Why won’t the Senate protect American elections?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)
(Moscow Mitch The Trumpian Bitch?) oped: oldpoet56)

Why won’t the Senate protect American elections?

Darrell M. West and Raj Karan Gambhir

Editor’s Note:This post is part of “Cybersecurity and Election Interference,” a Brookings series that explores digital threats to American democracy, cybersecurity risks in elections, and ways to mitigate possible problems.

Cybersecurity & Election InterferenceThe United States is at risk of serious foreign intervention and disinformation in the 2020 elections. When asked during his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee whether Russia could interfere in the 2020 elections, Robert Mueller responded that they are “doing it as we sit here.” The very next day, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that “the Russians had attempted to intrude in all 50 states” during the 2016 election. A blog post by Brookings Institution Fellow Margaret Taylor furthermore shows that our European allies have experienced similar Russian activities over the last few years in their national elections, the Brexit campaign, and European Union parliamentary races. Even as the scope of Russian intent and ability becomes increasingly clear, Senate Republicans have done nothing to address this problem.

It is not as if there aren’t good ideas to protect American elections. Four major pieces of election security legislation have been introduced over the last two years: the Secure Elections Act (introduced by Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)); Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)); Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act (Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)); and Securing America’s Federal Elections Act (introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA19)).

As noted below, the bills demonstrate relative bipartisan agreement over several key remedies. A number of members have proposed providing additional funding for the Election Assistance Commission, sharing election security expertise with the states, providing paper ballot backups of electronic voting systems, sanctioning financial institutions that support foreign interference, authorizing retaliatory actions against any nation interfering in American elections, and requiring intelligence agencies to determine whether any foreign agents interfered in American elections. A version of these ideas already has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on a 225 to 184 vote, but has been repeatedly blocked from a Senate vote by Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY). Calling the bill “highly partisan,” McConnell blocked a unanimous consent vote on the bill just hours after Mueller’s testimony.

This Senate inaction brings to mind Albert Einstein’s infamous definition of insanity as repeating the same behavior but expecting a different outcome. With no beefing up of election defenses and high odds of continuing foreign interference, 2020 will likely see the same problems of 2016: campaigns that sow discontent and play on societal divisions, active efforts to undermine electoral legitimacy, and widespread public doubts following the campaign about the integrity of the election process itself. Americans will wake up on Wednesday, November 4, 2020 wondering how the U.S. electoral process again fell prey to foreign interference and why political leaders failed to defend our vital democratic processes.

Providing additional funding for the Election Assistance Commission

In looking across the proposed bills, there are a number of promising ideas designed to secure U.S. elections. One of them advanced in the Secure Elections Act is the creation of an Election Assistance Commission grant program that provides funding for states and localities to secure electoral processes and upgrade equipment. The idea is that since elections largely are administered at the state and local level, additional funding for those entities would enable them to update their equipment, install the latest cyber-security protections, and make sure that vital infrastructure is protected during the election.

Sharing election security expertise

Several of the proposed bills give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a major role in advising the states, offering them technical expertise, and being proactive in dealing with possible cyber-threats. Since this department works to counter terrorism and maintain vital infrastructure, the department has expertise to evaluate hardware and software for cyber-security risks. Armed with that information, it could provide help to state and local agencies charged with administering the upcoming elections.

Providing paper ballot backups of electronic voting systems with an audit trail

A number of local jurisdictions have moved to electronic voting machines in recent years, although in most cases, this equipment is not connected to the internet in order to minimize opportunities for hacking. However, there still could be software bugs that distort the vote or systematically under-count certain areas. Given that possibility, it is important to have paper ballot backups of electronic voting systems and the possibility of conducting an audit if any irregularities are spotted. That way, voters can feel confident their votes will be counted and there are mechanisms to evaluate the vote in case anything is contested.

Sanctioning financial institutions that support foreign interference

The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act establishes financial sanctions that could be applied against countries, financial institutions, or individuals that “facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Putin.” The idea is that Russians could be discouraged from malicious behavior if they think there will be serious consequences.

Authors

In addition, the bill “would give prosecutors additional authorities to pursue federal charges for the hacking of voting systems and create a National Fusion Center to respond to hybrid threats of disinformation and other emerging threats from Russia”. There are provisions that specifically would impose sanctions for “Russian interference in democratic processes.”

Authorize retaliatory actions against any nation interfering in American elections

The Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act would allow the President to impose sanctions against any country identified as a threat. Among the actions that could invite retaliation “include a foreign government or agent purchasing political advertisements to influence an election” or “using social media to spread false information, hacking and releasing or modifying election- or campaign-related information or hindering access to elections infrastructure, such as websites for polling places.”

Requiring intelligence agency leaders to determine whether any foreign agents interfered in American elections

The DETER Act would mandate that the director of national intelligence determine within 30 days of the national election whether “the government of a foreign country, or any person acting as an agent of or on behalf of that government, knowingly engaged in interference in the election.” Under threat of sanction, foreign agents specifically would not be allowed to “spread significant amounts of false information to Americans. They also cannot hack, leak or modify election and campaign infrastructure, including voter registration databases and campaign emails.”

Why the Senate inaction in the face of a clear foreign danger?

A number of arguments have been made to justify the votes of those who opposed the House bill or are supporting Senate inaction. One is a state’s rights argument suggesting that the federal government should not have a major role in electoral security given the country’s history of state and local control of balloting. While it certainly is important to maintain state and local control of elections, providing federal assistance to upgrade voting machines does not violate existing legal or constitution provisions. There is a long history of the federal government paying for voting equipment and offering technical assistance. Many states lack funding for voting machines and the federal government often has funded upgrades and improvements. There is ample precedent for national authorities to protect vital infrastructure in the face of foreign threats.

Another rationale concerns the financial cost of electoral security. The idea is at a time when America is running a trillion-dollar budget deficit, it should avoid unnecessary expenditures. Rather, lawmakers should focus on vital priorities and critical infrastructure. Yet electoral security should fall within each of those principles. Having secure elections is essential to democracy. There is no excuse for not spending several hundred million dollars (a very small portion of the overall federal budget) on meaningful steps to protect American elections. Democracy is too important to be risked for a relatively small amount of money.

Short of these criticisms, it is hard to see any justified reason not to enact some type of electoral security measures. As is clear to all who study American elections and have heeded the warnings of our European allies, the intelligence community, and the Special Counsel—the Russian threat is real. Given these dire circumstances, it is difficult to fathom why Senate leadership is refusing to allow a vote on such important legislation, and therefore risking the integrity of the democratic process. Americans should demand Senate action to protect U.S. elections from foreign interference.

Pro-Trump Republican aiming to unseat Ilhan Omar charged with felony theft

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS)

 

Pro-Trump Republican aiming to unseat Ilhan Omar charged with felony theft

Exclusive: Danielle Stella, reported to support baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, held twice this year over alleged shoplifting

Danielle Stella, the Republican running for Congress against Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. Stella earlier this week described Minneapolis as ‘the crime capital of our country’.
 Danielle Stella, the Republican running for Congress against Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. Stella earlier this week described Minneapolis as ‘the crime capital of our country’. Photograph: Stella campaign

A pro-Trump Republican candidate for Congress who is aiming to unseat Ilhan Omar in Minnesota has been charged with a felony after allegedly stealing from stores.

Danielle Stella was arrested twice this year in Minneapolis suburbs over allegations that she shoplifted items worth more than $2,300 from a Target and goods valued at $40 from a grocery store. She said she denied the allegations.

Stella, a 31-year-old special education teacher, was reported this week to be a supporter of the baseless “QAnon” conspiracy theory about Donald Trump battling a global cabal of elite liberal paedophiles.

This week Stella also described Minneapolis as “the crime capital of our country”. She has in the past complained that local police were “overworked and overburdened” and said that, if elected, she would work to reduce crime.

In a series of text messages, Stella said: “I am not guilty of these crimes. In this country I am innocent until proven guilty and that is the law.”

She added: “If I was guilty of crimes, I would never run for public office, putting myself in the public eye under a microscope to be attacked by all political sides.”

An attorney for Stella, Joshua London, declined to comment.

Stella is accused of stealing 279 items valued at $2,327.97 from a Target store in Edina, to the south-west of Minneapolis, on 8 January this year. She was arrested for the alleged theft after security staff called the police.

A criminal complaint filed to Hennepin county district court alleged Stella was seen leaving the store without paying for most of her haul, after “scanning only a few other items” that were valued at about $50.

Danielle Stella. In a series of text messages, Stella said: ‘I am not guilty of these crimes.’
Pinterest
 Danielle Stella. In a series of text messages, Stella said: ‘I am not guilty of these crimes.’ Photograph: Bloomington police department

The complaint said Stella told police in a statement she “remembers arriving at Target to purchase items but nothing else” due to post-traumatic stress disorder, and that she “normally she goes to Target with someone because of anxiety around people”.

Stella has said publicly that she was the victim of a severe violent assault in 2008. She is charged with the thefts under her former surname, which the Guardian agreed not to report because she said it could endanger her safety.

She is charged with felony theft over the incident at Target and faces a punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 if convicted, according to court filings.

Police and court records said a warrant was put out for Stella’s re-arrest for alleged contempt of court on 4 April, after she failed to show up for a court hearing.

Officers in nearby Bloomington then arrested Stella on 28 April after she was allegedly seen by security staff at a Cub Foods grocery store stealing a bottle of tick spray for cats, and placing other items “under her purse so that they could not be seen”.

When they checked her identification, police officers discovered the open warrant for Stella’s arrest over her failure to appear in court for the earlier alleged shoplifting, their incident report said.

The report said Stella was arrested for alleged misdemeanour theft for taking “cat merchandise” and cat food valued at $40.46. She was issued with a citation and given a date to appear in court. It was not clear whether authorities would pursue the contempt of court allegation.

Stella’s candidacy has attracted interest from the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars, which broadcast an interview with her this week. Stella laughed and nodded as the host, J Owen Shroyer, called Omar “a witch” and said: “Everything about her is a fraud.”

Describing Minneapolis during the interview as America’s “crime capital”, Stella falsely claimed that crime in the city had risen by 80% over the past year. According to Minneapolis police data, there has been a 10.7% uptick in serious crime year-on-year, following a 16.5% decline in 2018.

The rightwing commentator Todd Starnes promoted Stella in an interviewearlier this month on Fox News’s streaming service Fox Nation. “We certainly wish Miss Stella the very best,” Starnes said, adding that he hoped for a “significant change in representation” in Omar’s district.

Last month Stella officially registered with the Federal Election Commission as a candidate for the Republican nomination in Minnesota’s fifth congressional district. She later spoke at the “Demand Free Speech” rally in Washington.

She has accused Omar of being a criminal for advising immigrants how to avoid agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She said in a tweet that any representatives who fail to “uphold the rule of law” should be ejected from office.

Court records say that in 2009, Stella pleaded guilty to driving while impaired from alcohol and fleeing a police officer. The latter charge was prosecuted as a felony but later classified as a gross misdemeanour as part of Stella’s plea.

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‘Very substantial evidence’ Trump is ‘guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

‘Very substantial evidence’ Trump is ‘guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors,’ House Judiciary Chair says

Washington (CNN)House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on Sunday said Robert Mueller’s report presents “very substantial evidence” that President Donald Trump is “guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors” — an impeachable offense.

“We have to … let Mueller present those facts to the American people, and then see where we go from there, because the administration must be held accountable,” Nadler, whose committee would lead impeachment proceedings, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Mueller, the former special counsel for the Department of Justice and former director of the FBI, will testify before Congress on July 24 after House Democrats issued a subpoena for his appearance. Earlier this year, Mueller concluded a nearly two-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday most Americans haven’t read the dense 448-page Mueller report.
Schiff said on CBS “Face The Nation” that the report contains “a pretty damning set of facts,” and said, “Who better to bring them to life than the man who did the investigation himself.”
“We want the people to hear it directly from him,” Schiff said.
Mueller said in a rare and remarkable public statement in May his investigation could not clear Trump of obstruction of justice, and that charging the President was not an option his office could consider.
“If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime.”
The former special counsel’s probe, which also investigated possible collusion, found that members of the Trump campaign knew they would benefit from Russia’s illegal actions to influence the election, but did not take criminal steps to help.
Mueller delivered a road map of how the investigation played out and the possible role that Congress could play in holding Trump accountable. He highlighted how the “Constitution requires a process other than” the criminal justice system to hold officeholders accountable, a clear signal his obstruction investigation into Trump could be carried on by Congress.
More than 80 House Democrats have called for starting an impeachment inquiry into the President — the first step in a lengthy process, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Nadler have so far resisted the pressure to open an inquiry.
The impeachment clause in Article II of the US Constitution outlines the process of removing a president, which begins with a vote in the House of Representatives. Offenses that could prompt impeachment are treason, bribery or other “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Republicans give Trump a rare rebuke over racist comments

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Republicans give Trump a rare rebuke over racist comments

(CNN)For many Republicans in Congress, President Donald Trump’s call for some Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” was worthy of a rare rebuke.

As she entered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in the Capitol on Monday evening, GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said that Trump’s latest attacks were not only “not constructive” but racist.
“They’re American citizens,” she said.
On Sunday, Trump attacked unnamed “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen,” saying they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.”
Usually Trump’s attacks on Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts are uniformly greeted with cheers by all Republicans (of these four first-term women members of Congress, only Omar, a Somalian refugee, was born outside the United States).
But for many Republicans, his racist comments on Sunday were, as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine put it, “way over the line.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the comments were “spiteful” and urged a “higher standard of decorum and decency.” Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio called them “divisive, unnecessary and wrong.”
“We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry,” said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“While we can vary on what policies we support, singling out people whose opinions differ from our own is bad for discourse and public civility,” added Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas.
Still, Ernst was in an unusual position in calling Trump’s racist remark racist. Trump’s strongest supporters said his comment was not while many of his begrudging bedfellows did not make that particular charge.
Many Republicans did not directly respond to questions regarding whether the President’s comments were “racist.” Instead, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, called the comments a “mistake,” and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, called them “unproductive.”
McConnell declined to comment Monday on Trump’s tweets. He said he’d be “happy” to respond later in the week at his regularly scheduled news conference.
For years, Trump has made racist and anti-immigrant comments. He questioned the birthplace of the first African American president, Barack Obama. He called Mexicans “rapists” in his campaign kickoff speech in 2015. He then called for a complete ban on Muslims.
He said a federal judge could not be impartial because of his race. He expressed a preference for immigrants coming from Norway rather than Haiti. He blamed “both sides” for the violence emanating from a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But while Trump is historically unpopular at this point in his presidency, he still maintains a great deal of support within the Republican Party. Over the past two years, the small crew of Republicans in Congress who have criticized him has gotten smaller; some have retired, left the party or lost.
So it was no surprise that some Republicans still rallied to the President. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana tweeted that he “stood with” Trump, adding an American flag emoji.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “The President is not a racist.”
“I think this is really coming down to a battle about ideology,” he added. “It’s really kind of a socialist battle versus a thing that we believe within America.”
Trump himself denied that what he said was racist.
When asked if he was concerned that many did, Trump replied, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”
Democrats roundly denounced the President. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s comments “drip with racism.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the chamber would vote on a resolution to condemn the President’s “xenophobic” comments. Rep. Al Green of Texas said he would bring an impeachment resolution to the floor in July, tweeting the hashtag #RacistPresident.
At a news conference with Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib, Pressley referred to Trump’s Twitter attacks on the four progressive Democratic congresswomen as a “disruptive distraction” and said that she would encourage the American people “to not take the bait.”
“This is simply a disruption and a distraction from the callous, chaotic and corrupt culture of this administration all the way down,” she said.

India: US Congress to vote on bill to remove country-cap on Green Card

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

US Congress to vote on bill to remove country-cap on Green Card

The US lawmakers will on Tuesday decide on lifting the country-cap on issuing Green Cards through voting in Congress, a move which may benefit thousands of highly-skilled Indian IT professionals.

WORLD Updated: Jul 09, 2019 13:02 IST

Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Washington
Green card,India news,US Congress
Being supported by more than 310 lawmakers from both the Republican and the Democratic Party, the ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act’ is all set to sail through the 435-member US House of Representatives.(AFP file photo for representation)

The US lawmakers will on Tuesday decide on lifting the country-cap on issuing Green Cards through voting in Congress, a move which may benefit thousands of highly-skilled Indian IT professionals.

Having a Green Card allows a person to live and work permanently in the US.

Indian IT professionals, most of whom are highly skilled and come to the US mainly on the H-1B work visas, are the worst sufferers of the current immigration system which imposes a seven per cent per country quota on allotment of the coveted Green Cards or permanent legal residency.

Being supported by more than 310 lawmakers from both the Republican and the Democratic Party, the ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act’ is all set to sail through the 435-member US House of Representatives.

Buoyed by the fact of 203 Democrats and 108 Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill, the proponents of the legislation are using a fast-track process which requires 290 votes to pass a bill without hearing and amendments.

Lifting the per-country cap would mainly benefit professionals from countries like India, for whom the wait for Green Card is more than a decade. Some of the recent studies have said the waiting period for Indian IT professionals on H-1B visas is more than 70 years.

The Library of Congress said the act, also known as HR 1044, is the most viewed bill in the week beginning July 7.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), this bill increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from seven per cent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 per cent and eliminates the seven per cent cap for employment-based immigrant visas.

It also removes an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China.

The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY 2020-22 by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas.

“Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 per cent shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country,” the CRS said.

The bill, however, has to be passed by the Senate, wherein the Republicans enjoy a majority, before it can be signed into law by the US president.

A similar bill being supported by a bipartisan group of senators including Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris is slated to come up for consideration soon. Both the identical bills in the Senate and the House were introduced in February.

In the House, it was introduced by Congressman Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who represents portions of Northern California’s Silicon Valley, and Republican Ken Buck from Colorado, while in the Senate it was introduced by Harris and Mike Lee from Utah.

In a news report, Breitbart news described it as a giveaway legislation to 300,000 Indian H-1B visa workers.

This will incentivize “more low wage Indian graduates” to take US jobs from middle class American graduates, it said and urged Republican lawmakers supporting the bill to withdraw their co-sponsorship.

Democrats, Breitbart alleged, “have kept the legislation secret — the bill has had no hearing or committee votes — and it is being backed by the immigration lawyer who helped Democratic Sen Chuck Schumer write the disastrous ‘Gang of Eight’ amnesty in 2013”.

Joining Breitbart, the Center For Immigration Studies said the bill would reward the employers who literally replaced American workers with hundreds of thousands of low cost and less skilled contract workers who entered on temporary visas (mainly H-1Bs), often working in the tech sector.

These employers are mainly big tech and foreign outsourcing companies.

“Under current rules, citizens of India are getting about 25 per cent of all the professional employment Green Cards each year. If this bill becomes law, citizens of India will get more than 90 per cent of the professional employment Green Cards, according to the USCIS, for at least the next 10 years.

“Green cards would be unavailable to applicants from all other parts of the world (and many other occupations) for at least a decade,” alleged the Centre for Immigration Studies.

It argued that a bill with “such sweeping implications” for the US workers should not be passed without a hearing and without opportunity for members to offer amendments.

“Adopting a different Green Card selection system that chooses the most highly educated and skilled workers would eliminate the need for a per-country cap system, and would not reward the exploitative employers who thrive on the existing system,” it said.

Congressman Paul Gosar said this is another gift for big-tech companies at the expense of American workers and students.

“We should not allow” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass the bill without following the rules, he said, adding the bill has not had a hearing or markup.

First Published: Jul 09, 2019 12:08 IST

Mueller to testify publicly on July 17 following a subpoena

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Mueller to testify publicly on July 17 following a subpoena

(CNN)Robert Mueller will testify before Congress on July 17 after House Democrats issued a subpoena for his appearance, a move that paves the way for a reluctant special counsel to answer questions publicly for the first time about his 22-month investigation into President Donald Trump.

The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees announced Tuesday that Mueller had agreed to testify after they issued subpoenas for his testimony, and Mueller would appear in public before the two panels next month.
“Americans have demanded to hear directly from the Special Counsel so they can understand what he and his team examined, uncovered, and determined about Russia’s attack on our democracy, the Trump campaign’s acceptance and use of that help, and President Trump and his associates’ obstruction of the investigation into that attack,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said in a joint statement.
Schiff said Tuesday that the committees would be questioning Mueller separately the same day, and that his committee would question Mueller’s staff in closed session following the public hearing so they can discuss the counterintelligence portions of the investigation.
Mueller’s testimony is poised to be the most-anticipated congressional hearing in years, and represents a huge moment for House Democrats who have wrestled with whether to dive into a politically divisive impeachment process following the Mueller investigation and White House stonewalling of congressional probes.
The subpoenas to Mueller come after weeks of negotiations between Democrats, the special counsel’s team and the Justice Department. Democrats are proceeding with subpoenas to Mueller after he spoke publicly last month and said he did not wish to testify publicly about the investigation, and that his testimony would not go beyond what was written in the special counsel’s 448-page report.
In a letter to Mueller, the Democratic chairmen said that they understood Mueller’s concerns about ongoing investigations referred by the special counsel, but still felt it was necessary for him to testify.
“We will work with you to address legitimate concerns about preserving the integrity of your work, but we expect that you will appear before our Committees as scheduled,” Nadler and Schiff wrote.
Democrats have been talking about bringing Mueller in to testify since his investigation wrapped in March, and their decision to issue subpoenas comes more than a month after the initial date that Nadler had floated for Mueller to appear.
Since then, Democrats have continued to negotiate with Mueller, holding out hope he would agree to testify voluntarily. While Mueller stated he did not wish appear before Congress, Democrats — and some Republicans — have said they still believe Mueller should testify. Democrats have argued that the American people can hear directly from the special counsel in a public setting, and lawmakers in both parties have said they want to ask him about some of the decisions made during the investigation.
Mueller’s report was written in two parts: a volume on Russian election meddling and one on obstruction.
In the first volume, the special counsel did not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but it did detail numerous contacts between Russians and members of Trump’s team that Democrats charge are troubling, even if they aren’t criminal. In the second volume, Mueller documented nearly a dozen episodes of possible obstruction of justice. The special counsel wrote that DOJ guidelines did not allow a sitting president to be indicted, and that the investigation could not exonerate Trump.
Mueller’s public statement last month — in which he emphasized that the investigation did not exonerate the President and that his team followed the DOJ guidelines — sparked a wave of House Democrats to call for the opening of an impeachment inquiry.
Their numbers have grown amid White House stonewalling of testimony and documents to congressional investigations, and now more than 75 have come out in favor of opening an impeachment inquiry.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has continued to resist the move, arguing that Democrats are winning their court fights with the Trump administration and impeachment should only be pursued if the public is on board.
Schiff and Nadler have both publicly refrained from calling for the opening of an impeachment inquiry. Behind the scenes, Nadler has lobbied Pelosi to do so, while Schiff has argued against it.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.

US move to scrap preferential trade status unfortunate: Government

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

US move to scrap preferential trade status unfortunate: Government

Congress attacks Centre, says the decision will have grave trade and economic implications

INDIA Updated: Jun 01, 2019 23:56 IST

Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
preferential trade status,US India trade,US India ties
M Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump during a meeting in Manila in November 2017.(Reuters File Photo)

The United States on Friday formally terminated India’s eligibility for a duty-free import scheme for developing countries, effective June 5, saying it has not given assurances it “will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets” to US companies as required under relevant American trade laws.

The move was downplayed by India’s commerce ministry, which said on Saturday that India will continue to seek to build strong economic ties with the United States and that it was “unfortunate” that attempts to resolve significant US requests had not been accepted.

Officials had previously raised the prospect of higher import duties on more than 20 US goods if Trump dropped India from the programme, but there was no mention of that in the response.

“India, like the US and other nations shall always uphold its national interest in these matters,” the government said in a statement issued through the trade ministry.

The impending American termination was previewed on Thursday by a senior administration official, who described it as a “done deal” and said it was time for the two countries to move on, and try to resolve other trade irritants. The official had, however, left open the possibility of restoring these benefits if and when India complied with American demands for greater market access to its dairy products and medical devices sectors.

“I have determined that India has not assured the United States that India will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets,” US President Donald Trump said in a proclamation issued on Friday. “Accordingly, it is appropriate to terminate India’s designation as a beneficiary developing country effective June 5, 2019.”

The presidential proclamation did not mention it, but the senior administration official who had previewed the coming termination had left the door open for putting India back on the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme and restore its duty-free benefits if India was able to “achieve the reforms in market access that we need under this programme”.

President Trump had conveyed his intention to terminate India’s eligibility for the programme to the US congress on March 4. And the formal termination became due on May 4, after the mandatory 60-day notice period.

But the administration held off on the proclamation as India was in the middle of elections and there was pressure from US lawmakers, from both parties, to delay the termination to allow more time for negotiations. There was an expectation that India could avert the termination if it agreed to US demands for more market access.

But the Trump administration had concluded much before, according to people close to the developments, that India would not be able to deliver no matter how much additional time it was given. But it agreed to wait for the elections to get over, and announced the termination just a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his second term. No talks were underway at the time contrary to public assurances by Indian officials.

This US action presents the first major challenge for the new Modi government on relations with the United States, as there is talk the Trump administration might not stop at this and could be considering even more precipitate actions in line with the President’s tough posture on trade.

India has been the biggest beneficiary of the GSP programme, which allows certain imports from 120 countries to enter the United States at zero tariff. US imports from India under GSP were an estimated $6.3 billion worth of goods in 2018 , according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan source of research for US lawmakers.

Withdrawal of zero-tariff benefits would subject these products, presuming their volumes remain unaffected, to $190 million, according to official Indian estimates. But people familiar with these discussions have said there are fears that the new tariffs could make these products costlier for US importers, who could then switch to other cheaper alternatives to keep down their prices.

(with HTC inputs from New Delhi)

First Published: Jun 01, 2019 23:44 IST

It just got more difficult for the Congress To Not Impeach Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Robert Mueller ended his two-year stint as special counsel with a bang disguised as a whimper: In a 10-minute statement announcing his resignation and the closure of the special counsel’s office, the former FBI director sent a very clear message to anyone listening: I didn’t charge Donald Trump with obstruction because I couldn’t.

 “The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy,” said Mueller, referencing an Office of Legal Counsel ruling that a siting president cannot be indicted. “Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
And just in case you missed what Mueller was driving at with that quote, he was even more explicit later in his remarks. “The [OLC] opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller added.
So, to summarize:
  1. Mueller says the special counsel’s hands were tied by the OLC opinion when it came to charging Trump with obstructing the Russia probe.
  2. Mueller notes that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
Oh, whatever could he mean????
To date, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has held off the increasing number of voices within the House Democratic caucus calling for impeachment, insisting that Trump wants to be impeached because it will turn him into a victim and allow him to make the election about alleged Democratic overreach rather than about health care, immigration and so on.
It’s a sound political stance — one reinforced by CNN polling that shows that almost 6 in 10 Americans don’t want to see Trump impeached and more than 4 in 10 who think Democrats have already done too much investigating of the President.

 

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But polling doesn’t stand in for principle or political pressure. And Pelosi is going to be strongly pushed on both of those fronts now that Mueller said what he said. The question is whether — and how — she can withstand this increased pressure.
In a statement soon after what may be Mueller’s final appearance on the national stage, Pelosi stood her ground, emphasizing that it’s just a fraction of the total number of House Democrats calling for impeachment. “I think it’s like 35 of them out of 238, maybe it’s 38 of them out of 238 who have said they wanted to be outspoken on impeachment,” she said.
“Nothing is off the table,” Pelosi added. But “we are investigating and we are litigating and we are going to, as we go down the path, make a decision based on the strongest possible case to get the best results for the American people.”
The Point: Pelosi is holding strong — for now. But how long can she keep it up in the wake of the Mueller statement?

Barr contradicted and struggled with key findings of Muller report

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ABC NEWS)

 

Barr contradicted and struggled with key findings of Mueller report

PHOTO: Attorney General William Barr responds as he is asked a question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 1, 2019.Susan Walsh/AP
WATCHAttorney General William Barr defends himself in Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

During his four-hour back and forth with senators on Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr questioned, and at times seemed to contradict, key findings in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

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Time and again, faced with questions from probing Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats about the report’s contents, Barr also seemed unfamiliar with some of the report’s significant details.

When Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., brought up how then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort shared polling data in August 2016 with his former business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik — identified by prosecutors as having ties to Russian intelligence — Barr struggled.

“What information was shared?” Barr asked, prompting Booker to reply, “Polling data was shared, sir. It’s in the report.”

“With who?” Barr followed up.

PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 1, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Barr testified on the Justice Departments investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.Win Mcnamee/Getty Images
U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 1, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Barr testified on the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.more +

The special counsel’s team had concluded there weren’t sufficient grounds to prosecute Manafort’s actions as a crime of conspiracy, but a top prosecutor in Mueller’s office previously described Manafort’s interactions with Kilimnik as being at the “heart” of the probe about whether Trump’s campaign had coordinated with the Russian government.

In another instance, when Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., quoted the Mueller report about “multiple links between Trump campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government” and that in some instances “the campaign was receptive to the offer whereas others they were not,” Barr indicated that he did not understand “what communications that referred to.”

Leahy said, “You have the report. I just gave you the page from the report.”

At another point Leahy questioned if Trump had “fully cooperated” with Mueller, as Barr wrote, “by instructing a former aide to tell the attorney general to un-recuse himself, shut down the investigation and declare the president did nothing wrong.”

“Where is that in the report?” Barr asked. When Leahy pointed to the page number, Barr muttered, “Right.”

At other times, the attorney general appeared to directly contradict key findings in the Mueller report, including when giving his view of the interactions between Trump and then-White House Counsel Don McGahn about the president’s attempts to get rid of Mueller.

During questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Barr stated that Trump had attempted to remove Mueller because of “conflict of interest” and not to terminate the investigation. He said the president had directed McGahn to correct a New York Times article that reported on what Trump had told McGahn only because he deemed it inaccurate.

According to the Mueller report, however, evidence showed that “the President was not just seeking an examination of whether conflicts existed but instead was looking to use asserted conflicts as a way to terminate the special counsel.” The Mueller report also stated, “There is also evidence that the President knew that he should not have made those calls to McGahn.”

“The report is over 400 pages,” a Justice Department official told ABC News. “It would be impossible for anyone to remember every detail of the report off-hand.”

Asked whether Barr’s testimony contradicted Mueller’s findings, the Justice Department official answered, “No.”

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Cory Booker, left, and Sen. Kamala Harris, right, listen as Attorney General William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 1, 2019.Andrew Harnik/AP
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Cory Booker, left, and Sen. Kamala Harris, right, listen as Attorney General William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 1, 2019.more +

Maybe one of the most contentious moments came when Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris asked Barr if he, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or anyone in his executive office had questioned or reviewed the underlying evidence supporting the report’s findings, and Barr replied, “No.”

“In the Department of Justice, we have cross memos every day coming up,” Barr said. “We don’t go and look at the underlying evidence. We take the characterization of the evidence as true.”

Harris shot back, questioning Barr’s decision to accept charging recommendations without reviewing underlying evidence when making a “critical decision” about “the person who holds the highest office in the land and whether or not that person committed a crime.”

“I think you’ve made it clear, sir, that you have not looked at the evidence and we can move on,” Harris said.

ABC News’ Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

William Barr proved himself to be Donald Trump’s lawyer, Not America’s

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)

(Yesterday the Attorney General William Barr Proved to the American people that he, Our Nation’s Top Cop is totally bought and paid for as well as proving himself to be an habitual liar, just like his boss. The DOJ needs to change its call letters to DONJ, STANDS FOR DEPARTMENT OF NO JUSTICE, but of course it could mean Donald, as in Teflon Don’s Justice) (oldpoet56)

William Barr proved himself to be Donald Trump’s lawyer, not America’s: Today’s talker

‘Barr was now fully invested in portraying Trump as its innocent victim,’ says Brian Dickerson.

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Attorney General William Barr was a no-show on Thursday, skipping a second congressional hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Barr writes his obituary — and it’s not flattering

By Brian Dickerson

Attorney General William Barr snookered me.

Back in January, testifying before senators considering whether to confirm him as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Barr was at pains to dispel suspicions that he would use his office to undercut the work of special counsel Robert Mueller, then nearing the conclusion of his investigation.

Senators who opposed Barr’s confirmation had ample reason to question his bona fides as an honest broker. Half a year before his nomination as attorney general, in a 19-page memo mailed to Department of Justice leaders, Barr had asserted that Mueller’s inquiry into the allegations that the president had broken the law by obstructing DOJ investigators was “fatally misconceived” because the president’s authority over the department was absolute.

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But at his confirmation hearing, Barr insisted the memo was merely a summary of his disinterested legal judgment, not a veiled pledge of unquestioning loyalty to the president who had nominated him. He had already served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, he reminded senators; he wanted to restore confidence in the DOJ, not use it as a shield for presidential misconduct.

The prospect that Barr had misled senators about his independence emerged on March 24, when he released a four-page summary of Mueller’s report that eerily echoed the language of the White House propaganda machine. Barr confirmed his critics’ worst suspicions on April 18, when he preempted the release of the redacted report with a news conference in which he portrayed White House efforts to derail the investigation as the reasonable reaction of a president “frustrated and angered” about the allegations against him.

Along with his assertion that the FBI had spied after obtaining a warrant to monitor the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian agents, Barr made it clear that contrary to his promise to defend Mueller’s investigation, he was now fully invested in portraying Trump as its innocent victim.

Mueller made plain his dismay at Barr’s metamorphosis from attorney general to chief defense counsel in a March 27 letter, made public just before the attorney general’s testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which the special counsel protested that Barr had distorted “the context, substance and nature” of his investigators’ work and threatened to undermine public confidence in their findings.

In his Senate testimony, Barr dismissed Mueller’s circumspect letter as “snitty,” brushed off previous sworn testimony in which the AG denied any inkling of the special counsel’s displeasure, and insisted, with the Trump White House’s characteristic disdain for candor, that he had meant to telegraph “no negative connotations” with his insinuations about FBI “spying.”

Yet it is impossible to imagine that Mueller, his investigators, or the FBI agents and DOJ lawyers working on the 14 criminal investigations Mueller’s team referred to other U.S. attorneys came away from Wednesday’s hearing with the confidence that Barr has their backs.

Contrast that with the almost reverent appreciation Justice Department officials expressed for Barr’s predecessors, the late Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus, when they resigned rather than enlist in President Richard Nixon’s campaign to co-opt the Justice Department.

Barr won’t lose any sleep over my own disappointment, and he won’t be around to see how historians remember the cause for which he sacrificed, in a few short months, his reputation for integrity.

But he is quickly rewriting the obituary that might have appeared if he had demurred when Trump enlisted him as the White House’s principal propagandist. The updated version is unlikely to be one he or his children will take much pride in.

Brian Dickerson is the editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, where the full version of this column first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter: @BRIANDDICKERSON.

What others are saying

James Comey, The New York Times: “Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. … More often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Attorney General William Barr and former acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive President Donald Trump, and that adds up to something they will never recover from.”

The Wall Street Journal,  editorial: “This trashing of Bill Barr shows how frustrated and angry Democrats continue to be that the special counsel came up empty in his Russia collusion probe. He was supposed to be their fast track to impeachment. Now they’re left trying to gin up an obstruction tale, but the probe wasn’t obstructed and there was no underlying crime. So they’re shouting and pounding the table against Bill Barr for acting like a real attorney general.”

Dana Milbank, The Washington Post: “Barr continued undermining Mueller on Wednesday, calling Mueller’s letter to him ‘a bit snitty’ and saying Mueller should have ended the investigation if he didn’t think it in his purview to say whether Trump committed a crime. And Barr eagerly played Trump’s defense lawyer. … Repeatedly, Barr said it didn’t matter that Trump had deceived the public. ‘I’m not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people,’ he said. But now Barr, by misrepresenting his dealings with Mueller, has gotten himself into the business of lying to the American people.”

What our readers are saying

Attorney General William Barr is not America’s lawyer, he’s President Donald Trump’s private counsel hired to lie to Congress and Americans. Barr lied to Congress on Wednesday regarding former special counsel Robert Mueller’s letter and said it was probably written by a subordinate. He has no shame and will do anything to protect our “dictator.”

— Russell E. Glass

I’m glad Barr told them to stick it on a second congressional hearing. Barr was ready to testify until the House Judiciary Committee agreed to add an hour of questions by staff lawyers — a nonsensical demand. Democrats just wanted another day of theatrics.

— Gerd Eysser

So many people don’t understand the true danger in this administration and their lawlessness. It sets the dangerous precedent that money and power mean you are above the law, and their total disregard for the Constitution and our laws is deplorable and putting us all at risk.

— Eileen Carlson Sierra

The Mueller report is done. There was no collusion! Liberals need to get over themselves and quit spending all this money.

— Pamela Hyder Lewis

To join the conversations about topics on USA TODAY or provide feedback to this newsletter, email [email protected], comment on Facebook, or use #tellusatoday on Twitter.

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