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John Kerry endorses Joe Biden for president



WASHINGTON — John Kerry, the former senator from Massachusetts, secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, threw his support behind former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential bid on Thursday.

Kerry praised Biden in a statement released by the Biden campaign, saying that “there’s never been a time more urgent for leadership at home.”

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“I believe Joe Biden is the president our country desperately needs right now, not because I’ve known Joe so long, but because I know Joe so well,” Kerry said. “I’ve never before seen the world more in need of someone who on Day One can begin the incredibly hard work of putting back together the world Donald Trump has smashed apart.”

“Joe is uniquely the person running for president who can beat Donald Trump and get to work on Day One at home and in the world with no time to waste.”

Kerry will campaign with Biden on Friday in Iowa and in New Hampshire on Sunday.

The endorsement comes as Biden has amplified his qualifications to be commander-in-chief, given his foreign policy experience. On Wednesday, his campaign released a video saying that “the world is laughing at President Trump.”

Kerry has a long history with Biden — they served together in the Obama administration and in the Senate, where both were on the Foreign Relations Committee. When Biden left the Senate to become vice president, Kerry succeeded him as the chairman of the committee.

With his deep relationships on Capitol Hill, Biden is outpacing his Democratic peers in endorsements from sitting lawmakers, too. He’s backed by 22 House representatives, five senators and three governors — more of each category, and more endorsements in total, than any other candidate in the race.

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A voice appearing to be Trump’s heard in recording demanding diplomat Yovanovitch’s ouster



A voice that appears to be that of President Donald Trump ordered aides to “get rid” of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch after two now-indicted Rudy Giuliani associates told him she had been badmouthing him, according to an audio recording reviewed by ABC News.

The network said the recording appeared to include a discussion between Trump and Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman at a small private dinner. Trump has denied knowing the pair and dismissed numerous pictures of them together as just photos taken at public events.

NBC News has neither obtained nor heard the recording and cannot verify the authenticity of the ABC report.

Parnas’s lawyer Joseph Bondy told NBC News Friday night that he located a version of the recording and turned it over the House Intelligence Committee after ABC reported on its existence. A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment.

Trump denied knowing Parnas in an interview with Fox News earlier Friday.

Asked if he was relying on Parnas to get rid of Yovanovitch, Trump said, “No, no. I have a lot of people – he’s somebody I guess based on pictures I see goes to fundraisers but I’m not a fan of that ambassador,” Trump said. “I want ambassadors that are chosen by me. I have a right to hire and fire ambassadors.”

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According to ABC, the voice that sounds like Trump apparently told aides at the April 2018 dinner at Trump International Hotel in Washington: “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”

Trump made the demand after a voice that sounds like Parnas’ told the president that Yovanovitch was telling people that Trump was going to be impeached.

“The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador,” says the voice that sounds like Parnas. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.'”

Yovanovitch was removed from her post, but not until a year later.

A copy of the recording is in the custody of federal prosecutors in New York, according to ABC.

The audiotape lines up with what Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about the Trump dinner in an interview last week.

He said he was having dinner in a private area of the hotel with the president and some of his aides.

“I don’t know how the issue is, the conversation came up, but I do remember me telling the president that the ambassador was badmouthing him and saying he was going to get impeached. Something to that effect,” Parnas told Maddow.

“And at that point he turned around to John DeStefano, who was his aide at the time, and said, ‘Fire her.’ And we all, there was silence in the room,” Parnas said.

He said DeStefano replied it couldn’t happen at the time because Mike Pompeo had not yet been confirmed as secretary of state. “I don’t know how many times at that dinner, once or twice or three times, but he fired her several times at that dinner,” Parnas said, speaking of Trump.

“He even had a breakdown and screamed, ‘fire her!'” to another assistant, Parnas claimed, and the assistant replied, “Mr. President, I can’t do that.”

Yovanovitch, who has been lauded for anti-corruption work, was targeted for removal in a campaign led by Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.

The release of the audio comes as Democrats were outlining obstruction of Congress charges against the president in his Senate impeachment trial. Both Parnas and Fruman were ordered to turn over Ukraine-related documents to the House impeachment investigators, but refused.

Their lawyer at the time, former Trump lawyer John Dowd, cited various reasons for refusing to hand over documents, including that the pair “assisted Mr. Giuliani with his representation of President Trump.”

Following his arrest, Parnas started cooperating with House investigators and turned over numerous documents text messages and emails.

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Nuns get the message out, target vets, focus on minorities



DES MOINES, Iowa — While his crowd sizes are underwhelming, Joe Biden is hoping veterans, Catholics and people of color will be his secret weapons in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, according to three people who attended a private donor retreat here and were briefed on the plan.

The campaign has taken some unusual steps to reach those voters, who are more typical of general-election swing voters than the Democratic Party loyalists who generally turn out in primaries and caucuses.

For instance, Biden officials told donors the campaign has hired paid canvassers, instead of relying solely on volunteers, to reach the state’s small but growing population of Latinos and African Americans. Iowa Democrats not affiliated with the campaign say that’s unusual, since the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, now just over a week away, are often about showcasing grassroots enthusiasm.

The campaign has also had nuns send handwritten letters to Roman Catholics, focusing on Dubuque, a heavily Catholic city, attesting to Biden’s faith, which he’s spoken about on the trail. And it’s focused on targeted rural areas, including on a bus tour with the former vice president, where few delegates are at stake, but they can sometimes be won by persuading just a handful of caucusgoers.

To find veterans, the campaign pulled county property tax records, since they qualify for a tax credit, and then invited them to events with prominent Biden supporters who are also veterans, such as former Secretary of State John Kerry and freshman Rep. Conor Lamb, who has told Iowans that Biden can win back places like his western Pennsylvania district, which went for Donald Trump in 2016.

The donor retreat, which was held last weekend at the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines, offered a chance for members of Biden’s national finance committee to hear from top campaign officials, including the vice president himself, and for wealthy supporters to get a taste of canvassing door-to-door in their fancy ski gear in 6-degree temperatures.

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Campaign manager Greg Schultz and chief analytics officer Becca Siegel walked donors through their national strategy, and how Iowa fits into it, while Iowa State Director Jake Braun spoke about the state’s Feb. 3 caucuses.

Publicly, the campaign has downplayed the importance of Iowa in Biden’s path to the nomination, especially after a weak showing in a recent poll, noting he is expected to do well in more diverse states down the road, such as South Carolina.

But the presentation to donors made it clear they still view Iowa as essential, if less critical than it might be to other candidates, since they believe they have other pathways to the nomination.

And they said managing expectations in Iowa was key to their plan of trying to build a sense of momentum heading into Super Tuesday on March 3, when more than a dozen states will vote on the same day.

The campaign brass said they had simulated some 10,000 possible routes through the primary calendar to gauge how important each state is and, not surprisingly, found that a vote in Iowa was worth more than a vote anywhere else, since success in Iowa helped in each subsequent state.

Many of Biden’s events have been relatively sparsely populated, even in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, especially considering he’s still the race’s front-runner in national polls.

For instance, while former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, packed some 1,200 into an event in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday night, there were only several dozen at a Biden town hall in Mason City the next morning.

But Biden’s strategy was evident on his most recent swing through some of the state’s smaller cities, which included a national security event at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and pitches about his electability to voters in redder parts of the state.

Christie Vilsack and her husband, former Iowa governor and Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have endorsed Biden, urged Iowans to “think of your favorite Republican … because we all have Republican friends.”

“I’m urging all of you to make that practical decision,” Vilsack said.

Randy Flaherty, a disabled Navy veteran who has two sons in the military, met Biden during his 2008 presidential run and carries in his wallet a challenge coin the former vice president gave him.

“I think he’s the only candidate that we’ve got running, and I’ve talked to about all of them, who can put this country back together,” Flaherty said.

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34 American service members suffered concussions, traumatic brain injuries in Iran attack



The Iranian attack on an Iraqi base housing U.S. troops injured dozens of American service members, the Pentagon now says. President Trump had initially said there were no injuries in the strike.

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