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GOP vote on Trump’s ‘go back’ comments was an effort to absolve him — and themselves — on racism

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With their votes this week, House Republicans absolved President Donald Trump of racism in calling for four non-white lawmakers to “go back” to other countries.

But not only Trump.

They also voted to absolve themselves, their party and the voters who elected them – like the ones who chanted “send her back” at a rally Wednesday in North Carolina. It took more than just fealty to the president to unite 187 of 191 Republicans against condemning his words.

Analysts across the political spectrum typically cite raw fear as why GOP leaders don’t challenge Trump over behavior that outrages most Americans. Rock-solid support within his party, they argue, means the president can end the careers of Republican dissidents.

“I think he’s racist,” said Mickey Edwards, a Reagan-era GOP lawmaker who once chaired the American Conservative Union. But “a relatively small number of Republicans” share Trump’s racial views, Edwards added, and simple “cowardice” explains the party’s refusal to denounce them.

Yet this week’s furor implicates the character and reputation of many others besides the president. Denouncing Trump’s words as racist, as the House Democratic majority voted to do, means denouncing those chanting rally audiences that all GOP candidates depend on.

“They’re being asked to condemn an element of the coalition,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican House member from Miami until a Democrat defeated him in 2018 midterm elections. For a Republican elected official, the blowback would dwarf what Hillary Clinton suffered in 2016 after calling some Trump supporters “deplorables.”

That element of the coalition looms so large because of how the two parties have evolved over the last half-century. After national Democrats decisively embraced the civil rights movement, white conservatives flocked to the GOP, polarizing American politics along racial and partisan lines as well as ideological ones.

That realignment fueled incendiary culture clashes over crime, welfare, affirmation action and immigration long before 2016. Trump accuses Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., of hating America, offering her as a symbol of Democratic radicalism; three decades before, George H.W. Bush’s Republican presidential campaign vowed to make black criminal Willie Horton the Democratic “running mate,” and sought to suggest superior patriotism by appearing at a flag factory.

Those clashes have grown harder for Republicans to win as education levels rise, attitudes change and non-whites swell as a share of America’s population. And they’ve consistently placed Republicans of whatever motivation – ideological or personal, economic or cultural, foreign policy or domestic affairs – on the defensive.

“Reagan conservatives like me have been called racists – falsely and maliciously – all of our lives,” National Review editor Jay Nordlinger said on Twitter today.

But Trump brings the question about his party into sharper focus than Reagan, Bush or Richard Nixon ever did.

Studies have shown that white populations with the strongest feelings of racial resentment – disproportionately less-educated, lower-income religious conservatives — propelled his 2016 campaign from the start. As president, he has abandoned the decorum of Republican predecessors and stoked their resentments.

Now, GOP lawmakers who have surfed overlapping currents to power fear that acknowledging Trump crossed the line would acknowledge that the rest of the party has, too.

“Whether it’s because they’re pointing the finger at themselves, or someone else saying ‘Aha!’, they don’t want to do that,” says former House GOP leadership aide Doug Heye.

By condemning Trump, “they’re condemning themselves,” adds former GOP House member Vin Weber. “They feel it validates the criticism that’s come their way for a lot of things.”

Weber, who once joined his ally Newt Gingrich in rallying the Republican right behind the “Conservative Opportunity Society,” calls some of that criticism justified. “Racism is a part of it,” he says, though “not all or even primarily.”

But it’s becoming a louder part as America draws closer to the day when white people no longer represent a majority of the population. Census officials expect it to happen by mid-century.

That demographic reality led national Republican leaders in 2013 to call for courting non-whites – and also young, female and gay voters — with a “more inclusive and welcoming” message. Trump won in 2016 with the opposite approach, and aims to do it again in 2020.

That would only delay the reckoning with societal change that the GOP sidestepped again by standing behind Trump this week.

“Parties change or evolve when they’re forced to change,” said Curbelo, a Miami-born Cuban-American. “All Republican leaders understand this is the path we have to pursue. There’s no other way.”

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Trump’s honesty was on trial in the Roger Stone case. The verdict was harsh.

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WASHINGTON — In his final statement to the jury in the trial of political operative Roger Stone, federal prosecutor Michael Marando sought to boil the case down to a simple and stark premise.

“I know we live in a world nowadays with Twitter, tweets, social media, where you can find any political view you want,” he said. “However, in our institutions of self-governance — courts of law or committee hearings, where people under oath have to testify — truth still matters.”

Marando didn’t mention President Donald Trump in that portion of his closing — he didn’t have to. He and his colleagues had already made Trump a central character in the trial that ended with a conviction of the president’s longtime associate on seven felonies — a trial that presented new information about the Trump campaign’s zeal to capitalize on Russia’s election interference in 2016.

Prosecutors argued that Stone, charged with obstructing a Congressional investigation, lied to Congress because the truth was “terrible” for Trump. They presented evidence painting a picture of a candidate who was actively involved in his campaign’s effort to benefit from hacked emails obtained by WikiLeaks that were the fruits of a Russian intelligence operation. And they presented phone records and testimony suggesting that Trump didn’t tell the truth in written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller, when Trump said he didn’t remember ever discussing WikiLeaks with Stone.

“Trump was in the conspiratorial loop,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News legal analyst who watched the trial. “He was in the hard collusion loop by virtue of him having phone calls in real time with Roger Stone while these email dumps were in progress.”

But Joyce Vance, another former prosecutor and NBC news legal analyst, said she’s not convinced the government had the evidence “to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there was conspiracy between the campaign and the Russians. Does it strongly suggest it? Yes. But as long as the central figures destroy evidence, or are unavailable as witnesses, as long as the president ducks testimony, then it’s difficult to have evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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Phone records introduced as evidence in the trial show Stone called Trump on the very day in June 2016 that the world learned that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked by the Russians. The records show that Trump spoke to Stone at key moments during the summer of 2016 as Stone was single-mindedly seeking access to the stolen emails from Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. Steve Bannon, who led the Trump campaign, testified that Stone was considered the “access point” to WikiLeaks.

Trump mentioned WikiLeaks 145 times in the last month of the campaign alone, according to an NBC News analysis.

“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” Trump said a few days before the election at an appearance in Michigan.

Asked to respond to the new evidence, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, said the president’s written statements to Mueller stand.

“I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1, 2016 and November 8, 2016,” Trump wrote in his statements to Mueller. “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.”

Democrats have long called that statement a lie. If prosecutors believe Trump was telling the truth, it wasn’t evident from their comments at the trial. They called former Trump deputy campaign chairman Richard Gates, who testified he overheard Stone calling Trump about WikiLeaks, which was leaking embarrassing Democratic emails. After the call, Gates said Trump told him that more disclosures were coming.

“Roger Stone knew that if this came out it would look really bad for his longtime associate, Donald Trump,” prosecutor Jonathan Kravis said. “So he lied to the committee.”

Prosecutors didn’t expressly accuse Trump of acting improperly by ordering Stone to pursue the emails hacked by the Russians. They noted that the government didn’t know what was said in the Trump-Stone phone calls — the FBI wasn’t wiretapping either man.

But “those are the only reasonable inferences you can draw from the evidence,” Kirschner said. “Everybody who watched the trial couldn’t help but draw those reasonable inferences.”

Details about the Trump campaign’s efforts to pursue hacked Democratic emails appear to have been covered in Volume I of the Mueller report, but the section is almost entirely blacked out, because the Stone case was still pending when the report was released.

In that sense, the Stone trial served as a sort of final chapter of the Mueller report. It unfolded as much of the country and the news media was focused on the Ukraine impeachment drama, which at its heart is about whether Trump abused his office to pressure a foreign government to help his 2020 election campaign.

If the Stone trial revealed anything, it showed that Donald Trump and the people around him had no problem making use of hacked emails that were the fruits of foreign election interference.

Or, as prosecutor Kravis put it, “trying to fish for information from WikiLeaks, knowing it had been hacked by a foreign government.”



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'I am angry, but I am not surprised': Rep. Heck defends Yovanovitch

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Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., gave an emotional defense of former Amb. Marie Yovanovitch as she testified in the impeachment inquiry.

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Trump asks Supreme Court to block House subpoena for his financial records

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WASHINGTON — Lawyers for President Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to put a hold on a subpoena from a House committeeseeking eight years of his financial documents.

The case may produce the first action by the justices on the growing number of legal battles over access to Donald Trump’s financial secrets. A lower court order upholding the subpoena takes effect on Nov. 20. So unless the Supreme Court acts quickly, the president’s accounting firm, Mazars, will be required to turn the material over.

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The Trump legal team told the justices in a court filing on Friday that if the lower court rulings are allowed to stand, any committee of Congress could subpoena any personal information it wants from a president.

“Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government — no matter which party is in power,” Trump’s team said.

The House Government Oversight committee issued the subpoena in April, ordering the accounting firm to turn over Trump-related financial documents covering 2011 through 2018. The committee said it acted after former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified that “Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”

House Democrats said they need the documents to investigate whether the president accurately filled out required financial disclosure forms. But the Trump lawyers said the congressional subpoena power is limited to material needed to legislate, not to conduct criminal-style investigations. A federal judge and the Washington, D.C., court of appeals rejected the president’s efforts to stop the subpoena.

Lawyers for the House have argued that the subpoena presents no threat to the president’s ability to carry out his duties, because it is directed to his accountants doesn’t require him to do anything. In dissents, two appeals court judges said they disagreed. “The subpoena in substance targets his records,” said Gregory Katsas and Karen Henderson of the D.C. appeals court.

On Thursday, the president’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to grant their appeal in a separate case challenging a subpoena for his tax returns and other business records from the Manhattan district attorney. The Trump lawyers because a president cannot be indicted while in office, he is immune from any part of the criminal justice process.

While the two cases present different legal issues, the court could decide to consider them together. There is no deadline for the court to act.



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