Washington, Oct 22 (AP/UNB) – Some Democrats are putting up caution signs for Hillary Clinton as she wades back into presidential politics by casting 2020 candidate Tulsi Gabbard as a "Russian asset," mocking President Donald Trump's dealings with a foreign leader and drawing counterattacks from both.
Bernie Sanders, who lost the 2016 nomination to Clinton and is running again in 2020, took to Twitter with implicit criticisms of his erstwhile rival. "People can disagree on issues," Sanders wrote Monday, "but it is outrageous for anyone to suggest that Tulsi is a foreign asset."
Larry Cohen, one of Sanders' top supporters, was more conciliatory but warned in an interview that Clinton could harm the eventual 2020 nominee by weighing in against specific candidates, even a longshot like Gabbard.
The former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state has "put a lifetime into the Democratic Party. She deserves to be heard," said Cohen, a prominent member of the Democratic National Committee who also chairs Our Revolution, the spinoff of Sanders' last presidential campaign. But "in this senior leader role she has," Cohen said, "it's her job to embrace the range of politics within the party and not polarize within it."
Her scuffle with Gabbard and other recent headlines she's driven demonstrate that the 71-year-old remains a political lightning rod, just as she's been through much of the last three decades. The dynamics raise questions about how Clinton and her party can best leverage her strengths and navigate her weaknesses through next November.
For her part, aides say Clinton isn't attempting any calculated play.
"The short of it is that she's on a book tour and is feeling unconstrained about speaking her mind," said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. "It's easy to over-ascribe a strategy about every word she utters, but it's as simple as that. She's out there telling the truth."
Yet the results can frustrate those trying to win the office that Clinton twice lost, a reality presidential hopeful Cory Booker observed with a carefully calibrated critique while he campaigned Monday in New Hampshire. "We need to focus on winning this election ... talking about the urgencies that we have before us and not indulging in what I think is, for me, not a relevant story," Booker said, targeting the news media more than Clinton or Gabbard.
There's no settled playbook for former nominees — or former presidents — in party politics.
Sitting senators like Democrat John Kerry and Republican John McCain returned quietly to Capitol Hill. Democrat Al Gore became a leading advocate for climate action. McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, has made perhaps the biggest recent splash as a conservative media sensation who helped stoke a base that ultimately embraced Trump.
But Clinton "is in her own category," said Karen Finney, a top aide on her 2016 campaign.
The first woman to win a major party presidential nomination — and the national popular vote leader with almost 3 million more votes than Trump — Clinton remains a popular figure in her party, even after enduring criticism for losing key Midwestern states to Trump. For Republicans, she's an evergreen foil, used currently in the Mississippi governor's race, where Democratic nominee Jim Hood, a longtime attorney general, is being attacked for acknowledging he voted for her over Trump.
Finney said the 2016 circumstances, a continued focus on Russian interference and the ongoing House impeachment inquiry against Trump all add to the intensity of feelings for Democrats and Republicans alike: "That gives her a unique voice and perspective."
The latest fracas started last week when Clinton suggested on a podcast that Russians are "grooming (Gabbard) to be the third-party candidate."
Clinton produced no evidence that Moscow is directly backing Gabbard, but Russian state-owned media and a number of alt-right websites have promoted the congresswoman's Democratic campaign, and the Russian Embassy has defended her on Twitter. A military veteran, Gabbard has carved an unusual political profile with criticisms of long-held U.S. foreign policy and defenses of Trump.
Gabbard retorted by calling Clinton "the queen of warmongers ... and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long."
Trump piled on as well. "Anybody that is opposed to her is a Russian agent," Trump complained at the White House on Monday. "These people are sick. There's something wrong with them."
Separately, Clinton needled Trump in recent days by tweeting a parody letter in the voice of President John F. Kennedy to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cold War's Cuban Missile Crisis. The document, originally from comedian Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show, played off Trump's recent letter warning the Turkish president that history would judge him "forever as the devil" if he didn't "work out a good deal!" over Kurdish lands in northern Syria.
And amid all that, the State Department released its final report into Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state, an issue Trump seized upon in 2016 to paint Clinton as corrupt.
Illustrating the perpetual Clinton dichotomy, most mainstream media and Democratic partisans emphasized the report's core finding that there was "no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information," while conservative media and Republicans played up the determination that 38 current and former State Department officials violated protocol on handling sensitive information.
Cohen, the Sanders backer, said none of that means Clinton isn't in prime position to help Democrats in 2020. And Booker, even as he lamented the Gabbard kerfuffle, called Clinton an "extraordinary statesperson in our party."
Clinton has headlined at least two DNC fundraisers this cycle and more are expected. Merrill said she talks regularly to several Democratic presidential candidates. And Finney predicts Clinton "will be out on the trail in 2020," if not for the nominee, then for "any of the record number of women who will be running" for other offices.
And while Republicans, including Trump, continue aiming at a long-favored target, not everyone in the GOP thinks it will work as well as it has in the past.
"All the things that she warned us about in 2016 have come true," said GOP strategist Rick Tyler. "So she has the gravitas to weigh in. ... She's now a net positive for Democrats, not a negative."
Washington, Oct 22 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump called on fellow Republicans on Monday to "get tougher and fight" against the quickly moving House impeachment inquiry as Democrats blocked a GOP bid to censure Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, a leader of the impeachment inquiry.
Trump, defending his conduct at a rollicking Cabinet meeting, insisted his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that sparked the impeachment inquiry was entirely unproblematic. And he accused Democrats of proceeding with impeachment only to bolster their chances in 2020.
Trump also called out Republicans for not sticking together, pointing a finger at Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who has emerged as his most notable GOP critic.
While eviscerating Democrats' policies, Trump said he respects members of the party for sticking together.
"They don't have Mitt Romney in their midst," he said. "They don't have people like that. They stick together. You never see them break off."
Hours after Trump spoke, Democrats blocked a bid by House Republicans to censure Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a leader of the impeachment inquiry.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., sponsored the resolution, which criticizes the way Schiff is conducting the investigation. Biggs and other Republicans say Schiff misled voters when he "manufactured a false retelling" of a conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy at a committee hearing last month. Schiff has said his words were meant as a parody.
"Chairman Schiff deliberately misled the American people during a high-profile hearing last month, and he has persistently used his perch on a vital committee to spread falsehoods about President Trump," Biggs said.
Republicans also complained that Schiff's office met with a whistleblower in the case and said the inquiry is being conducted in secret and they've been unable to see transcripts of closed-door interviews. The interviews include discussions of some classified material, and Schiff has said depositions must be conducted in private. Witnesses are being separated to prevent them from coordinating testimony or concealing the truth, he said.
Democrats say that Schiff has acted in a fair and bipartisan manner and that redacted transcripts of the depositions will be released.
The House voted 218-185 Monday along party lines to postpone a vote on the GOP resolution. Justin Amash, a Republican-turned-independent from Michigan, voted with the Democrats.
Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted after the vote that House Republicans "lacked the courage to confront the most dangerous and unethical president in American history" and instead "consoled themselves by attacking those who did" confront Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Schiff a great patriot. "What the Republicans fear most is the truth," Pelosi said in a statement. "The president betrayed the oath of office, our national security and the integrity of our elections, and the GOP has not even tried to deny the facts. Instead, Republicans stage confusion, undermine the Constitution and attack the person of whom the president is most afraid."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Schiff has fallen short in his duty and "demonstrated a pattern of lying to the American people on matters of intelligence."
The vote blocking the Republican censure attempt "only further illustrates the Democrats' ignorance to Chairman Schiff's reckless behavior and underscores their blind determination to damage this country," McCarthy said.
Trump, meanwhile, said some GOP lawmakers "are great fighters. But they have to get tougher and fight because the Democrats are trying to hurt the Republican Party for the (2020) election."
Washington, Oct 22 (AP/UNB) — Behind closed doors, President Donald Trump has made his views on Ukraine clear: "They tried to take me down."
The president, according to people familiar with testimony in the House impeachment investigation, sees the Eastern European ally, not Russia, as responsible for the interference in the 2016 election that was investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.
It's a view denied by the intelligence community, at odds with U.S. foreign policy and dismissed by many of Trump's fellow Republicans, but part of a broader skepticism of Ukraine being shared with Trump by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his key regional ally Viktor Orban of Hungary.
Trump's embrace of an alternative view of Ukraine suggests the extent to which his approach to Kyiv — including his request, now central to the impeachment inquiry, that the Ukraine president do him a "favor" and investigate Democrats — was colored by a long-running, unproven conspiracy theory that has circulated online and in some corners of conservative media.
On Monday, Trump derided the impeachment probe anew as a "witch hunt," insisting that he did nothing wrong in his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
But those testifying in the impeachment inquiry, now entering its fifth week, are recalling that Trump's views on Ukraine were seen as a problem by some in the administration.
Some of those testifying recalled a May meeting at the White House when U.S. officials, just back from attending Zelenskiy's inauguration in Kyiv, briefed Trump.
Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, special envoy Kurt Volker and other witnesses have described Trump as suspicious of Ukraine despite well-established American support for the fledgling democracy there. That's according to publicly released transcripts, as well as people familiar with the private testimony to impeachment investigators. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss it.
Several witnesses have testified that Trump believed Ukraine wanted to destroy his presidency.
One career State Department official, George Kent, told lawmakers that Putin and Orban had soured Trump's attitude toward Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have been foes since Putin's invasion of Crimea in 2014, as Kyiv tries to align with the West, while Putin and Orban grow closer.
"President Trump was skeptical," Sondland testified, according to his written remarks. Sondland said that only later did he understand that Trump, by connecting the Ukrainians with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was interested in probing the 2016 election as well as the family of his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden.
"It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing President Trump's mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani."
House Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry after a whistleblower filed a complaint that included Trump's July call with Zelenskiy. The call was placed the day after Mueller testified to Congress and brought an end to the two-year Trump-Russia probe.
"Our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it," Trump told Zelenskiy, according to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House.
"I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike," Trump said. "The server, they say Ukraine has it."
Trump was airing the conspiracy-theory view, shared by Giuliani, that the security firm CrowdStrike, which was hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the 2016 hack of its email, may have had ties to Ukraine.
CrowdStrike determined in June 2016 that Russian agents had broken into the committee's network and stolen emails that were subsequently published by WikiLeaks. The firm's findings were confirmed by FBI investigators and helped lead to Mueller's indictments of 12 individuals from Russia's military intelligence agency.
But the loose conspiracy theory contends that the DNC email hack was a setup, bolstered by fake computer records, designed to cast blame on Russia. Even the president's Republican allies have tried to dissuade Trump from it.
"I've never been a CrowdStrike fan; I mean this whole thing of a server," said Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina last week.
Meadows, a confidant of Trump, said he's sure Ukraine had some role in the U.S. election. But he views the search for the email server as farfetched. "I would not, on my dime, send a private attorney looking for some server in a foreign country," Meadows told reporters.
Perhaps contributing to the conspiracy theories surrounding CrowdStrike and the DNC is the fact that the FBI never took possession of the actual computer server that would have held the hacked emails.
Instead, the FBI relied on the forensics provided by CrowdStrike.
The FBI had "repeatedly stressed" to the DNC its desire to have access to servers, former FBI Director James Comey testified at a March 2017 hearing before a House panel. But he acknowledged it is not unusual for the FBI to use such forensics in place of the actual hard drive during cyber investigations.
Other Republicans have also tried to convince Trump it was not Ukraine that was involved.
Trump's former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, said Giuliani had done Trump a disservice by pushing the false story.
"I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president," Bossert said in September on ABC. "It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again," said Bossert, who also was an adviser to President George W. Bush. "That conspiracy theory has got to go. They have to stop with that. It cannot continue to be repeated."
On the call, Trump went on to ask Zelenskiy to also look into Burisma, the Ukraine gas company with links to Biden's family. Biden's son Hunter served on the board when the former vice president was the Obama administration's main emissary to Ukraine.
Last week, Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, acknowledged that Trump essentially engaged in a quid pro quo in seeking Zelenskiy's help in exchange for military aid the White House was withholding from Ukraine.
Mulvaney said the request was not improper because Trump wanted help with the 2016 investigation rather than looking ahead to 2020. It is against the law to seek or receive help of value from a foreign entity in U.S. elections.
Mulvaney later clarified his comments, saying, "The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server."
Washington, Oct 21 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump lashed out Monday at critics who prompted him to move next year's Group of Seven summit from his private golf club in Florida, claiming he would have hosted it for free and now it will end up costing taxpayers "a fortune."
Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Trump said it would have been the greatest G-7 ever if held at his Doral resort outside Miami but "Democrats went crazy" with criticisms that he would have violated the "phony" emoluments clause in the Constitution banning presidents from receiving gifts from foreign countries.
"I was willing to do this for free," Trump said Monday, comparing it to his decision not to take his $400,000 presidential salary. "It will cost a fortune for the country."
Trump brushed aside the criticism that hosting the summit would have been one big promotion for his brand. "You don't think I get enough promotion? I get more promotion than any human being that's ever lived."
Trump reversed course Saturday on hosting the G-7 at Doral after Republicans joined Democrats raising alarm. His acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said that the president had realized that "it looks lousy" to steer business to his own property.
Mulvaney said last week that the Doral was "far and away" the best venue because of its location near the Miami airport and separate buildings to host each country's delegation.
Mulvaney listed more than a half dozen states visited in the screening process, including Tennessee, North Carolina, Hawaii and Utah. But convention, economic development and tourism officials in several of those states said they were unaware of any visits, and some didn't even know their state was in the running.
Trump had earlier tweeted the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, as an alternate location but wasn't specific when asked at the Cabinet meeting where the summit will be now.
"I don't think it will be as exciting," he said.
Washington, Oct 21 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration is planning to collect DNA samples from asylum-seekers and other migrants detained by immigration officials and will add the information to a massive FBI database used by law enforcement hunting for criminals, a Justice Department official said.
The Justice Department on Monday issued amended regulations that would mandate DNA collection for almost all migrants who cross between official entry points and are held even temporarily.
The official said the rules would not apply to legal permanent residents or anyone entering the U.S. legally, and children under 14 are exempt, but it's unclear whether asylum-seekers who come through official crossings will be exempt.
The official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity before the regulations were published.
Homeland Security officials gave a broad outline of the plan to expand DNA collection at the border two weeks ago, but it was unclear then whether asylum-seekers would be included or when it would begin.
The new policy would allow the government to amass a trove of biometric data on hundreds of thousands of migrants, raising major privacy concerns and questions about whether such data should be compelled even when a person is not suspected of a crime other than crossing the border illegally. Civil rights groups already have expressed concerns that data could be misused, and the new policy is likely to lead to legal action.
Justice officials hope to have a pilot program in place shortly after the 20-day comment period ends and expand from there, the official said. The new regulations are effective Tuesday.
Trump administration officials say they hope to solve more crimes committed by immigrants through the increased collection of DNA from a group that can often slip through the cracks. The Justice official also said it would be a deterrent — the latest step aimed at discouraging migrants from trying to enter the United States between official crossings by adding hurdles to the immigration process.
Currently, officials collect DNA on a much more limited basis — when a migrant is prosecuted in federal court for a criminal offense. That includes illegal crossing, a charge that has affected mostly single adults. Those accompanied by children generally aren't prosecuted because children can't be detained.
President Donald Trump and others in his administration often single out crimes committed by immigrants as a reason for stricter border control. But multiple studies have found that people in the United States illegally are less likely to commit crime than U.S. citizens, and legal immigrants are even less likely to do so.
For example, a study last year in the journal Criminology found that from 1990 through 2014, states with bigger shares of migrants have lower crime rates.
Immigrant rights advocates were immediately critical following initial disclosure of the DNA collection plan two weeks ago.
"That could really change the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation to population surveillance," American Civil Liberties Union attorney Vera Eidleman said then.
Curbing immigration is Trump's signature issue, but his administration has struggled in dealing with the surge of people trying to enter the United States, mostly Central American families fleeing poverty and violence.
Authorities made more than 810,000 arrests at the border during the budget year that just ended in September, a high not seen for more than 10 years. Officials say numbers have since fallen following crackdowns, changes in asylum regulations and agreements with Central American countries, but they remain higher than in previous years.
DNA profile collection is allowed under a law expanded in 2009 to require that any adult arrested for a federal crime provide a DNA sample. At least 23 states require DNA testing, but some occur after a suspect is convicted of a crime.
The FBI database, known as the Combined DNA Index System, has nearly 14 million convicted offender profiles, plus 3.6 million arrestee profiles, and 966,782 forensic profiles as of August 2019. The profiles in the database do not contain names or other personal identifiers to protect privacy; only an agency identifier, specimen identification number and DNA lab associated with the analysis. That way, when people aren't a match, their identification isn't exposed.
The only way to get a profile out of the system is to request through an attorney that it be removed.
Federal and state investigators use the system to match DNA in crimes they are trying to solve. As of August 2019, the database produced about 480,000 hits, or matches with law enforcement seeking crime scene data, and assisted in more than 469,000 investigations.
Justice Department officials are striking a line in the regulations that gave the secretary of Homeland Security discretion to opt out of collecting DNA from immigrants because of resource limitations or operational hurdles.
Justice and Homeland Security officials are still working out details, but cheek swab kits would be provided by the FBI, the official said. The FBI will help train border officials on how to get a sample, which shouldn't take more than a few minutes.
Customs and Border Protection already collects fingerprints on everyone over 14 in its custody.
The new regulations will apply to adults who cross the border illegally and are briefly detained by Customs and Border Protection, or for a longer period by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Those who come to official crossings and are considered inadmissible and not further detained will be exempt. Other exceptions are being worked out, the official said.
More than 51,000 detainees are in ICE custody. Border Patrol custody fluctuates its facilities only hold migrants until they are processed and either released or sent to ICE custody. At the height, more than 19,000 people were held. Recently it was down to fewer than 4,000.
The Justice Department charged the highest number of immigration-related offenses last year since the office began keeping the records: 25,426 with felony illegal re-entry and 80,866 with misdemeanor improper entry into the country.