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Prosecutor says new charges ‘likely’ in case against Rudy Giuliani associates



The Justice Department is “likely” to file additional charges in the case against two associates of Rudy Giuliani accused of funneling foreign money to U.S. political candidates, a prosecutor said Monday.

The disclosure was made during a court hearing in New York related to the case of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The federal prosecutor didn’t offer any further details on the nature or target of any additional charges.

Parnas and Fruman were charged with violating campaign finance laws. They have pleaded not guilty.

The two men were carrying one-way tickets to Vienna when they were arrested at Dulles Airport outside of Washington on Oct. 9.

The indictment unsealed the next day accused Parnas and Fruman of making illegal straw donations, including $325,000 to a pro-President Donald Trump political action committee. Federal prosecutors say the two also engaged in a scheme to force the ouster of the then-U.S. ambassador in Ukraine.

The removal of the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, in May is among the events House Democrats have focused on in the impeachment inquiry. Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to launch an investigation of Joe Biden, his political rival, and Biden’s son.

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Giuliani has acknowledged that Parnas and Fruman assisted in his effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens.

Prosecutors seized thousands of files, nine gigabytes of data, dozens of cell phones and a sat phone from Parnas, Fruman and two associates also charged in the case, David Correia and Andrey Kukushin.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkin told the court Monday that Parnas has not provided the passwords to his phones despite numerous requests, and the FBI is using its technology to try and crack the phones and image the devices.

Federal prosecutors also told the judge that there were no Title III wiretaps in the case, meaning they did not eavesdrop on phone conversations prior to charging the four men.

In court Monday, Kukushkin’s attorney, Gerald Lefcourt told the court that multiple pages of search warrant affidavits provided to the defense had been completely redacted. He showed a physical copy of the warrant to the judge and asked why the defense could not see it. Prosecutors indicated that there were subjects and information contained in the affidavits pertaining to their on-going investigation of the four men that must remain secret.

Parnas and Fruman refused to cooperate in the House impeachment inquiry. But last month, Parnas’ new lawyer said he was willing to speak with congressional investigators.

The lawyer, Joseph Bondy, said Parnas was told that Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chief defender of Trump as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, met with Ukraine’s former top prosecutor about investigating the activities of Biden and his son Hunter.

In an appearance on Fox News late last month, Nunes sidestepped a question about the allegation. “I really want to answer all of these questions, and I promise you I absolutely will come back on the show,” Nunes told host Maria Bartiromo.

Nunes added: “Everybody’s going to know all the facts, but I think you can understand that I can’t compete by trying to debate this out with the public media when 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt.”

Both sides are expected back in court on Feb. 3, 2020, at 2 p.m.

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'Beyond audacious!' UK accused of 'fanciful demands' in EU talks – trade deal at risk



THE UK has been accused of making “fanciful demands” of the European Union during post-Brexit trade talks, in a move described by one political expert as “beyond audacious” and a strategy that could completely derail already-fragile negotiations.

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Trump’s Michigan voter fraud comments reveal America’s desperate need for reforms



Last week, President Donald Trump took his attacks on voting by mail to new heights as he threatened to withhold federal funds from Michigan and Nevada if they continued to implement vote-by-mail in their states.

“The threatening to take money away from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary, and, I think, something that is unacceptable,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told “CBS This Morning.” Other observers saw shades of Trump’s attempt to withhold military equipment from Ukraine to extort that country into opening a criminal investigation into his leading Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. This action led to Trump’s impeachment.

With his recent broadside, Trump is building on his continuing false charges that voting-by-mail would lead to widespread fraud — despite the absence of any evidence to support his baseless claims. In fact, both red states and blue states have instituted the practice without problem.

Trump’s actions suggest he is interested in suppressing the November vote. Why? Perhaps because he thinks that the more eligible Americans he can prevent from voting, the better his chances of being re-elected. If you make it easier for more people to vote with absentee and mail-in ballots, Trump said on “Fox & Friends, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

This could also be the reason that some Republicans have been pressing to restrict voting-by-mail. In Wisconsin, for example, the Republican state legislature blocked the Democratic governor’s efforts to mail ballots to all voters and the Republican majority on the state Supreme Court overruled his effort to move the April primary to June. This backfired, however, when a Democrat won an upset election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

This isn’t a purely political issue, it’s a question of safety. Voting-by-mail during this pandemic means that citizens will not have to choose between their votes and their lives.

But Trump looks to be up to more than suppressing the vote. He could be attempting to set the stage to challenge the legitimacy of the election if he loses — by claiming widespread voter fraud in the mailed ballots. Let’s keep in mind that even when Trump won in 2016, he challenged the election results, claiming without a shred of evidence that three million to five million votes were illegally counted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. This is the reason, he insisted, that she won the popular vote.

Much needs to be done to provide for safe and secure voting. State and local election officials need substantial amounts of federal funds to administer the vastly increased number of mailed-in ballots that will be cast in the November elections in the face of the coronavirus. Money is also required to make the adjustments necessary for safe in-person voting.

The House recently approved these essential funds with the HEROES Act, stimulus relief legislation, which includes $3.6 billion for the November elections. This money is needed to pay for crucial additional expenditures — ballot printing, postage, drop boxes for absentee ballots and appropriate security, secure electronic absentee ballot request technology, ballot tracking, improvements to absentee ballot processing, additional facilities for both ballot processing and storage, additional staffing to support absentee ballot processing, polling facilities that meet public health standards and increased poll worker support.

The act also provides $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, which has an essential role to play in effective voting by mail and which has major financial woes. Trump regularly attacks the Postal Service, has installed a political crony as postmaster general and prevented the service, to date, from receiving the federal funding it needs to properly function.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. R-Ky., has been slow walking this next round of stimulus legislation. Throughout this Congress, he has also blocked adequate funding for the states to conduct the November elections. And McConnell has prevented Senate consideration of all legislative efforts in this Congress to protect against foreign interference in our elections.

Negotiations on the next round of stimulus relief are now expected to begin in June, with a deal expected sometime in July. But the longer it takes to get money to the states, the more difficult it will be for them to conduct a safe, secure, and fair election in November.

But even when the election is over, we will still have a broken political system, a corrupt campaign finance system and an endangered democracy.

The current campaign finance system is dominated by influence-seeking billionaires and millionaires, Super PACs, dark money nonprofit groups, bundlers, lobbyists and powerful special interests. The current voting system is rife with barriers that discriminate against minorities, suppress voting and leave tens of millions of eligible voters unregistered.

Partisan gerrymandering often results in officeholders choosing their voters rather than voters choosing their representative, denying the American people fair representation. The ethics abuses and corrupt practices of Trump and his administration are unmatched in U.S. history. Trump’s refusal to give up ownership of his businesses, for example, have created enumerable domestic and foreign conflicts of interest. Ethics problems exist in all three branches of government.

We will face an historic opportunity in 2021 to enact the most transformational reform legislation ever considered by Congress.

Assuming the current polls hold up in November, we will face an historic opportunity in 2021 to enact arguably the most transformational reform legislation ever considered by Congress. It is designed to repair our political system, reform our campaign finance laws and revitalize our democracy.

This legislative package, known as H.R. 1, passed the House in March 2019. McConnell, however, has blocked its consideration in the Senate.

Unrigging the system in Washington is a prerequisite to achieving the substantive changes that could be pursued in the next Congress and future years. Democratic congressional leaders — and their members who unanimously supported H.R.1 — have correctly recognized that Washington’s rigged system must be ended to pave the way for solving the nation’s problems.

Biden has said, should he win, a first priority for his administration will be to push through the kinds of reforms found in the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. D-Calif., prioritized the critical need for democracy reform by making it the first order of business in this Congress. She has committed to doing the same in the next Congress. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has committed to making the bill one of his first three priorities if Democrats control the Senate in January 2021.

H.R 1 has been carefully crafted to obtain the support it needs to pass Congress and cannot become a Christmas tree on which to hang other substantive or systemic reforms without dangerously jeopardizing its enactment.

In contrast to earlier decades of bipartisan support for democracy reforms, congressional Republicans in the last 10 years have almost universally opposed these reforms. At the state and local level, however, bipartisan democracy reforms have been enacted. Most important, the American people object to Washington’s rigged system that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

McConnell has now spent decades using either obstructionist filibusters by the minority or his scheduling powers in the majority to block Senate consideration of democracy reforms. But a new Senate Democratic majority would no longer allow this.

The Senate filibuster rules may not be eliminated. But after McConnell has used an exception to the filibuster rules to pack the federal judiciary with conservative and right-wing judges, there is bound to be room for a second exception to allow a majority to determine the rules of our democracy.

It looks like we are on the cusp of enacting an historic package of democracy reforms to repair our political system and restore our democracy. The constitutional system of representative government given to us by the Founders is on the line.


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Trump gutted the checks on his power when they were most needed



WASHINGTON — Several weeks ago, President Donald Trump forced the Food and Drug Administration to reverse a safety ruling and clear the way for one of the nation’s premier defense contractors to sell, service and operate new machines that reprocess N95 face masks for health care workers.

Within two weeks, Battelle, the company that makes the machines, had a contract from the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency to recycle masks for up to 20 uses each at locations across the country. The no-bid deal, ordered up by the White House coronavirus task force, is worth up to $600 million.

But nurses, doctors and scientists who have spoken to NBC News about Battelle’s hydrogen peroxide vapor chambers said the process it uses remains unproven over long-term use and using masks cleaned by it more than a couple of times could leave front-line health care workers vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus.

Time may tell whether Trump’s intervention benefited health care workers and taxpayers as much as it helped him and the company. But it is already clear how Trump has killed oversight, and how he is taking advantage of its death to help himself politically in a re-election year.

He brazenly steamrolled FDA experts. His special task force in charge of medical supplies, which operates outside the authority of any existing agency, deployed emergency powers to award the Battelle contract without competition or any significant consideration of similar technologies. He has ordered task force members not to testify before Congress for the time being. And, last month, as part of a purge of the inspectors general who would be empowered to investigate aspects of the coronavirus response, he got rid of the Pentagon’s top watchdog, who would oversee the deal.

There is effectively no independent oversight of the Battelle deal or others like it.

A president proud of his work and his intentions should welcome the validation of those checks. But Trump has neutralized them at a time when more money is being pumped out of Washington at a faster pace than ever before. Indeed, he just appointed his own legal counsel and senior adviser to oversee stimulus-law spending.

His detractors are horrified by the situation, but his loyalists see his roughshod run over competing power centers as the proper exercise of power by a just president.

Eric Havian, a whistleblower law expert at the law firm of Constantine Cannon, argues that while “temporary trimming of oversight is surely understandable” during a crisis, whistleblowers offer a “supplement to the government’s oversight.”

Under another president, that might work. But Trump canned the intelligence community inspector general who bucked him by backing a whistleblower during the Ukraine scandal. He has trashed whistleblowers who have come forward publicly. Those actions and others have made clear there will be brutal consequences for anyone in the administration who questions him.

The lack of oversight means voters will have less information by which to judge the president when they go to the polls. Trump surely understands that.

When he stepped in to help the company, he was desperate to show he was taking action after a slow-footed response to the disease’s arrival in the United States. He was on the wrong end of a daily brawl with governors of both parties who pleaded for the federal government to provide supplies to their states amid harrowing shortages. Politically, he needed to first quiet a bipartisan chorus of criticism and then change its tune.

On March 29, the day after the FDA gave the company partial clearance to use its mask-recycling system, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican whose state houses the company’s headquarters, got on the phone to complain to Trump. The language of the waiver prevented Battelle from deploying the machines outside its headquarters and limited the number of masks it could service in a day.

After talking to DeWine, Trump pressured FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to change the waiver, and it was done within hours. The three men applauded one another publicly. An FDA spokesperson told NBC News this week that the decision was based on “new information” but did not respond when asked if that information was scientific or political.

The political value of delivering for DeWine and Ohio was more clear — it’s been 80 years since a winning presidential candidate didn’t take the state. The same was true for Trump’s direction of ventilators to the battleground states of Colorado and Arizona and his careful attention to the equipment needs of potentially decisive Florida.

The FDA waiver was just the start of the story. Within five days, the White House coronavirus task force had agreed to buy 60 machines for $1 million apiece. Five days after that, the task force decided to pay Battelle $413 million to include the cost of operating them, which was required by the FDA waiver.

The task force went ahead with the purchase despite an objection from a Health and Human Services Department expert on federal supply-chain finances, and by May 1 the ceiling on the deal had risen to $600 million, according to the Defense Logistics Agency.

From the perspective of Trump’s politics, it doesn’t matter whether the machines are as effective as Battelle says they are — or if the cost to taxpayers is justified.

He showed quick action after a delayed response to the virus, granted a lucrative deal to a powerful company in the midst of an economic crisis and turned criticism from a prominent Republican governor in a crucial swing state into praise. He also eased his own burden of trying to acquire new masks.

Over the long term, if nurses working with coronavirus patients get sick, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to prove it was the result of masks degraded as part of the recycling program. The FDA spokesperson told NBC News that the company has reported damage to 94 masks so far, representing less than two-hundredths of a percent of the number decontaminated.

It will also take time to find out whether taxpayers got a good deal for Battelle’s work.

But because Trump has effectively gutted oversight of his administration, only voters can hold him accountable if his decisions were bad — or made for the wrong reasons.

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