March 14, 2016

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who is absolutely not being held hostage by Donald Trump, is apparently shirking state responsibilities to support his pal on the campaign trail.

On Monday, Christie skipped out on a state trooper's funeral, the Star-Ledger reports. Instead, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno was set to attend. Meanwhile, Christie was interviewing Trump (and nodding along politely) in North Carolina. Watch that talk below. Julie Kliegman

7:00 a.m.

More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials, current federal prosecutors, and federal judges are urgently concerned about Attorney General William Barr's evident politicization of the Justice Department. Even "Trump voters" should be afraid of "Bill Barr's America," a "banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen," Donald Ayer, a former colleague of Barr's and deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, wrote in The Atlantic on Monday. He elaborated on CNN Monday evening.

Barr was Ayer's successor as deputy attorney general before starting his first go as attorney general a year later, in 1991. In the 40 years the two men have known each other, Ayer told CNN, Barr has "always had a very strong view that the executive ought to have a great deal of power. I've never known quite how far it would go, and there was never any reason to test it, because when he was attorney general under George H.W. Bush, George H.W. Bush had no interest in being an autocrat. So now we're faced with a situation where Bill Barr has won the job of attorney general under a president who apparently does want to be an autocrat."

In The Atlantic, Ayer writes that "it is not too strong to say that Bill Barr is un-American," and he elaborated on CNN. "The reason that I say that he's un-American is because I think it's fair to say, and I think most people would agree with me, that the central tenet of our legal system and our justice system is that no person is above the law," he wrote. "Bill Barr's vision is quite different. Bill Barr's vision is that there is one man, one person who needs to be above the law, and that is the president. ... He said that before he became attorney general but he's now carried it out in many steps."

Ayer elaborated on the ways he thinks Barr is harming America in his Atlantic article, concluding that to prevent this "banana republic," America needs "a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, be impeached." Read more at The Atlantic. Peter Weber

5:54 a.m.

A few days before the Nevada caucuses, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has taken a 12 percentage point lead in the Democratic presidential contest, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Tuesday morning. Sanders has the support of 31 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, up 9 points from the last Marist poll in December, but coming in at No. 2 is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at 19 percent. That's a 15-point jump since December.

This poll qualifies Bloomberg to participate in Wednesday's Democratic debate, though Bloomberg won't be on the ballot in Saturday's caucuses. Bloomberg's campaign said he plans to participate if he qualifies. The billionaire media tycoon built up his poll numbers with the help of more than $400 million of his personal fortune and lots of advertising. He and the other candidates, especially Sanders, are going after each other with increasing vigor.

Former Vice President Joe Biden comes in third place in the poll at 15 percent, down 9 points since December, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 12 percent (a drop of 5 points), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) at 9 percent (down 4 points), and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8 percent (down from 13 percent). Buttigieg narrowly leads in delegates after strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

All of the candidates beat President Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head matchups, with Biden enjoying the biggest lead, followed by Bloomberg, Sanders, Klobuchar and Buttigieg, and Warren. Sanders leads among most categories except black voters — he's a close second to Biden — moderates, and voters over 45; Bloomberg gets the most support among those last two groups and is No. 3 with black voters.

Marist conducted the poll Feb. 13-16 among 1,416 U.S. adults, including 527 Democrats and leaners. The entire poll, including the head-to-heads with Trump, has a margin of error of ±3.7 percentage points; the Democratic rankings have a margin of error of ±5.4 points. Peter Weber

4:15 a.m.

John Oliver kicked off his new season of Last Week Tonight on Sunday by looking at "an issue that has dominated the Democratic primary — and I'm not talking about why Tom Steyer doesn't look richer" (though he did address that). Mostly, he tackled Medicare-for-all, comparing the "government-funded, single-payer program" proposed by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with the current U.S. system championed by conservatives and, with various degrees of modifications, other Democratic candidates.

Conservatives are right, Oliver conceded, that "America does have one of the best health care systems in the world for rich, famous people. Unfortunately, too many people are born in this country with a terrible pre-existing condition called Not Being Beyoncé." For so many Americans, "our system is badly broken," he said, not just the 27.5 million with no insurance but also the nearly 44 million underinsured and at risk for bankruptcy from medical expenses.

The current system is a patchwork of private insurance, government programs, and crowdsourcing gambles, Oliver said. "Any solution that might put an end to that is worth at least considering, surely, and to be honest, I personally think there is a lot to be said for Medicare-for-all. So tonight, let's take a look at it: Not the politics of whether it can pass, but what it actually is." He focused on the three main objections: Cost, wait time, and choice.

"I get that big change is scary — it is human nature to prefer the devil you know over an uncertain alternative — but the devil you know is still a devil," Oliver said. And for all the U.S. fearmongering about Britain's National health System, "I will be honest with you, I've never had a bad experience and I don't know anyone who has, but since moving to America, I don't think I have met anyone who doesn't have at least one insurance industry horror story." There is a lot of NSFW language — so much so, it makes sense when Oliver calls the U.S. system "the Kama Sutra of health care." Watch below. Peter Weber

2:46 a.m.

Finding love and/or affection was hard enough before dating apps started allowing people to screen for political affiliation. And even with Republican-only services like DonaldDaters and Republican Singles, working for President Trump in liberal Washington "can be brutal on dating life," Katie Rogers reports at The New York Times. "For the young aides in this White House, one solution seems to be to meet and marry each other, or at least endeavor to find love inside the political bunker of the Trump administration."

Trump's hardline immigration czar Stephen Miller and Katie Waldman, special assistant to Trump and spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence, were married Sunday, with Trump and Pence among the guests. The couple "celebrated with monogrammed ice cubes, mutual statements of love, and a playlist selected by the groom," Rogers notes, plus there was a dash of enriching the president: The wedding was held at Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel, a hangout for Republicans, lobbyists, and Trump hangers-on and grifters. The newlyweds registered for gifts under fake names, vetted their invite lists for possible disrupters and haters, and hired security guards.

The Millers aren't the only Trump White House newlyweds: Last year, Giovanna Coia, a White House aide and cousin of Kellyanne Conway, married Pence nephew and Trump campaign official John Pence in Atlantic City, and Trump administration officials Zach Bauer and Meghan Patenaude spent at least $35,000 at Trump's D.C. hotel for their wedding in November, Rogers reports.

Other White House couples include Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham and advance team director Max Miller, and Trump body man Nick Luna and Cassidy Dumbauld, an assistant to Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. In some cases, the romantic entanglements have proved complicated, as with Hope Hicks and Rob Porter.

Dating inside the White House is nothing new, "but outside the complex gates, the youthful staff members also had wider access to the city's dating pool and social scene," Rogers writes. Trump's aides, on the other hand, "tend to retreat into their own homes for socializing or to the safety of the president's properties." Read more about love in Trump's Washington at The New York Times. Peter Weber

1:37 a.m.

When a Northern California cab driver realized that his 92-year-old passenger was about to become the victim of a scam, he quickly devised a plan to save her.

Two weeks ago, Roseville Cab owner Raj Singh picked the woman up from her home, and she directed him to drive her to the bank. While on the way, the woman told Singh that she received a call from someone who told her she owed the IRS $25,000, and she was on her way to withdraw the money. Immediately, Singh determined that she had been targeted by a scam artist, but the woman didn't believe him.

Singh suggested the pair stop by the police station in Roseville, where an officer could talk more about the scam with her. The woman agreed, and Singh went inside to explain what was happening. An officer came out to the cab, and the woman shared more details about the call. After talking with the officer, she agreed that the call was not from the IRS, and Singh drove her back home. The woman's money remains safely in the bank.

"We love this story because several times throughout, Raj could have just taken his customer to her stop and not worried about her well-being," the Roseville Police Department said on Facebook. "He took time from his day and had the great forethought to bring the almost-victim to the police station for an official response." Catherine Garcia

1:26 a.m.

The Boy Scouts of America announced early Tuesday that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying its goals are twofold: "Equitably compensate victims who were harmed during their time in scouting and continue carrying out its mission for years to come." BSA noted that local scouting councils are legally separate, distinct, and financially independent from the national organization," and will not be directly affected by the bankruptcy reorganization.

As part of the bankruptcy process, BSA said, it proposes to "create a Victims Compensation Trust that would provide equitable compensation to victims" of sexual and other abuse by scout leaders and volunteers. "The BSA cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in scouting," BSA President and CEO Roger Mosby said in a statement. "We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to harm innocent children." BSA created a new site, BSA Restructuring, to answer questions and link to resources for abuse victims.

"The BSA firmly believes that a proposed Victims Compensation Trust structure is the best means of compensating victims in a way that is equitable and protects their identities," the organization said, adding that it "encourages victims to come forward to file a claim as the bankruptcy process moves forward and will provide clear and comprehensive notices about how to do so." Peter Weber

12:47 a.m.

The Federal Judges Association will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss concerns members have over President Trump and top Justice Department officials intervening in the case of longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone.

The association has more than 1,000 members, and says it supports a "fair, impartial, and independent judiciary." The group's president, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, told USA Today that members decided they "could not wait" until the organization's spring conference to address the matter. "There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about," added Rufe, a George W. Bush appointee. "We'll talk all of this through."

Stone was found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering, and last week, Trump complained about federal prosecutors recommending Stone receive a sentence of seven to nine years. Attorney General William Barr and other DOJ leaders quickly reversed course on the recommendation, which resulted in the four Stone prosecutors quitting the case. On Friday, it was reported that Barr has also appointed an outside prosecutor to review the criminal case of Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, but has since backtracked, claiming he was coerced.

Since an open letter was released on Sunday night, more than 2,000 former Justice Department officials have signed on, calling on Barr to resign. The letter says it is "unheard of for the department's top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the president, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case." Catherine Garcia

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