Despite apparent preference for ‘moderate’ candidate, Iowans back Sanders in latest poll

With little more than a week to go until the Democratic Iowa caucus, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is in command in the state, a new poll from The New York Times and Siena College revealed Saturday.

Sanders picked up 25 percent support in the latest survey, ahead of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), all of whom are huddled closely at 18, 17, and 15 percent, respectively. That’s a fairly sizable lead for Sanders, but as the Times points out, Iowans are known to shake things up late in the game, so nothing’s a given in what’s been a topsy-turvy race all year. But, for the moment, it doesn’t look like Sanders’ absence from the campaign trail because of the Senate impeachment trial has hurt him — indeed, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) reportedly filled in for him to much fanfare Saturday.

The Times did highlight, however, that Sanders’ lead is contradictory to another key element in the poll. The majority of Iowa Democrats prefer a candidate who is more moderate than most Democrats at 55 percent, compared to just 38 percent who want someone more liberal than the average party member. Sanders, it’s safe to say, falls into the latter camp. With candidates like Biden and Buttigieg lumped together in second and third, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) at 8 percent, it appears that those moderate voters are split. It remains to be seen if they’ll coalesce in the lead up to the caucus, but if they don’t they may cancel each other out in the process.

The New York Times/Siena College Research Institute survey of 1,689 registered voters in Iowa, including 584 Democratic caucusgoers, was conducted from Jan. 20 to Jan. 23. The margin of error for the Democratic caucus electorate is 4.8 percentage points. Read more at The New York Times.

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Trump lawyers rely on ‘brevity’ in first day of impeachment defense

President Trump’s defense team kept things brief Saturday, as they launched their presentation against impeachment.

The defense, including White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Deputy White House Counsel Mike Purpura, and Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow, wrapped up their arguments in about two hours. While there’s more to come Monday, there was no doubt they wanted to move along much more quickly than the Democratic prosecutors earlier this week. But it likely wasn’t just so they could have the rest of their weekend free; instead, it seems to be a part of their strategy to get in the good graces of their Senate audience.

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It’s worked already in some cases — Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said the lawyers “shredded” the Democrats’ case and she’s leaning against voting for witnesses. On the Democratic side, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) followed the lead of some of his GOP colleagues and complimented the other side, saying he thought the defense did a “good job” and that their presentation was “succinct,” though he doesn’t think they showed enough to move forward without additional witnesses like former National Security Adviser John Bolton or acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Of course, not everyone thought Cipollone and company were very impressive.

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Pompeo responds to NPR reporter, says story is another example of ‘unhinged’ media

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo apparently isn’t ready for the story about his post-interview encounter with NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly to go away.

Kelly, who asked Pompeo on Friday’s episode of Morning Edition about Iran and the ousting of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, said the secretary was angered by her line of questioning and “shouted” at her in a private room following the interview. Kelly also said Pompeo challenged her to point out Ukraine on an unmarked map, which she did.

Pompeo didn’t deny that the exchange occurred in an official statement released Saturday, but he accused Kelly of lying about the meeting being off the record. Kelly said no request to keep the discussion off the record was made, adding that she wouldn’t have agreed to do it anyway. The secretary said Kelly violated the “basic rules of journalism and decency,” providing “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump.”

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He finished the letter with what appears to be a shot at Kelly’s geography skills, though several people pointed out that it’s unlikely Kelly would have gotten Ukraine’s location wrong, especially as wildly as Pompeo insinuated.

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Lindsey Graham: ‘Let’s not be too hard’ on Adam Schiff, Democrats

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) isn’t a fan of the whole impeachment saga, but he’s not taking it personally.

Many GOP lawmakers were angered by a comment made by lead impeachment prosecutor Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) during his closing arguments Friday. “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that’s true,” Schiff said.

But Graham wasn’t among the affronted. He said the comment was “over the top,” but he’s been in Schiff’s shoes, so he understand that things can get away from you every once in a while in a tense environment.

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Overall, Graham was complimentary of the Democrats arguments, even if the chance that they swayed his opinion is negligible.

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Prosecutors reportedly believe leaked texts may have originally come from Bezos’ girlfriend

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have evidence pointing to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sanchez as the person who provided her brother, Michael Sanchez, with text messages that he later sold to The National Enquirer for its article about Bezos’ extramarital affair with Sanchez, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. There are no reports, however, that Lauren Sanchez was aware of her brother’s plans.

The sources said the prosecutors’ evidence includes text messages Sanchez sent her brother containing flirtatious messages and photos from Bezos in 2018.

The revelation comes on the heels of speculation that Saudi Arabia may have played a role in the leak, which was enhanced by reports that Bezos’ phone was hacked after a WhatsApp conversation with an account belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Verge notes that it still seems likely that Michael Sanchez was the primary source behind the Enquirer’s story, but it’s still possible that Saudi Arabia hacked Bezos’ phone for separate reasons. Saudi Arabia denied the allegations. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

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Prosecutors reportedly believe text message leaks may have originally come from Bezos’ girlfriend

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have evidence pointing to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sanchez as the person who provided her brother, Michael Sanchez, with text messages that he later sold to The National Enquirer for its article about Bezos’ extramarital affair with Sanchez, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. There are no reports, however, that Lauren Sanchez was aware of her brother’s plans.

The sources said the prosecutors’ evidence includes text messages Sanchez sent her brother containing flirtatious messages and photos from Bezos in 2018.

The revelation comes on the heels of speculation that Saudi Arabia may have played a role in the leak, which was enhanced by reports that Bezos’ phone was hacked after a WhatsApp conversation with an account belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Verge notes that it still seems likely that Michael Sanchez was the primary source behind the Enquirer’s story, but it’s still possible that Saudi Arabia hacked Bezos’ phone for separate reasons. Saudi Arabia denied the allegations. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

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Hong Kong, U.S. take steps to curb coronavirus spread

As experts tell people to not to panic about the unfamiliar coronavirus, several governments are taking steps to limit its spread.

A second case of the respiratory virus that originated in Wuhan, China, leaving more than 40 people dead and causing quarantines and transit closures throughout China, has been confirmed in the United States. Officials said Friday that a Chicago woman in her 60s has been diagnosed with the virus, and they’re monitoring 63 other possible cases across 22 U.S. states. The Chicago patient, who last week returned home from Wuhan, is reportedly isolated in the hospital, and officials say she’s doing well and has had limited contact with others.

The U.S. is reportedly planning to evacuate its citizens and diplomats from Wuhan on Sunday via a chartered plane — any additional seats may be offered to non-U.S. citizens. Elsewhere, Hong Kong, where there’s five confirmed cases, on Saturday declared the outbreak “an emergency,” scrapping Lunar New Year celebrations, restricting links to the mainland, and keeping schools closed. Australia, Malaysia, and France also reported cases Friday.

More than 1,300 have been infected across the globe, mostly in China. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

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10 things you need to know today: January 25, 2020

1.

House prosecutors on Friday moved on to argue for the second article of impeachment against President Trump — obstruction of Congress — as they made their final case before Trump’s defense team begins its presentation Saturday. Prosecution leader Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) argued Trump’s claim of executive privilege was invalid in his withholding of documents and information during the impeachment inquiry. “You cannot use executive privilege to hide wrongdoing or criminality or impeachable misconduct,” he said. Schiff predicted Trump’s future behavior would vindicate Democrats’ impeachment efforts, and argued he’ll “stop at nothing to retain power.” The Senate will reconvene Saturday morning as the defense takes center stage.
[The Washington Post, The Week]

2.

In a recording reviewed by ABC News, a voice that seems to be President Trump’s is talking with the former Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The two tell Trump that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has been “bad-mouthing” Trump, and Trump gives them a scathing order to “take her out,” ABC News reports. “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it,” the voice says. The recording was made during a dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on April 30, 2018, apparently by Fruman. Yovanovitch was not removed from her position for another year, but later testified to the House that she thought her firing was based on “unfounded and false claims.”
[ABC News]

3.

A second case of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, and has left more than 40 people dead and led to quarantines throughout China, has been confirmed in the United States. Officials said Friday that a Chicago woman in her 60s has been diagnosed with the virus, and they’re monitoring 63 other possible cases across 22 U.S. states. The Chicago patient, who last week returned home from Wuhan, is reportedly isolated in the hospital, and officials say she’s doing well and has had limited contact with others. The U.S. is reportedly planning to evacuate its citizens and diplomats from Wuhan on Sunday. Elsewhere, Hong Kong, where there’s five confirmed cases, on Saturday declared the outbreak “an emergency,” scrapping Lunar New Year celebrations and restricting links to the mainland. Australia, Malaysia, and France also reported cases.
[The Wall Street Journal, Reuters]

4.

At least 22 people are dead and more than 1,000 others were injured after a magnitude 6.7 earthquake hit eastern Turkey on Friday, according to Turkish officials. The quake hit at 8:55 p.m. in the Elazig province, where Gov. Cetin Oktay Kaldirim told NTV television that three people had died. Gov. Aydin Barus of the the neighboring Malatya province told state TV that five people had been reported dead there. At least 225 people were injured in Elazig and 90 in Malatya. Several aftershocks followed the initial quake, with the harshest ones hitting magnitudes of 5.4 and 5.1. Some buildings collapsed in Elazig and one caught fire in the town of Sivrice. Some homes were severely damaged, and some residents feared returning to their homes in case of later shocks or collapses.
[BBC, Daily Sabah]

5.

President Trump on Friday attended the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.C., becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so. Trump delivered an address to the demonstrators who each year gather and call for Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion nationwide, to be overturned. “I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said at the rally, going on to say that “unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.” Past presidents have addressed the March for Life rally, but not in person; former Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan spoke via a telephone call. Trump also previously spoke to the March for Life by way of a video address.
[The New York Times, CNN]

6.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have evidence pointing to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sanchez as the person who provided her brother, Michael Sanchez, with text messages that he later sold to the National Enquirer for its article about Bezos’ extramarital affair with Sanchez, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. The sources said the prosecutors’ evidence includes text messages Sanchez sent her brother containing a flirtatious messages and photos from Bezos. The revelation comes on the heels of speculation that Saudi Arabia may have played a role in the leak, which was enhanced by reports that Bezos’ phone was hacked after a WhatsApp conversation with an account belonging Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Saudi Arabia denied the allegations.
[The Wall Street Journal]

7.

Mass protests continued in Iraq on Saturday as anti-government demonstrators gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and other sites to demand political reforms. Security forces encroached on a camp in Khilani Square, reportedly firing tear gas and live bullets at protesters, while riot police set fire to protests tents nearby. So far, there’s been no reports of casualties, but medics confirmed demonstrators were wounded. Saturday’s protests follow a different set of demonstrations in Baghdad on Friday, in which hundreds of thousands people believed to be supporters of Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr gathered to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
[Al Jazeera, Vox]

8.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly berated NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly on Friday after she interviewed him about the ousting of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. During Friday’s interview, which aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, Pompeo said he has “defended every State Department official on his team,” but did not provide Kelly with a specific example of him defending Yovanovitch. After the interview, Kelly said she was summoned by a Pompeo aide to a private room where Pompeo “shouted” at her, asking if she thought “Americans care about Ukraine” and challenging her to point to the country on an unmarked map, which the well-traveled reporter was able to do. After putting the map away, Pompeo told Kelly “people will hear about this.”
[The New York Times, The Week]

9.

NFL free agent wide receiver Antonio Brown was released on bail Friday by a Florida judge after he turned himself in to face charges of a felony burglary and battery. Brown and his trainer Glenn Holt allegedly assaulted a moving truck driver earlier this week. The former Pittsburgh Steeler, Oakland Raider, and New England Patriot is required to be monitored by GPS, release his passport and guns, undergo drug and alcohol testing, and receive a mental health evaluation. His bond was set at $110,000. Brown is one of the most talented receivers in the NFL, but he played only one game this season with New England after a slew of locker room and off-the-field incidents, including accusations of sexual assault, led to his release.
[USA Today, ESPN]

10.

After Annabella Sciorra testified that disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein raped her in the early 1990s, Rosie Perez took the stand Friday to back her up. Perez testified in the ongoing trial after Sciorra told jurors Thursday that in 1993 or 1994, Weinstein raped her in her New York apartment. Bolstering Sciorra’s claim, Perez said in 1993, Sciorra told her, “I think I was raped.” Perez said Sciorra later told her the alleged perpetrator was Weinstein. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex acts. Prosecutors allege Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on a woman in 2006 and raped a woman in 2013; Sciorra testified as a “prior bad acts” witness as prosecutors attempt to establish a pattern of behavior. If convicted, Weinstein faces possible life in prison.
[The New York Times]

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Mike Pompeo reportedly angrily challenged a reporter to find Ukraine on a map. She did.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose known for being wary of the press, apparently did not enjoy his latest interview.

Pompeo reportedly berated NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly on Friday after she interviewed him about the ousting of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. During Friday’s interview, which aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, Pompeo said he has “defended every State Department official on his team,” but did not provide Kelly with a specific example of him defending Yovanovitch. Pompeo complained that he was there to talk about Iran, but Kelly assured him she confirmed with his team that she would ask him about Ukraine, as well.

Following the interview, Kelly said she was summoned by a Pompeo aide to a private room where Pompeo “shouted” at her, asking if she thought “Americans care about Ukraine” and challenging her to point to the country on an unmarked map, which the well-traveled, veteran reporter was able to do.

Journalists like CNN’s Jake Tapper defended Kelly’s line questioning, while Democratic politicians blasted Pompeo’s behavior. The State Department didn’t have much to say on the matter, though.

At the end of their encounter, Kelly said Pompeo told her “people will hear about this.” They sure did – straight from Kelly. Read more at The New York Times.

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Trump is winning the impeachment battle — but losing the war

President Trump’s lawyers begin presenting their case for why he shouldn’t be impeached on Saturday. But we already know what they’re going to say.

During Tuesday’s procedural battle over whether or not to hear new witness testimony as part of the trial, Trump’s defense team gave us a preview of what their arguments will look like: hyperbolic claims, little regard for the truth, strident attacks, and largely ignoring the legal arguments and evidence presented by the House impeachment managers over the last four days. On one level this strategy makes sense, undoubtedly pleasing the combative president and his base, while also reflecting the knowledge that the Senate is exceedingly unlikely to remove Trump from office.

Yet, it carries a risk, threatening to damage perceptions of Trump among the crucial voters who may decide his fate in November.

The House impeachment managers, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, have largely spent the first four days of President Trump’s trial laying out substantive arguments, explaining in detail why they believe Trump’s conduct warrants removal from office. They’ve used charts and video clips, even rebutting Trump’s purported justification for demanding that Ukraine investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The House managers even dove into substance during battles over amendments to the rules package that will govern the trial.

If that fight over amendments was any indication, what we’re about to see from Trump’s legal team is going to be jarringly different.

On Tuesday, their rebuttal to each amendment proposed by Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer dripped with incendiary charges focused largely on the impeachment process, not the substance of the arguments against Trump. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, for example, baselessly asserted, ‘”A partisan impeachment is like stealing an election.”‘ In so much as they responded to what the House impeachment managers were saying, it wasn’t to address or rebut legal contentions, but rather to indignantly upbraid their opposition. On at least three occasions Trump’s lawyers outright lied.

Most absurdly, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow apparently misheard what House impeachment manager Val Demmings was saying about Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, and responded by ranting about how it was “a dangerous moment for America when an impeachment of a president of the United States is being rushed through because of lawyer lawsuits.”

His attorneys’ feistiness no doubt pleased the highly pugilistic president who has been lambasting the unfairness of the House’s impeachment process for months. On Wednesday, he sent 142 tweets or retweets, the most of any day during his presidency. In one representative tweet Thursday morning, Trump claimed that the Democrats’ presentation was, “loaded with lies and misrepresentations.”

Trump aides have long known they are performing for an audience of one, and that the president grades on how strongly his aides defend him and how it looks on television. It was therefore not particularly surprising that the most newsworthy moment of the trial’s first three days came in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday, when Chief Justice John Roberts admonished both sides for their heated language and harshness after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler sparred with Cipollone and Sekulow, with Cipollone branding Nadler’s criticism of the Senate for not agreeing to call witnesses a “power trip” and theatrically asserting, “It’s a farce … Mr. Nadler, you owe an apology to the president of the United States and his family, you owe an apology to the Senate, but most of all, you owe an apology to the American people.” After all, Trump was in Davos, Switzerland, and as The Washington Post‘s Paul Kane noted, he might well have been up and tuned in.

Appealing to an audience of one is a luxury that Trump’s attorneys and their House allies have. The odds of 20 Senate Republicans joining with all Democrats to remove Trump from office are virtually nonexistent. That frees Trump’s team not to focus on legal niceties or rebutting facts, but on stirring up Trump’s base, which has long viewed the president as a victim, unfairly targeted by Democrats and the political establishment since his first days in office. As law professor Orin Kerr observed, keeping Trump’s base on board will also help keep senators loyal.

But this strategy may prove to be short-sighted. It poses several key risks.

In so much as swing voters — in 2020 likely to be centrists or center-right voters who don’t particularly approve of Trump, but likely find the Democratic candidate too far left for their liking — are tuned in, this strategy allows the legal case presented by House Democrats to stand un-rebutted. And the charges lodged against Trump are fairly clear and easy to understand, supported by voluminous evidence being methodically laid out by the House managers. Even if such voters aren’t watching the trial on a minute-to-minute basis, they may well see clips of one side presenting facts and evidence, while the other rages and blusters. And the evidence gets at their core fear about Trump: that he’s unwilling to abide by safety rails that keep presidents from becoming tyrants and that his behavior is inappropriate for the office.

Additionally, by not challenging the mountain of evidence against Trump, his lawyers risk hardening the determination of Americans who dislike him to turn out in droves — no matter who Democrats nominate. Trump has tried to meddle in the Democratic primary to sow divisiveness, perhaps understanding that thanks to his consistently low approval ratings, he can’t afford such determination and high Democratic turnout.

Finally, while most Senate Republicans will side with Trump regardless of the arguments presented, this strategy runs the risk of alienating the handful open to additional witness testimony later in the trial, like Sen. Lamar Alexander. Such testimony could reveal new evidence that damages Trump, while exposing how his administration has fought tooth and nail against it, belying the president’s protestations of innocence.

While Trump bears little risk in the trial, his re-election still hangs in the balance. He might even be an underdog. And it wouldn’t take much to drive enough Americans to conclude that Schiff was right in closing Thursday’s proceedings by declaring,” And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump,” and right again Friday in charging that “If a president can be so easily manipulated to disbelieve his own intelligence agencies, to accept the propaganda of the Kremlin, that is a threat to our national security.” They might well then decide that these realities threaten the country’s well being and necessitate a change.

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