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By Dareh Gregorian

President Donald Trump and Beto O’Rourke are speaking less than half a mile — but worlds apart — from each other on Monday night.

And hours before the dueling El Paso events, the president started in on his potential 2020 challenger.

“We have a line that is very long already, I’m mean you see what’s going on,” Trump told reporters in Washington before departing for Texas, referring to people waiting to get into his “Make America Great Again” campaign rally. “And I understand our competitor’s got a line too, but it’s a tiny little line. Of course (the media) make it sound like they have more people than we do. That’s not going to happen.”

Trump is expected to reiterate his call for a wall or barrier on the southern border and echo the statements he made in his State of the Union address last week.

“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” Trump said then. “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

Less than a half mile away from Trump, O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman and possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, responded at the “March for Truth: Stop the Wall, Stop the Lies.” The march will end in a rally where O’Rourke said residents will “celebrate our community” and “tell the true story about the border.”

“While some try to stoke fear and paranoia, to spread lies and a false narrative about the U.S.-Mexico border and to demand a 2,000 mile wall along it at a time of record safety and security, El Paso will come together for a march and celebration that highlights the truth,” O’Rourke’s office said in a statement last week.

“Nobody tells our story better than we do,” O’Rourke said in El Paso just ahead of the Trump rally. “It’s incredibly important that this community stand up to be counted, to tell the story and to make sure that we set the record straight. That this is, as you know, a march for truth…we are here to follow the lead of this great community and make sure the country sees us at our best.”

Asked how he’d respond if the president called him names at his Monday night event, O’Rourke laughed. “I really don’t care about that,” he said.

On their Facebook page, organizers urged attendees to “Wear white,” Try to carpool or use rideshare,” and “Bring a positive poster.”

The march will proceed along a section of fencing before ending in a rally at the Chalio Acosta Sports Center, less than half a mile from the 11,000-seat El Paso County Coliseum, where Trump is slated to speak. A large “Finish the Wall” banner was being hung in the coliseum Monday morning.

Pro-Trump vendors were set up across the street Monday morning from where O’Rourke will be speaking, but the area isn’t big Trump country. Trump won Texas by nine points in the 2016 election, but he lost El Paso County by 43 points — 69 percent to 26 percent.

Organizers were still anticipating a big Trump crowd, and scores of people were camped out in line more than 12 hours before the rally was set to start.

The president’s trip is designed to rally public support for his call for a wall along the southern border. Democrats have refused his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for the wall, which Trump had said during the presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for. The impasse helped lead to the longest shutdown in government history — and has stoked fears the government could shut down again after Friday, when the current spending deal expires.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, speaks at a campaign rally in Austin on Sept. 29, 2018.Drew Anthony Smith / Getty Images file

Trump has pointed to El Paso as proof that “walls work,” and said that the barrier that was built there in 2008 and 2009 transformed it from one of the country’s most dangerous cities to one of the safest.

His campaign put out a video on Monday that it said featured El Paso residents praising the wall. “They put the fence up and ever since then, the crime rate has gone down dramatically,” said one.

Trump’s claims have led to bipartisan pushback from El Paso politicians, who pointed to statistics that the city of 700,000 was never one of the country’s most dangerous — and it had already transformed itself into one of the safest by the time wall was built.

“El Paso was NEVER one of the MOST dangerous cities in the US. We‘ve had a fence for 10 years and it has impacted illegal immigration and curbed criminal activity. It is NOT the sole deterrent. Law enforcement in our community continues to keep us safe,” Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, tweeted after the State of the Union.

The county commissioners passed a resolution on Monday complaining that Trump had “continuously made inaccurate claims about the United States’ southern border, including El Paso,” and saying they’re “disillusioned by President Trump’s lies regarding the border and our community.”

Violent crime in El Paso peaked in 1993, but has been cut in half since, reaching its lowest point in 2006, before the wall was built.

There were 19 murders and 1,819 aggravated assaults in the city in 2017, according to FBI crime data. The murder rate is about half that of the national average.

O’Rourke tweeted that “we will meet lies and hate with the truth and a positive, inclusive, ambitious vision for the future.”

Courtney Buble and Ali Vitali contributed.



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Trump snubs John McCain during bill signing intended to honor him

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — Congress wanted to honor the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. President Donald Trump did not.

In extended remarks during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 — this year’s version of an annual bill that sets defense policy — Trump chose not to mention the former prisoner of war and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who is battling brain cancer. He even omitted McCain’s name when citing the title of the bill.

The two men have long been fierce critics of each other, with McCain calling Trump’s supporters “crazies” in 2015 and Trump retaliating by questioning whether McCain, who was subjected to torture in a Vietnamese prison camp, is really a “war hero” because “he was captured.”

The snub at Fort Drum, home to the combat aviation brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, did not escape the notice of McCain’s allies.

“For those asking did I expect Trump to be an a—— today. No more than I expected it to be Monday,” Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide, wrote on Twitter.

McCain’s condition — dire enough that a recent HBO documentary on him was titled “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” — has not stopped Trump from deriding the Arizona senator at political rallies. Though Trump does not use his name, he tells crowds that he would have been able to repeal Obamacare if not for a thumbs-down sign from one senator — McCain.

The senator’s own statement included Trump’s name in the headline and in a preamble written by staff. But the words attributed to McCain did not.

“I’m very proud that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 has been signed into law,” he said.

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Mueller report shows Russians, Trump camp were friends with benefits. Collusion by another name?

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By Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — To charge a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, Robert Mueller decided he had to prove the existence of an explicit, corrupt agreement between the two sides. It wasn’t enough, his report said, that the Trump campaign and Russia were acting out of mutual interest.

Mueller said he didn’t find a conspiracy he could prove. But he did establish in painstaking detail that the Russians and the Trump campaign pursued a relationship of mutual benefit during the election campaign — and afterward.

Some might argue that verges on a different sort of collusion.

“The report reveals that there was an awful lot of contact between people in Trump world and Russians, and there appears to be at least some attempt at coordination,” said Greg Brower, a former U.S. attorney during the George W. Bush administration and senior FBI official. “One could argue you put all that together, it looks like collusion.”

The report says, “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But it also says that “the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

And after the Russians helped Trump get elected though efforts that were apparent to the Trump campaign, the report says, the Russians reached out to members of the Trump transition team, including the president’s son-in-law, ostensibly seeking the fruits of their labors. After a backchannel meeting in the Seychelles, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund passed a friend of the president’s son-in-law a two-page document proposing how the Trump administration could promote “U.S.-Russia reconciliation.”

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the Mueller report’s release

Two days before Trump took office, the document found its way to Jared Kushner, who promptly passed it along to incoming White House adviser Steve Bannon and incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Mueller report is “a damning account of a wildly successful Russian influence operation from start to finish,” said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and social media expert. “The Russian approach was, ‘Let’s reset foreign policy relations with the United States in a way that we’re getting everything we want,’ and they were pursuing that on multiple fronts.”

In Volume I of Mueller’s 448-page report, Mueller details a bevy of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. One of the amazing things about it is that the vast majority of them had already been extensively explored by the news media. That included the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, set up on the promise that a Russian lawyer would hands the campaign incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Yet there are many new details and some new incidents. There was a second offer of help from the Russians “to provide negative information about candidate Clinton to the Trump Campaign,” the report says, but the particulars are redacted because the matter remains under investigation. That may or may not relate to something that happened with Trump associate Roger Stone, who was absent from the report because he has been accused of lying to the FBI and the case is still pending.

“The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations,” the Mueller report says.

Many are well known by now: Michael Cohen’s interactions with Vladimir Putin’s office over a Trump Tower in Moscow. George Papadopoulos, who told the Greek foreign minister the Russians had Clinton’s emails, sought to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

On Aug. 2, 2016, the report says, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met in New York City with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a man the FBI believes is a Russian intelligence operative. Kilimnik sought the meeting to deliver a peace plan for Ukraine — one that Manafort later acknowledged would have allowed Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine.

“They also discussed the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states,” the report says. Months before, Manafort “had caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting.”

Mueller doesn’t say what Kilimnik did with the polling data, but experts have said it could have been used to help the Russian election interference effort.

And then: “Immediately after the November 8 election, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new administration. The most senior levels of the Russian government encouraged these efforts. The Russian Embassy made contact hours after the election to congratulate the President-Elect and to arrange a call with President Putin. Several Russian businessmen picked up the effort from there.”

After that came the famous phone calls between National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and the Russian ambassador, lies about which led to Flynn’s downfall.

The report makes no comment on the propriety of those contacts and meetings — in stark contrast to former FBI Director James Comey accusing Hillary Clinton of “extremely careless” conduct when he announced in July 2016 that he recommended no criminal charges in the case over her email.

But foreign policy experts and campaign veterans have said, over and over during the 22-month investigation, that it was not normal — and in fact was deeply suspicious — for a presidential campaign to foment a secret relationship with a major U.S. adversary.

That relationship and the actions Trump took to conceal it posed such a concern that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation, former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified.

There is no mention of that in the Mueller report. In fact, the word “counterintelligence” appears just eight times, all in pro forma fashion. The report does not say anything about financial ties, if any, between Donald Trump and Russia, or blackmail, or any other source of compromise.

Current and former intelligence officials say that Mueller does in fact have counterintelligence findings, but they are classified. The House Intelligence Committee has asked for a briefing on them, and so far has not received one.

“After a 17-month investigation, testimony from some 500 witnesses, the issuance of 2,800 subpoenas, the execution of nearly 500 search warrants, early morning raids, the examination of more than 1.4 million pages of documents, and the unprecedented cooperation of the President, it is clear there was no criminal wrongdoing,” Trump’s legal team said in a statement.

Whether or not that is clear, that is not the only standard to which a president is held, and Democrats in Congress plan to continue investigating.

“Whether obstruction was criminal or not, whether these contacts were sufficiently illicit — they are unquestionably dishonest, unethical, immoral, unpatriotic,” said Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “They should be condemned by all Americans.”



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GOP Sen. Richard Burr apparently briefed White House on FBI’s Russia probe, Mueller report says

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By Allan Smith

Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, apparently provided the White House with information on the Russia investigation after a private briefing with then-FBI Director James Comey, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report.

Within a week of Comey briefing the “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders about the FBI’s Russia probe in March 2017, Mueller wrote that then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn’s office was in contact with the North Carolina Republican “and appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.”

As Mueller notes, it’s unclear if Trump was aware of the briefing at the time. But Annie Donaldson, who served as McGahn’s chief of staff, wrote then that “POTUS in panic/chaos … Need binders to put in front of POTUS. (1) All things related to Russia.”

According to Donaldson’s notes, which Mueller referenced, McGahn’s office was briefed by Burr “on the existence of ‘4-5 targets.'” It was not clear if Donaldson was present for that briefing, or was simply taking notes on something she had heard.

Those targets — listed in Donaldson’s notes — were former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Mueller said Donaldson’s notes “track [with] the background materials prepared by the FBI for Comey’s briefing to the Gang of 8 on March 9.” In Comey’s briefing, Mueller wrote that the then-FBI director included “an identification of the principal U.S. subjects of the investigation.”

“Chairman Burr does not recall this specific conversation with Mr. McGahn in March of 2017; however, any conversations between the two would have been in reference to the need for White House personnel to voluntarily comply with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation,” Caitlin Carroll, a spokeswoman for Burr, told NBC News in a statement. “If specific individuals were discussed, they would have been those known to the Committee, the White House, and the media. The Chairman’s stewardship over the Committee’s bipartisan and fact-based investigation over the last two years speaks for itself.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and a member of the panel, said in a statement: “Given evidence from the Mueller report, the committee must take steps to ensure its investigations do not leak to the executive branch.”



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