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By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp V

WASHINGTON — A controversial judicial nominee is in danger of being derailed in the U.S. Senate because of objections over his past work defending state laws viewed as discriminatory and senate leadership’s refusal to vote on legislation aimed at protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Thomas Farr, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be a U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, has come under fire because of his work on cases that Democrats say have disenfranchised African Americans from voting. That issue has at least one GOP senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, undecided on whether to support Farr’s confirmation.

When asked on Monday if he would support Farr, Scott said,”that’s a good question.”

Another Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is blocking all judicial nominees, including Farr’s, until GOP leaders agree to hold a vote on a bill to put up guardrails against any threat of Trump firing Mueller.

“I was uncomfortably moving ahead (with Farr’s nomination) in October because people raising some other issues, so it was delayed until this month,” Flake said, telling reporters he would vote no “if we haven’t voted on the special counsel bill.”

Senate Democrats are united in opposition and if two Republicans join them to vote against Farr, his nomination would be defeated.

Thomas Farr is an employment lawyer at Ogletree and Deakins in Raleigh, where he has been the lead counsel defending clients against racial discrimination and workplace violation complaints.

Democrats say that he was instrumental in keeping minorities from voting, including working to defend North Carolina’s restrictive voter identification law. They also point to his legal work on the campaign of former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who was investigated for intimidating black voters in 1990.

“Mr. Farr was chief cook and bottle washer for the state that probably did more to prevent people, particularly African Americans, from voting than any other state,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said. “This is despicable. Absolutely despicable.”

Sen. Scott has helped defeat a Trump judicial nominee in the past for racially insensitive writings, raising objections about Ryan Bounds, a nominee for the ninth circuit. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sided with Scott and came out in opposition to Bounds, resulting in the nomination being pulled just moments before the final vote was set to take place.

Rubio’s spokeswoman, Olivia Perez-Cubas, said the senator would support Farr in this vote. “The Senator sees no reason not to support his nomination, so he’ll be a yes,” she said.

The NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus oppose the nomination and held a protest outside a Senate hearing room last January when the committee advanced his nomination on a party-line vote.

Two African American gubernatorial candidates, Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Andrew Gillum of Florida, released a joint statement of opposition to Farr on Tuesday. “When it comes to the trifecta of voter disenfranchisement — voter suppression, racial gerrymandering, and restriction of voting rights — Thomas Farr is, sadly, one of the most experienced election lawyers in the country,” they wrote.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said he will support Farr’s nomination after reviewing his work “a lot.”

“This is an attorney doing his job working for different clients,” Lankford said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate who sometimes bucks her party, said she’d support him, too, citing his rating of “well qualified” with the American Bar Association.

Marianna Sotomayor contributed.



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Mueller report shows Trump campaign left itself wide open to Russians, officials say

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By Ken Dilanian and Tom Winter

WASHINGTON — The Mueller report’s narrative of secret meetings between members of Donald Trump’s orbit and Russian operatives — contacts that occurred both before and after the 2016 election — portrays a political campaign that left itself open to a covert Russian influence operation, former intelligence officials and other experts say.

While finding no criminal conspiracy, the report shows that Trump associates met with Russians after the intelligence community said in October 2016 that Russia was interfering in the presidential election, and even after the Obama administration announced a set of post-election sanctions to punish Russia for that behavior.

The 448-page report, written as a prosecutorial document, was not meant to assess, and does not say, whether U.S. national security was put at risk through those contacts. But former FBI and CIA officials and people who study Russian intelligence say the report describes a counterintelligence minefield — senior members of a presidential campaign and transition holding secret talks with a sophisticated foreign adversary, without the benefit of State Department and intelligence community counsel.

“The Russians came up against a group of people who were not intelligence savvy and who were predisposed not to listen to the intelligence and counterintelligence community,” said Luis Rueda, who spent 27 years as a CIA operations officer. “The Russians made a very bold and aggressive attempt to take advantage of that — to try to compromise people, to try to leverage their access.”

The FBI, as part of its counterintelligence mission, is continuing to investigate Russian attempts to influence the Trump administration and assess the national security damage from Russia’s 2016 effort, current and former U.S. officials tell NBC News.



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Netanyahu wants to thank Trump by naming new Golan Heights community after him

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By Corky Siemaszko

The Trump name could soon find itself gracing a new planned community in a hotly contested location — the Golan Heights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced via video Tuesday that he intends to introduce a resolution to have a new Jewish community named after President Donald Trump in gratitude for his decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the area.

“I’m here on the beautiful Golan Heights,” Netanyahu said, arm around his wife. “All Israelis were deeply moved when President Trump made his historic decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Therefore after the Passover holiday I intend to bring to the government a resolution calling for a new community on the Golan Heights named after President Donald J. Trump.”

NBC News has reached out to the White House for comment on Netanyahu’s declaration.

Last month, Trump broke with years of precedent and signaled a major shift in U.S. policy when he said it was time to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the strategic territory that the Jewish state captured from Syria in 1967.

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump tweeted.

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk through a colonnade at the White House on March 25, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Minutes later, Netanyahu tweeted his appreciation. “At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump!”

At the time, Netanyahu was in the midst of a heated re-election battle, which ended in victory for the longtime Israeli leader.

Israel’s neighbors immediately condemned Trump’s abrupt declaration. The Syrian government called it “irresponsible” and a threat to international peace and stability, while Iran’s foreign ministry warned it would plunge the region into a new crisis.

The Golan Heights is a 700-square-mile area overlooking the Jordan Rift Valley that is home to about 47,000 people, the majority of whom are Druze and Syrians — not Israelis.

Israel annexed it in 1981, but most of the international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the area.

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BREXIT LIVE: May CRISIS at cabinet leaks – ‘criminal inquiry’ demands could hit Brexit

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THERESA May’s cabinet is in crisis over leaks regarding a probe into phone giant Huawei – with BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg claiming “Brexit ill discipline could spill over into national security”.

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