May 20, 2019

President Trump's attempt to block a subpoena from House Democrats has been overruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta ruled in Washington, D.C., on Monday that Trump could not block the House Oversight Committee's subpoena of his financial records from his accounting firm. Mehta also denied Trump's lawyers' request to stay the ruling, meaning the firm is now supposed to hand over eight years of Trump's records, Politico reports.

House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) subpoenaed Trump's accounting firm last month as part of Democrats' ongoing attempts to access the president's financial records. He asked for the records first, but officially subpoenaed them after Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen testified that the president had inflated his wealth on past financial statements. Trump quickly sued Cummings in return.

Trump's lawyers argued that Congress was improperly requesting Trump's records for "a law-enforcement purpose" rather than "to work on legislation." Yet in the process, those lawyers implied the Whitewater and Watergate investigations were invalid, leaving Mehta visibly skeptical.

In his Monday ruling, Mehta said "it is not for the court to question whether the committee's actions are truly motivated by political considerations" and ruled in the committee's favor. Trump's lawyers are expected to appeal the decision immediately, setting it up for a decision in the D.C. appellate court.

In another subpoena-blocking move, Trump also sued a few banks to stop them from handing over his financial records as well. That suit is still ongoing in a Manhattan court. Kathryn Krawczyk

6:59 a.m.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday had pretty decent numbers for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): She was in a virtual tie for second place in the Democratic primary race with former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — all of them at least 12 percentage points behind Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), steady at 27 percent — and Warren was just behind Sanders in which candidate Democratic voters are most "enthusiastic" about or "comfortable" with.

But how did Warren fare in a head-to-head matchup against President Trump, the question that most captivates Democrats? The poll didn't ask.

The pollsters — Peter Hart (D) and Bill McInturff (R) — asked how Sanders, Biden, Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) would fare against Trump, but not Warren, who polled 1 point higher than Buttigieg and 7 points ahead of Klobuchar. Hart told BuzzFeed News the pollsters only had "space and time" to poll five head-to-head matchups, and "Klobuchar was selected as the fifth candidate" because of her jump to third place in New Hampshire's primary and a lack of data on who her voters are.

The poll tested Warren against Trump "fairly recently," Hart added, and "I suspect she will be part of the next testing." Still, "to Warren backers, the poll was a flashpoint, the culmination of weeks of frustrations" that the media appears to have "erased her candidacy in the wake of her showings in Iowa and New Hampshire," BuzzFeed reports.

In the head-to-head matchups, all five Democrats beat Trump, though the strongest candidate is Biden, who holds a commanding 8-point lead in both the national race and in 11 battleground states. For the other four candidates, the battleground states are a tossup. And despite Sanders' clear lead among Democrats, he also checks off the qualities all voters say they are most uncomfortable with: socialist, recent heart attack, and over 75.

The NBC News/WSJ poll was conducted Feb. 14-17 among 900 registers voters. The overall margin of error is ±3.3 percentage points, and for the 426 Democratic primary voters, ±4.8 points. Peter Weber

5:30 a.m.

The Utah Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday to downshift polygamy among consenting adults from a third-degree felony to an infraction punishable with a fine of up to $750 and community service, similar to a parking ticket. Stiff penalties would remain for fraudulent bigamy, where a spouse obtains marriage licenses for more than one spouse unaware of the polygamy, and marrying an underage bride without her consent.

The goal, according to lead sponsor state Sen. Deirdre Henderson (R), is to allow women and children in polygamous families to report abuse and other crimes and obtain government services without fear of being arrested. A federal court struck down Utah's strict anti-polygamy law when Sister Wives star Kody Brown sued, but an appellate court overturned the decision and the Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal. It's not clear the bill will pass in the Utah House.

If easing polygamy laws sounds like conservative Utah embracing behind-closed-doors libertarianism, the state House also voted Tuesday to require printed and online pornography to carry labels warning that the obscene material is harmful to children. "The new measure is narrowly aimed at hardcore obscene material, but the way the law is written could still allow for thousands of lawsuits," The Associated Press reports, citing Mike Stabile of the pornography trade group the Free Speech Coalition. Each violation would incur a fine of up to $2,500.

Both laws are rooted in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church, which counts a majority of Utahans as members. Utah declared porn a public health crisis in 2016, and polygamy was brought to Utah by Mormon settlers in 1847. "The church disavowed polygamy in 1890 as a condition of Utah statehood, and today members of the faith found to be practicing plural marriage are excommunicated," Reuters reports. At the same time, some 30,000 "fundamentalist" Mormons practice polygamy on the fringes. Peter Weber

4:27 a.m.

The Bernie Sanders campaign and the Vermont senator's supporters are fed up with MSNBC, after what they perceive as months of "slights from MSNBC's stable of hosts and commentators," Tom Kludt writes at Vanity Fair. Sanders and his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, requested a meeting with MSNBC president Phil Griffin last fall to see if the liberal cable news network would "change the tone and the tenor of the coverage that we receive," Shakir told Vanity Fair. "They've been among the last to acknowledge that Bernie Sanders' path to the nomination is real, and even when it's become real, they frequently discount it."

Things haven't improved since then, as far as Team Sanders is concerned, and "the constant diminishment of Bernie Sanders on MSNBC" is "actively damaging" the Sanders campaign and "hurts his case for electability," Shakir told Vanity Fair. CNN is at least making "efforts to try and diversify their voices" with pro-Sanders hires, he added, and even Fox News has been "more fair than MSNBC" to Sanders. "That's saying something," Shakir added. "Fox is often yelling about Bernie Sanders' socialism, but they're still giving our campaign the opportunity to make our case in a fair manner, unlike MSNBC, which has credibility with the left and is constantly undermining the Bernie Sanders campaign."

The Atlantic's Christopher Orr agreed with Shakir that it's "saying something," but maybe not in the way Shakir intended. "'Network that desperately wants Trump re-elected gives favorable coverage to Sanders,' says Sanders campaign manager, without a whiff of irony," he tweeted, paraphrasing Shakir's comments, probably a little unfairly. MSNBC, for its part, has previously shrugged off the criticism from Team Sanders as attempts to work the ref. "A presidential campaign complaining about tough questions and commentary speaks for itself," an MSNBC spokesperson told The Daily Beast last July. You can read more about the Sanders-MSNBC tensions at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

3:24 a.m.

Former President Barack Obama celebrated Presidents' Day — or "President's Day," as President Trump tweeted Monday — by subtweeting his successor on the economy.

Trump has been touting the economy in his pitch for re-election, often employing exaggeration, and he got Obama's message.

That could have been the end of it, but Trump is not known for letting things go. So on Tuesday, Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro, a key proponent of Trump's trade war with China, went on CNN to explain how Trump's economy is much stronger than Obama's. CNN's Poppy Harlow noted that Obama topped 4 percent GDP growth four times while Trump is yet to hit 3 percent, and he created more jobs on average during his second term than Trump has during his first.

Navarro was undeterred. "Back in the Obama-Biden years, it was horrible," he said, listing some talking points until Harlow finally broke in, noting the data doesn't support his argument. "You can look at your numbers, but I lived that," Navarro replied. "The numbers are the numbers, Peter," Harlow said. "This is all politics," Navarro concluded.

Axios took its own look at the numbers and ranked Trump's economy No. 6 out of the last 10 presidential administrations, based on average GDP growth, "the most comprehensive economic scorecard — and something presidents, especially Trump, use as an example of success." Presidents have limited control over the economy, but the average GDP growth under Trump is higher than under Obama, and "some aspects of the Trump economy, like wage growth and business investment, pale in comparison to other periods," Axios notes.

"Unlike other presidents, Trump inherited a steady economy that's since entered the longest stretch of growth in history," Axios says. "Interest rates remain low. Growth picked up in the wake of the 2017 tax cuts, but now the pace has moderated," hitting 2.3 percent in 2019. The juice from Trump's $1.5 trillion tax cut is wearing off and "businesses were too unnerved by the trade war to spend money on new factories or equipment — a key driver of growth," Axios reports. If consumer spending drops, watch Obama's twitter feed. Peter Weber

2:16 a.m.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg participated in CNN town halls in Nevada on Tuesday night, days before the state's caucuses.

Sanders is leading in the polls and did well in Iowa and New Hampshire, but when asked if he is the Democratic frontrunner, Sanders responded, "Who cares?" He also questioned whether his supporters were really sending threatening messages to Culinary Union in Nevada leaders over the union's criticism of Sanders' heath-care proposals. "The idea that anybody who works with me would make a vicious attack against a union leader just because we disagree on an issue is incomprehensible to me," he said. "And you know what, I'm just not sure that that's true."

Buttigieg called out several people close to Trump, including Attorney General William Barr. Barr's politicization of the Justice Department is "an emergency of legitimacy in our justice system," he said. "Our justice system only works if it is immune from the interference of politicians."

He also scoffed at Trump ally Rush Limbaugh lecturing him on family values. Buttigieg said his marriage "never involved me having to send hush money to a porn star after cheating on my spouse," a reference to Trump's 2016 hush-money payoff, via his incarcerated former lawyer Michael Cohen, to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Klobuchar said while it would be "cool" to be the first woman president, "I think the story that we tell and the campaign that we run has to be more than about that. It has to be about people's dreams." She also shared why she was unable to remember the president of Mexico's name last week when asked during an interview — an error Buttigieg brought up. "When that happened, for what it's worth, I had been in the Senate all day," Klobuchar said. "We had six votes, including a resolution to be a check on the president. And I got on a plane and got there at midnight my time and had a fast interview and two forums after that, I think ending at about two or three in the morning. Such is life." Catherine Garcia

1:43 a.m.

President Trump granted a full pardon to former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik on Tuesday, clearing him of his eight counts of tax fraud, lying to federal investigators, and other crimes that accompanied his downfall. Kerik had already served his three years in prison for his crimes, but the pardon wipes out more than his criminal record, the New York Daily News reports. "The pardon cancels out $103,300 in restitution that Kerik still owed the Internal Revenue Service as part of his sentence, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan."

The White House credited Kerik's friend and former boss in New York City, Rudy Giuliani — now Trump's personal lawyer and Ukraine fixer — for helping persuade Trump to pardon Kerik. Another friend of both Kerik and Trump, Newsmax chief executive Christopher Ruddy, told the Daily News that Trump's pardon was "a just decision" in light of Kerik's "minor stuff" crimes.

One of Kerik's former colleagues in the Giuliani administration, NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, recalled Kerik's multifaceted downfall from heroic 9/11 figure to flamed-out reject for Homeland Security secretary slightly differently back in late 2004, The New Yorker recounted: "Officials have gotten into trouble for sexual misconduct, abusing their authority, personal bankruptcy, failure to file documents, waste of public funds, receiving substantial unrecorded gifts, and association with organized crime figures. It is rare for anyone to be under fire on all seven of the above issues." Peter Weber

1:32 a.m.

He could have congratulated the state for its strong economy, or even remarked on its gorgeous weather, but instead, White House aide Joe Grogan decided on Tuesday to refer to California as "occupied territory."

Grogan is director of the Domestic Policy Council, and he accompanied Trump on his trip to the West Coast. While in California, Trump will attend fundraisers in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, but instead of focusing on that, Grogan decided to insult nearly 40 million people. "Just landed in California," he tweeted. "POTUS power swing through occupied territory."

His words were quickly condemned, not just by California taxpayers who pay his salary, but also Trump fans like Fox News host Laura Ingraham. "Actually, it's America," she tweeted in response. "And he's president of all the people — even the ones who didn't vote for him." In California, that's a lot of people — voters in the Golden State overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, with Clinton receiving 4,269,978 more votes than Trump. Catherine Garcia

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