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By Dennis Romero and Vaughn Hillyard

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced late Tuesday that he’ll decide on a 2020 presidential run in about three weeks.

He made the remarks to reporters outside the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Iowa’s Drake University, where he had just engaged in a 90-minute discussion on redistricting and voter rights with Marsha Ternus, former chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.

“I’m going to decide if I’m going to try to find that space within the next month or so,” he said.

The key questions, Holder said, are “whether you have the vision, the experience, the ability to inspire others to deal with the issues of the day. So I’m going to sit down you know with my family, you know, very soon.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder speaks on Day 2 of Securing Sport 2015 at Harold Pratt House in New York on April 11, 2015.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters file

NPR reported earlier Tuesday that Holder would decide whether to join the already crowded Democratic Party field for president in about two week’s time. Pressed for a time frame Tuesday night, Holder said that it would be “closer to three than four” weeks.

He said he was not in Iowa — its influential Democratic caucus is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020 — to measure support among party influencers. In fact, he said, the Harkin Institute discussion had been scheduled for fall but was postponed.

“I met with some party leaders but not to discuss that, no,” he said. “This is really just kind of a Drake University visit.”

Holder said he has spoken to former President Barack Obama, whom he served under, about the decision he faces in March, but he wouldn’t reveal any advice.

Asked if he has urged former Vice President Joe Biden to run, Holder said, “I think Joe Biden was a great senator, a great vice president.”

“I worked with him on important domestic issues,” he said. “I sat with him in the situation room. You know, I think that his would be a good voice to have as part of this primary process. But you know, I would totally respect his decision if he decides not to become involved, but I would hope that he would.”

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Trump’s FDA may revamp rules for cherry pie, milk, French dressing



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By Associated Press

President Donald Trump may soon be able to claim a sweet victory for his deregulation push, with officials preparing to get rid of the decades-old rules for frozen cherry pies.

Emails show the Food and Drug Administration planned to start the process for revoking the standard for frozen cherry pies this week, followed by a similar revocation of the standard for French dressing. Plans to get rid of the obscure rules had been tucked into the Trump’s administration’s deregulation agenda.

Standards for an array of foods including cottage cheese and canned peas were put in place decades ago partly to ensure a level of quality. They spell out how products with specific names can be made, including ingredients that are required or not allowed. The rules for frozen cherry pies say they must be 25 percent cherries by weight with no more than 15 percent of the cherries being blemished.

It’s not always clear why some food terms have standards and others don’t. The rules are seen as arcane by many and are a sore spot in the food industry, with companies saying they prevent innovation or prompt lawsuits. The FDA under Trump has said it plans to update the standards.

Lee Sanders of the American Bakers Association said she’s hopeful the cherry pie standard will finally be revoked, but that it would not make a big difference for the industry.

“I feel confident our members are producing cherry pies with more than enough cherries,” she said.

The FDA also plans to take another look at milk, which federal regulations define as coming from a cow. The dairy industry has called for a crackdown on soy, rice and almond drinks makers that use the term.

While any changes to the milk rule are likely to be contested, getting rid of the standard for frozen cherry pie is unlikely to be controversial.

The frozen cherry pie standard is an outlier because other fruit pies don’t have similar rules. The same is true for French dressing: The Association for Dressings and Sauces, which once went after a vegan spread for violating the mayonnaise standard, notes other dressings are not subject to such standards.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down this month, said in an October tweet that it was among the FDA’s priorities to “de-regulate frozen cherry pie.” He apparently wasn’t entirely joking.

In a June email , the FDA noted plans to post a proposal to revoke the frozen cherry pie standard on April 18. It said the proposal to revoke the French dressing standard would be posted May 3.

In a statement this week, the FDA said the dates were for “long range internal planning purposes” and that the timing could shift. Updates to the standards will be publicly noted, the agency said.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Here’s what we still don’t know about why Mueller didn’t charge Trump with obstruction



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By Julia Ainsley

WASHINGTON — In the days and weeks leading up to Thursday’s release of the redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, few questions loomed as large as this: Why did Mueller decide not to decide whether to charge the president with obstruction of justice?

While the report gave us a window into Mueller’s thinking and the complex legal theories he used in making his decision, the question is not wholly answered. Here’s what remains unanswered about Mueller’s decision:

Would Mueller have charged Trump with obstruction had he not been the president?

Mueller’s report stops short of explicitly saying that Trump committed obstruction of justice and he would have been charged had he not been the president. But it does frequently cite a longstanding opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.

In the beginning of the obstruction portion of the report, Mueller writes, “Given the role of the Special Counsel as an attorney in the Department of Justice and the framework of the Special Counsel’s regulations, this Office accepted OLC’s legal conclusion for the purpose of exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction. And apart from OLC’s constitutional view, we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially pre-empt constitutional process for addressing presidential misconduct.”

Mueller goes on to cite other reasons why Trump could not be charged: There was no evidence of an underlying crime to establish intent, some of the evidence was ambiguous and many of the actions took place in public view. But it remains unclear how big of a factor the OLC’s opinion was in Mueller’s decision not to charge the president.

The report goes on to say that Trump’s position as president made him an unusual subject, which kept Mueller from reaching a conclusion on obstruction.

“Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment.”

Did Mueller want Congress to rule on obstruction?

Again, Mueller is not explicit on this issue in his report. But he does differ with Attorney General William Barr on the issue of whether Congress should or could be left to continue probing for criminal wrongdoing around obstruction. On page 382, the report states, “Under [the Office of Legal Counsel’s] analysis, Congress can permissibly criminalize certain obstructive conduct by the President, such as suborning perjury, intimidating witnesses, or fabricating evidence, because those prohibitions raise no separation-of-powers questions. The Constitution does not authorize the President to engage in such conduct, and those actions would transgress the President’s duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.'”

Many have interpreted these lines and other excerpts of the report as a road map for Congress to follow if it decided to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.

What were the disagreements between Mueller’s team and Barr’s team over obstruction?

In his speech ahead of the report’s release on Thursday, Barr said, “Although the Deputy Attorney General [Rod Rosenstein] and I disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law, we did not rely solely on that in making our decision.”

The report lists 10 episodes of potential obstruction examined by Mueller’s prosecutors. It is unclear which of the 10 were the subject of contention between Barr and Mueller. But legal theories that may have been in dispute include how heavily to weigh the OLC opinion, whether the lack of an underlying crime should be considered in determining Trump’s intent, and whether Trump was rightfully exercising his executive powers by firing James Comey as FBI director.

Barr’s decision to exonerate the president on the issue of obstruction was based, in part on the inability to prove intent because there was no crime to cover up. But Mueller said there may have been “other possible personal motives” for Trump’s behavior.

What did Mueller mean when he talked about “other possible personal motives” for Trump’s behavior?

In the report, Mueller states, “The evidence does point to other possible personal motives animating the president’s conduct. These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events — such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’ release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016, meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians — could be seen as criminal activity by the president, his campaign, or his family.”

Mueller seems to indicate here that Trump may have thought he committed a crime and could be working to cover up those actions. But he does not establish — in bold terms, at least — whether those motivations could have led the president to obstruct justice.

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Tracking President Trump’s visits to Trump properties



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By Liz Johnstone

President Donald Trump frequently uses his luxury properties for government business and leisure, prompting ethics concerns over a president appearing to promote his private enterprise at public cost.

The NBC News digital politics team and the White House unit are tracking Trump’s visits to his properties and golf courses since his inauguration.

Where does Trump go?

Trump’s trips have mainly been concentrated in Palm Beach, Florida, where he mainly visits his Mar-a-Lago club and golf course, Trump International Golf Club. He’s spent “working vacations” at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, and as well as a handful of days at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

He also frequents his golf course in Sterling, Virginia, near Washington, and his luxury hotel, Trump International, just blocks from the White House — and sometimes will visit multiple properties on the same day. On a July 2018 trip to the U.K., the president visited his Trump Turnberry golf property in Scotland.

How many times has Trump gone golfing as president?

Trump visited his golf clubs more than 150 times in his first official year in office, and at least 77 times in his second year in office.

However, the precise number of times Trump has actually played golf is difficult to track. His administration has tried to hide Trump’s activity, keeping his traveling press pool away and often refusing to confirm whether he has played golf. Instead, social media has become a source of crowd-sourced reporting into the president’s whereabouts.

Related: How Donald Trump’s Old Tweets Haunt Him Today

During the campaign, Trump argued that Americans should vote for him because he would rarely leave Washington. He promised that he wouldn’t go golfing or take vacations because there was too much work to do.

And prior to his run for president, Trump spent years attacking President Barack Obama for golfing and taking vacations while in office.

When does Trump visit his properties?

With the exception of extended stays at his golf resort in Bedminster, Trump usually frequents his properties on weekends. Trump has referred to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, as the “Southern White House” — and that’s where he’s hosted foreign leaders like President Xi Jinping of China and directed the launch of a strike against a Syrian airbase.

How much does Trump’s travel cost?

The president’s trips can cost taxpayers millions of dollars because of the use of Air Force One and the expenses of the Secret Service, the Air Force, local sheriff’s departments, the Coast Guard and other agencies. However, a precise accounting can’t be made because the expenses aren’t required to be disclosed.

In February 2019, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said that federal agencies incurred costs of about $13.6 million for the president’s four trips to Mar-a-Lago from February 3 through March 5, 2017.

Presidents other than Trump incurred similar questions about travel costs. Much of what is known about Obama’s travel costs was obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which aggressively sought receipts through Freedom of Information Act requests. In October 2016, the GAO issued its own report breaking out the costs of one specific trip taken by Obama, finding that a trip to Chicago and Florida cost $3.6 million.

This tracker automatically counts Trump’s days in office. When Trump arrives at one of his properties, the tracker updates accordingly.

EJ Fox, Sam Petulla, Dartunorro Clark, Jeremia Kimelman and Winston Wilde contributed.

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