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By Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — Three new court documents are scheduled to emerge Friday that could shed new light on what Donald Trump’s former top aides have been telling — or not telling — federal investigators.

A federal judge in New York has ordered that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel’s Office have until 5 p.m. Friday to deliver sentencing memos designed to detail former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s cooperation in their ongoing investigations.

And special counsel Robert Mueller is also due to file a document spelling out what his team previously referred to as the “crimes and lies” that led them to cancel a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Legal experts say it’s likely that both documents will contain sections that are blacked out, as was the case with the sentencing memo Mueller filed Tuesday in the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The theory that Mueller would use these documents to inform the public about the progress of his ongoing investigation into Russian election interference and related matters did not pan out in the case of the Flynn memo. Key sections of that memo were redacted, including crucial questions about what Trump knew and when about Flynn’s lies to the FBI — and a whole page describing a separate criminal investigation.

Mueller’s decision to withhold that information shows, some experts say, that the former FBI director does not feel that his investigation is at risk of being derailed by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had expressed open hostility towards it before his appointment.

“He disclosed so little in the Flynn memo that it led me to conclude two things,” said former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner, an NBC News legal analyst. “One, he doesn’t have a sense of urgency, and two, he probably has a lot more investigating to do. If he was ready to show his cards, he wouldn’t have redacted all this stuff.”

Former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg says there may be something else at play:

“As usual, Mueller may be thinking two steps ahead of the rest of us.”

“If it’s public it won’t be sensitive and if it’s sensitive it won’t be public.”

Zeidenberg noted that Trump has not tweeted or uttered a word about Flynn since the sentencing memo on Flynn was filed, in contrast to Trump’s immediate attack on Cohen after Cohen pleaded guilty last week to lying about a Trump Tower project in Moscow.

“Trump’s been quite quiet since that filing,” Zeidenberg said. “He hasn’t attacked Flynn. If those blanks had been filled in, Trump’s head would have exploded — he’d be going crazy.”

“If Mueller waits and does his big reveal all at once, everything’s done. It’s too late” for Trump to engineer his firing, Zeidenberg said.

Michael Cohen exits federal court on Nov. 29 in New York.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

“If he were to have revealed everything on those redactions now, it could jeopardize ongoing matters, and it wouldn’t have been smart politically for his continued survival. I think it probably makes a lot of sense. Trump doesn’t want to attack Flynn because he doesn’t know whether Flynn is coming at him.”

As for the Southern District’s sentencing memo for Cohen, he is also cooperating in separate ongoing investigations that district prosecutors would likely want to keep secret, so that document may also be redacted.

Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News legal analyst who once worked with Mueller, said Mueller — a by-the-book former Marine combat leader — likely never considered making public anything to do with ongoing criminal matters.

The rule of thumb, he said, is “If it’s public it won’t be sensitive and if it’s sensitive it won’t be public.”

Rosenberg believes Friday’s filings will be “mildly interesting,” in that they may further describe in general terms how helpful prosecutors believe Cohen to have been, and also what sort of lies they allege Manafort told that blew up his plea deal.

But if Manafort’s lies were about Trump and Russian election interference, Rosenberg said, “We won’t see them.”

Tom Winter contributed.

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George H.W. Bush laid to rest in Texas after emotional tributes from family, friends



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By Dartunorro Clark and Allan Smith

Former President George H.W. Bush was buried in a private ceremony on the grounds of his presidential library in Texas on Thursday after being remembered by family and friends as a humble leader with the “courage of a warrior.”

After a three-hour ride aboard a funeral train from Houston, his casket arrived in College Station, home of Texas A&M University and his final resting place at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Bush was greeted at the burial site by a 21-aircraft Navy flyover. The Navy executed what is known as the “missing man” formation, signifying the loss of an aviator. Typically, the flyover is limited to just four aircraft, but the military wanted to do something unprecedented for the former president, a naval aviator.

As Bush’s casket was escorted to his final resting place, his family followed solemnly behind. The casket was carried over a footbridge, across which Bush was to be interred in a private ceremony next to his wife, the late former first lady Barbara Bush, and daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at age three.

Earlier Thursday, James Baker, a close friend who served as Bush’s secretary of state and chief of staff, delivered the first eulogy at the second of Bush’s funeral services at the St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, sprinkling his tribute with humorous personal stories and praise for the former president.

“Yes, he had the courage of a warrior. But when the time came for prudence, he always maintained the greater courage of a peacemaker,” Baker said, referring Bush’s role in maintaining diplomacy after the Berlin Wall fell during his administration.

“He understood that humility toward, and not humiliation of, a fallen adversary was the very best path to peace.”

Baker, who was with the president during his last days, also drew laughs from the audience when describing the heated discussions he would have with the president about domestic issues and world events.

“He would look at me and he’d say, ‘Baker, if you’re so smart, why am I president and you’re not?’ He was a leader and he knew it,” Baker said.

Bush, who died Friday at age 94, was also honored Wednesday at a state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral, which was attended by a host of world leaders and current and former presidents and first ladies.

The Thursday funeral is mainly for close friends to the former president and his family, who also attended Wednesday’s service. Several of his granddaughters read from scripture during the beginning of the service.

Baker choked up toward the end of his eulogy, describing his friend as a consummate statesman.

“He was not considered a skilled speaker, but his deeds were quite eloquent—and he demonstrated their eloquence by carving them into the hard granite of history,” he said.

“We rejoice…that you are safely tucked in now, and through the ages, with God’s loving arms around you. Because our glory, George, was to have had you as our president, and as such a friend.”

The president’s five living children and their spouses were seated in the front row, including eldest son George W. Bush, the 43rd president, and his wife, former first lady Laura Bush. The other children include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Neil Bush, Marvin Bush and Dorothy Bush.

George W. Bush, who delivered a tearful eulogy at Wednesday’s service, gave Baker a hug and a kiss on the cheek after his eulogy.

Texas Land Commissioner George Prescott Bush, the former president’s oldest grandson and the son of Jeb Bush, eulogized his grandfather with personal anecdotes, affectionately referring to the former president as “Gampy” and his grandmother, the late former first lady Barbara Bush, as “Ganny.”

He told stories of playing horseshoe with his grandfather and his cousin and fly fishing with him in Maine, where the Bush family has a home. He said that despite Bush being a “larger than life figure,” he always made time for his grandchildren.

“In a typical day, he’d wake up around 5 a.m. to review security briefings and grab his first coffee of the day. When the coast was clear all the grandkids would try our best to snag a spot on the bed and nestle up between him and ‘Ganny’ while they read the paper,” George P. Bush said.

He called him “the most gracious and most decent and most humble man I will ever know.”

For the musical selection, The Oak Ridge Boys performed “Amazing Grace” in honor of the former president, whom they met while Bush was vice president.

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Gohmert makes false claim in TV interview about Soros and Jews. Fox Business distances itself.



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By Allan Smith

A Republican congressman pushed a false conspiracy theory about Democratic megadonor George Soros during an interview Thursday on the Fox Business Network, prompting a host to rebuke the congressman over the comments.

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas — who has long burnished a reputation as one of the most conservative members of Congress — brought up Soros during a discussion on “Varney & Co” with host Stuart Varney on how Google is supposedly working toward the development of a censored version of its product to be made available in China.

Gohmert agreed with Varney that the effort was “Orwellian” — a reference to author George Orwell — before adding that it “reminds me of another George, George Soros.”

“Because Google is born in a free country, and then they go over and oppress others, help oppress another country,” Gohmert said. “Uh, George Soros is supposed to be Jewish, but you wouldn’t know it from the damage he’s inflicted on Israel, and the fact that he turned on fellow Jews and helped take the property that they owned. This same kind of thing — Google coming from a free country and helping oppress.”

George Soros has clashed with Hungary’s government.Olivier Hoslet / AFP – Getty Images

Soros has often been attacked by extreme right and neo-Nazi groups. Recently, they have claimed without evidence that he has been funding caravans of migrants in Mexico trying to enter the U.S. In October, a pipe bomb was also delivered to Soros’ suburban home in New York.

And the Hungarian-born Soros, as one of the wealthiest and most prominent backers of left-wing causes, has for years been dogged by the false smear that he was a Nazi collaborator during World War II and worked against fellow Jews. Soros was a child when the war broke out and just nearly 14 when Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Within an hour of Gohmert’s comments, Varney condemned them on air, saying that those views are not shared by “anyone” at his network.

“In the last hour, one of our guests, Congressman Louie Gohmert, for some reason went out of his way to bring up George Soros, and made unsubstantiated and false allegations against him,” Varney said. “I want to make clear those views are not shared by me, this program or anyone at Fox Business.”

In a statement issued later Thursday, Gohmert stood behind his remarks and denied they were anti-Semitic. He said his comments about Soros were a “pro-Jewish statement on my part.”

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Investigators zero in on absentee ballots in Bladen County



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By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Rich Gardella

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C. — Pressure is increasing on North Carolina to find a resolution to the unresolved congressional race in the state’s 9th District as allegations of election irregularities and fraudulent activities continue to surface.

State investigators are combing through election board records in several counties to discover whether there was an organized effort to unlawfully collect the absentee ballots of thousands of voters and then not turn those ballots over to election authorities.

They are especially interested in Bladen County, a rural, low-income area in the southeastern part of the state where investigators are looking at several individuals who turned in requests for absentee ballots on behalf of hundreds of voters.

The results of the investigation could put in jeopardy Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris’ unofficial lead of 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.

The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board Wednesday called for the state to hold a new election, while Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, a top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the committee should investigate.

North Carolina GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse said Thursday that the party supports the state investigation. “If they can show with certainty that the outcome could not have been changed, they need to certify Mr. Harris and continue to support all state and federal criminal investigations,” he said.

“If they can show a substantial likelihood it could have changed the race, then we fully would support a new election” Woodhouse added.

Meanwhile, some voters in the district are now speaking out, with personal accounts about how their absentee ballots were unlawfully collected.

Datesha Montgomery told NBC News that a blonde woman came to her door on Oct. 12 and asked if she could collect her absentee ballot.

“I told her, ‘Sure.’ I had broke the seal in front of her to show it was never opened,” Montgomery said. “I’m telling her who I was voting for, and she was like — she didn’t wanna hear it, so I just like, didn’t say nothing else. I just filled out two blocks, and I gave it to her.”

Montgomery, 27, lives with her 4-year old daughter in a neatly manicured public housing complex named Twisted Hickory just outside of Elizabethtown in Bladen County. She said she gave her unsealed absentee ballot to the woman, believing her to be an election official who would turn the ballot in.

But she said two investigators later showed up at her house and told her it had never been submitted.

So she went to a polling place on Election Day to cast her vote in person.

Emma Shipman, 87, of Tar Heel, had a similar story. A blonde woman showed up at her door to encourage her to turn in her absentee ballot, she told NBC News. But Shipman said she wouldn’t give it to the woman, even after the woman said she would provide a stamp to mail the ballot for her.

“I have plenty of stamps,” Shipman said she responded.

Under North Carolina law, only the voter, a relative or a postal delivery person (U.S.P.S., UPS, or Fed Ex) can deliver an absentee ballot.

Both Shipman and Montgomery said they had signed affidavits sent to the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to be used as evidence in the board’s ongoing investigation into fraudulent activity regarding mail-in absentee ballots in several counties, particularly Bladen, which has a population of 33,500.

Emma Shipman, 87, of Tar Heel, N.C., said a woman attempted to illegally collect her absentee ballot.Leigh Ann Caldwell / NBC News

The board has not certified the election results in the race, and is now conducting an investigation.

Last Friday, the board voted 7-2 in favor of “holding a public evidentiary hearing into claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail voting and potentially other matters in the 9th Congressional District contest.”

In a press release, the board stated that “in light of claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail ballots and potentially other matters,” it will hold an “evidentiary hearing” on or before Dec. 21. The hearing will examine whether irregularities or fraudulent activities affected a “sufficient number of votes” to change or taint the results or outcome of the election, or cast doubt on its fairness.

The board is looking into 14,056 absentee ballots requested for voters across the 9th District, according to Josh Lawson, the board’s general counsel. Of these, 10,651 were returned, and 3,405 were not. The board has concerns about whether irregularities and fraudulent activities could have affected ballots in both categories — ballots illegally completed or tampered with and counted, or ballots illegally discarded.

Harris racked up a winning margin of 1,557 votes in Bladen County, and 61 percent of the absentee ballots were cast for him even though just 19 percent of those ballots were cast by registered Republicans.

According to state law, the State Board may order a new election if one of the following conditions are met: There were enough ineligible voters to change the results of the election and it’s not possible to determine how they voted; enough eligible voters to change the results were not allowed to vote; other irregularities affected enough votes to change the outcome or “irregularities or improprieties” were widespread enough to “taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”

Both Shipman and Montgomery, who say they don’t know each other, identified the woman who came to collect their ballots as Lisa Britt.

Britt has been connected in press reports to McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County water and soil commissioner.

According to the board, allegations about Dowless’ operations and activities involving absentee ballots are now a focus of its investigation. According to state records, Dowless has a criminal background that includes a fraudulent insurance claim.

Dowless was hired by the Harris campaign as well as other local campaigns, according to The Washington Post, to help in Bladen County.

In an election-night speech at his headquarters, Harris thanked two counties — Bladen and Union — for putting him over the top.

On Wednesday, the board announced that its newly appointed chairman, Joshua Malcolm, had written a letter directing staff to review and post documents relating to the investigation in an “online portal” for the public to see.

One of the publicly released documents, an “office record” maintained by the Bladen County Board of Elections, shows that Dowless himself turned in 590 absentee ballot request forms between late August and early October.

The same document showed that a Jessica Dowless, who was described by BuzzFeed News as a distant relative of Dowless, turned in 185, a total of 775 absentee ballot request forms between the two.

Additional documents obtained by NBC News from an attorney working with Democrats to find information to pass on to state investigators indicate that Jessica Dowless and a half dozen others were signed witnesses to more than at least 150 absentee ballot applications.

Other signatories to the applications include Sandra Dowless, Britt’s mother. Cheryl Kinlaw and Ginger Eason also signed dozens of applications as witnesses.

NBC News has tried to reach every signatory on the absentee ballot applications it received. Sandra Dowless said she “had nothing to say” and attempts to reach Jessica Dowless, McCrae Dowless, Lisa Britt and half a dozen others who signed absentee ballot applications obtained by NBC News via phone calls and knocking on their doors were unsuccessful.

Kinlaw said she was paid $100 to collect absentee ballots. “I feel bad now that I know that it wasn’t legal, but I didn’t know at the time,” she told WSOC in Charlotte.

Election fraud allegations in Bladen County have been around for at least two years, which is when the state board asked law enforcement to begin investigating.

Another document released Wednesday by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement shows that it had begun acting on concerns about absentee ballots before Election Day. The document was a letter mailed to every voter requesting an absentee-by-mail ballot in Bladen County during the 2018 general election, warning that “only you or your near relative or legal guardian can mail or deliver your ballot to the elections office,” and that “only you can vote your ballot.” It was sent between Oct. 29 and Nov. 2.

This all comes amid an ongoing political fight in North Carolina, where election fraud has become a wedge issue for voters and political parties. In 2013, the Republican legislature and the Republican governor at the time implemented a strict voter ID law to prevent voter fraud. After a federal court determined that the law was unconstitutional, a pared-down version was put to voters, who approved it in the last election.

The minority leader in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., implored Republicans to be concerned about the allegations in North Carolina in a tweet Thursday night, referring to Thomas Farr, the Raleigh-based attorney that all Democrats and two Republicans blocked from a district court judicial nomination because of his work defending the strict voter ID law.

The Democratic Party has dispatched additional lawyers and staff on the ground to collect sworn affidavits of unlawful activity regarding their absentee ballots.

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is made up of nine members: four Democrats, four Republicans and one independent. Two of its Republican members voted in favor of the hearing — John Malachi Lewis, who has served as a deputy counsel for the North Carolina Republican Party, and Stacy Eggers IV. Two voted against — Ken Raymond, the board’s secretary, and John Randolph “Jay” Hemphill.

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