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May 21, 2019

A confidential draft Internal Revenue Service memo directly contradicts Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's reason for not turning over to Congress President Trump's tax returns, The Washington Post reports.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) formally requested Trump's tax returns last month; under a 1924 law, he is one of a handful of top lawmakers with the authority to do so. Mnuchin has refused to give Neal the returns, claiming Congress does not have a "legitimate legislative purpose" to request the documents.

The memo, obtained by the Post, states otherwise, asserting that it is "mandatory" the returns are disclosed, as the law "does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met." The only way the IRS can refuse to comply with a Congressional subpoena "would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege," the memo states, which has not happened.

The IRS told the Post the draft was prepared in the fall by a lawyer in the Office of Chief Counsel, and does not represent the "official position" of the agency. Trump has not released his tax returns on his own, first claiming that he can't do so because he is under audit, and later saying no one could understand his complex filings anyway. Catherine Garcia

10:30 a.m.

It feels like a bit of cycle.

A new poll conducted by Avalanche — a progressive public-opinion research group — shows that if the nebulous term "electability" is removed as a factor in the 2020 Democratic primaries, the race looks quite different, Axios reports. In an "electability"-free world, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) actually led former Vice President Joe Biden, 21 percent to 19 percent among those polled by Avalanche, while in many other national polls, Biden often leads substantially.

The problem for Warren, though, is reportedly not the idea that a woman isn't capable of performing the job, but the fact that too many voters are concerned that other voters won't elect a woman. It's less about Warren and more about America, Avalanche writes.

So, the distrust in their fellow voters leads people to edge away from Warren's candidacy in favor of Biden, whom voters feel has a better chance of defeating President Trump in the general election. While regular polls show Biden as the favorite among 29 percent of Democrats, that number drops to 19 percent without the "electability" factor. Warren, meanwhile, jumps from 16 percent to 21 percent when "electability" isn't considered.

For reference, Avalanche's survey shows that 97 percent of likely Democratic voters believe getting Trump out of the White House is very important, while only 28 percent feel confident that he'll lose. That, coupled with the fact that 62 percent believe that Americans won't elect a woman, is why, Avalanche's data suggests, Warren is lagging behind Biden.

Avalanche conducted a listening survey of 1,871 registered voters between May 30-June 3. No margin of error was reported. Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

9:58 a.m.

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough went ballistic during a Morning Joe segment on Wednesday, demanding congressional testimony from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a fiery rant.

Scarborough interviewed Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, on Wednesday's show and discussed whether Mueller will testify before Congress. Mueller in a statement last month said that he does not wish to speak about his investigation further and would not provide any new information were he to testify.

"I want to know why Robert Mueller thinks he's above coming to Capitol Hill and testifying for Americans," Scarborough said. "It's outrageous!"

Scarborough then turned his outrage to House Democrats, asking Himes, "Why don't you subpoena him? This is absolutely ridiculous! ... You guys can't get him on Capitol Hill to talk? And he's too high and mighty to get on Capitol Hill and talk?"

Scarborough continued his rant while Himes said nothing at all, imploring Democrats to subpoena testimony from Mueller even if that's only going to involve Mueller reading from the report. "Millions and millions of dollars were paid for your report," Scarborough imagined a lawmaker saying to Mueller. "Not everybody, Bob, is going to read it! So you read it for them!” By the end of this rant, Scarborough found himself getting so worked up that he began to laugh while throwing his newspaper off camera.

When Himes finally chimed in, Scarborough wasn't satisfied with his answers, pushing back when the House Democrat said Mueller's testimony will happen but in private. Scarborough took to Twitter after this segment to joke about the insertion of this rant into the interview with Himes, sarcastically complaining that the lawmaker was "a little talkative." Watch a portion of Scarborough's rant below. Brendan Morrow

8:46 a.m.

Fox News' Tucker Carlson is now urging President Trump against a war with Iran both on and off his show.

The host of Tucker Carlson Tonight in recent weeks has "privately advised" Trump and warned him not to take military action against Iran while criticizing the administration's "hawkish members," The Daily Beast reports.

That's a familiar message to anyone who has tuned into Carlson's show amid rising tensions with Iran, with Carlson in May railing against National Security Adviser John Bolton, saying Bolton wants a war with Iran "more than anything in the world" and that it would be "like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and his birthday wrapped into one." Carlson also voiced concerns over Bolton's influence in the White House — and now, it looks like he's actively attempting to counteract that influence.

Trump struck a different tone than some of these more "hawkish" members of his administration when he said in a Monday interview with Time that Iran's recent actions have been "very minor" so far. And when asked if he is considering military action against Iran, Trump responded, "I wouldn't say that. I can't say that at all."

This is just the latest instance of Trump getting some private input from his favorite Fox News hosts. A New York Magazine report in 2018 suggested the president speaks with Fox News host Sean Hannity "most weeknights," with Mediaite in March reporting that Trump and Hannity still talk "constantly." Brendan Morrow

7:59 a.m.

Hope Hicks, former White House communications director and a member of President Trump's inner circle since the start of his 2016 campaign, is set to testify on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee in a closed-door hearing.

Democrats on the panel, who are investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump, seek to question Hicks about five instances of potential obstruction described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, in addition to allegations that Trump directed hush money payments to two women, Politico reports. Although the hearing will not be public, a transcript will reportedly be released within 48 hours. This is the first time a member of Trump's inner circle will be interviewed by a Democratically-controlled panel in their investigations into Trump, CNN notes.

The White House on Tuesday directed Hicks not to answer any questions related to her time in the administration, also saying that specific questions related to her time on the transition team would "likely implicate executive branch confidentiality interests" as well, The Hill reports.

ABC News reports that the committee "would not find it acceptable for Hicks not to answer any questions about her time in the White House," citing a committee aide, and The New York Times reports that Democrats are "prepared to contest such assertions on the spot." Democrats may, however, be able to get some answers from Hicks about her time on the Trump 2016 campaign.

Hicks previously testified before the House and the Senate in 2018 and would not answer questions about her time in the White House.

When asked by CNN's Manu Raju on Tuesday about the White House instructing Hicks not to answer questions about her time in the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) simply responded, "Obstruction of justice." Brendan Morrow

7:24 a.m.

In a long-awaited 101-page report released Wednesday morning, an independent United Nations human rights investigator said Saudi Arabia is legally responsible for the "deliberate, premeditated execution" of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khasoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. The investigator, Agnes Callamard, said her investigation, hampered by a lack of cooperation and likely obstruction by the Saudi government, found no "smoking gun" linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the "extrajudicial killing," but she found enough "credible evidence" to warrant "further investigation by a proper authority" outside Saudi Arabia.

"Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr. Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources, and finances," Callamard wrote. "While the Saudi government claims that these resources were put in place by [then–deputy head of intelligence] Ahmed Asiri, every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the crown prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched."

The CIA has concluded that Salman likely ordered Khashoggi's murder, but President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said the U.S. is still determining responsibility, also arguing that one bad incident isn't sufficient to derail the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Callamard also gave a detailed, minute-by-minute breakdown of Khashoggi's murder, from two Saudi agents discussing dismembering him before he entered the consulate to get marriage papers to the Saudi ruse that he was being taken to back Saudi Arabia, an aborted text message to his son, his sedation and suffocation with a plastic bag, and his dismemberment with a buzzsaw. His body has never been recovered. Peter Weber

6:21 a.m.

President Trump "officially launched his campaign tonight at a rally in Orlando," Jimmy Kimmel said on Tuesday's Kimmel Live. "Finally, Trump is out rallying again. He was up bright and early, typing and hyping at 7:30 a.m. ... Trump really wanted a big crowd for this. He was pushing it like a coworker with an improv show."

Trump promised big screens and food trucks for people who couldn't get into the arena, Kimmel noted. "He's doing more for the people at his rally in Orlando than he did for all of Puerto Rico after the hurricane. But those are his people, and it was quite the scene in Orlando. The president's Fox friends were on the ground this morning to chat it up with supporters who decided to camp out overnight." He showed that clip, which, presumably, was not clever trolling by Democrats.

"It is crazy that Florida basically gets to decide our election," Kimmel said. "It's like letting your dog decide what's for dinner every night." He ended with a hot take on Trump kicking his chief of staff out of the Oval Office for coughing.

"That's right, Trump launched his 2020 campaign with a huge rally — it was going well until Trump started kicking out every person who coughed," Jimmy Fallon joked at The Tonight Show. "But Trump drew a big crowd, he said thousands were lined up outside the arena two days before the rally. That's kind of a strange thing to brag about. On one hand, thousands of people waited two days to see you, but on the other hand, none of them have jobs."

Late Night's Seth Meyers found the entire premise ridiculous: "You're launching your 2020 re-election campaign? You've been running for re-election since your second day in office. You talk about 2020 more than a guy who just got Lasik." Watch below. Peter Weber

5:26 a.m.

These facts are uncontested: Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife met and befriended a 21-year-old male pool attendant at Miami's tony Fontainebleau hotel in 2012; they invested in a gay-friendly South Beach youth hostel at the recommendation of the pool attendant, Giancarlo Granda, and named him co-manager; they introduced Granda to Donald Trump at Falwell's Liberty University in Virginia in 2012; Falwell endorsed Trump for president in early 2016; and Trump's former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen told comedian Tom Arnold in March that he had intervened to protect the Falwells by trying to bury racy, kinky photos of them in late 2015, in a dispute involving the "pool boy" and the hostel.

Any strings tying those events together are speculative and disputed, as is their relationship to the 2016 presidential race, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Falwell, the son of Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell Sr., isn't an ordained minister, but his unexpected, pivotal endorsement of the thrice-married Trump "became a permission slip for deeply religious conservatives who were attracted by Mr. Trump's promises to make America great again but wary of his well-known history of infidelity" and other typical deal-breakers, the Times says. Trump's subsequent and enduring strength among white evangelicals helped propel him to the Republican nomination and the White House.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had been counting on strong evangelical support, and in mid-January 2016, Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, told the Cruz campaign that Falwell had committed to endorsing Cruz, two people involved in the campaign told the Times. When a top Cruz adviser called to speed up the endorsement, Falwell said he couldn't endorse anyone, blaming Liberty's board, then a few days later, he endorsed Trump, the Times reports.

The Falwells have denied that there are any compromising or embarrassing photos of them and say they were unaware Cohen had allegedly intervened on their behalf. Cohen, in jail, has not commented on the allegations Arnold covertly recorded him sharing. Read more about the bizarre story at The New York Times. Peter Weber

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