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WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., defended President Donald Trump’s recent calls for China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in a combative “Meet the Press” interview Sunday morning during which he accused Democrats and the media of trying to sabotage the Trump administration.

“Let me tell you why I’m pretty sympathetic with what President Trump has gone through,” Johnson said when asked about allegations of an effort by the president and his administration to link military aid for Ukraine to promises from the government there to investigate Biden and the origins of former special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election.

“I’ve never in my lifetime seen a president, after being elected, not having some measure of well wishes from his opponents. I’ve never seen a president’s administration be sabotaged from the day after the election.”

Johnson has emerged as a one of the key congressional figures in the debate over whether Trump’s request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate unproven claims against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, amounts to an abuse of power. That issue is central to the House Democratic impeachment inquiry.

As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson was a vocal supporter of that military aid to the country.

Text messages released Friday show State Department officials discussing a link between the administration’s goal of getting Ukraine to launch investigations and scheduling the Ukrainian president for an official White House visit.

But Johnson said that when a diplomat raised the prospect of a quid pro quo to him over the summer, he reached out to the president who “vehemently, adamantly” denied any link between the ask and the aid.

Instead, Johnson argued that Trump has a right to ask foreign governments to help America investigate the origins of the allegations that ultimately became central to Mueller’s investigation.

“I’m here to report today that, unlike the narrative of the press that President Trump wants to dig up dirt on his 2020 opponent, what he wants is an accounting of what happened in 2016. Who set him up? Did things spring from Ukraine?” Johnson said.

The combative interview prompted frustration from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who followed Johnson’s interview.

“Ron’s a good friend, but I’m deeply scared by the positioning that Republicans have chosen to take. That interview was just a giant green light to the president of the United States to continue to solicit foreign interference in U.S. elections,” he said.

“This is wild, the lengths to which Republicans are going to avoid being criticized by this president.”

And he pointed to those recently released texts to accuse the Trump administration of mixing diplomacy and official business.

“The texts make it clear that there was a quid pro quo on the table, that the State Department, the White House, the president’s personal lawyers were all working to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election in exchange for access to the White House and likely the resumption of aid,” he added.

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Trump’s honesty was on trial in the Roger Stone case. The verdict was harsh.

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WASHINGTON — In his final statement to the jury in the trial of political operative Roger Stone, federal prosecutor Michael Marando sought to boil the case down to a simple and stark premise.

“I know we live in a world nowadays with Twitter, tweets, social media, where you can find any political view you want,” he said. “However, in our institutions of self-governance — courts of law or committee hearings, where people under oath have to testify — truth still matters.”

Marando didn’t mention President Donald Trump in that portion of his closing — he didn’t have to. He and his colleagues had already made Trump a central character in the trial that ended with a conviction of the president’s longtime associate on seven felonies — a trial that presented new information about the Trump campaign’s zeal to capitalize on Russia’s election interference in 2016.

Prosecutors argued that Stone, charged with obstructing a Congressional investigation, lied to Congress because the truth was “terrible” for Trump. They presented evidence painting a picture of a candidate who was actively involved in his campaign’s effort to benefit from hacked emails obtained by WikiLeaks that were the fruits of a Russian intelligence operation. And they presented phone records and testimony suggesting that Trump didn’t tell the truth in written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller, when Trump said he didn’t remember ever discussing WikiLeaks with Stone.

“Trump was in the conspiratorial loop,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News legal analyst who watched the trial. “He was in the hard collusion loop by virtue of him having phone calls in real time with Roger Stone while these email dumps were in progress.”

But Joyce Vance, another former prosecutor and NBC news legal analyst, said she’s not convinced the government had the evidence “to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there was conspiracy between the campaign and the Russians. Does it strongly suggest it? Yes. But as long as the central figures destroy evidence, or are unavailable as witnesses, as long as the president ducks testimony, then it’s difficult to have evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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Phone records introduced as evidence in the trial show Stone called Trump on the very day in June 2016 that the world learned that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked by the Russians. The records show that Trump spoke to Stone at key moments during the summer of 2016 as Stone was single-mindedly seeking access to the stolen emails from Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. Steve Bannon, who led the Trump campaign, testified that Stone was considered the “access point” to WikiLeaks.

Trump mentioned WikiLeaks 145 times in the last month of the campaign alone, according to an NBC News analysis.

“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” Trump said a few days before the election at an appearance in Michigan.

Asked to respond to the new evidence, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, said the president’s written statements to Mueller stand.

“I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1, 2016 and November 8, 2016,” Trump wrote in his statements to Mueller. “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.”

Democrats have long called that statement a lie. If prosecutors believe Trump was telling the truth, it wasn’t evident from their comments at the trial. They called former Trump deputy campaign chairman Richard Gates, who testified he overheard Stone calling Trump about WikiLeaks, which was leaking embarrassing Democratic emails. After the call, Gates said Trump told him that more disclosures were coming.

“Roger Stone knew that if this came out it would look really bad for his longtime associate, Donald Trump,” prosecutor Jonathan Kravis said. “So he lied to the committee.”

Prosecutors didn’t expressly accuse Trump of acting improperly by ordering Stone to pursue the emails hacked by the Russians. They noted that the government didn’t know what was said in the Trump-Stone phone calls — the FBI wasn’t wiretapping either man.

But “those are the only reasonable inferences you can draw from the evidence,” Kirschner said. “Everybody who watched the trial couldn’t help but draw those reasonable inferences.”

Details about the Trump campaign’s efforts to pursue hacked Democratic emails appear to have been covered in Volume I of the Mueller report, but the section is almost entirely blacked out, because the Stone case was still pending when the report was released.

In that sense, the Stone trial served as a sort of final chapter of the Mueller report. It unfolded as much of the country and the news media was focused on the Ukraine impeachment drama, which at its heart is about whether Trump abused his office to pressure a foreign government to help his 2020 election campaign.

If the Stone trial revealed anything, it showed that Donald Trump and the people around him had no problem making use of hacked emails that were the fruits of foreign election interference.

Or, as prosecutor Kravis put it, “trying to fish for information from WikiLeaks, knowing it had been hacked by a foreign government.”



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'I am angry, but I am not surprised': Rep. Heck defends Yovanovitch

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Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., gave an emotional defense of former Amb. Marie Yovanovitch as she testified in the impeachment inquiry.

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Trump asks Supreme Court to block House subpoena for his financial records

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WASHINGTON — Lawyers for President Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to put a hold on a subpoena from a House committeeseeking eight years of his financial documents.

The case may produce the first action by the justices on the growing number of legal battles over access to Donald Trump’s financial secrets. A lower court order upholding the subpoena takes effect on Nov. 20. So unless the Supreme Court acts quickly, the president’s accounting firm, Mazars, will be required to turn the material over.

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The Trump legal team told the justices in a court filing on Friday that if the lower court rulings are allowed to stand, any committee of Congress could subpoena any personal information it wants from a president.

“Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government — no matter which party is in power,” Trump’s team said.

The House Government Oversight committee issued the subpoena in April, ordering the accounting firm to turn over Trump-related financial documents covering 2011 through 2018. The committee said it acted after former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified that “Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”

House Democrats said they need the documents to investigate whether the president accurately filled out required financial disclosure forms. But the Trump lawyers said the congressional subpoena power is limited to material needed to legislate, not to conduct criminal-style investigations. A federal judge and the Washington, D.C., court of appeals rejected the president’s efforts to stop the subpoena.

Lawyers for the House have argued that the subpoena presents no threat to the president’s ability to carry out his duties, because it is directed to his accountants doesn’t require him to do anything. In dissents, two appeals court judges said they disagreed. “The subpoena in substance targets his records,” said Gregory Katsas and Karen Henderson of the D.C. appeals court.

On Thursday, the president’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to grant their appeal in a separate case challenging a subpoena for his tax returns and other business records from the Manhattan district attorney. The Trump lawyers because a president cannot be indicted while in office, he is immune from any part of the criminal justice process.

While the two cases present different legal issues, the court could decide to consider them together. There is no deadline for the court to act.



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