January 14, 2020

George Nader, a wealthy Lebanese-American political campaign bundler for Hillary Clinton and frequent guest in President Trump's White House in the first few months of his administration, pleaded guilty Monday to child exploitation charges in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. His sentencing is scheduled for April 10.

The guilty plea covers Nader's sexual acts with a 14-year-old Czech boy in the U.S. 20 years ago and possession of child pornography in 2012, but under a plea deal with prosecutors, he won't be charged for child pornography found on his phone en route to Mar-a-Lago, leading to his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Trump's campaign and Russia.

Nader, 60, was questioned by Mueller's investigators about whether he illegally channeled campaign contributions to Trump's 2016 campaign from the United Arab Emirates, where he worked as an adviser to UAE leadership, and about a January 2017 meeting he set up and attended between Trump associate Erik Prince — Blackwater founder and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — and a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The crimes Nader pleaded guilty to carry penalties of up to 50 years in prison, but prosecutors agreed to request the mandatory minimum of 10 years behind bars, served concurrently. He still faces campaign finance charges in federal court in Washington, D.C., for allegedly illegally funneling more than $3 million in campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans. Nader served six months for child pornography charges in 1991, and he was sentenced to a year in prison in the Czech Republican in 2003. Between his Czech sentence and his 2000 journey with the 14-year-old boy, Nader served as Pentagon contractor and Middle East policy adviser to President George W. Bush's administration, The Washington Post reports. Peter Weber

1:01 a.m.

The U.S. passed yet another "grim milestone" in its COVID-19 pandemic Monday night, Reuters notes, with at least 200,000 Americans dead from the new coronavirus and an average of nearly 1,000 more dying each day. As "the country blew past estimate after estimate" of COVID-19 deaths, Politico's pandemic newsletter said Monday night, "the term 'grim milestone' in headlines became so routine that we banned it."

COVID-19 deaths are rising again in the U.S. after a four-week decline, with Texas and Florida leading the news fatalities, Reuters reports, and the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now predicts 300,000 deaths by Dec. 9 and 378,000 by the end of 2020 if current trends continue. The IHME's first projection of U.S. coronavirus deaths, issued March 16, topped out at 162,000. The U.S., with about 4 percent of the world's population, has 20 percent of its recorded COVID-19 deaths.

At a rally in Dayton, Ohio, on Monday night, President Trump assured his admirers the virus isn't really that bad, noting that it mostly kills "elderly people" and people with "other problems," adding, "It affects virtually nobody."

According to CDC data, more than 70 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths are among people older than 65, which means about 60,000 of the dead were 65 and younger. And a lot of the estimated millions of U.S. "long-haulers" who did not die from COVID-19 are still grappling with a wide array of health problems, some of the potentially serious. Peter Weber

12:27 a.m.

In his forthcoming book, Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation, Andrew Weissmann describes what it was like serving as a prosecutor on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, going into detail about his frustrations and fears.

In the book, Weissmann — who now teaches at New York University School of Law and serves as an MSNBC legal analyst — writes that the special counsel's efforts were stymied by the constant threat of Trump's wrath, The Washington Post reports. They were reluctant to get too aggressive, he said, due to "the president's power to fire us and pardon wrongdoers who might otherwise cooperate."

Weissmann writes that this is why Mueller's top deputy, Aaron Zebley, stopped investigators from taking a broader look at Trump's finances, the Post reports. The pressure, he said, "affected our investigative decisions, leading us at certain times to act less forcefully and more defensively than we might have. It led us to delay or ultimately forgo entire lines of inquiry, particularly regarding the president's financial ties to Russia." 


With Trump, Russia's main intelligence agency has "gotten what it had worked so hard for — a servile, but popular, American leader," Weissmann writes. "There is no other way to put it. Our country is now faced with the problem of a lawless White House, which addresses itself to every new dilemma or check on its power with a belief that following the rules is optional and that breaking them comes at minimal, if not zero, cost."

Weissmann told the Post he decided to write Where Law Ends after Attorney General William Barr released his own four-page summary of Mueller's report, which downplayed the findings; Mueller would later pen a letter saying Barr "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of his work.

"I wrote it very much so there would be a public record from somebody, at least one viewpoint, from the inside as opposed to the story being told in maybe a less accurate way by people from the outside," Weissmann said. In the book, he accuses Barr of enabling a "lawless" president, and says the attorney general "had betrayed both friend and country." Read more about Weissmann's book, including why he thinks there was enough evidence showing Trump obstructed justice and how special counsel rules should be changed, at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

September 21, 2020

A lot of Republicans agreed on a somewhat arbitrary rule in 2016 that the Senate should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee during an election year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the current Judiciary Committee chairman, was so convinced by the righteousness of his argument that he said he would hold off on considering a nominee put forward by President Trump if it occurred during an election year — and he urged people to keep the tape and use his words against him if he changed his mind. Well, now he's changed his mind, and The Lincoln Project rolled the tape.

The Late Show used an earlier iteration of Graham's "use my words against me" offer and took him up on it Monday night. And Stephen Colbert's writers used a liberal interpretation of his pledge. Watch below. Peter Weber

September 21, 2020

The Bobcat fire in Los Angeles County is continuing to threaten the historic Mount Wilson Observatory, as well as communications towers used by local television and radio stations and law enforcement.

Last week, flames were within 500 feet of the 116-year-old observatory, but firefighters were able to keep them at bay. Since the weekend, fire crews have been battling flareups at the top of the mountain, caused by winds out of the east. "Just when I thought the danger was over, it wasn't," Thomas Meneghi, the observatory's executive director, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. Meneghi also said there is a 530,000-gallon water tank on the observatory grounds, and over the last several days, firefighters have used half of it to battle the blaze.

Since Sept. 6, the Bobcat fire has scorched more than 105,000 acres, making it one of the largest fires in L.A. County history. It is only 15 percent contained, and crews are having a hard time getting a handle on it due to the rocky terrain in the Angeles National Forest. The Bobcat fire has moved down into the Antelope Valley, where it has destroyed several homes and buildings and is quickly burning through low-lying desert shrubbery. Catherine Garcia

September 21, 2020

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (R) was heckled on Monday by supporters of President Trump, who objected to Husted mentioning wearing masks.

Husted spoke at a Trump rally outside of Dayton, and came onstage sporting a red mask with "Trump 2020" printed on the front. "I'm trying to make masks in America great again," he said to jeers. Husted pulled out another mask that said "MAGA," which did nothing to get the crowd on his side — instead, the boos continued and one person shouted at him, "Get off the stage!"

"Hang on, I get it," Husted responded. "You don't like it. But when you go in a grocery store where you have to wear one ... just listen up! All right, I get it. But if somebody tells you to take it off, you can at least say you're trying to save the country by wearing one of President Donald Trump's masks."

It wasn't just the idea of wearing masks to protect others that got the crowd riled up — when Husted mentioned Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who made masks mandatory in most indoor areas, that opened him up to another round of boos. DeWine and Husted are co-chairs of Trump's campaign in Ohio, and when Trump later mentioned the governor during his speech, some jeering could be heard. Trump called DeWine "a real good friend of mine," and promised the audience, "He's opening up." Catherine Garcia

September 21, 2020

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll released Monday shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden ahead of President Trump in Wisconsin, with a closer race in Pennsylvania.

In Wisconsin, 48 percent of likely voters said they are voting for Biden while 43 percent said they are supporting Trump. Regarding the coronavirus pandemic, 48 percent believe Biden would handle it better than Trump, with 40 percent saying Trump would do better than Biden. On the economy, 48 percent said Trump would do a better job managing it, and 42 percent said Biden would do better. One percent of respondents said they have taken advantage of early voting.

In Pennsylvania, 49 percent of likely voters said they are voting for Biden and 46 percent said they will vote for Trump. When it comes to the pandemic, 48 percent said Biden would be better at handling it, compared to 44 percent who said Trump would be better, and 51 percent said Trump would be better at managing the economy, with 45 percent saying Biden would be better. Two percent of respondents said they already voted in the election.

Reuters/Ipsos is surveying voters in six battleground states: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona. Additional polls are expected to be released on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Wisconsin and Pennsylvania polls were conducted online in English from Sept. 11 to 16. In Wisconsin, 1,005 adults, including 609 likely voters, were surveyed, and in Pennsylvania, 1,005 adults, including 611 likely voters, were surveyed. Both polls have a credibility interval of 5 percentage points. Catherine Garcia

September 21, 2020

A federal judge in Wisconsin on Monday extended the state's cutoff day for absentee ballots to be counted in the presidential election.

Under current law, for an absentee ballot to be counted, it must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day, but U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled that absentee ballots can be counted up to six days after the Nov. 3 election. He also extended the deadline for mail and electronic voter registration from Oct. 14 to Oct. 21.

The Democratic National Committee, Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and other organizations sued to extend the deadline, citing the long lines and shortage of staffers during April's presidential primary. Conley paused the ruling from going into effect for one week, and Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt said the state GOP is determining next steps.

For the April primary, Conley extended the deadline to return absentee ballots for a week, and almost 7 percent of all ballots cast came during that time, The Associated Press reports. The Wisconsin Elections Commission said that so far, more than one million absentee ballots have been requested for the Nov. 3 election, and the state expects as many as two million will be cast. Catherine Garcia

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