By REBECCA MORI
Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who recently received national backlash for comments supporting white supremacy and white nationalists, said on Thursday that he wasn’t sorry and that he would run for reelection in 2020. “I have nothing to apologize for,” King said during a recording of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press,” after the host, David Yepsen, asked whether King was sorry for anything he’d said, according to the The Des Moines Register. The episode will air Friday evening in Iowa. King earlier this year came under fire after he questioned, during an interview with The New York Times, why the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” had become offensive. The congressman since has repeatedly tried to distance himself from the comments and claimed he was misquoted. Many of King’s fellow Republicans denounced his comments, including both of Iowa’s senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley. Several of King’s colleagues went so far as to call for him to resign, as did the state’s largest paper, the Register, and the Sioux City Journal, a Western Iowa newspaper that is located in King’s 4th Congressional District.
By Pilar Melendez
The ruling comes less than a month after the Department of Justice announced their own investigation into the billionaire’s secret plea deal. Federal prosecutors in Florida—including President Trump’s current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta—broke the law when they signed a secret plea agreement with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a Palm Beach judge ruled Thursday. U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that the decision to keep more than 30 of Epstein’s accusers in the dark about the non-prosecution deal that allowed Epstein, a prominent financier with political connections, to avoid federal prosecution was unconstitutional. By signing the deal, Marra ruled, Acosta and other DOJ lawyers violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), which guarantees victims the right to speak with prosecutors. “Petitioners and the other victims should have been notified of the Government’s intention to take that course of action before it bound itself under” a plea agreement, Marra wrote in the 33-page opinion, which mentioned Acosta multiple times. The evidence, the judge concluded, shows that Epstein, 66, violated federal law in 2008 by running an international sex trafficking operation that recruited underage girls, often times bringing them to the U.S. from overseas. “Epstein used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him,’’ Marra wrote. “Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others.’’ A bombshell Miami Herald report revealed how Epstein—who has been accused of molesting more than 100 underage girls—was granted the sweetheart plea deal by Acosta and other DOJ attorneys after mounting pressure by Epstein’s defense lawyers.
By Ryan Lucas
A federal judge on Thursday barred Roger Stone from talking publicly about his case after an inflammatory photo was posted on his Instagram account of the judge that included what appeared to be a crosshairs. Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected apologies offered by Stone, both in writing and in person at a hearing in Washington, D.C. If Stone violates the order, Jackson warned him, she would be "compelled to adjust your environment." She then spelled out what that meant — she would revoke his bond and order him to be detained ahead of his trial. The judge's decision adds Stone to an existing gag order that prohibits attorneys from speaking about the case and bars any of the parties from talking about it in the vicinity of the courthouse. Stone, 66, has been charged with obstruction, false statements and witness tampering as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The obstruction and false statements charges relate to testimony he gave to Congress about the role he allegedly played in 2016 as an intermediary between Donald Trump's campaign and WikiLeaks. Stone has pleaded not guilty and says he did nothing wrong. He and supporters also have leveled intense criticism at the government before and since his arrest, including of the FBI, the Justice Department and then Jackson herself. Stone's Instagram post on Monday suggested that conspirators within the "deep state" had schemed to put his case before an ostensibly unfair Jackson so she could preside over a "show trial." A shape like the crosshairs of a rifle scope appeared in the backdrop of the photo. The post was then deleted.
By Alan Blinder
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina election authorities on Thursday ordered a new contest for Congress in the state’s Ninth District after the Republican candidate, confronted by days of evidence that his campaign underwrote an illegal get-out-the-vote effort, abandoned his defense and called for a new vote. The unanimous ruling by the North Carolina State Board of Elections was a startling — and, for Republicans, embarrassing — turn in a case of political chicanery that convulsed North Carolina. “It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the Ninth District’s general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, said from the witness stand on Thursday afternoon. Mr. Harris’s announcement represented an abrupt collapse of the Republican effort to stave off a new vote in the Ninth, which includes part of Charlotte and runs through much of southeastern North Carolina. But the evangelical pastor’s political surrender came only after a damaging 24 hours for Mr. Harris and his allies; just before Mr. Harris called for a new election, he acknowledged that some of his earlier testimony had been “incorrect.” Although Mr. Harris maintained on Thursday that he did not know, in real-time, about any illegal behavior by L. McCrae Dowless Jr., a campaign contractor, or his workers, witnesses this week depicted an operation that was rife with misconduct, including the completion and collection of absentee ballots. Both actions are illegal in North Carolina, and witnesses said that they had occurred repeatedly. Mr. Dowless, who refused to testify before the board, has not been charged with any crimes in connection with the 2018 election, nor have any of his workers, who were often friends or relatives with little ideological interest in politics. Prosecutors are examining the operation, though, and are considering whether to bring any criminal cases.
Chicago police announce the arrest of "Empire" star Jussie Smollett, stating the actor staged an attack to advance his career. The actor has denied playing a role in his attack, according to his attorneys. Source: CNN
By Kevin Breuninger
A federal judge will decide Thursday whether to change — or revoke — bond for Republican trickster Roger Stone for posting an Instagram photo of the judge next to an apparent rifle scope's crosshair. Stone is accused of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks regarding internal Democratic emails allegedly stolen by Russian agents. Judge Amy Berman Jackson last year revoked the release bond of Stone's former business associate, Paul Manafort. Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson is set to decide Thursday whether to stiffen — or revoke — the release bond of Republican trickster Roger Stone for posting an Instagram photo of the judge next to an apparent rifle scope's crosshair. The abruptly scheduled hearing in Washington federal court, set for 2:30 p.m. ET, doesn't bode well for Stone, a longtime friend and advisor of President Donald Trump. The 66-year-old defendant could see his recent partial gag order expanded or his $250,000 signature bond modified by requiring him to actually put up that dollar amount with the court, or even more money to retain his liberty. At the very least, Stone is likely to face a serious dressing down by Jackson for his recent conduct. Stone's bail could be revoked, which would put him in jail pending trial.
By Will Sommer
The embattled far-right activist faces pushback from her group’s own members who found her Hitler comments embarrassing. Three chapters of campus conservative group Turning Point USA on Thursday denounced prominent pro-Trump activist Candace Owens, calling on her to step down from her high-ranking communications position in the group. In a statement endorsed by TPUSA chapters at University of Nebraska Omaha, Bowling Green State University, and University of Colorado Boulder, college activists said the group’s leadership has thus far ignored their concerns about Owens. “It seems that controversy has always surrounded Candace Owens,” the statement reads. The statement comes hours before Owens and other young conservative activists are set to go on a White House visit that Owens helped arrange. Owens and TPUSA did not respond to requests for comment. The chapters said in their statement that Owens’ frequent controversies have alienated the group’s allies on the right. We are a chapter of Turning Point USA and we stand by this statement. pic.twitter.com/UU0sQICaIH — TPUSA_UNO (@TPUSA_Omaha) February 21, 2019 “We have seen many hard working activists and chapters across the United States dissociate with Turning Point USA simply because they can’t align themselves with the rhetoric and statements that have come out,” the statement read. The chapters’ statement focuses on Owens’ strange comments about Adolf Hitler made in a speech last year. “When we say nationalism, the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler. He was a national socialist,” she said at Turning Point’s Europe launch event in London. “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine.” She continued in the controversial video: “The problem is he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize, he wanted everybody to be German, everybody to be speaking German, everybody to look a different way.” Owens said after the video surfaced that she was merely trying to point out that Hitler was—by her definition—not a nationalist, but a “globalist.” In their statement, the TPUSA chapters said while they don’t believe Owens meant to praise Hitler, they found her comments indicative of her clumsy communication skills.
By Kara Scannell
(CNN) An analyst with the Internal Revenue Service was charged with disclosing confidential reports about Michael Cohen's bank records that revealed the President's former lawyer sought to profit from his proximity to the White House. The analyst was charged by the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California with the unauthorized disclosure of a suspicious activity report, or SAR. Banks file SARs on any transactions that could be illegal. CNN previously reported that the Justice Department was investigating the leak last year of the confidential reports. The bank transactions of Cohen became public last May when lawyer Michael Avenatti posted a memo online outlining numerous payments to Cohen from a company linked to a Russian oligarch, pharmaceutical giant Novartis, AT&T, which owns CNN, and others.
By Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Rebecca Ballhaus
Paperwork is in hands of federal prosecutors, who are investigating payments to vendors.
In the weeks before his inauguration, top officials on President Trump’s inaugural committee repeatedly sounded alarms about the budgets submitted by several vendors, according to correspondence, committee records and draft budgets reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Some of the materials, which haven’t previously been reported, have been shared with federal prosecutors in New York, according to people familiar with the investigation.
By Aaron Blake
Whitaker told lawmakers Trump never pressured him to take any action related to the SDNY investigation of Michael Cohen. A New York Times report tells a different story. Whitaker told lawmakers Trump never pressured him to take any action related to the SDNY investigation of Michael Cohen. A New York Times report tells a different story. President Trump has denied a New York Times report that he asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker to appoint an ally in the Southern District of New York to run the investigation of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer. U.S. attorney Geoffrey S. Berman had recused himself from the case because of a conflict of interest. But Whitaker’s carefully worded denials suggest there is something to the explosive story. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Whitaker told lawmakers, “At no time has the White House asked for, nor have I provided, any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.” The New York Times anecdote has not been independently corroborated by The Washington Post. But if it’s true, Democrats will surely argue that Whitaker lied under oath. In fact, though, Whitaker seems to have carefully crafted a sentence that would never endanger Whitaker. Whitaker doesn’t deny that Trump tried to get involved; he just says the White House never “asked for . . . any promises or commitment.” As long as Trump didn’t ask him to promise to get Berman back in, Whitaker is probably in the clear. It was also part of Whitaker’s opening statement, meaning it was surely vetted for technical truthfulness. Whitaker gave the impression that he was denying that the White House had ever tried to influence an investigation. But that’s not really what he said.
By Sopan Deb and Jack Healy
CHICAGO — Jussie Smollett, upset by his salary and seeking publicity, staged a fake assault on himself a week after writing himself a threatening letter, the Chicago police said Thursday after the “Empire” actor surrendered to face a felony charge of filing a false police report. The Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson, visibly angry at a morning news conference, said Mr. Smollett had taken advantage of the pain and anger of racism, draining resources that could have been used to investigate other crimes for which people were actually suffering. “I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said, referring to the news media. The police say the staged assault was carried out by two brothers to whom the actor had paid $3,500 and that they have a copy of the check Mr. Smollett used to pay them. Also recovered, they said, were phone records that showed Mr. Smollett speaking to the brothers an hour before Mr. Smollett said the incident took place, and an hour after that time. Superintendent Johnson declined to indicate why investigators now believe that Mr. Smollett had also played the chief role in the mailing of a threatening letter he received. The letter, which arrived a week before the reported assault, contained a harmless white powder and a sketch of what appeared to be a man being hanged. According to Mr. Smollett, the return address said “MAGA,” a reference to a slogan from President Trump’s campaign. Superintendent Johnson referred further comment about the letter to the F.B.I., which is investigating that part of the case. The agency declined to comment.
By Andrew Prokop
Court filings about Cohen, Manafort, and Stone have alleged scandalous activities during the 2016 campaign.
President Trump keeps insisting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has found “no collusion” between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. But a close read of what we already know about what Mueller’s been doing suggests at the very least, some very questionable things were going on during the campaign. Mueller’s team has already laid out a startling story in indictments, plea deals, and other court documents that are full of new revelations about the Trump team’s contacts with Russia that year — contacts that have moved from suspicious to downright scandalous. The special counsel has not alleged any sinister, high-level election interference conspiracy involving Trump himself and the Russian government. But, particularly in recent filings, he has laid out damaging facts on three major matters that certainly seem at least collusion-adjacent. 1) The business opportunity for Trump: The Trump Organization was secretly in talks for a potentially very lucrative Moscow real estate deal during the campaign, and Russian government officials were involved. Trump and members of his family were briefed several times on the project. 2) A key figure with shady Russia connections: Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort had a history of illegal work for pro-Russian interests and was in debt to a Russian oligarch. Then, during the campaign, he allegedly handed over Trump polling data to a Russian intelligence-tied associate. 3) The hacked — and leaked — emails: Russian intelligence officers hacked leading Democrats’ emails, and WikiLeaks eventually posted many of those stolen emails publicly. Trump associates like George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone seem to have had at least some advance knowledge of this. These revelations are all significant, and greatly change what we know about what happened in 2016. They tell us that while Trump was praising Putin on the campaign trail, he and his family were trying to make massive amounts of money in Russia. Meanwhile, Manafort was handing out his polling data for unknown reasons, and Stone was at least trying to get an inside line on the emails criminally stolen from Democrats. We don’t yet know whether there’s more to be revealed about any of these. Mueller also hasn’t indicated how these pieces fit together to form a larger story, and he hasn’t yet assessed how much, exactly, the president knew about each. And there are other incidents, like the infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, that the special counsel has not yet said a single word about. But the bigger picture is that, however you define “collusion,” we’ve learned a great deal more about just what top figures in Trumpworld were doing regarding Russia during the election — and it’s far from being a “nothingburger.”
A state hearing is entering its fourth day as state officials consider whether to call a new election. At a North Carolina hearing, investigators have laid out in detail an “unlawful,” “coordinated,” and well-funded plot to tamper with absentee ballots in a US House election that remains uncalled more than three months after Election Day — finally bringing clarity to one of the most bizarre election scandals in recent memory. State investigators established on Monday their theory of the case — that a Republican-hired local operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, directed a coordinated scheme to unlawfully collect, falsely witness, and otherwise tamper with absentee ballots — and workers who say they had assisted him in the scheme delivered damning testimony over several hours. Monday’s session ended with Dowless, under the advice of his attorney, refusing to testify before the election board. They met again the next two days to continue the hearing and the proceedings extended into Thursday, with Republican candidate Mark Harris expected to take the stand. But as Thursday’s hearing began, the board revealed that Harris’s campaign had produced new evidence the night before Harris was to testify: previously undisclosed contacts between the candidate and Dowless. Harris’s attorneys said they had misunderstood the extent of the investigation’s request. Democratic attorney Marc Elias referred to the documents as “explosively important.” He asked the court to consider the way in which the evidence was released as “adverse interference” by the Harris team. Over Tuesday and Wednesday, a top political consultant for Harris’s campaign and the candidate’s own son had given remarkable testimony about the decision to hire Dowless. The consultant, Andy Yates, and John Harris both insisted Harris did not know what Dowless was doing and proved too trusting about the operative’s claims. Yet John Harris did say he warned his father that Dowless’s prior work on absentee ballots seemed like it could be illegal, a warning that went unheeded by the candidate. As his son closed his testimony with a few kind remarks about his parents, Mark Harris was in tears.