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Rivals are scrambling to dig up dirt on Pete Buttigieg

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By Josh Lederman

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Caught off guard by his sudden surge, Pete Buttigieg’s rivals are scrambling to find vulnerabilities and lines of attack that can be used against him, five officials with opposing Democratic primary campaigns and Republican political groups tell NBC News.

The situation is different than with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, Democrats who have long been on the national scene and were widely expected to run for president. Potential rivals and GOP campaign groups have spent years hunting for dirt — known in political parlance as “opposition research” — that could be deployed against them. Major political groups had entire books of “oppo” ready to go by the time those candidates entered the race. Biden is expected to enter formally this week.

In contrast, Buttigieg was on nobody’s radar as a serious presidential contender until a few weeks ago. As a millennial who has never held an office higher than mayor of a midsize town, his record is largely unexamined.

Now his competitors are rushing to file a flood of Freedom of Information Act requests, according to officials, collecting everything he’s ever said in public or posted on social media, and poring over years-old budgets from South Bend, Indiana, where he’s served as mayor since 2012.

One official from a rival Democratic presidential campaign described Buttigieg as “a 37-year-old kid mayor, who nobody knows anything about.”

“He’s getting a very significant free pass on a lot of stuff that other candidates aren’t getting a free pass on,” the official said, citing his willingness to take money from lobbyists as an example. “There’s a novelty there. People don’t know anything about him, so he can kind of be whatever people want him to be. But if he sustains this, that will come down to earth.”

Until the last few weeks, the only group that had kept close tabs on Buttigieg and actively pushed back on him was the Indiana Republican Party. Officials said the state party took notice when Buttigieg in 2017 ran for Democratic National Committee chair, taking it as a sign that his ambitions extended beyond South Bend, population just over 100,000.

The Indiana GOP began opposing Buttigieg more aggressively in 2018, including criticizing his move that year to block the opening of a crisis pregnancy center that discourages abortion by overruling the municipal council’s zoning decision. The state party has also worked to impugn his broader record as mayor, emphasizing high rates of violence and downplaying the significance of his electoral victories in South Bend, a comparatively liberal enclave within conservative-leaning Indiana.

Yet since Buttigieg starting attracting national attention, catapulting into third place in Democratic primary polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, the state GOP has been consulting with the Republican National Committee about ways to effectively counter Buttigieg’s campaign, officials said.

Officials with rival Democratic campaigns said that while they’re still early in the process of digging through his record, they’ve already identified his likely vulnerabilities. A few issues have already worked their way into national press coverage of Buttigieg, including a re-examination of a fraught episode in which he demoted the city’s black police chief, detailed in recent New York Times and NBC News reports.

“Our competitors can run their campaigns how they want,” said Lis Smith, Buttigieg’s top communications adviser. “We’re less interested in politics as usual and more focused on getting Mayor Pete’s hopeful message of generational change out there.”

Other potential points of vulnerability include his signature project as mayor, the “1,000 homes in 1,000 days” initiative to rid South Bend of abandoned homes, and his years at McKinsey and Co., a business consulting firm that has drawn intense scrutiny from Democrats over some of its business practices. His opponents also plan to hit him on his reluctance to take definitive stances on policy issues like health care and immigration, officials said.

Colin Reed, a Republican strategist who specializes in opposition research, said any campaign competing with Buttigieg would be working expeditiously now to piece together his record as mayor, including every interview he ever gave, unpopular personnel decisions he made and any municipal correspondence in the public record. He said Buttigieg’s work at McKinsey could be particularly ripe for “guilt by association” attacks given the current focus within the Democratic primary on “purity and corporate responsibility.”

“In 2020 it was never going to be like 2016, where all the Republicans knew that Hillary Clinton was going to be the nominee and you essentially had four years to build a formidable opposition arsenal against her,” said Reed, who constructed many of the earliest attacks on Warren as campaign manager for former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. “There was always going to be a bit of this scramble.”

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House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler won’t rule out impeachment for Trump

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By Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Sunday did not rule out the prospect of impeaching President Donald Trump over allegations detailed in the Mueller report, arguing Congress has to see the full unredacted report.

Nadler, D-N.Y., said in an interview on Sunday’s “Meet The Press” that Congress will “have to hear from” both Attorney General William Barr and special counsel Robert Mueller, as well as obtain the unredacted report before coming to a conclusion on impeachment.

Nadler oversees the committee with jurisdiction over impeachment proceedings.

“Some of this would be impeachable,” Nadler said of the accusations detailed in the report, which was released Thursday. “Obstruction of justice, if proven, would be impeachable.”

Mueller’s report analyzed both the Russian government’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, as well as the question of whether Trump or his top allies tried to obstruct the investigation.

While Mueller wrote that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government,” he did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump committed the crime of obstruction of justice.

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Reporter asks Mueller about his report, drawing a ‘no comment’

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By Allan Smith

Special counsel Robert Mueller has spoken — and he’s giving no comment.

Mueller was approached by MSNBC’s Mike Viqueira on Sunday as he was leaving St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., for Easter services. Viqueira asked Mueller as he and his wife, Ann Mueller, were getting into their car whether he would testify before Congress after the Thursday release of his report on President Donald Trump and Russian electoral interference.

Mueller said he would be offering “no comment.”

Viqueira then asked Mueller if he had been investigating anyone other than Trump, and the evidence was identical, would they be indicted? The reporter also asked why Mueller did not make a recommendation on possible obstruction of justice and if Attorney General William Barr accurately characterized the report in his initial summary and subsequent press conference.

Mueller did not respond as he entered his car.

“I think it’s accurate to characterize Director Mueller today as being ‘tight-lipped’ in response to my questions,” Viqueira said afterwards on MSNBC.

Mueller has remained silent during the course of his probe, which began in May 2017, refusing to engage in public discourse about the investigation. Mueller’s “no comment” was the first time he had spoken publicly to the media about the investigation since its inception.

In his 400-plus page report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and whether the president sought to obstruct justice, Mueller said he was unable to establish a Trump-Russia conspiracy and said he could not come to a traditional prosecutorial decision on obstruction.



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