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By Josh Lederman

CHICAGO — Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg on Friday accused Vice President Mike Pence of advancing “homophobic policies,” saying that while he doesn’t know whether Pence is truly homophobic, his policies are “hurting other people” just the same.

“I don’t know what’s in his heart,” Buttigieg told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview airing Friday. But, he added, “if you’re in public office and you advance homophobic policies, on some level it doesn’t matter whether you do that out of political calculation or whether you do it out of sincere belief.”

“The problem is, it’s hurting other people,” said Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor.

Buttigieg’s comments may add further fuel to an emotional dispute that’s played out between him and Pence, the former Indiana governor, over LGBT issues. Buttigieg, who is openly gay and married to a man, has invoked Pence’s name on the campaign trail to say that if Pence has a problem with his sexuality, his problem “is with my creator.” That led Pence to accuse Buttigieg of leveling “attacks on my Christian faith.”

The vice president’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday about Buttigieg’s remarks. But in a Fox News interview earlier in the week, Pence said it was “disappointing” to see both Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden criticizing him on the campaign trail despite having what Pence described as a positive relationship with the Democrats in the past.

“If he wins their party’s nomination, we’ll have a lot more to say about him,” Pence said of Buttigieg.

Those comments came the same week that President Donald Trump, asked about Buttigieg’s same-sex marriage, said it was “absolutely fine” and that he had no objection to Buttigieg appearing with his husband on stage at his campaign kickoff.

“I think that’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever,” Trump said.

The dispute between Buttigieg and Pence, who worked together when Pence was Indiana governor, has emerged in the 2020 race as a flashpoint in the broader societal debate about whether support for LGBT rights such as same-sex marriage are compatible with firmly held religious beliefs and support for religious freedom.

Pence has pointed out that he’s always treated Buttigieg with respect and has argued that the South Bend mayor is cynically picking a fight with him to raise his political profile.

But Buttigieg has said that what’s important is not whether Pence is cordial to gay people but whether the policies he’s advocated are harming them. In Indiana, Pence spearheaded a religious freedom law seen as one of the most intolerant toward LGBT people in the nation.

“He’s always been polite to me in person,” Buttigieg said. “But you look at the fact that he, to this day, cannot bring himself to say that it shouldn’t be legal to discriminate against people who are gay.”

He added that Pence has also not raised objections to Trump’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military nor reversed his earlier opposition to same-sex marriage or gay people serving openly in the military.

As he works to position himself as a viable primary candidate for president, Buttigieg has faced repeated doubts about his ability to appeal to minorities, amid signs in early voting states such as South Carolina that he has yet to attract support from African Americans in large numbers. Polling has showed that among religious groups, black Protestants are less supportive of same-sex marriage than any other, with only 44 percent of black Protestants and 51 percent of African Americans overall approve of gay marriage, according to the Pew Research Center.

Asked whether Buttigieg believes that African Americans “resent the rather quick assimilation of LGBTQ into the mainstream,” Buttigieg demurred.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You look at the trajectory of equality for LGBT people, and you compare it to the struggle that is going on for black America to this day, and you’ve got to ask the question how come one moved so quickly, and the other is plodding along generationally at such a slow pace. And as somebody who’s part of, you know, a group of people that’s been pushed to the side in one way, I think I have that much more responsibility to be there to stand up for people who are on the wrong side of racism.”

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Barr says he will find out if officials ‘put their thumb on the scale’ in Trump investigation

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 / Updated 

By Adam Edelman

Attorney General William Barr said in an interview airing Friday that the point of the Justice Department probe into the origins of the federal investigation into Russian election interference is to determine “whether government officials” abused “their power and put their thumb on the scale.”

“I’ve been trying to get answers to the questions and I’ve found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” Barr said in an interview with Fox News.

“In a sense I have more questions today than when I first started,” he added.

Barr said that “people have to find out what the government was doing during that period,” adding that, “if we’re worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power and put their thumb on the scale.”

“I’m not saying that happened but it’s something we have to look at,” he said.

In April, Barr said he was “reviewing the conduct” of the FBI’s Russia probe during the summer of 2016, and that the Department of Justice inspector general would release a report on the FBI’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process and other matters in the Russia case in May or June.

President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have long argued that the Russia investigation had its origins in a group of biased FBI leaders who bore animosity toward Trump, including then-Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Both men have denied that they acted out of any bias, saying there was a trail of evidence of Trump campaign contacts with Russians they would have been negligent not to follow.

The inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has been looking into how the FBI obtained a warrant in October 2016 to monitor the communications of Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who had traveled to Russia and had previously been the target of recruitment by Russian intelligence officers.

The Russian investigation, however, wasn’t launched because of Page, for whom four different judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, signed off on electronic surveillance. Rather, the probe’s origins were linked to a meeting that another former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had with a professor with ties to Russian intelligence

Barr testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee last month that he was reviewing whether federal authorities spied on the Trump campaign, saying he thought they had.

I think spying did occur,” he said. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated.”

Barr said during his interview Friday that, “We’re going to find out when it started.”

Trump reiterated Barr’s claim Friday morning, shortly before Barr’s interview aired, tweeting that his “Campaign for President was conclusively spied on.”

“A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!” he added.

According to The New York Times, Barr has also has assigned John Durham, the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to review the FBI’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation into alleged ties between Trump associates and Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. NBC News has not independently verified The Times’ report.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have consistently defended the Russia investigation, which culminated in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in March. The report found “sweeping” and “systematic” Russian interference in the election and identified links between Trump campaign officials and figures associated with the Russian government. But investigators did not establish that Trump’s team “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” despite numerous contacts.

Mueller’s 448-page report also detailed Trump’s attempts to disrupt the investigation, as well as the decision not to charge the president with obstruction of justice in part because there was no underlying crime and many of the attempts were carried out in plain view.

But Mueller said that the decision not to charge Trump was a difficult one, and that it was not clear he was innocent of obstructing justice. If the special counsel’s office had been certain that Trump did not commit crimes, Mueller said, it would have said so in the report.



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Federal appeals court rules against Trump on ending DACA

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By Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — The federal appeals court ruled Friday the Trump administration acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner when it sought to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 1 that the Trump administration violated federal statue when it tried to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program without adequately explaining why. The ruling overturns a lower court ruling a judge in Maryland made last year, which Trump had previously praised via Twitter.

Friday’s ruling will not have any immediate effect as other federal courts have already ordered that DACA be kept in place.

The 4th Circuit ruling said the Department of Homeland Security did not “adequately account” for how ending DACA program would affect the hundreds of thousands of young people who “structured their lives” around the program.

“This ruling is the result of a long and valiant battle that our Dreamers have endured in their struggle to keep their families together,” said Lizette Olmos, a spokeswoman for Casa de Maryland, the lead plaintiff in the case.

Trump and his Justice Department have argued that the Obama administration acted unlawfully when it implemented DACA. The Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Preserving DACA is a top Democratic priority, but discussions between Trump and Democrats on the issue have gone nowhere.

Trump’s latest immigration plan, unveiled Thursday, does not address what to do about the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that “every single time that we have put forward or anyone else has put forward any type of immigration plan that has included DACA it’s failed.”

DACA’s fate could be decided by the Supreme Court, which is weighing the Trump administration’s appeals of other federal court rulings.

The justices have set no date to take action.

If the high court decides it wants to hear the appeals, arguments would not take place before the fall. That means a decision is not expected until 2020, which could come in the thick of next year’s presidential contest.

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Trump admin planning to fly immigrants to U.S. cities away from the border

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By Julia Ainsley

The Department of Homeland Security is laying the groundwork for a plan to transport recent border crossers by plane to cities around the U.S. and release them after processing, according to two DHS officials familiar with the plan.

Florida officials expressed anger on Thursday after learning that the Trump administration was planning to release hundreds of migrants in Broward and Palm Beach counties each month.

Beyond South Florida, DHS is considering other areas around the country where immigrants can be released, the two officials told NBC News. A Customs and Border Protection official, who held a conference call with reporters Friday afternoon, said the agency is primarily interested in communities along the northern border and on the coast, where there is already a border patrol presence.

A DHS official said previously the agency was looking at places with the capacity to process large numbers of immigrants, but declined to give further specifics on cities or regions under consideration.

Central American migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border must be processed before they can be released. Many make a claim for asylum, seeking the right to stay in the country to avoid persecution back home.

Customs and Border Protection would be responsible for identifying which migrants to put on planes bound for the interior of the country, and the agency would rely primarily on Immigration and Customs Enforcement airplanes. The CBP official said on Friday that ICE would contract the planes and not look for additional federal assistance.

There are no plans to detain migrants in the cities where they are released, the officials said. Officials in Broward County, Florida have expressed concern about migrants being released without “designated shelters or funding to house them, feed them, and keep them safe,” according to a statement released Thursday.

A similar program is in place in Del Rio, Texas where immigrants have been airlifted from the Rio Grande Valley. CBP has said that the hundreds of immigrants released there are non-criminal families.

The CBP official said the plan to fly immigrants to cities across the country is a contingency “if the flow [of immigrants] continues to increase.”

In both March and April, more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants crossed the border over the span of a month, numbers not seen in over 12 years.

Following news reports last month, President Donald Trump said he would consider sending immigrants specifically to so-called “sanctuary cities” — often led by Democrats — where officials have limited cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. The officials said the decisions being made now on where to transport migrants are not political and would not specifically target sanctuary cities.

Spokespeople for the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the plan to send immigrants to South Florida. They did not respond to a request for comment about a broader plan to fly immigrants to cities across the country.

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