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April 15, 2019

The Trump administration is pushing back against House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal's (D-Mass.) request for President Trump's tax returns, arguing it serves no legitimate policy purpose. The 1924 law Neal is using doesn't require a policy rationale, though Neal has provided one: monitoring how the IRS audits presidents' tax returns. (The last time Congress checked on a sitting president's taxes, Richard Nixon turned to owe the IRS about $477,000.)

Most tax-law experts agree Neal is on firm legal ground in demanding Trump's tax returns to view in private ("executive") session. Before 1924, "the president had the sole and unconditional right to obtain and disclose anyone's tax return information," University of Virginia law professor George Yin tells Vox. But after the Teapot Dome scandal, Congress decided "it had to have the same access to tax information as the president," to investigate the president and the executive branch.

In fact, "the only thorny legal question arises if the full Ways and Means Committee, after debate and a vote in executive session, were to authorize the dissemination of Trump's tax return into the public record of the House," University of Southern California law professor Edward Kleinbard writes in the Los Angeles Times. Unlike the president, who still has the right to view any taxpayer's returns, "tax law expressly permits" the Ways and Means Committee to publicly release such returns, with proper justification. "Does the Ways and Means Committee have a solid reason to put Trump's tax returns in the public House record?" Kleinbard asks. If we get to that point, "it turns out that the Republicans have poisoned their own well."

The only precedent on such a move stems from 2014. Back then, congressional Republicans were on the warpath, insisting that the IRS improperly discriminated against conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status. ... The committee, voting on party lines, released into the public record tax return information of more than 50 organizations, for absolutely no reason beyond their hope to embarrass Democrats. [Edward Kleinbard, Los Angeles Times]

So "if Trump challenges a public release of his tax information in court," Kleinbard says, "he should fear that Republicans' 2014 political power move could color the outcome." Peter Weber

April 19, 2019

Count Fox News host Chris Wallace among those who think Attorney General William Barr is going too far in playing defense for President Trump in the face of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings.

Wallace said on Friday that Barr's press conference about Mueller's report on seemed "to go against the grain of what Robert Mueller was suggesting in his own report," especially on the topic of obstruction of justice. While Mueller's report said the investigation had not definitively ruled on whether Trump obstructed justice in his effort to influence and shut down the probe into Russian election interference, Barr characterized the conclusions as too vague to merit further scrutiny.

Barr's insistence that Trump deserves to be let off the hook "seems even more troubling, and perhaps even more politically charged when you read the report," said Wallace.

"The reason that Robert Mueller didn't make a finding on obstruction wasn't because he didn't feel capable of doing it, but because he thought in direct contradiction to what Bill Barr said yesterday," that further action should be left to Congress, Wallace continued.

Watch Wallace's comments below, via Fox News. Summer Meza

April 19, 2019

Despite House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) trying to shut the door on impeachment this week, some Democrats are still trying to keep it open.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) is the latest Congressional Democrat to advocate for the impeachment of President Trump, appearing on MSNBC on Friday and making it clear he disagrees with Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"I believe impeachable offenses have been committed," Cohen told MSNBC's Hallie Jackson. "And I believe it's worthwhile to put in history's files what this man has done, and impeach him. But I don't think it's going to happen politically."

Cohen also expressed little faith that the Department of Justice will comply with Democrats' subpoena for the full Mueller report: "[I'm about] as confident as I am that the sun's gonna stop shining."

He also suggested considering a censure, which he said would at least put a "historical note" to Trump's conduct.

Cohen's Democratic colleague Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, echoed his concerns over the report on MSNBC, "begging" voters to pay attention to Mueller's findings.

"I often say that people are going to look back at this time 200 years from now and ask the question, 'What did you do to reverse this?'" Cummings said.

Watch Cohen's MSNBC appearance on Mediaite, and watch Cummings below. Marianne Dodson

April 19, 2019

This year's flu season is shaping up to be record-breaking in duration, despite a sharp decrease in the number of flu-related deaths from last year, reports The Associated Press.

A surprise second wave has drawn this year's season out to 21 weeks and counting, making it the longest in a decade and one of the longest seasons since the government started tracking seasons 20 years ago.

Despite the longer season, the number of deaths has significantly dipped from last year. An estimated 35,000-50,000 Americans have died from issues related to the disease in 2018-19, compared to 80,000 in 2017-18, per AP. Last year's season lasted 19 weeks and was the deadliest in 40 years.

Although an unpredictable virus, representative for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Lynnette Brammer says this year's flu season should be nearing its end, per AP. Marianne Dodson

April 19, 2019

A federal judge ruled on Friday that residents of Flint, Michigan, can move forward with a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the city's lack of clean drinking water, reports The Associated Press.

The government is not immune from legal action, ruled Judge Linda Parker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. She didn't rule that the government was negligent in 2014 when Flint's drinking water first became contaminated with lead, but said the Environmental Protection Agency could be sued by residents who have criticized the slow response to the crisis.

EPA employees knew lead was leaching from old pipes, said Parker, per The Hill, and the "lies went on for months while the people of Flint continued to be poisoned." Summer Meza

April 19, 2019

Academy-award winning actress Emma Thompson joined climate change activists in London on Friday to cap off a week full of protests against British inaction on climate change, reports Reuters.

Thompson joined the group Extinction Rebellion, which has been leading protests throughout the week, resulting in traffic disruptions and the arrest of more than 570 people, per Reuters.

The group has called for nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to persuade lawmakers to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, reports Reuters.

The actress said she was inspired to partake in the protests after seeing activists across the country this week. Thompson took time at the protest to read poetry celebrating the beauty of the earth.

"This is the most pressing and urgent problem of our time, in the history of the human race," Thompson said. "I have seen the evidence for myself and I really care about my children and grandchildren enough to want to be here today to stand with the next generation." Marianne Dodson

April 19, 2019

Aspiring instagram influencers — maybe don't quit your day job just yet.

Instagram has considered doing away with publicly showing the number of likes on photos, reports The Verge. The feature, which is not currently being tested publicly, is part of an exploratory effort by the company to focus more on what is being shared versus how many likes are received.

The potential change is also an attempt to remove some distress that comes with Instagram.

Concerns over both mental and physical health have arisen due to the pervasiveness of social media platforms like Instagram. A recent proposal in the U.K. has suggested placing limits on letting users under 18 "like" posts on Facebook and Instagram or hold "streaks" on Snapchat, reports the BBC.

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom said in 2016 that one of the reasons for the creation of Instagram Stories was to alleviate the pressure of receiving likes, reports Fast Company.

The potential shift in likes, which was uncovered by researcher Jane Manchun Wong, is currently only being tested internally, per Fast Company. Marianne Dodson

April 19, 2019

The three beehives that inhabit Notre Dame remain abuzz after this week's devastating fire that sent much of the famous cathedral up in flames.

The hives were untouched by the blaze, CNN reports, since they are located nearly 30 meters below the roof where the fire spread. Each hive houses around 60,000 bees.

Had the beehives been closer to the fire and reached higher temperatures, the bees would likely have died due to melting wax, beekeeper Nicolas Geant told CNN. But because bees don't have human-like lungs, the smoke itself was not enough to cause them to perish, says Geant.

Geant told CNN he couldn't confirm with absolute certainty if all the bees had survived, but he's optimistic since the hives themselves did not burn and bees have been seen flying in and out.

"I was incredibly sad about Notre Dame because it's such a beautiful building, and as a Catholic it means a lot to me. But to hear there is life when it comes to the bees, that's just wonderful. I was overjoyed," Geant said. "Thank goodness the flames didn't touch them. It's a miracle!" Marianne Dodson

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