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House Democrats Zero in on the President’s Talks With Putin — and Whether Trump Broke the Law to Conceal Them

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House Democrats investigating the administration have a long list of questions to pursue about President Donald Trump’s actions in office and before his entry into politics. One of the most intriguing of these lines of inquiries led to a letter sent Monday by the chairs of the Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees: what exactly is the nature of Trump’s communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

The letter from Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Eliot Engel (D-NY) asks the White House for a large swath of documents and records including:

• The substance of President Trump’s communications with President Putin, including any discussion between the two individuals—during in-person encounters and phone calls— on matters that are within the Committees’ jurisdiction;
• The existence and contents, if applicable, of any documents related to President Trump’s communications with President Putin;
• Whether any such communications have provided a basis for reconsideration, modification, or implementation of foreign policy;
• Whether President Trump or any person(s) acting at his behest or with his knowledge sought to conceal, obscure, or otherwise misrepresent the substance of those communications to other federal officials, departments, or agencies, and/or to shield President Trump from scrutiny by Congress or law enforcement; and
• Whether President Trump, or any person(s) acting at his behest or with his knowledge, failed to create records of, or in any way destroyed, suppressed, mishandled, or otherwise withheld any federal or presidential records, contrary to federal law, including the Federal Records Act and Presidential Records Act.

The letter noted that the House has previously requested basic information to about whether Trump destroyed records of his meetings with Putin, but that request was ignored. Because of this lack of response, the chairmen wrote, “we are now expanding our investigation.”

In January, the Washington Post reported that Trump has gone to unprecedented lengths to conceal information about his meetings with Putin from those within his administration. Not only is this atypical, its the exact opposite of what presidents usually want because their aides can help shape policy and interpret foreign adversaries’ actions when they are involved in these meetings.

And last year, the White House announced that it would stop the practice of regularly issuing readouts of phone calls between Trump and foreign leaders, which means the public has no idea how often he speaks with Putin by phone.

The committee chairmen note that Trump’s bizarre actions with regard to Putin “raise profound counterintelligence and foreign policy concerns, especially in light of Russia’s ongoing active measures campaign to improperly influence American elections.” Indeed, in light of the Trump campaign’s repeated coordination with Russian agents in 2016, and the president’s efforts to interfere in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s campaign, his work to hide his communications with Putin looks downright sinister.

 

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‘Fear-Driven Alliance’: Conservative Explains Why Far-Right CPAC ‘Opportunists’ and ‘Paranoids’ Are Meeting in Hungary

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The rise of authoritarianism and fascism growing within the Republican Party was discussed by the opening panel on MSNBC’s “The Reidout” on Friday.

Host Joy Reid noted how the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is being held in Hungary this year, which is ruled by strongman Viktor Orbán.

“They have elections, of a sort, but also hamper voters’ abilities to make informed choices and heavily control the outcome that the elections are essentially a show,” she explained. “These are the autocratic dreams of a far-right leader obsessed with solidifying a Christian monoculture and who, in 2014, declared his intention to build an illiberal new state citing China, Russia and Turkey as role models. Flash forward to today where CPAC, the once conservative gathering that is now simply a cesspool of the far-right running amok, is holding its conference in Budapest.”

For analysis, Reid interviewed conservative writer Tom Nichols.

Nichols warned “there is a nihilistic, fear-driven alliance here with a group of opportunists, and I want to get back to this issue of about Hungary, the really dangerous thing here is that some of these people believe very deeply in — in some of this stuff and yet others, and I would say people like [Tucker] Carlson and Matt Schlapp and some of the other people capering about in Budapest, don’t believe in any of this and don’t believe in anything of this other than the extension of their own personal power and wealth.

“And when you have this coalition of shallow, empty opportunists along with with a group of paranoids, basically, then you have a really dangerous movement because each side has to keep upping the ante to kind of justify why they are doing the things they are doing,” he explained.

“A lot of this is an act, but the problem is you then paint yourself into a corner… You have to start actually trying to put forward policies and carry things out that, that make you look as if you believe the things that you’re doing. And then after a while, whether it’s an act or its opportunism is no longer relevant: You have become the thing you’ve been prancing about and pretending to be,” he explained.

Watch the segment below or at this link.

 

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LGBTQ Student Says He’s Being Blocked From Running for Class President After Suspension Over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Protest

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A 17-year-old gay Florida high school student who was suspended after organizing a highly-successful statewide protest against Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law now says school officials are blocking him from running for class president.

Jack Petocz was suspended for four days, he and school administrators say, for handing out several hundred small LGBTQ Pride flags just before the walkout that drew hundreds of his classmates at Flagler Palm Coast High School and thousands of students across the Sunshine State. The walkout he organized was approved by school administrators although reports at the time say barely hours before it began he was told to cancel it. That order allegedly came one day after a school board member who has opposed Petocz in the past toured his school.

Now Petocz wants to run for senior class president.

In a letter he posted to Twitter he says school officials told him there would be no additional disciplinary action against him after his suspension but, he says, one month later they “broke this verbal agreement and placed a level 3 referral on my record. Now, due to this high level of discipline, I am being prevented from running for senior class president. I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred. I’ve emailed administration and the principal numerous times, they’re simply ignoring me.”

NBC News reports “school district spokesman Jason Wheeler said Flagler Schools was not permitted to speak about individual students’ disciplinary records. Requirements for individual on-campus clubs or organizations are set by the schools or clubs themselves, he said.”

Literary and human rights organization PEN America is honoring Petocz this month, the Associated Press reported.

RELATED –
‘We Say Gay’: Thousands of Students Across Florida Walk Out to Protest DeSantis-Backed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

“Jack Petocz is leading his generation in fighting back against book bans and legislative efforts to police how individual identities can be discussed in schools,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

This week he picked up support from U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), Florida’s former governor who is running again to be governor.

 

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Donald Trump Took a Direct Role in Developing a Legal Strategy to Overturn Election Loss Says Coup Memo Author Eastman

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John Eastman revealed Friday in a court filing that he routinely communicated with Donald Trump either directly or through “six conduits” in the weeks ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The right-wing attorney asked a federal judge to maintain attorney-client privilege over his work for the former president, and the late-night filing gave the clearest view yet of the communications between Trump and the battalion of attorneys and allies helping his effort to remain in power despite losing the election, reported Politico.

The filing shows Trump took a direct role in those efforts, describing “two hand-written notes from former President Trump about information that he thought might be useful for the anticipated litigation,” which Eastman is looking to shield, and the attorney also said he spoke directly to the former president about legal challenges in states he lost.

Eastman wants to prevent the House select committee from obtaining 600 emails related to his so-called “coup memo,” which sought to enlist Mike Pence and GOP-led state legislatures to overturn the 2020 election outcome, and he also asked U.S. District Court Judge David Carter of California to shield his contacts with state legislators to discuss appointing pro-Trump electors in state Joe Biden had won.

IN OTHER NEWS: A GOP power grab shatters 30 years of political progress for Black voters in Galveston County

The filing does not identify the White House officials and attorneys he communicated with during that period, but some of those attorneys — including Kurt Olsen and Bruce Marks — filed declarations supporting Eastman’s claims about his work for Trump.

Eastman also reveals that he exchanged a dozen emails with Fox News host Mark Levin, whom he doesn’t identify by name but whom he describes as “an individual who, in addition to his role as a radio talk show host, is also an attorney, former long-time President (and current board Chairman) of a public interest law firm, and also a former fellow at The Claremont Institute.”

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