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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Now that the potentially gigantic field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 is beginning to narrow — so long, Michael Avenatti; goodbye, Deval Patrick — the scrutiny is increasing on some of the Democrats who continue to eye the upcoming presidential race.

On Thursday, for example, the New York Times reported how progressives and minority groups criticized Elizabeth Warren for the recent DNA test she took to prove her family’s Native-American origins, and then the Boston Globe’s editorial page implored her not to run for president. “Warren missed her moment in 2016, and there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020,” the editorial page said.

“While Warren is an effective and impactful senator with an important voice nationally, she has become a divisive figure. A unifying voice is what the country needs now after the polarizing politics of Donald Trump” he paper continued. (We don’t remember the Globe telling Massachusetts pols like Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney not to run for president.)

Also this week, a top aide to Kamala Harris resigned “after a report surfaced of a $400,000 harassment settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice in 2016,” per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Dartunorro Clark.

And then there was the criticism that Beto O’Rourke was getting from the progressive left:

  • Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig: “I’m not sure we need another Obama, or another of any Democrat we’ve had recently: I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don’t see that in O’Rourke.”
  • Journalist David Sirota: “Here are some Beto O’Rourke donors who work in the energy industry & who gave more than $1000.” (Reality check: When you raised LOTS of money from individuals, even in small-dollar contributions, you’re going to get donors from all industries.)
  • Jacobin: “Beto O’Rourke Should Not Run for President.”

Welcome to the big leagues, guys and gals. Running for president is the best story in American politics. But the presidential vetting process is like nothing any of these folks have ever seen, even for these senators who’ve run before in high-profile Senate contests.

The opposition research. The ideological criticism. The examination of every wart and flaw. And the totality of this process is why sitting incumbent presidents who don’t get primary challenges from their own parties have an advantage in seeking re-election. See Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2012.

Just how lethal will this vetting process be for Democrats? (In that New York Times piece on Warren, a Cherokee genealogist says she won’t vote for Warren under any circumstance, even against Trump.) Will hard feelings undermine the eventual nominee? (The lack of full party unity definitely hurt the Democrats in 2016.) Or can someone transcend the presidential meat-grinder?

As Mueller prepares to release more documents, Trump rage-tweets on the investigation

NBC’s Ken Dilanian: “Three new court documents are scheduled to emerge Friday that could shed new light on what Donald Trump’s former top aides have been telling — or not telling — federal investigators. A federal judge in New York has ordered that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel’s Office have until 5 p.m. Friday to deliver sentencing memos designed to detail former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s cooperation in their ongoing investigations.”

“And special counsel Robert Mueller is also due to file a document spelling out what his team previously referred to as the “crimes and lies” that led them to cancel a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.”

And it sure seems like President Trump is bracing for bad news. Just check out his tweets from this morning:

Somebody is clearly worried…

Experts say lame-duck curbs on power could violate Michigan constitution

“Republican lawmakers may be violating the state constitution with fast-tracked bills in the lame-luck Legislature that curb the powers of incoming Democratic officeholders or water down proposals backed by Michigan voters, legal experts say,” the Detroit Free Press writes.

“‘They’re just going crazy,’ said Robert Sedler, a Wayne State University law professor. Sedler, who has taught at Wayne State since 1977 and wrote a book on American constitutional law, cited a range of problematic bills — from a package the Senate passed Thursday to strip enforcement of campaign finance laws from the secretary of state to one that restricts the incoming governor’s choices to head the Michigan State Police, and bills that meddle with legislation and constitutional amendments backed by Michigan voters. ‘In the 40 years that I’ve been here, I have not seen any such effort to curtail the powers of the governor and the executive branch,’ Sedler told the Free Press Thursday.”

Republican concedes in CA-21, Democrats’ House gains now at 40 seats

GOP Congressman David Valadao conceded to Democrat TJ Cox in the CA-21 race, giving Democrats a net of 40 House pickups for their haul in 2018, NBC’s Jane Timm writes. As a result, NBC News declared Cox the apparent winner in the contest.

Democrat withdraws concession in NC-9 after the allegations of election fraud

NBC News also withdrew its call for Republican Mark Harris in that NC-9 contest after Democrat Dan McCready took back his concession amid allegations of election fraud in the race.

Here’s NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Rich Gardella: “State investigators are combing through election board records in several counties to discover whether there was an organized effort to unlawfully collect the absentee ballots of thousands of voters and then not turn those ballots over to election authorities. They are especially interested in Bladen County, a rural, low-income area in the southeastern part of the state where investigators are looking at several individuals who turned in requests for absentee ballots on behalf of hundreds of voters.”

“The results of the investigation could put in jeopardy Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris’ unofficial lead of 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.”



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EU believes second referendum MORE LIKELY likely than no deal says Hague

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THE European Union believes a second Brexit referendum is more likely to happen than the UK crashing out of the bloc without a deal, former Tory leader William Hague has said as he set out exactly what Theresa May should say to European leaders to get a new deal.

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Trump ally Roger Stone says he still has not been contacted by Mueller’s team

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Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Anna Schecter and Michael Cappetta

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has never contacted former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone during its 19-month investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Stone and his attorney said in interviews Tuesday.

Stone has told reporters in the past that he’s had no contact with Mueller, and that remains true as 2019 approaches.

“Nothing’s changed,” Stone said during an interview with NBC News on Capitol Hill while he was protesting with InfoWars’ Alex Jones outside a hearing where Google CEO Sundar Pichar answered lawmakers’ questions about alleged political bias.

Stone’s ties to President Donald Trump go back four decades. He worked for the Trump campaign as an adviser for a short time in 2015 and continued as an informal adviser after leaving his role. During the summer of 2016, he made several public statements that seemed to indicate he had spoken to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or could be interpreted to mean he had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked Democratic emails, which he denies.

More than 10 of his associates have now been called before a grand jury in D.C. to answer questions from Mueller’s prosecutors related to Stone and WikiLeaks.

Stone said several months ago that he expects to be indicted. Even though he says he has not been contacted by Mueller’s team, he wrote in an August email to supporters that “Robert Mueller is coming for me” and that Mueller’s investigators are “examining every aspect of my personal, private, family, social, business and political life.”

Legal analyst Daniel Goldman said based on the number of witnesses interviewed there is no question the special counsel is conducting a serious and intensive investigation into Stone, but that his appears to be a tricky case and it is by no means a certainty he will be charged.

“In order for Stone to be charged with conspiring with others to interfere with the fair and proper administration of the 2016 election, the special counsel must determine that he took specific actions to coordinate with WikiLeaks and assist in the dissemination of the hacked emails… If he merely learned about it and did not take any steps to assist or coordinate, then he did not commit a crime,” said Goldman, an NBC News legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Stone testified before the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 about Russia and Trump and Tuesday he stood by his testimony saying everything he told the committee “is true and accurate.” He noted he supplemented his testimony with four documents at the request of the committee, which “bolsters my testimony.”

In one of the supplemental documents he provided the committee he named Randy Credico as his backchannel to WikiLeaks. When asked Tuesday why he didn’t initially name Credico, Stone said he “feared professional reprisal against [Credico] in the workplace, yet I was persuaded by the committee and my own attorneys to identify him which I did.” Stone and Credico texted about WikiLeaks during the summer and fall of 2016, with Credico texting at one point he was “best friends” with Assange’s lawyer. Credico has repeatedly denied that he got any inside information from WikiLeaks.

In another supplemental document for the committee Stone acknowledged a brief meeting in Florida with a Russian named Henry Greenberg during the campaign.

“The question before House Intelligence Committee was did I meet with any representatives of the Russian State. [Greenberg] does not qualify,” he said Tuesday.

Stone recently declined to speak with the Senate Judiciary Committee in its Russia probe.

During the heat of the campaign in June 2016, Assange announced he had emails damaging to Clinton. Communications reviewed by NBC News show that Stone and others made efforts to try to learn details about what was coming. The Friday before the Democratic National Convention, Assange released the first batch of DNC emails.

On Aug. 8, 2016, Stone told the Southwest Broward Republican Organization, “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”

On Aug. 21, 2016, he tweeted, “Trust me, it will soon [sic] the Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Two months later Assange began releasing Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. His attorney notes that this tweet followed a series of tweets about Podesta the week before. Podesta was the subject of Republican opposition research during the campaign and some in Stone’s camp have said that it was not out of the blue that Stone would text about Podesta.

Stone has been saying for months that the statements he made in 2016 were political bluster in the heat of a campaign, and his attorney said that media focus on them takes them out of context. Stone maintains he has never spoken to Assange, and while he may have asked people to find out details about the content and timing of WikiLeaks’ publication of Democrats’ emails that would be damaging to Clinton, he in no way colluded with WikiLeaks and did nothing illegal to try to help the campaign of Donald Trump.

In the wide-ranging interview with NBC News Stone said he never spoke to candidate Trump about WikiLeaks during the campaign.

Stone’s friend Jerome Corsi has been questioned by Mueller’s team and was offered a plea deal for lying to investigators, which he rejected. Corsi has sued Mueller and other government agencies for allegedly trying to blackmail him into lying. Asked what he thinks about Corsi’s approach, he said, “I wouldn’t do it the same way.”

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

Michael Cappetta reported from Washington, D.C.

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Theresa May FINALLY wins a vote after Brexit SHAMBLES – but its not what you think

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THERESA May has finally won a vote after her chaotic Brexit shambles and opposition from all sides on her withdrawal agreement. But it’s not what you think.

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