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So far, Republicans aren’t twisting the knife in Virginia

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By Allan Smith

As the three highest-ranking Democrats in Virginia remain embroiled in one of the state’s biggest political scandals in years, Republicans have mostly refrained from twisting the knife.

With the exception of a small handful of national Republicans, the party has largely reacted with caution to the revelations of a blackface photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page, which he has disavowed, or two women’s claims that they were sexually assaulted years ago by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who denies the allegations. President Donald Trump, though he has repeatedly weighed in, has not called for any resignations.

Many prominent Democrats, on the other hand, have called for the leaders to leave office.

It might be difficult for the GOP to lead such a charge given that the party’s top official, Trump, has faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment and accusations of racism, which he has repeatedly denied. The party also mounted a strong defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who during his confirmation last fall faced — and emphatically denied — accusations of sexual assault that allegedly took place when he and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, were in high school.

Some Republicans say the party should stay ideologically consistent with views the GOP has espoused over the past few years, whether it be calling for due process regarding allegations of sexual misconduct or not allowing someone’s poor judgment from decades ago to lead to the end of his or her career.

Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former Trump White House official, told NBC News “it’s right for Republicans to remain consistent, not rush to judgment, give people due process.”

“At the same time, I also think it’s right for Republicans to force the media, to force the left, to live by the same standards they force Republicans to live by,” he added.

Terry Sullivan, campaign manager for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential run, told NBC News that he believes “Republicans are being much more intellectually honest surrounding these scandals in Virginia.”

“The pendulum is starting to swing back a bit on the rush to judgement for public figures over the last two years,” Sullivan said. “Some very bad people have deservedly had the very terrible things they’ve done exposed, and paid the price. But I think there may be a public sense that in some cases there has been a rush to judgement that was not just. … Americans as a whole are becoming a little more cautious about rushing to judgement until all the facts are out.”

When asked last week about the scandals in Virginia, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said “the people of Virginia seem to be taking good care” of the controversy.

Mentioning Fairfax, Graham — a vocal defender of Kavanaugh during his confirmation process — said “you’ve got to have the facts” before making a judgment.

“The accusation can’t be self-proving,” he told reporters before a second woman accused Fairfax of sexual assault. “I don’t know the lieutenant governor, but just put yourself in his shoes. I mean, how do you defend yourself over something that’s 15 years old and there are really no facts to support the allegation? I just don’t believe the allegation to be self-proving.”

In commenting on the scandal, Trump first criticized the campaign of Northam’s Republican opponent in the 2017 governor’s race, Ed Gillespie, for not unearthing the material during the race.

But Trump also said that if the politicians “were Republicans, far stronger action would be taken.” The president called Northam’s walk-back of his initial admission that he appeared in the yearbook photo “unforgivable” and claimed “African Americans are very angry at the double standard on full display in Virginia!”

In discussing the Virginia scandal with NBC News, Republicans repeatedly brought up the perception of a double-standard in the reactions to similar allegations against Democrats and Republicans.

Former GOP congressman and conservative radio host Joe Walsh told NBC News: “It’s easy to look at this and say, ‘Look at the Democrats, ha ha ha.’ I don’t think we should do that. I think we should be more objective and this whole game of gotcha, I think we’ve got to stop and look at the broader principle.”

“Let’s hold the Democrats to the same standard we want to be held to and not just look for a political advantage,” he added.

While many prominent Virginia and national Democrats have called for Northam and Fairfax to step down, both men said they will not.

In a clip of a “CBS This Morning” interview that aired Sunday, Northam again said he wouldn’t resign and instead looked to “heal” the state. Northam had initially apologized for the photo, which featured one person in blackface and another wearing Ku Klux Klan robes, but said the next day that he wasn’t in the photo and didn’t know why it was on his page. However, he admitted to once wearing blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance competition the same year the yearbook was published.

Fairfax, meanwhile, has hired Kavanaugh’s legal team even as one of his accusers has sought the counsel of the lawyers who represented Blasey Ford. He is accused by Meredith Watson of raping her when they were students at Duke University in 2000 and by Virginia Tyson of forcing her to perform oral sex in 2004 while they were at the Democratic Convention in Boston.

Fairfax has emphatically denied both women’s allegations and is calling for an FBI investigation into the accusations.

Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax presides over the Senate at the Virginia State Capitol, Feb. 7, 2019, in Richmond.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Both women, meanwhile, would testify at impeachment proceedings, their attorneys said.

At the moment, however, there appears to be little support for impeachment. On Monday, Virginia Democratic Del. Patrick Hope backed off his promise to quickly introduce an impeachment measure against Fairfax if he didn’t step down.

Democrats haven’t been as vocal in calling for the official second in line to the governorship, Attorney General Mark Herring, to resign after he admitted to wearing blackface when he was 19. Herring initially called on Northam to resign before making his admission, which included a profuse apology.

Late last week, a top Virginia Republican was touched by the scandal as well. State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment was found to have been a top editor of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook that featured photos of students in blackface as well as the use of racially offensive terms. Norment was not pictured in any of those photos and said in a statement that “blackface is abhorrent” and “I emphatically condemn it.”

Should all three Democrats resign, Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, would become governor based on the line of succession.



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Grilled by children, Feinstein tries to teach lesson in politics

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By Dennis Romero

U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-California, isn’t backing the Green New Deal, and she wasn’t shy about letting a group who does support it know it — even if they are children.

A group of schoolchildren visited the senator at her San Francisco office Friday and urged her to get on board with the renewable energy legislation. But the conversation quickly turned into somewhat of a confrontation, and Feinstein has been criticized online for the tone she took. Edited video of the 85-year-old lecturing more than a dozen kids went viral Friday.

One girl implored the senator to back the Green New Deal and argued that the government can afford it. “We have tons of money going to military,” the girl told the lawmaker.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Feinstein said. “I know what I’m doing. You come in here and you say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that.”

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Bigger is not better. Small dollars online are gold for Democrats taking on Trump.

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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — The most coveted donor for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates may not be a Wall Street financier or Hollywood producer, but a grade school teacher in the Midwest who chips in $25 a month to her favorite candidate.

Small dollars are a bigger deal than ever because they can help organize and engage a large and committed group of supporters who invest more than just money in a campaign.

“Small-dollar donors are going to be a pivotal part of this election, both strategically and practically,” said Erin Hill, executive director of ActBlue, Democrats’ central clearinghouse for online donations. “Small-dollar donors don’t just give — they also vote, volunteer and tell their friends why they care about a candidate.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., proved that his supporters, or at least 225,000 of them, are still committed when he raised a whopping $6 million on Wednesday, the day after launching his presidential campaign.

Rufus Gifford, who served as national finance director for President Barack Obama’s re-election effort in 2012, called the haul “truly remarkable,” noting on Twitter that he was skeptical Sanders could match his 2016 effort: “I was wrong.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced raising $1.5 million on her first day in the race, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she brought in $1 million in her first 48 hours. The other candidates have not released numbers, but FEC data shows Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., raised about $300,000 online through ActBlue on New Year’s Eve, when she announced her exploratory committee.

Sanders, of course, had a head start thanks to his previous presidential run, which helped him grow a donor pool the size of every other perspective candidate combined, according to a recent New York Times analysis.

But the good news for the rest of the current field of White House hopefuls is that there is now more opportunity than ever for left-leaning candidates to tap into grassroots fundraising — if they know how to.

“As donors get younger and younger, and people get more and more used to the internet, and campaigns get savvier and savvier, there is very real money available,” said Teddy Goff, who was a top digital strategist on presidential runs by Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Goff recalled that as recently as 2012 people would call into the Obama campaign to make sure it was safe for them to donate online.

Now, thanks to Amazon and everything else that Americans do online, digital financial transactions have become second nature. And thanks to President Donald Trump, Democratic voters are eager to open their digital wallets.

In last year’s midterm elections, ActBlue processed more than $1.6 billion in online donations, up from $782 million in 2016 and $335 million in 2014 — a five-fold surge in four years. (Republicans just last month established their answer to ActBlue after years of false starts.)

And as donating online has become frictionless for Democrats, the party has grown increasingly hostile to traditional modes of funding campaigns and to big money in politics.

For the first time, the Democratic National Committee will allow candidates to qualify to take part in the party’s debates if they can secure donations from 65,000 people in at least 20 different states. In the past, only candidates who registered a certain amount of support in the polls were allowed to participate.

“Because campaigns are won on the strength of their grassroots, we also updated the threshold, giving all types of candidates the opportunity to reach the debate stage and giving small-dollar donors a bigger voice in the primary than ever before,” DNC chairman Tom Perez said in a statement announcing the change.

That’s already altering some campaigns’ strategies, with lesser-known candidates like Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, pursuing that path to the debate stage.

Tara McGowan, the founder and CEO of the Democratic digital firm Acronym, said smart campaigns make donors “feel a sense of ownership” in the campaign and give them other meaningful ways to engage, like by volunteering or posting on social media.

“You run the risk of thinking of digital outreach as an ATM for the campaign,” she said. “You’re missing a real opportunity to help amplify your message if you’re not engaging people who are already raising their hand.”

Meanwhile, big donors simply aren’t as valuable as they once were, excluding groups that can take unlimited contributions like super PACs — and almost every major 2020 candidate has sworn off them already.

For Democrats, big checks also can come with a political cost, especially if they’re written by people who work in certain industries that have been targeted by the left, such as finance, fossil fuels and pharmaceuticals.

While large donors may expect something in return for their largesse, from a photo-op with the candidate to an ambassadorship to France, someone who gives $5 is not counting on much more than a feeling of connection to the candidate and solidarity with other small donors.

For instance, Warren has recalled how during her first run for the Senate in 2012, a young man approached her on a subway platform late one night to tell her he was working extra hours to donate to her campaign every month.

“I felt as if he’d hit me with a spear right between the ribs,” Warren wrote in her book, “A Fighting Chance.” “Good Lord — this kid was working until nearly 11 o’clock on a Saturday night and he was sending me money? I smiled weakly and said something along the lines of: ‘Uh, I’m doing OK in the campaign. Maybe you should keep your money. I’ll be fine. Really.'”

But she says he looked back and replied: “No, I’m part of this campaign. This is my fight, too.”

The first big fundraising test for every candidate will come at the end of March, when they have to file their first quarterly reports to the FEC. Early fundraising numbers are heavily scrutinized by party insiders and the media as a sign of a candidate’s strength, and historically they have been a better predictor of success than early polls.

As Democrats fight their primary race and chase small-dollar contributors, they’re not alone.

Trump’s forces have spent more than $4 million on Facebook ads since November alone to expand their list of supporters, and 75 percent of the money his campaign raised in the most recent quarter came from donors who give $200 or less.

“Realistically,” ActBlue’s Hill said, “our nominee is going to need to be primarily funded by grassroots donors in order to beat Trump, who already has widespread small-dollar donor support.”



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Cohen said to be providing new information to federal prosecutors in NY

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 / Updated 

By Tom Winter, Ken Dilanian, Jonathan Dienst and Monica Alba

President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, facing jail in just over two months, has been speaking with and providing information to federal prosecutors in New York, according to three people familiar with the matter.

According to those sources and public statements, Cohen was questioned about a donor to the president’s inaugural committee, Imaad Zuberi, who is a political fundraiser with a history of donating to both Republican and Democratic candidates.

In addition, the sources said Cohen has discussed matters relevant to the Southern District of New York’s investigation into certain members of the Trump Organization and the Trump Inaugural Committee, investigations that have previously been reported publicly.

The New York Times first reported the discussions, which sources confirm occurred in January, on Friday evening. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

Lanny Davis, an attorney and spokesperson for Cohen, said in a statement to NBC News: “We cannot comment on any matters that are still under investigation by the Special Counsel or the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.”

However, Davis added, “I can say that Mr. Cohen is interested in cooperating with and assisting the SDNY team in any way they believe is helpful.”

An inaugural committee spokesperson declined to comment.

The White House referred questions to the Trump Organization, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Michael Cohen leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 21, 2019.Susan Walsh / AP

Zuberi has previously been mentioned in reports surrounding the investigation into the Trump Inaugural Committee. His spokesperson has previously told the Washington Post that Zuberi’s funds did not come from a foreign donor and that the money he gave was his own.

Friday’s revelations have to do with a proposed consulting agreement between Cohen and Zuberi, an agreement Zuberi’s spokesperson said was never completed.

Steve Rabinowitz, a spokesman for Zuberi, said his client “received what I would call a speculative contract from Cohen to consult on a new, small private New York real estate fund they had spoken briefly of, but that never came to be.”

Rabinowitz said his client issued a check to Cohen as part of initiating the agreement and said Zuberi recently searched his records and found a $100,000 handwritten check to Cohen that was issued in February 2017.

“The check was never cashed and by March [of 2017], Cohen and Zuberi would not speak again,” he said.

“Imaad [Zuberi] did not pursue Cohen; it was the other way around,” Rabinowitz said. “And their would-be relationship fell apart when Zuberi didn’t sign the contract, not when Cohen didn’t cash the check. And how could he? They didn’t have a deal.”

Cohen, who pleaded guilty on charges related to tax evasion and campaign finance fraud, faces a three-year sentence and is expected to report to prison May 6.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to the charges brought by federal prosecutors in New York — six counts related to his personal finances and two related to campaign finance violations involving hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump.

Federal law allows prosecutors to seek a reduction in a jail sentence post-conviction and even post-sentencing for cooperation in an ongoing investigation.

A public court filing from prosecutors indicating that Cohen is cooperating or indicating that they seek a reduction in his sentence has not been made, and there’s no indication that there’s a formal agreement.

Cohen is expected to testify before several committees of Congress next week.



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