October 17, 2019

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis cracked a few jokes Thursday night at the Al Smith Memorial Foundation dinner in New York — and all of them were at the expense of President Trump.

During a contentious meeting on Wednesday between Trump and top Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) shared something Mattis had said about Trump's Islamic State policy. Trump reportedly responded that Mattis was "the world's most overrated general," and not "tough enough."

Mattis laughed this off during his keynote speech on Thursday, saying, "I'm not just an overrated general, I am the greatest, the world's most overrated." He also found common ground with one of the Hollywood's most acclaimed actresses: "I am honored to be considered that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress, so I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals. Frankly, that sounds pretty good to me. You do have to admit, between me and Meryl, at least we've had some victories." Catherine Garcia

2:27 p.m.

Several presidents, including George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, were criticized for pardoning political allies during their tenures in the Oval Office, The New York Times reports, but President Trump's critics still think the commutation of Roger Stone's prison sentence stands out.

In 1992, Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger after Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair, filed a new indictment against Weinberger that made public notes contradicting Bush's assertion he was not aware at the time of the arms-for-hostages aspect of the weapons deal. Clinton, meanwhile, stoked bipartisan furor when he pardoned financier Marc Rich in the final hours of his presidency in 2001. Rich fled the country to avoid charges of evading $48 million in taxes, but obtained his clemency after his ex-wife, Denise Rich, contributed money to Clinton's presidential library.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served as a high-ranking Justice Department official during George W. Bush's presidency, said those pardons are parallels to Stone's commutation, but Goldsmith believes Trump's larger pattern of bailing out his friends and allies puts him in his own league. Goldsmith determined that, out of Trump's 36 pardons or commutations, the act advanced Trump's political goals or benefited someone he had a personal connection to 31 times. "This has happened before in a way," Goldsmith said. "But there has been nothing like Trump from a systematic perspective."

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin is also troubled by that pattern, but even among those 36 cases, he thinks Stone's is the most concerning. As Toobin writes, even former President Richard Nixon, the modern era's commander-in-chief most synonymous with political corruption, understood granting clemency to someone who could potentially testify against him was "just too hot." Read more at The New York Times and The New Yorker. Tim O'Donnell

1:47 p.m.

In Israel, public health officials mandated entire schools should close whenever a single student or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus, but another strategy adopted by Germany may be the model a lot of countries use going forward as they try to get students back in the classroom, The Washington Post reports.

Instead of shuttering schools because of an infection or trying to enforce social distancing in the classroom, Germany is employing "class bubbles." In other words, when a student tested positive, the entire class had to quarantine for two weeks, while the rest of the school went on with business as usual. England is planning on utilizing the strategy in September — elementary schools will be in bubbles of up to 30 students, and high school students will be grouped into a bubble of up to 240 peers.

Schools in the Canadian province of Quebec will take it a step even further when they start again in the fall; students will be in groups of up to six who don't have to social distance, while keeping one meter away from other bubbles and two meters from students.

Otto Helve, a pediatric infectious-disease expert from Finland, told the Post the strategy could work especially well in a place like the United States that still has a high infection rate and, subsequently, a higher chance of experiencing an outbreak at a school. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

12:49 p.m.

President Trump's commutation of his friend and confidant Roger Stone's prison sentence on Friday may have been predictable, but that's what actually makes it more corrupt, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes write for Lawfare.

Jurecic and Wittes argue that clemency was probably a reward Trump promised Stone in exchange for keeping silent about Trump's knowledge of Stone's outreach to WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. In written responses to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, the president said he had no recollection of "the specifics of any call" he had with Stone during the campaign or any discussions with his friend about WikiLeaks.

But recently unredacted information from Mueller's investigation that came out during Stone's trial suggest the prosecutor suspected Trump was lying. Mueller wrote that Trump's conduct, especially his tweets supporting Stone shortly after he submitted the written answers, "could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the president's denials and would link the president to Stone's efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks," adding that the tweets "support the inference that the president intended to communicate a message that witnesses could be rewarded for refusing to provide testimony."

Stone did refuse to testify against Trump and, lo and behold, Trump went on to commute his sentence, which Jurecic and Wittes consider confirmation that Mueller's suspicions were correct. Read the full piece at Lawfare. Tim O'Donnell

11:39 a.m.

Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) thinks "now is the best time" for a Democratic presidential candidate to win Texas "since Jimmy Carter." His colleague, Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) also thinks the state is "very winnable," and Georgia Democrats want the presumptive nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, to ramp up his effort in their state, too. But while polls indicate Biden may have a chance to flip those states blue, his campaign is taking it easy for now, The New York Times reports.

Biden's aides reportedly consider it too early to switch up their strategy and go for an Electoral College rout by investing millions in states like Georgia, Texas, and even Ohio while more competitive swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania remain up for grabs. "When you look under the hood, we are ahead in the majority of the battleground states, but we expect them to tighten because these are battleground states in a pretty polarized electorate," Biden's campaign manager, Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, told the Times.

O'Malley Dillon is also trying to make sure Biden doesn't lose vulnerable Democratic states like Nevada. Of course, this doesn't mean Biden's camp won't grow more confident and eventually pour more of their resources into other states because while presidential candidates only need 270 Electoral College votes to win, the Times reports some Democrats, like Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), believe a more convincing victory would allow Biden flip the Senate and move his agenda more easily in office. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

10:35 a.m.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is continuing to buck the majority of his party when it comes to criticizing President Trump.

Romney, who has frequently clashed with Trump throughout his presidency and became the only Republican senator to vote to convict the president during his impeachment trial earlier this year, on Saturday morning described Trump's decision to commute Roger Stone's sentence as an act of "unprecedented, historic corruption."

So far, several Democrats, including House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, have criticized the move, but Romney is the most prominent Republican to do so, and some analysts expect he'll be the only sitting lawmaker in the party to take such a stance.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) supported Trump's decision, citing Stone's age which puts him at greater risk during the coronavirus pandemic. However, critics pointed that while Graham said Stone is in his 70s, he's actually 67, just two years older than Graham. Others noted there are thousands of incarcerated citizens around Stone's age who are at risk of contracting the virus in federal prisons. Tim O'Donnell

8:21 a.m.

After President Trump controversially commuted his 40-month sentence Friday, Roger Stone told NBC News he plans to celebrate his freedom by writing a book about his experience, possibly filing a complaint against federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky — who Stone accused of defrauding the courts and breaking the law on "numerous occasions" — and helping "exonerate" former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Flynn, like Stone, was entangled in the 2016 Russian election interference scandal and twice pleaded guilty to charges that he lied to FBI agents in January 2017 about his meetings with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. But Flynn eventually moved to withdraw those guilty pleas, and the Justice Department in May dropped his criminal charges, a decision upheld by a federal appeals court in June. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has requested the full bench of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals review the panel's decision.

But even if the panel's ruling holds, Stone apparently has joined the ranks of Trump allies who don't think the dismissal of Flynn's criminal charges goes far enough. Per Politico, multiple people working on the Trump re-election campaign said they would welcome Flynn back into their ranks, although he hasn't been offered a formal position. The thinking seems to be that Flynn would help energize Trump's conservative base, which views him as a victim, Politico reports. "Great surrogate — lots of people would come to see him," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). "He's the perfect example of deep state victimization. Pretty powerful." Read more from Stone about Trump's decision at NBC News and about the push to bring Flynn back into the fold at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

July 10, 2020

President Trump commuted the 40-month sentence of his friend and confidant Roger Stone, he announced Friday evening.

"Mr. Stone would be put at serious risk in prison," the White House said in a statement, calling him a "victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years." Stone was convicted witness tampering and making false statements to Congress, among other charges, after being indicted in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Stone was set to begin his prison term on Tuesday, though his lawyers did request a 60-day delay in starting that sentence, saying he would face medical risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The White House cited that "medical danger" in its statement announcing Trump's motion of clemency.

Trump called Stone "very unfairly treated" when talking to journalists earlier Friday, and was reportedly expected to pardon him soon. Still, Stone told journalist Howard Fineman on Friday he didn't want a pardon because it implies guilt. Kathryn Krawczyk

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