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By Allan Smith

As the three highest-ranking Democrats in Virginia remain embroiled in one of the state’s biggest political scandals in years, Republicans have mostly refrained from twisting the knife.

With the exception of a small handful of national Republicans, the party has largely reacted with caution to the revelations of a blackface photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page, which he has disavowed, or two women’s claims that they were sexually assaulted years ago by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who denies the allegations. President Donald Trump, though he has repeatedly weighed in, has not called for any resignations.

Many prominent Democrats, on the other hand, have called for the leaders to leave office.

It might be difficult for the GOP to lead such a charge given that the party’s top official, Trump, has faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment and accusations of racism, which he has repeatedly denied. The party also mounted a strong defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who during his confirmation last fall faced — and emphatically denied — accusations of sexual assault that allegedly took place when he and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, were in high school.

Some Republicans say the party should stay ideologically consistent with views the GOP has espoused over the past few years, whether it be calling for due process regarding allegations of sexual misconduct or not allowing someone’s poor judgment from decades ago to lead to the end of his or her career.

Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former Trump White House official, told NBC News “it’s right for Republicans to remain consistent, not rush to judgment, give people due process.”

“At the same time, I also think it’s right for Republicans to force the media, to force the left, to live by the same standards they force Republicans to live by,” he added.

Terry Sullivan, campaign manager for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential run, told NBC News that he believes “Republicans are being much more intellectually honest surrounding these scandals in Virginia.”

“The pendulum is starting to swing back a bit on the rush to judgement for public figures over the last two years,” Sullivan said. “Some very bad people have deservedly had the very terrible things they’ve done exposed, and paid the price. But I think there may be a public sense that in some cases there has been a rush to judgement that was not just. … Americans as a whole are becoming a little more cautious about rushing to judgement until all the facts are out.”

When asked last week about the scandals in Virginia, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said “the people of Virginia seem to be taking good care” of the controversy.

Mentioning Fairfax, Graham — a vocal defender of Kavanaugh during his confirmation process — said “you’ve got to have the facts” before making a judgment.

“The accusation can’t be self-proving,” he told reporters before a second woman accused Fairfax of sexual assault. “I don’t know the lieutenant governor, but just put yourself in his shoes. I mean, how do you defend yourself over something that’s 15 years old and there are really no facts to support the allegation? I just don’t believe the allegation to be self-proving.”

In commenting on the scandal, Trump first criticized the campaign of Northam’s Republican opponent in the 2017 governor’s race, Ed Gillespie, for not unearthing the material during the race.

But Trump also said that if the politicians “were Republicans, far stronger action would be taken.” The president called Northam’s walk-back of his initial admission that he appeared in the yearbook photo “unforgivable” and claimed “African Americans are very angry at the double standard on full display in Virginia!”

In discussing the Virginia scandal with NBC News, Republicans repeatedly brought up the perception of a double-standard in the reactions to similar allegations against Democrats and Republicans.

Former GOP congressman and conservative radio host Joe Walsh told NBC News: “It’s easy to look at this and say, ‘Look at the Democrats, ha ha ha.’ I don’t think we should do that. I think we should be more objective and this whole game of gotcha, I think we’ve got to stop and look at the broader principle.”

“Let’s hold the Democrats to the same standard we want to be held to and not just look for a political advantage,” he added.

While many prominent Virginia and national Democrats have called for Northam and Fairfax to step down, both men said they will not.

In a clip of a “CBS This Morning” interview that aired Sunday, Northam again said he wouldn’t resign and instead looked to “heal” the state. Northam had initially apologized for the photo, which featured one person in blackface and another wearing Ku Klux Klan robes, but said the next day that he wasn’t in the photo and didn’t know why it was on his page. However, he admitted to once wearing blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance competition the same year the yearbook was published.

Fairfax, meanwhile, has hired Kavanaugh’s legal team even as one of his accusers has sought the counsel of the lawyers who represented Blasey Ford. He is accused by Meredith Watson of raping her when they were students at Duke University in 2000 and by Virginia Tyson of forcing her to perform oral sex in 2004 while they were at the Democratic Convention in Boston.

Fairfax has emphatically denied both women’s allegations and is calling for an FBI investigation into the accusations.

Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax presides over the Senate at the Virginia State Capitol, Feb. 7, 2019, in Richmond.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Both women, meanwhile, would testify at impeachment proceedings, their attorneys said.

At the moment, however, there appears to be little support for impeachment. On Monday, Virginia Democratic Del. Patrick Hope backed off his promise to quickly introduce an impeachment measure against Fairfax if he didn’t step down.

Democrats haven’t been as vocal in calling for the official second in line to the governorship, Attorney General Mark Herring, to resign after he admitted to wearing blackface when he was 19. Herring initially called on Northam to resign before making his admission, which included a profuse apology.

Late last week, a top Virginia Republican was touched by the scandal as well. State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment was found to have been a top editor of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook that featured photos of students in blackface as well as the use of racially offensive terms. Norment was not pictured in any of those photos and said in a statement that “blackface is abhorrent” and “I emphatically condemn it.”

Should all three Democrats resign, Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, would become governor based on the line of succession.



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Trump goes to war for power over Congress

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is trying to show Congress that he’s boss.

The release last week of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump has unleashed the president’s fury — as evidenced by a steady stream of angry tweets and threats of retribution against adversaries real and perceived — and his willingness to thumb his front tooth at Congress.

The result is an escalating assertion of the presidency as the dominant branch of government in a war over the balance of power. The battle has implications for the rest of Trump’s first term, his re-election bid and the institutional authorities at the heart of American democracy.

There’s even some thought that Trump is now baiting the House to impeach him.

“I think it’s entirely possible he’s pursuing a briar-patch strategy, like bring your impeachment because you will be punished for it — not by me, but by the voters,” said Michael Caputo, a GOP strategist and former Trump adviser.

Increasingly, constitutional experts say Trump is providing evidence to conclude that there are grounds outside Mueller’s findings that he has crossed the Constitution’s loosely defined “high crimes and misdemeanors” threshold for impeachment.

Most recently, for example, Trump has instructed subordinates to deny Congress access to witnesses and documents that House leaders have demanded for their investigations. The Washington Post reported that the White House plans to block a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify by exercising executive privilege, though Trump told the paper in an interview that he had not “made a final, final decision” to do so.

But some longtime analysts of the Washington power balance say Trump’s latest moves are the most contemptuous in a full-scale effort to stretch the bounds of his office.

“Trump is not inventing executive intransigence out of whole cloth,” said Heidi Kitrosser, author of “Reclaiming Accountability: Transparency, Executive Power, and the U.S. Constitution” and a professor at the University of Minnesota law school. “At the same time, this is not same-old, same-old. He is taking longstanding pathologies in terms of an increasingly imperial executive branch and ratcheting it up many times over.”

In recent months, Trump has declared a national emergency so he could re-appropriate money to build a border wall — a move congressional Democrats and several state attorneys general say is an unconstitutional encroachment on Congress’ spending authority — and his administration has routinely denied lawmakers’ requests for basic information from federal agencies.

It’s not just Congress that has found Trump’s regard for the rule of law wanting; the courts have also weighed in.

In a review of more than five dozen instances in which courts blocked actions by the Trump administration, The Washington Post found a common thread: judges ruling that officials had implemented policies without following the rules.

In his report to Attorney General William Barr, Mueller identified 10 instances in which Trump’s behavior could be viewed as obstruction of justice. While Mueller declined to conclude the president had, in fact, obstructed justice — he said that Justice Department policy precluded him from recommending a prosecution of the president whether or not he believed it was warranted — he also said his report did not exonerate Trump.

Trump’s angry reaction to the release of the redacted Mueller report, his ongoing commentary about witnesses and his demand that the White House fight congressional efforts to interview Mueller’s witnesses has been taken by some critics as fresh evidence that he continues to obstruct justice.

Increasingly, constitutional experts say that Trump’s actions, both within the context of the just-released special counsel report and outside it, represent abuses of office so serious they could rise to the constitutional impeachment standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“The report’s details add to an existing body of information already in the public domain documenting the president’s violations of his oath, including but not limited to his denigration of the free press, verbal attacks on members of the judiciary, encouragement of law enforcement officers to violate the law, and incessant lying to the American people,” several members of the group Checks and Balances, co-founded by conservative lawyer George Conway, wrote in a statement released Tuesday. “We believe the framers of the Constitution would have viewed the totality of this conduct as evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.”

In any event, Trump is demonstrating a resistance to the constraints on his office — and a disrespect for the powers of the other “co-equal” branches of his government — that is both familiar in nature and unfamiliar in degree to those who have watched authority ceded to the presidency in recent decades.

“I think this is an extension of a trend that has been occurring over the past several presidencies,” said Mack McLarty, who served as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. “President Trump has pushed the limit and that may be putting it diplomatically.”

Kitrosser, the University of Minnesota law school professor, said the response to Trump will be important for the future of the balance of power.

“The big question is, will the Trump administration be a turning point that leads us to address some of these longstanding pathologies, particularly executive imperialism and Congress’ abdication, or whether it is going to lead us to accept ever greater imbalance of power?” she said. “I think we’re at a real turning point and it can go one way or the other.”

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Trump goes to war for power over Congress

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Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is trying to show Congress that he’s boss.

The release last week of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump has unleashed the president’s fury — as evidenced by a steady stream of angry tweets and threats of retribution against adversaries real and perceived — and his willingness to thumb his front tooth at Congress.

The result is an escalating assertion of the presidency as the dominant branch of government in a war over the balance of power. The battle has implications for the rest of Trump’s first term, his re-election bid and the institutional authorities at the heart of American democracy.

There’s even some thought that Trump is now baiting the House to impeach him.

“I think it’s entirely possible he’s pursuing a briar-patch strategy, like bring your impeachment because you will be punished for it — not by me, but by the voters,” said Michael Caputo, a GOP strategist and former Trump adviser.

Increasingly, constitutional experts say Trump is providing evidence to conclude that there are grounds outside Mueller’s findings that he has crossed the Constitution’s loosely defined “high crimes and misdemeanors” threshold for impeachment.

Most recently, for example, Trump has instructed subordinates to deny Congress access to witnesses and documents that House leaders have demanded for their investigations. The Washington Post reported that the White House plans to block a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify by exercising executive privilege, though Trump told the paper in an interview that he had not “made a final, final decision” to do so.

But some longtime analysts of the Washington power balance say Trump’s latest moves are the most contemptuous in a full-scale effort to stretch the bounds of his office.

“Trump is not inventing executive intransigence out of whole cloth,” said Heidi Kitrosser, author of “Reclaiming Accountability: Transparency, Executive Power, and the U.S. Constitution” and a professor at the University of Minnesota law school. “At the same time, this is not same-old, same-old. He is taking longstanding pathologies in terms of an increasingly imperial executive branch and ratcheting it up many times over.”

In recent months, Trump has declared a national emergency so he could re-appropriate money to build a border wall — a move congressional Democrats and several state attorneys general say is an unconstitutional encroachment on Congress’ spending authority — and his administration has routinely denied lawmakers’ requests for basic information from federal agencies.

It’s not just Congress that has found Trump’s regard for the rule of law wanting; the courts have also weighed in.

In a review of more than five dozen instances in which courts blocked actions by the Trump administration, The Washington Post found a common thread: judges ruling that officials had implemented policies without following the rules.

In his report to Attorney General William Barr, Mueller identified 10 instances in which Trump’s behavior could be viewed as obstruction of justice. While Mueller declined to conclude the president had, in fact, obstructed justice — he said that Justice Department policy precluded him from recommending a prosecution of the president whether or not he believed it was warranted — he also said his report did not exonerate Trump.

Trump’s angry reaction to the release of the redacted Mueller report, his ongoing commentary about witnesses and his demand that the White House fight congressional efforts to interview Mueller’s witnesses has been taken by some critics as fresh evidence that he continues to obstruct justice.

Increasingly, constitutional experts say that Trump’s actions, both within the context of the just-released special counsel report and outside it, represent abuses of office so serious they could rise to the constitutional impeachment standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“The report’s details add to an existing body of information already in the public domain documenting the president’s violations of his oath, including but not limited to his denigration of the free press, verbal attacks on members of the judiciary, encouragement of law enforcement officers to violate the law, and incessant lying to the American people,” several members of the group Checks and Balances, co-founded by conservative lawyer George Conway, wrote in a statement released Tuesday. “We believe the framers of the Constitution would have viewed the totality of this conduct as evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.”

In any event, Trump is demonstrating a resistance to the constraints on his office — and a disrespect for the powers of the other “co-equal” branches of his government — that is both familiar in nature and unfamiliar in degree to those who have watched authority ceded to the presidency in recent decades.

“I think this is an extension of a trend that has been occurring over the past several presidencies,” said Mack McLarty, who served as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. “President Trump has pushed the limit and that may be putting it diplomatically.”

Kitrosser, the University of Minnesota law school professor, said the response to Trump will be important for the future of the balance of power.

“The big question is, will the Trump administration be a turning point that leads us to address some of these longstanding pathologies, particularly executive imperialism and Congress’ abdication, or whether it is going to lead us to accept ever greater imbalance of power?” she said. “I think we’re at a real turning point and it can go one way or the other.”

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Michael Cohen tries to walk back parts of guilty plea in recorded phone call, report says

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By Tom Winter and Dareh Gregorian

Michel Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, said he was taking full responsibility for all of his actions when he testified before Congress, but he reportedly claimed he was innocent of some of the charges he pleaded guilty to in a private phone conversation with comedian Tom Arnold.

“There is no tax evasion,” Cohen told the “True Lies” actor in a March 25 phone call, according to The Wall Street Journal reported. The paper said Arnold taped the conversation and gave the paper the recording, in which Cohen also denied the bank fraud charges he pleaded guilty to. “It’s a lie,” he said.

Cohen told Arnold he copped a plea with federal prosecutors because “they had me on campaign finance” for covering up hush money payments for two women who claimed they had affairs with his former boss, Donald Trump. Trump has denied he had affairs with the women, former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels.

Cohen — who is supposed to begin serving a three-year prison sentence for his crimes next month — told Arnold in the recording that he’d gotten a raw deal, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“I’m a man all alone, right, and I shouldn’t be alone anymore,” he said in the recording, according to the paper, noting that he cooperated with prosecutors and Congress.

“You would think that you would have folks, you know, stepping up and saying, ‘You know what, this guy’s lost everything. I mean everything.’ My family’s happiness, my law license. I lost my business, everything, my insurance, my bank accounts, all for what? All for what? Because Trump, you know, had an affair with a porn star? That’s really what this is about,” he groused, according to the paper.

Cohen also reportedly told Arnold he took the deal because he was worried his wife could face legal exposure if he didn’t.

Tom Arnold on Megyn Kelly Today on Sept. 25, 2018.Nathan Congleton / NBC

“I love this woman. I am not going to let her get dragged into the mud of this crap. And I never thought the judge was going to throw a three year fricking sentence,” he said, according to the paper.

The judge who sentenced Cohen did cut him slack for his cooperation — federal sentencing guidelines had called for him to get between 4 years and 3 months to 5 years and 3 months.

In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said Cohen was pleading guilty because he was guilty.

They noted that Cohen did not inform his accountant of $2.4 million in interests payments made to accounts in his or his wife’s name from 2012-2016 from a loan he made to a taxi operator. Prosecutors say Cohen never provided statements for that and other income to his tax preparer in what they described as an intentional effort to avoid paying income tax.

The bank fraud charge stemmed from a home loan where Cohen had told the bank he had a negative net worth, and then updated his financial statement to say he had a net worth of $17 million after investigators executed search warrants at his home and office.

Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis said Cohen’s statements were in line with what his client had said previously, and touted that the Mueller report had found Cohen to be a “credible” witness.

“Nothing said by Mr. Cohen to Tom Arnold contradicts Mr. Cohen’s previous defense attorney, Guy Petrillo, in his sentencing memorandum to the presiding federal US District Court Judge William H. Pauley III back in December. I would also add the important words used by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and others, in describing Michael Cohen’s cooperation and testimony as “credible” addressing the ‘core’ issues involved in his investigation,” Davis said.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tweeted that the story was a continuation of Cohen’s “many deceptions.”



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