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Former Obama lawyer Greg Craig leaves firm after brush with Mueller probe

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WASHINGTON — Former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig has left his law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the firm told NBC News.

“You are welcome to report he is no longer with the firm,” said a spokesperson in a statement.

His departure comes after he and his law firm became caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Alex van der Zwaan, who had been a lawyer in Skadden’s London office, pleaded guilty to lying to prosecutors and the FBI about communications involving work the firm had been performing for the Russian-backed former Ukrainian president, whose party was paying Paul Manafort and Rich Gates.

Gates, a former Trump campaign aide, pleaded guilty to one charge of false statements and one charge of conspiracy in February and has agreed to cooperate with the Mueller probe. Manafort, former Trump campaign chair, has pleaded not guilty to charges that include money laundering and conspiracy.

President Barack Obama talks with White House Counsel Gregory Craig, after Craig, and other White House staff members were sworn-in on Jan. 21, 2009, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.Ron Edmonds / AP file

It emerged in court hearings that Greg Craig was the senior partner overseeing the project. Craig was White House counsel from January 2009 to January 2010, when he went to work at Skadden. He also held several posts in the Clinton administration, and helped President Clinton coordinate his defense during his impeachment.

The 2012 report, commissioned by Manafort, was an effort to analyze the prosecution of an opposition politician, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Human rights groups criticized the report as a white wash. Manafort and Gates used an offshore account to “funnel $4 million to pay for the report,” according to court papers, which do not say how much of the $4 million went to Skadden.

Craig did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Tory rebels plot to join forces with SNP and Labour to confront Boris on COVID rules

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THE SNP and Labour have been urged to join a growing Tory backbench rebellion to rein in Boris Johnson’s power to impose strict coronavirus lockdown restrictions without parliamentary approval.

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Lindsey Graham is facing his toughest re-election yet. Could a SCOTUS fight help?

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Lindsey Graham had a base problem. Then a Supreme Court seat opened up.

There’s no question that Graham, a South Carolina Republican facing his most competitive re-election battle yet, needs every vote he can get in November. A Quinnipiac University poll from early this month showed him tied at 48 percent with Jaime Harrison, a well-funded Democrat, in a solidly red state that Donald Trump carried by 14 points in 2016.

Graham began his Senate career in 2003 as a moderate with allies on both sides of the aisle. His willingness to work with Democrats drew frequent criticism from the right. For much of the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Graham warned the party of Trump, calling him a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”

Now, he is one of Trump’s closest allies in Washington and a frequent golf partner.

Many Republicans here have never fully bought into Graham’s 180-degree change, party leaders in South Carolina say. Some base voters still worry that he is not close enough to Trump, while others are frustrated that they don’t seem to know who the real Graham is anymore.

“Graham has always had issues with the Republican base, dating back to 2008,” said Will Folks, who worked for years in Republican politics in South Carolina and now runs the state’s go-to political blog, FITSNews, adding that Graham lost a meaningful number of Republican primary voters to challengers in his 2008 and 2014 re-election bids. By comparison, the state’s other senator, Tim Scott, a Republican, did not have a primary challenger in his 2016 race.

“I’m a libertarian and I’m not going to vote for him. I’m just not,” Folks said of Graham. “And if that means putting a Democrat in for six years until the GOP can get a better candidate, then so be it.”

But the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could provide Graham with a critical opportunity to prove his loyalty to the base, shoring up his support in the final few weeks of the election.

On Saturday, less than 24 hours after Ginsburg died, Graham — who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee — announced he would support moving forward with a Trump Supreme Court nominee. The position marked a complete reversal from his position in February 2016, when he refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, arguing that it was too close to the election and voters should have a say.

“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say ‘Lindsey Graham said, ‘Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,'” Graham said at the time.

Harrison took him up on that offer, tweeting out a video clip of Graham’s comments, adding: “My grandpa always said that a man is only as good as his word. Senator Graham, you have proven your word is worthless.”

Still, South Carolinians are divided on which candidate the open Supreme Court seat will actually benefit. Republicans say it reminds voters that Harrison is, well, a Democrat — while Democrats say it reinforces Harrison’s attacks against Graham: that he’s just not the same guy that the state elected 18 years ago, and that South Carolinians can’t trust him.

“On both sides, it changes the race,” said Barbara Nielsen, who works for the Beaufort County Republican Party, a key district that runs down the South Carolina coast. “But I think we’re still a Republican state.”

Asked what she thought Graham needed to do to shore up his support in her county, Nielsen said, “I think Senator Graham needs to be who he is: Senator Graham.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, said that “it probably helps Democrats more than Republicans because they are incensed.”

In York County, a rapidly growing part of the state that includes part of the Charlotte suburbs where Harrison will need to post a strong showing, Democrats say they’ve never seen this kind of excitement for a candidate before — and that it has shifted into high gear in the days since Ginsburg’s death.

“The phone number for our county party HQ rings through to my cellphone, and it rings constantly. It’s more energy that we’ve seen around here for any race,” said John Kraljevich, chair of the York County Democrats, as he loaded Harrison yard signs into his truck to drop off to eager supporters around the state. “A lot of the energy we were feeling is frankly close to panic. It’s like: ‘Oh hell, we can actually win this race. What do we do now?'”

H. Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, predicted that the impending partisan battle of the Supreme Court will have a “split effect.”

“It may end up canceling each other out. I don’t know that one party has a huge advantage,” Knotts said. “I do think it’s going to help Graham. Obviously he’s going to get in the news a lot. But I do think it allows Harrison to continue the narrative of ‘We can’t trust Lindsey, Lindsey isn’t a man of his word.'”

Still, Sanford said, the partisan breakdown of the state cannot be overlooked.

“Yes, it is a tight race. Yes, a lot of money has been spent. But at the end of the day, it’s South Carolina and it probably goes Republican.”



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Demographic shifts since 2016 could be enough to defeat Trump. But it’s complicated.

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Four years ago, President Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes and still won the White House thanks to a near-perfect geographic vote distribution that allowed him to capture big Electoral College prizes by razor-thin margins.

The key? Trump’s unprecedented 37-point margin among white voters without four-year college degrees, who are especially influential in the upper Midwest.

But as the U.S. becomes more diverse and college-educated, Trump’s core demographic is steadily declining. In 2020, noncollege whites are on track to make up about 43 percent of the nation’s adult citizens, down from 46 percent in 2016.

Meanwhile, whites with four-year degrees, who are trending blue and increasingly behave like a different ethnic group from noncollege whites, will make up 25 percent of adult citizens, up from 24 percent in 2016. And Black Americans, Latinos, Asians and other nonwhites, historically Democrats’ most reliable supporters, will make up 32 percent, up from 30 percent four years ago.

A new interactive collaboration by NBC News and The Cook Political Report finds that if 2016’s rates of turnout and support were applied to 2020’s new demographic realities, Trump would narrowly lose Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — more than enough to swing the presidency to Joe Biden. And, Trump would lose the popular vote by about four points, roughly double his 2016 deficit.

To let readers test their own assumptions about how these kinds of demographic shifts might affect the election, we’ve created an interactive tool that accompanies this article. To estimate the impact of changes in population, turnout and support on the Electoral College, you can use the tool to “swing the vote” and create your own November scenarios.

Right now, in the final stretch, Trump is doing everything he can to fire up his base, and he does have room to grow: In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump’s combined margin of victory was just 77,444 votes, 4.9 million eligible noncollege whites didn’t cast ballots in 2016. By contrast, only 1.6 million eligible nonwhites and 1 million eligible college-educated whites didn’t vote.

But Trump might need to boost noncollege white turnout by about 5 points — from 55 percent to 60 percent nationally — just to offset the impact of their dwindling share of the electorate and get back to the same 306 electoral votes he won in 2016.

At the moment, Trump’s bigger problem is that Biden is winning more noncollege whites than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Biden losing them by 23 points, whereas exit polls showed Clinton losing them by 37 points. That would be more than enough to offset modest gains Trump has made since 2016 among Hispanics and other nonwhites.

Of course, race and education aren’t the only prism through which to examine the changing American electorate. Breaking down the electorate by age, for example, reveals something different: Voters 65 and older, who narrowly supported Trump in 2016, have become a slightly larger slice of eligible voters since 2016 as more Baby Boomers have aged into that category.

However, age isn’t as straightforward: To put it gently, plenty of the oldest 2016 voters have since exited the electorate. At the same time, many 18-22 year olds, who overwhelmingly dislike the president, have entered. And today, polls consistently show Biden doing several points better with seniors than Clinton, while Trump’s support is concentrated among voters between the ages of 50 and 64.

Using the information above, you can start trying out the tool to see the impact of these changes. But to start, here are six possible scenarios of our own:

Six scenarios to swing the 2020 election

1. Biden makes a Sun Belt breakthrough

For years, Democrats have dreamed of breaking Republicans’ grip on increasingly diverse and metropolitan Sun Belt states. In this scenario, Biden turns out enough nonwhites and wins over enough college-educated suburban whites to wrest Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas from Trump’s column (in addition to Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) — for a landslide victory.

2. Trump bounces back with seniors

Today, Biden is performing much better with voters 65 and older than Clinton did four years ago. But if Trump could find a way to get his margins with seniors back to 2016 levels, he could hang on to retiree-heavy battlegrounds like Arizona and Florida. In this scenario, Biden wins the popular vote by a full 3 percentage points but flips only Michigan and Pennsylvania, and Trump prevails by two electoral votes.

3. Biden squeaks by with white college graduates

In the 2018 midterms, Democrats’ route to the House majority ran through high-income suburbs populated by white college graduates. If Biden were to replicate those gains, he could prevail, even if Trump matches or slightly exceeds his own 2016 numbers among other groups. In this scenario, Biden narrowly wins by flipping Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Nebraska’s 2nd District.

4. Biden coalesces the youngest and oldest

Today, Biden enjoys something of a “sandwich” coalition in polls: He’s performing best with the youngest and oldest age groups. In this scenario, Biden roughly matches Clinton’s share of the vote among voters under 65, but overtakes Trump with much stronger support from seniors. He wins by flipping the senior-heavy states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

5. Trump prevails with inroads among nonwhites

One polling bright spot for Trump this year has been stronger support among nonwhite voters — particularly Latinos — than he received in 2016. If he were to combine those gains with 2016-level support among whites, he could actually improve on his showing. In this scenario, Trump holds all 30 states he won in 2016 and even flips Nevada red, narrowly winning the popular vote, too.

6. Biden rebuilds Obama’s Midwest “blue wall”

In 2016, Democrats’ “blue wall” of supposed Great Lakes strongholds crumbled. But Biden could resurrect the coalition he and former President Barack Obama built if he wins a higher share of white working-class votes than Clinton and restores Black turnout to Obama-era levels. In this scenario, Biden wins all 26 states Obama carried in 2012, including Iowa and Ohio, and picks up Arizona and North Carolina.

Notes: For purposes of this interactive, votes for independent and third-party candidates are counted as nonvotes in turnout figures. In 48 states, the winner of the popular vote gets all the state’s electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska award two electoral votes to the statewide winner and one electoral vote to the winner in each congressional district.

See the tool at NBCNews.com/SwingTheElection.

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