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By Ali Vitali

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — All eyes were on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Thursday, as vote margins in Florida’s close contests for governor and Senate tightened.

Gillum’s campaign stoked intrigue by releasing a statement about “counting every vote” — but not explicitly asking for a recount.

On Tuesday night, Gillum conceded in his race against Republican Ron DeSantis and his team was clear Wednesday that it hadn’t met the threshold to trigger an automatic recount.

Gillum has 49.1 percent, or 4,023,124 votes, while DeSantis has 49.6 percent, or 4,066,059 votes, for a margin of just under 43,000, according to NBC News.

The Gillum statement said that since the concession speech “it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported. Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”

It continued, “Mayor Gillum started his campaign for the people, and we are committed to ensuring every single vote in Florida is counted.”

NBC News has called DeSantis the “apparent” winner in the governor race, while votes are still being counted in places like Broward County and margins appear to be tightening slightly.

Meanwhile, Florida’s Senate race featuring Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson against Republican Rick Scott seemed to be heading for a recount, which is automatically triggered when the vote difference is less than 0.5 percent. It is currently .2 percent, fewer than 22,000 votes, according to NBC News.

The deadline for all 67 Florida counties to submit their first set of unofficial returns is Saturday at noon ET, according to the secretary of state’s office.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Nelson lawyer Marc Elias said that the race currently stands as a “jump ball” as counties around the state canvass their votes, but he believes Nelson will remain senator once the recount dust settles.

The Scott campaign, for its part, released a statement Thursday attacking Nelson for hiring a D.C. lawyer in an attempt to “steal” the election. Scott declared victory Tuesday night, but NBC News has not yet called the race.

The Sunshine State is no stranger to lengthy post-election battles. Most famously, the state was the epicenter of the George W. Bush versus Al Gore “hanging chad” debacle in 2000.

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Trump says no money paid to North Korea to have Otto Warmbier returned

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By Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump on Friday denied that his administration had paid any money as part of a deal to get North Korea to return Otto Warmbier, whom the regime had detained.

“No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else,” Trump tweeted.

The tweet came in response to a Washington Post report on Thursday that North Korea had issued a $2 million bill to the U.S. for the medical care of Warmbier, who was returned to the U.S. in an unconscious state.

The regime, The Post reported, demanded that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay the bill before Warmbier was allowed to be returned to the U.S.

State Department official Joseph Yun, who had traveled to North Korea in 2017 to help retrieve Warmbier, was instructed to sign the agreement by Trump and did so, The Post said. The bill was sent to the U.S. Treasury Department and remained unpaid throughout 2017. The Post said it was not clear whether the bill was later paid.

Responding to questions from NBC News about the report, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday, “We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration.”

Warmbier, 22, was arrested for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel while on a visit to Pyongyang in January 2016. The University of Virginia student from Ohio was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

The North Korean government released him in June 2017, and when he returned to U.S. soil, doctors found him to be in a state of unresponsive wakefulness. He died days later; the exact cause of death is still not known.

His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were told he had been in a coma since shortly after being sentenced.

In February, Trump was slammed by politicians on both sides of the aisle after he absolved North Korean Kim Jong Un of blame in the death of Warmbier. Following a summit with Kim, Trump said at a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, that it “just wasn’t to (Kim’s) advantage to let that happen.” He added: “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”

The president later tweeted that his comments had been misinterpreted and said, “Of course I hold North Korea responsible.”



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If it’s Biden v. Bernie, buckle up

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — They’re both white men in their mid-to-late 70s. And they’re both current/former creatures of the U.S. Senate.

But Joe Biden versus Bernie Sanders — the two 2020 candidates who lead in almost every Democratic poll — represents one heck of an ideological contrast, if the race ultimately comes down to these two men.

So in addition to the not-so-subtle shot that the Sanders campaign took at Biden’s high-roller fundraiser last night, the two candidates disagree on:

  • health care (Sanders is for a single-payer system; Biden likely will work to protect/strengthen Obamacare);
  • trade (Sanders opposed the TPP trade agreement; Biden backed it as Barack Obama’s VP);
  • and their vision for 2020 (Sanders is once again calling for a political revolution; Biden is running on a political restoration project).

Of course, a full-out Biden-versus-Bernie ideological fight — if it comes to that — could create an opening for the other 2020 Dems, whose messages are in between a revolution and a restoration.

And last night, Elizabeth Warren took a swipe at Biden’s entry when she was asked about his record on Wall Street and bankruptcy, per MSNBC’s Shirley Zilberstein.

“At a time when the biggest financial institutions in this country were trying to put the squeeze on millions of hard-working families who were in bankruptcy because of medical problems, job losses, divorce and death in the family, there was nobody to stand up for them,” she said.

“I got in that fight because they just didn’t have anyone. And Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies.”

Ouch.

But also remember that both Biden and Sanders mutually benefit from contrasts with one another.

Biden needs the foil of Sanders to show that his version of democratic socialism goes too far, while Sanders needs the foil of Biden to demonstrate that Obamaism-Bidenism doesn’t go far enough.

So don’t be surprised if this Biden-versus-Bernie debate becomes a staple of the fall before next year’s first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Trump addresses a struggling NRA

When President Trump addresses the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Indianapolis at 11:35 am ET, he’ll speak to an organization that’s been incredibly weakened over the past year.

“[T]he group is grappling with infighting, bleeding money and facing a series of investigations into its operating practices, including allegations that covert Russian agents seeking to influence the 2016 election courted its officials and funneled money through the group,” the AP writes.

More: “Indeed, as Trump is speaking Friday, Maria Butina, the admitted Russian agent, is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Washington.”

Besides its financial and Russian troubles, the NRA also got drubbed in last year’s midterms – a reminder that the NRA’s political fate is tied directly to the Republican Party.

It wasn’t that way 20 years ago…

2020 Vision: Who endorsed Biden and who didn’t

On his first day as a presidential candidate, Biden picked up some key (but not surprising) endorsements:

  • Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
  • Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
  • Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala.
  • Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del.
  • Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.
  • Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa.
  • Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y.

But here’s an endorsement Biden didn’t get — Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who backed Pete Buttigieg earlier this week.

Why is Beyer notable here?

“Beyer endorsed Obama in early 2007 and volunteered on his campaign, knocking on doors for weeks in Iowa ahead of the state caucuses,” the Washington Post writes.

Also: “Beyer served two terms as Virginia’s lieutenant governor in the 1990s, was a major fundraiser for Obama and served as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein from 2009 to 2013.”

On the campaign trail

Today: Joe Biden appears on The View… Elizabeth Warren stumps in Iowa… Kirsten Gillibrand hits New Hampshire… Cory Booker campaigns in South Carolina… And Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro both swing through Nevada.

Saturday: President Trump holds a rally in Green Bay, Wis… O’Rourke, Castro, Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and John Hickenlooper attend an SEIU forum in Las Vegas… O’Rourke later heads to California… And Gillibrand remains in New Hampshire, while Booker stays in South Carolina.

Sunday: O’Rourke holds a town hall in San Francisco.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 28 years

Twenty-eight years.

That’s the time that passed between the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings — for which Joe Biden served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — and his reported repentant phone call a few weeks ago to Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment.

But, as the New York Times reports, the call didn’t go as he hoped.

Hill told the Times: “I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you’ … I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”

She also didn’t call Biden’s phone call an apology, and — although she doesn’t see Biden’s conduct during the hearings as totally disqualifying — she said she can’t support him until he further addresses his treatment of her and of corroborating witnesses who were never called to testify in the confirmation fight.

The Lid: Oh, that Joe

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the various ways Joe Biden’s candidacy could play out.

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Trump blasts Democrats for probes, says White House is ‘fighting all the subpoenas’

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By Dartunorro Clark

President Donald Trump on Wednesday excoriated Democrats for probing his finances and his administration and declared, “We’re fighting all the subpoenas.”

“The subpoenas are ridiculous. I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far,” Trump said, referring to recent moves by House Democrats. Trump spoke to reporters the South Lawn of the White House before departing for an event on the opioid crisis.

The Democratic chairs of powerful congressional oversight committees have ramped up their investigations into Trump’s businesses and his administration in the wake of the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. They’ve issued subpoenas for the president’s finances, information about White House security clearances and the 2020 census and for the full, unredacted Mueller report. Earlier in April, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal formally requested Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service, setting up what’s likely to be a prolonged battle with Trump’s administration over documents the president has refused to release.

“I say it’s enough,” Trump told reporters. “Get back to infrastructure, get to back to cutting taxes, get back to lowering prescription drug prices.”

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Trump on Wednesday also continued to claim vindication, reiterating that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. He slammed Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation as one conducted by “18 angry Democrats,” but still called it the “most thorough investigation in the history of our country.”

He also said he assumed that Mueller got his taxes in the course of his investigation, suggesting there was no need for Democrats to obtain those documents.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on whether Mueller obtained Trump’s returns.

Mueller’s report, which lays out Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election, notes “that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” However, Mueller said in the report that he did not find a provable criminal conspiracy.

Muller did not come to a conclusion on the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice over the course of his investigation. Attorney General William Barr, in a letter to Congress sent before the redacted report was made public, said that he had decided that Trump did not obstruct the probe.

Mueller’s report, however, revealed that he weighed charging Trump with obstruction, but didn’t in part because “we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional process for addressing presidential misconduct.”

He added, “The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

Impeachment chatter has gained steam among Democrats since the report was made public on April 18, with at least four 2020 hopefuls urging the House to begin proceedings based on the conduct Mueller described. But House Democratic leaders on Monday held a conference call with members in which they promised aggressive and extensive investigations into Trump — but would not commit to bringing up impeachment proceedings.

“We don’t have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts, the presentation of facts,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, according to a leadership aide on the call.

The day after the redacted report was released, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., subpoenaed the Justice Department for the full, unredacted version as well as the underlying evidence. In a statement, Nadler said that the Justice Department must comply by May 1. Department of Justice Spokesperson Kerri Kupec called the subpoena “premature and unnecessary” in a statement, given Barr’s offer to allow lawmakers the chance to review a less redacted version of the report in a “secure reading room.”

Nadler also issued a subpoena Trump’s former White House counsel Don McGahn for testimony and documents as part the panel’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president and others. The report said, for example, that Trump ordered McGahn to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that “Mueller has to go.”

The administration is also fighting subpoenas and formal requests for administration officials to testify into several ongoing probes related to oversight of the administration’s policies.

Lawyers for Trump and the Trump Organization are suing Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to block a subpoena for years of financial records from several Trump entities.

Additionally, the Justice Department told Cummings Wednesday that it would not comply with a committee subpoena ordering John Gore, an official in its civil rights division, to testify about the 2020 census without a DOJ attorney present. Gore is a key figure in an effort by Democrats to determine Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ rationale for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Cummings called the move “a massive, unprecedented, and growing pattern of obstruction” by Trump’s administration, and said in a statement that the deposition of Gore slated for Thursday before his committee would go on as scheduled.

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., jointly issued subpoenas earlier this month to Deutsche Bank and other financial institutions for information on Trump’s finances.

They’re pursuing the information as part of their investigation into “allegations of potential foreign influence on the U.S. political process,” adding that the committees issued a “friendly subpoena” to Deutsche Bank, which has longstanding ties with the president. The bank said in a statement that it is cooperating with the committees.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, meanwhile, has missed two deadlines — April 10 and 23 — to hand over Trump’s tax returns. Mnuchin pushed the deadline to May 6 after he said that he was consulting with the Department of Justice.

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