careful not to equate all foreign efforts to influence the American people.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a top Biden ally, said that “every elected official in America is on notice that Russia interfered in our 2016 election” and “it’s important that national leaders of both parties send clear signals: We will not tolerate election interference.”

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Coronavirus Cases, Portland, Erykah Badu: Your Tuesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. The number of coronavirus cases in parts of the U.S. “far exceeds the number of reported cases,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The number of infected people could be two to 13 times higher, according to the C.D.C.’s study, the largest of its kind to date. The findings suggest that large numbers of people who did not have symptoms or did not seek medical care may have kept the virus circulating. Above, a testing center in Miami.

The study highlights the need for much more testing to detect infection levels and contain viral spread in parts of the country. The study also indicates that hard-hit areas like New York City are nowhere near achieving herd immunity, when the spread of the virus would start to dwindle on its own.

President Trump, resuming his daily coronavirus briefings, appeared to pivot from his repeated insistence that the coronavirus would simply disappear. “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” he said. “Something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”

2. The Justice Department accused a pair of Chinese hackers of trying to acquire vaccine research on behalf of their country’s intelligence service.

3. Backlash to the federal deployment of officers in Portland, Ore., continues to grow.

Protesters are infuriated by President Trump’s dark vision of Portland, which is heading into its 55th day of demonstrations against racist policing, as a lawless place filled with people who “hate our country.” The president plans to deploy federal law enforcement agents to Chicago and suggested that he would follow suit in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and other urban centers.

Some leaders in the Black community worry that what should be a moment for racial justice could be squandered by violence. The combative deployment of camouflaged federal agents has only made things worse.

4. Republicans are drawing up a $1 trillion relief plan that would beef up a popular federal loan program for small businesses and provide another round of direct payments to American families.

But Senator Mitch McConnell’s office signaled the package would not be ready until early August, after extra jobless aid, including a $600 weekly unemployment benefit, has lapsed for tens of millions of Americans. Without it, the U.S. risks a wave of evictions and other financial harm.

In Europe, leaders agreed to a 750 billion-euro spending package to rescue their economies.

The deal, worth roughly $860 billion, was notable for its firsts: European countries will raise large sums by selling bonds collectively, rather than individually; and much of that money will be handed out to countries hit hardest by the pandemic, like Italy. But there were quite a few concessions along the way, our correspondents write.

The move reverses the longstanding policy of counting everyone regardless of citizenship or legal status. A legal challenge is expected. Above, a census event in Dallas in June.

Joe Biden, for his part, laid out a sweeping $775 billion investment in caregiving programs to cover small children, older adults and family members with disabilities. His campaign hopes the move will have particular resonance given the caregiving needs of millions of American families during the coronavirus pandemic.

And in Congress, Democrats and activists want to restore the Voting Rights Act, which was largely undone by the Supreme Court seven years ago, and rename it after Representative John Lewis, who died on Friday. Republicans are opposed.

6. Russia has long tried to interfere in the British political system, and those efforts were ignored by several U.K. governments, a long-awaited report shows.

The report, by a parliamentary intelligence committee, examined Russia’s role in deepening conflict surrounding some of Britain’s most divisive political battles in recent years. It found that the government had shown little interest in investigating Russia’s efforts on the most consequential of those: the Brexit referendum.

“The outrage isn’t if there is interference,” said Kevan Jones, a Labour Party member of Parliament who served on the intelligence committee that released the report. “The outrage is no one wanted to know if there was interference.”

7. “Women should claim their place. I know if I spend a year here, it will make a difference.”

That’s Second Lt. Zala Zazai, above, a Kabul native serving in the police force in the eastern Afghanistan city of Khost. She is one of two women our reporter followed in their fight for acceptance in Afghanistan’s security forces.

Two decades after the Taliban banished women to their homes, the rise of a generation of educated, professional Afghan women is an undeniable sign of change. But the gains remain fragile, and every step is a battle.

8. It’s a given in the hospitality business that chefs show up for their own communities. Now they’re showing up for racial justice.

Pastry chefs and bakers have been transforming bake sales around the world into blockbuster political fund-raisers for a variety of causes. Latinx, Black and Asian women are dominating the space, including Dianna Daohueng, the head baker and partner at Black Seed Bagels in New York City, above. Bakers Against Racism, a global online bake sale, has raised $1.9 million for Black Lives Matter chapters and similar causes.

Also from our Food desk, an illustrated ode to Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauces. Her best-known recipe is the epitome of simplicity, but subtle changes in method yield completely different results.

9. Erykah Badu has never taken the conventional route. The pandemic only took that one step further.

When the coronavirus halted concerts, the iconoclastic neo-soul singer and songwriter started rethinking how she would produce, play and interact with fans at concerts. The result is her own interactive streaming network. And now she doesn’t even miss being on the road. “A little piece of me dies every time I have to leave my home,” she said.

Badu’s platform is just one way fans and artists are adapting to a new way of experiencing music together. Whether livestreaming will keep everyone satisfied — and paid — is still unclear.

10. And finally, craftsmanship at its best.

The finest Panama hats have over 4,000 weaves per square inch — it takes a jeweler’s loupe to count the rows of straw. And every single one of those weaves is done by hand. The result is a hat “creamy as silk, costlier by weight than gold, the color of fine old ivory,” writes Roff Smith, a photographer who visited the workshops of the artisans in Ecuador who make them.

There he met Simón Espinal, who is regarded by his peers as the greatest living weaver of Panama hats — possibly the greatest ever. In a good year, he’ll make three hats. “You cannot allow your mind to wander even for a second,” Mr. Espinal said. Take a peek inside Mr. Smith’s visit.

Have a superfine evening.

Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Want to catch up on past briefings? You can browse them here.

What did you like? What do you want to see here? Let us know at

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Elizabeth Warren asks CDC to mandate masks, citing Georgia’s local ban

That power, Warren writes in the letter obtained by CNN, could come from a code of federal regulations for public health already in place that allows the CDC to limit interstate travel to control communicable diseases.

Warren also asked whether the CDC would step in “in instances where state governors or other officials order the removal of restrictions or mask mandates.”

“I would like to know whether the CDC will use its authorities to intervene allowing orders of this kind, like Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s announcement last week, would seem to be in direct contradiction to the Department’s mandate,” Warren wrote.

The CDC has advised that “cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms.” The agency also said everyone “should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities.”
And the benefits go both ways. “Your cloth face covering may protect them. Their cloth face covering may protect you,” the CDC said.

Warren requested “more information on whether and how the CDC plans to use its authorities” under federal code that could allow the public agency “to institute mask mandates, implement restrictions on gatherings, reverse reopenings, and enforce other public health measures.”

Warren and other Senate Democrats have used letters and hearings to keep pressure on the CDC during the coronavirus pandemic. Warren’s eldest brother died of coronavirus in April.

CNN’s Hollt Yan contributed to this report.

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Susan Collins Is Desperate To Avoid Saying Whether She Backs Trump’s Reelection

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) seems awfully desperate to avoid saying whether she’ll vote for President Donald Trump in November.

That shouldn’t be too surprising given that she’s facing the toughest reelection bid of her career in a state that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden appears poised to win.

But Collins’ reasoning for avoiding questions about whether she backs the president’s push for four more years in the White House doesn’t add up.

She attempted to explain her silence in an interview with The New York Times earlier this month, stating she doesn’t campaign against her Senate colleagues. (Before serving as President Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden represented Delaware as a senator for more than three decades.)

She told the Times she knows Biden “very well” and that campaigning against him would essentially violate her own rule. And yet, she campaigned against fellow senators in their quest for the presidency in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Collins was one of the first senators to endorse George W. Bush in 2000, going against the Democratic ticket of former Vice President Al Gore and then-Sen. Joe Lieberman. She backed Bush again four years later as he fought off Democratic challenges from two of her Senate colleagues: John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina.

In 2008, Collins co-chaired John McCain’s presidential campaign in Maine against Obama and Biden, both of whom were Democratic senators at the time. She defended the move later that year, saying it’s “typical for the leading officeholders to chair the campaign of whichever member of your party is running for president.”

But her role in McCain’s campaign undermines a claim she made last week in which she stated that she doesn’t involve herself in presidential politics when when she’s up for reelection.

“I am concentrating on my own campaign,” Collins told reporters Wednesday when asked once again whether she supports Trump’s reelection campaign.

Days later, Biden endorsed her Democratic challenger, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, and called on voters in the state to help him “restore the soul of America” by ending Trump’s presidency. Gideon said in early March that she voted for Biden in the state’s Democratic presidential primary.

In March, Collins refused to say whether she voted for Trump in Maine’s Republican primary, telling a local TV station that she doesn’t want to “get involved in presidential politics.” Trump was the only candidate listed on that ballot, along with the option to write in another name.

Her refusal to weigh in on the race marked a clear contrast from her position in 2016, when she wrote an op-ed denouncing then-Republican nominee Trump and his “unsuitability for office” three months before the election.

Pressed on Wednesday to explain her decision to speak out against Trump then but remain silent this time around, Collins said she wasn’t running for reelection in 2016.

“I didn’t have my own race to worry about at that point,” she added.

Though the explanations she’s offered for deflecting feel shaky, her likely reason for doing so seems clearer. It’s possible she’s made the political calculation that the risks of endorsing Trump outweigh any possible benefits for her reelection campaign.

A Morning Consult poll conducted earlier this month found Biden with a solid 11-point lead over Trump among Maine voters. Throwing her support behind Trump would likely further enrage constituencies that have become less and less enamored with Collins in recent years.

Though Collins has positioned herself as a self-described “pro-choice” moderate, her voting record suggests otherwise. Her critical support for Trump’s tax bill, Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment, and acquitting the president during his impeachment trial have mobilized Democratic and independent voters in Maine against her. 

A spokesperson for Collins’ campaign did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Winning the Maine seat in November is key for a Democratic majority in the Senate, making the race one of the most closely watched this year.

Gideon has amassed a hefty war chest that includes over $23 million in campaign donations. After winning the Democratic primary last week, she inherited nearly $4 million that was raised for whoever became Collins’ Democratic opponent in the race.

Trump appeared to endorse Collins in December, tweeting that he agrees “100%” with Sen. Lindsey Graham’s assessment that her reelection is crucial for maintaining a Republican majority in the Senate. 

When asked Wednesday if being tethered to Trump would cost her in November, Collins danced around the question.

“You know, in parts of this state, President Trump is very popular,” she said. “In parts of this state, he’s very unpopular. But I am running my own race.”

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Trump signs order excluding undocumented immigrants from being counted when congressional districts are redrawn

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in the Oval Office. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump signed a memorandum Tuesday that seeks to bar people in the U.S. illegally from being counted in congressional reapportionment, a move that drew immediate criticism and promises of court challenges.

Trump said that “respect for the law and protection of the integrity of the democratic process warrant the exclusion of illegal aliens from the apportionment base, to the extent feasible and to the maximum extent of the President’s discretion under the law.”

Reapportionment is the redistribution of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on changes in population found in each decennial census.

The Supreme Court blocked the administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census form, with a majority saying the administration’s rationale for the citizenship question — to help enforce voting rights — appeared to be contrived.

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the order would be found unconstitutional by the courts.

“The Constitution requires that everyone in the U.S. be counted in the census,” Ho said. “President Trump can’t pick and choose. He tried to add a citizenship question to the census and lost in the Supreme Court … We will see him in court, and win, again.”

The Census Bureau said last month that more than 90 million households had already responded to the 2020 Census with the majority doing it online. People can still respond on their own online, over the phone or by mail — all without having to meet a census taker. Only this past week, door-knockers started heading out to households in six areas whose residents hadn’t yet answered the questionnaire.

Trump’s efforts to add the citizenship question drew fury and backlash from critics who alleged that it was intended to discourage participation in the survey, not only by people living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating would expose noncitizen family members to repercussions.

After the Supreme Court blocked the citizenship question from being asked, Trump ordered the Census Bureau to gather citizenship data from the administrative records of federal and state agencies. That order also is being challenged in the courts and the overwhelming majority of states have refused to share information about driver’s licenses and ID cards.

However, four states with with Republican governors are cooperating, with Iowa, South Carolina and South Dakota recently joining Nebraska in agreeing to share state driver’s license information with the U.S. Census Bureau.

Trump’s move comes in the lead-up to the November election as he is trying to motivate his base supporters with fresh action against illegal immigration, which was a mainstay of his 2016 campaign

‘There used to be a time when you could proudly declare, ’’I am a citizen of the United States. But now, the radical left is trying to erase the existence of this concept and conceal the number of illegal aliens in our country’,” Trump said. “This is all part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of Americans citizens, and I will not stand for it.”

It’s not the first time that an attempt had been made to keep out immigrants living here illegally from the once-a-decade census and the subsequent allocation of congressional seats. In 1979, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and several members of Congress sued, demanding that the 1980 census exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment. The case was dismissed, said Margo Anderson, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

In Alabama, state officials and Republican U.S. Congressman Mo Brooks are suing the Census Bureau to exclude people in the country illegally from being counted when determining congressional seats for each state.

“It’s clear if true, like the citizenship question, it will suck energy out of what the bureau is trying to do now, namely get the field enumeration going efficiently,” said Anderson in an email.

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DOJ Charges 2 Suspected Chinese Hackers Who Allegedly Targeted COVID-19 Research : NPR

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers announced a Chinese law enforcement case on Nov. 1, 2018. The Justice Department are prosecuting more alleged cybercrimes.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers announced a Chinese law enforcement case on Nov. 1, 2018. The Justice Department are prosecuting more alleged cybercrimes.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The Justice Department announced charges Tuesday against two suspected Chinese hackers who allegedly targeted U.S. companies conducting COVID-19 research, part of what the government called long-running efforts to steal American trade secrets and intellectual property.

The 11-count indictment accuses the defendants, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, of conducting a hacking campaign that has targeted companies, non-governmental organizations as well as Chinese dissidents and clergy in the United States and around the world.

Prosecutors say Li and Dong’s efforts, which began as early as 2009 and are still going on, stole intellectual property and trade secrets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Most recently, prosecutors say, the men targeted U.S. companies doing research on treatment and vaccines for COVID-19. The indictment does not say whether the men managed to steal any of that research or data.

According to the indictment, Li and Dong waged the cyber-campaign for their own personal financial gain — but also at times on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security. Prosecutors allege the men worked with a green light from the MSS, and also received assistance from an MSS officer.

“China has now taken its place — alongside Russia, Iran, and North Korea — in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals in exchange for those criminals being ‘on call’ to work for the benefit of the state,” said assistant attorney general John Demers, who leads the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“Here,” continued Demers, the goal was “to feed the Chinese Communist Party’s insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies’ hard-earned intellectual property, including COVID-19 research.”

Demers said this is the first time the U.S. has brought charges against suspected Chinese private sector hackers who also work at the behest of the state.

Scale of the alleged theft

Among the information Li and Dong allegedly stole for the MSS, the indictment says, was material on military satellite programs, wireless networks and communication systems, high powered microwave and laser systems as well as a counter-chemical weapons system.

The indictment includes a list 25 unnamed companies that were alleged victims, including a Texas engineering and technology firm, a Massachusetts software company and a Virginia defense contractor.

Li and Dong also allegedly provided China’s MSS with personal data on selected targets, such as passwords for email accounts of Chinese dissidents including a Hong Kong community organizer and a former Tiananmen Square protester.

U.S. turns up the volume

The charges are the latest in what has become a steady drip of indictments against suspected Chinese hackers for allegedly stealing U.S. trade secrets.

The cyberattacks are part of what American officials describe as a relentless campaign of economic espionage waged by the Chinese state that aims to plunder U.S. companies of their intellectual property.

“China steals intellectual property and research, which bolsters its economy, and then they use that illicit gain as a weapon to silence any country that would dare challenge their illegal actions,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said Tuesday. “This type of economic coercion is not what we expect from a trusted world leader. It is what we expect for an organized criminal syndicate.”

It’s part of a broader effort by China, American officials say, to replace the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower — a message that Attorney General William Barr and an other senior Trump administration officials have sought to drive home in recent speeches on Sino-American relations.

As with many suspected Chinese hackers who face charges in the U.S., neither Li nor Dong are in custody and are unlikely to be arrested anytime soon or face trial. Both men, officials say, are believed to be in China.

But Justice Department officials say bringing charges is an important deterrent, and also helps make China’s criminal conduct clear to the rest of the world.

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Did Ghislaine Maxwell hire political-hit buffoons to smear victims — and get Berman fired?

So says the Daily Mail, and it might make a few people uncomfortable if true — William Barr among them. According to their source, Maxwell spent $25,000 to retain the services of Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, the men behind an alleged attempt to smear Robert Mueller (and others) with false sexual-harassment claims. The idea was to attack Jeffrey Epstein’s victims in order to end any prosecution efforts against her — as well as getting US Attorney Geoffrey Berman fired before he could indict her.

If true, what would be more pathetic — Maxwell’s choice of operatives, or the paltry sum she offered?

Ghislaine Maxwell hired fake news purveyor Jacob Wohl to smear her and Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged victims, a former friend has told in an exclusive interview.

As part of a $25,000 deal made in June, Wohl and his lobbyist colleague Jack Burkman also allegedly pushed to get New York US Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who had led Epstein’s case, fired in order to stall or stop the criminal investigation into Maxwell. …

One of the women they tried to use for their smear plots, Maryland model and paralegal Kristin Spealman, told the men had been hired by Maxwell, who currently faces trial over charges she and Epstein trafficked underage girls for sex. …

Wohl and Burkman told Spealman that Maxwell also used the secretive LLC to hire them as lobbyists around early June, the model claimed.

‘Her company Granite Realty LLC hired them to first get rid of the US attorney Jeffrey Berman,’ the paralegal said.

‘She wanted him fired. And then I guess she assumed the charges would go away or maybe she wouldn’t be prosecuted. I think that was the goal.’

That could be a problem for Barr, who actually did fire Berman — although for reasons not related to the Maxwell probe. The White House wanted to move someone else into Berman’s position and offered Berman a couple of other slots if he resigned. Berman refused to do so, and House Democrats now say they want to know why the White House pushed Berman out the door. They assume that Berman’s enthusiasm for investigating corruption among Donald Trump’s friends might have been the reason, but they’ll likely want to pull the Epstein thread now too — especially if they can tie Wohl and Burkman to Barr.

Of course, the indictment of Maxwell came two weeks after Berman got canned, which tends to negate the idea that the Epstein case had much to do with that decision. It also points up how idiotic the idea of targeting Berman would have been, if this story is true, let along using Wohl and Burkman to do it. Regardless of who the US Attorney was, Maxwell was the top target after Epstein committed suicide (well, officially) and short-circuited justice for his victims. In fact, the idea that embarrassing Berman out of office alone would secure Maxwell’s freedom is so absurd that this story can’t possibly be on the level. Right?

Er … not so fast, says Law & Crime’s Colin Kalmbacher. The core of the story — Maxwell’s connection to Wohl and Burkman — is legit:

Jeffrey Epstein‘s former girlfriend and alleged groomer Ghislaine Maxwell appears to have hired conservative activist and would-be smear artist Jacob Wohl for unknown reasons, according to a lobbying disclosure form filed with the U.S. Congress.

According to an LD-1 Disclosure Form filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate, J M Burkman and Associates–a lobbying firm owned by far-right activist Jack Burkman and co-run by Wohl–were hired by “Granite Realty [sic] LLC” in order to lobby on “[i]ssues relating to US DOJ, Senate Judiciary, [and the] House Judiciary.” …

To be clear, Maxwell’s alleged shell company is “Granite Reality” (as in the “quality or state of being real“). However, the official form on file with congress lists a company named “Granite Realty” (as in real estate). The LD-1 does, however list the address for the Boston-based company that federal prosecutors have tied to Maxwell.

In other words, the lobbying form has the address of Maxwell’s said-to-be affiliated company, Granite Reality, and it appears the name of the company is simply misspelled on the congressional documents.

Say what? As the Daily Mail notes, Wohl and Burkman have a reputation as laughing stocks. Mueller’s not the only faceplant the two have made; their targets have reportedly ranged from Ted Cruz to Nancy Pelosi and even to Anthony Fauci. They’re more like comic relief rather than successful oppo-research experts, or even effective character assassins.

You just can’t hire good help these days!

Of course, just because Maxwell hired Wohl and Burkman doesn’t prove that she was ordering smear campaigns against victims and Berman. It certainly suggests something nefarious, and it might also suggest something else — that Maxwell didn’t have too many resources left. If all she could muster was $25,000 to pay Wohl and Burkman, Maxwell must be close to tapped out, both financially and socially.

Legally, she might be tapped out as well, Bloomberg reported this morning:

The deposition, done over two days in April and July 2016, offers the only substantive public record from Maxwell about what she did for the sex offender. It’s also part of the reason why she was arrested earlier this month — prosecutors allege she lied nine times while giving her answers under oath. The questioning was part of a defamation lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre, who has said she was abused by Epstein and Maxwell.

An appeals court unsealed 40 of the 613 transcript pages of her deposition last August. In the portion that’s publicly available, Maxwell is asked at least five different times if she believed that Epstein sexually abused minors. She doesn’t give a yes or no response, instead attacking Giuffre as a liar. The most she says in the public transcript: “You are asking me to speculate and I won’t speculate.” …

The indictment, unsealed on July 2, includes two counts of perjury based on her deposition. Prosecutors say she lied about her knowledge of Epstein’s activities, including denying knowledge of his recruitment of underage girls and his interactions with underage women at his properties.

The defamation lawsuit, which was settled for an undisclosed amount, was brought against Maxwell because she denied Giuffre’s account of abuse in print. A day after portions of Maxwell’s deposition were made public last August, Epstein died of an apparent suicide in a Manhattan jail where he was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges involving underage girls.

This will be one hell of a circus when Maxwell gets to trial. Assuming she makes it to the trial, that is.

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Portland abuses signal need to close the book on Homeland Security

Something dangerous is taking shape within the Department of Homeland Security.

We got our first glimpse of it last week in Oregon, when unidentified federal agents clad in camouflage and tactical gear descended on Portland, beat and tear-gassed protesters and pulled others into unmarked vehicles for arrest and questioning.

Apparently cobbled together using personnel from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, these “rapid deployment teams” are formally tasked with securing federal buildings from graffiti and vandalism in tandem with the Federal Protective Agency, which is ordinarily responsible for the job. But they’re being used to suppress protests in what appears to be an election year gambit by the Trump administration to create images of disorder and chaos on which the president can then campaign. “This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Kate Brown, the Democratic governor of Oregon, said last week, “Trump is looking for a confrontation in Oregon in the hopes of winning political points in Ohio or Iowa.”

The official tasked with coordinating all this action, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, is an enthusiastic participant, casting protesters as “violent anarchists and extremists” in order to justify what’s been done to them. “The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city,” Wolf said. “This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law.”

On Sunday, Wolf’s deputy, Ken Cuccinelli (whose official title is “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security”), told NPR that Homeland Security would be taking these tactics nationwide. Wolf affirmed this, telling Fox News that his agency can act with or without local cooperation. “I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job,” he said. “We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.” President Donald Trump likewise vowed to send federal law enforcement agents to several more cities, amid reports that a Portland-like force was headed to Chicago.

Democrats, thankfully, seem to recognize this. “We live in a democracy, not a banana republic. We will not tolerate the use of Oregonians, Washingtonians — or any other Americans — as props in President Trump’s political games,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday, in a joint statement with Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. “The House is committed to moving swiftly to curb these egregious abuses of power immediately.”

But rhetoric isn’t enough. Democrats should condition final passage of its Homeland Security appropriations bill on a complete halt to operations in Portland and other cities and the dissolution of the response force.

There’s also the issue of the Department of Homeland Security itself. Since its creation in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the department has been criticized for its size, scope and waste. Report after report show an agency practically defined by waste and dysfunction. And if the Trump years have shown anything, it is that the agencies within DHS, and especially ICE and CBP, are in desperate need of root-and-branch reform or some other fundamental change.

Should Trump fail to win reelection, perhaps the way to prevent a replay of the abuse in Portland is to dismantle the institution behind it. Just as local communities do not need militarized police officers, the federal government does not need an alphabet soup of militarized law enforcement agencies, as well as the cultures of prejudice and brutality that have gone along with them. If and when we close the book on Trump, perhaps we should use the opportunity to close the book on Homeland Security, too.

Jamelle Bouie is a New York Times columnist.

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Trump To Issue Memo On The Census And Unauthorized Immigrants : NPR

President Trump departs a July 2019 press conference on the census with U.S. Attorney General William Barr (center) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in the White House Rose Garden.

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President Trump departs a July 2019 press conference on the census with U.S. Attorney General William Barr (center) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in the White House Rose Garden.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump is signing a memorandum Tuesday that calls for an unprecedented change to the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the country — the exclusion of unauthorized immigrants from the numbers used to divide up seats in Congress among the states.

The White House has not provided any additional details and has not yet released the text of the memorandum, but in a written statement, a White House official who spoke on background said the “action will clarify that illegal aliens are not to be included for the purpose of apportionment of Representatives following the 2020 Census.”

But the move by the president, who does not have final authority over the census, is more likely to spur legal challenges and political spectacle in the last months before this year’s presidential election than a transformation of the once-a-decade head count.

Since the first U.S. census in 1790, both U.S. citizens and noncitizens — regardless of immigration status — have been included in the country’s official population counts.

The fifth sentence of the Constitution specifies that “persons” residing in the states should be counted every 10 years in order to determine each state’s share of seats in the House of Representatives. The 14th Amendment goes further to require the counting of the “whole number of persons in each state.”

It is Congress — not the president — that Article 1, Section 2 of the country’s founding document empowers to carry out the “actual enumeration” of the country’s population in “such manner as they shall by law direct.”

In Title 2 of the U.S. Code, Congress detailed its instructions for the president to report to lawmakers the tally of the “whole number of persons” living in each state for the reapportionment of House seats. In Title 13, Congress established additional key dates for the “tabulation of total population.”

The state of Alabama, however, is arguing in an ongoing federal lawsuit that the framers of the Constitution did not intend for the term “persons” to include immigrants living in the country without authorization. Alabama says it’s trying to avoid losing a seat in Congress after the 2020 census by seeking to leave out unauthorized immigrants from the results of the national count that are used to reapportion the U.S. House.

Trump’s announcement, first signaled in a Politico newsletter last week, comes just over a year after the administration backed down in its failed attempt to add the now-blocked citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Last July, the president issued an executive order to use government records, including from state DMVs and federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, to produce anonymized citizenship data that could be used to redraw voting districts in a way that, a GOP strategist concluded, would politically benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic white people.

With the national census self-response rate at just over 62%, the White House announcement threatens to derail the Census Bureau’s efforts to finish tallying up roughly four out of ten households that have not filled out a census form on their own.

The agency’s operational plan for the 2020 census includes specially designed efforts, such as providing online forms and call centers in 13 languages, to try to make sure the census includes undocumented immigrants and other populations the bureau considers “hard-to-count.”

According to the Census Bureau’s residence criteria for determining how to count different groups of residents for the 2020 census, citizens of foreign countries who are living in the U.S. are supposed to be counted “at the U.S. residence where they live and sleep most of the time,” while international visitors should not be counted.

The bureau has been relying on ads and community groups in order to help ramp up its outreach to households with immigrants, people of color and other historically undercounted groups, many of whom remain distrustful of sharing their information with the government despite federal laws that require the Census Bureau to keep personally identifiable census information confidential until 72 years after it’s collected and prohibit that information from being used against an individual.

The administration has also raised concerns in recent weeks by making two new political appointments at the bureau. The move has sparked an inquiry by the inspector general for the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau. Democratic lawmakers and professional associations, including the American Statistical Association and the American Economic Association, are questioning whether the appointments of Nathaniel Cogley, a political science professor, and Adam Korzeniewski, a former political consultant to a YouTube personality known for racist pranks, are a partisan attempt to interfere with the census.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith contributed to this report.