February 26, 2020

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during Tuesday's Democratic debate confronted former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a comment he's alleged to have made, but MSNBC's Chris Matthews seems skeptical.

Matthews grilled Warren in an interview Tuesday night after she called out Bloomberg during the South Carolina debate by saying, "At least I didn't have a boss who said to me, 'Kill it,' the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees." She was referring to the fact that Bloomberg was sued by a former saleswoman who alleged he made this comment to her, and a former Bloomberg employee also told The Washington Post he witnessed the conversation. Bloomberg strongly denied the accusation during the debate, saying he never made such a comment.

"You believe that the former mayor of New York said that to a pregnant employee," Matthews asked Warren in a post-debate interview, to which Warren responded, "Why shouldn't I believe her?"

From there, Matthews continued to question Warren's assertion, asking, "You believe he's that kind of person who did that?" Later, Matthews asked, "You believe he's lying? ... You believe he's lying? And why would he lie? Just to protect himself?" Finally, he asked one more time, "You're confident of your accusation?"

Warren didn't back off during this tense exchange, saying "I believe the woman" and shooting back to Matthews, "Why would she lie? That's the question, Chris."

The New York Times' Maggie Haberman noted after this Warren-Matthews exchange, "Whether people believe the allegation or not, it isn't something Warren came up with. It's something Bloomberg has been asked questions about for nearly 20 years." Brendan Morrow

1:19 a.m.

President Trump pardoned Stephen Bannon, his 2016 campaign chairman and one-time White House aide, late Tuesday amid a final flurry of executive clemency with just hours left in his administration. Bannon was arrested in August and charged with defrauding investors, mostly Trump supporters, through a group called "We Build the Wall."

In its pardon notice, the White House said Bannon had received "a full pardon" for "charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project," adding that the former Breitbart News chief "has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen." Trump has already pardoned another 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as well as longtime ally Roger Stone and other 2016 advisers and allies.

The "We Build the Wall" campaign raised more than $25 million, ostensibly to build border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Federal prosecutors alleged that Bannon siphoned off more than $1 million through a nonprofit he controlled and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to another organizer, Brian Kolfage, who was also charged in the alleged scheme. Kolfage was not on Trump's pardon list. Trump distanced himself from Bannon and the fundraising project after the arrests, and aides believed Bannon was not going to get a pardon up until Tuesday, CNN reports.

Trump "made the decision on Mr. Bannon after a day of frantic efforts to sway his thinking, including from Mr. Bannon himself, who spoke to him by phone on Tuesday," The New York Times reports. After Bannon helped elect Trump and joined his White House, the two had a dramatic falling-out when Bannon told journalist Michael Wolff, for his book Fire and Fury, that Ivanka Trump is "dumb as a brick" and Donald Trump Jr. had acted "treasonous" by meeting with Russian agents during the campaign. But since last summer, "Bannon has slowly come back into the Trump orbit," The Washington Post notes.

Bannon may still be in legal jeopardy for his work with exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, and state prosecutors might still be able to charge him for any "We Build the Wall" fraud. Peter Weber

12:40 a.m.

Ashton Edwards is changing ballet for the better.

Edwards, 18, is a member of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Professional Division in Seattle. He started studying classical ballet at 4, and after years of performing traditional male roles, Edwards became intrigued by the idea of trying something that is traditionally for women: dancing en pointe.

"It took a lot of searching within myself," Edwards told NPR. "But I think my goals in life and in my career and who I saw myself as a person were much bigger than just one small box I was put in. So I decided to explore." Because ballet has such clear divisions between male and female roles, Edwards didn't know if his school would be open to him dancing en pointe, and was thrilled when they were "open and accepting."

Peter Boal, artistic director for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, told NPR "ballet can be a little slow," and when Edwards asked to study en pointe, "we said, 'Why not? Lead us and we will work with you.'" It usually takes several years of training before a dancer can put on their en pointe shoes, but after just six months, Edwards had the strength and technique necessary. Those shoes "have their challenges," he said, but it's all worth it: "Once you're up and once you start dancing, you're floating, and it feels like flying I think. It's amazing." Catherine Garcia

12:30 a.m.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that the Justice Department has informed him it will not prosecute him for insider trading, making him the last of five senators known to have been investigated for selling stocks right before the market crashed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Burr sold up to $1.7 million worth of stock on Feb. 13, 2020, days after receiving briefings on the emerging coronavirus threat. Burr at the time was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Senate health committee.

Burr has acknowledged he sold the shares because of the pandemic, but says he was guided solely by public news sources, specifically CNBC's Asia health and science reporting. After the FBI executed a search warrant and seized his cellphone in May, he stepped down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Democrats take control of the Senate on Wednesday, and it's unclear if Burr will seek the top GOP slot on either the intelligence or health committees now that the investigation is over.

Three of the other senators investigated for possible insider trading — Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — were cleared in May. An investigation into Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.)'s stock trades expanded but then was closed in August, The New York Times reports. Perdue and Loeffler were both defeated in special elections earlier this month and their Democratic successors will be sworn in Wednesday.

Burr has already said he plans to step down after his term ends in 2022, but the timing of his exculpation, on the final day of the Trump administration, raised some eyebrows. President Trump was not a fan of Burr, who led a bipartisan investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, though Burr will now sit as a juror in Trump's second impeachment trial.

It was always a steep climb for prosecutors to prove criminality in congressional insider trading cases, The Washington Post reports. "The law under which Burr was investigated — the Stock Act, which prohibits members of Congress and other federal officials from trading on information they glean from their government work — has not been used as the basis for a criminal charge since it was passed in 2012." Peter Weber

January 19, 2021

President Trump has spent the last few days asking his friends, aides, and associates if they would like pardons — even those who are not facing any charges, a senior administration official told The Washington Post.

In one case, the official said, Trump offered a pardon to a person who declined the chance at clemency, saying they weren't in any legal trouble and hadn't committed any crimes. "Trump's response was, 'Yeah, well, but you never know. They're going to come after us all. Maybe it's not a bad idea. Just let me know,'" the official recounted.

Trump has taken a great interest in pardoning people, the Post reports, even calling families to personally let them know he granted a pardon. A person familiar with the matter told the Post that Trump was talked out of pardoning himself, family members, and controversial figures like Rudy Giuliani. An aide said there was also a brief discussion about possibly issuing pardons related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, but that idea went nowhere.

While Trump has held a few ceremonial events in recent weeks, journalists have been kept away from the White House, largely because the president is "just not in a place where they would go well," one official told the Post. Trump is constantly flip-flopping, another administration official said, talking about his future but uncertain of where he will be. "He goes between, 'Well, I'm going to go to Florida and play golf, and life is honestly better,' and then in the next moment, it's like, 'But don't you think there's a chance to stay?'" the official said. Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

January 19, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden spent the night before his inauguration honoring the more than 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19.

During a Tuesday ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, Biden said in order for the country to "heal, we must remember. It's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation. That's why we're here today."

The memorial's Reflecting Pool was surrounded by 400 lights, representing the victims of the pandemic. Other landmarks across the United States were also lit up to pay tribute to the dead, including the Space Needle in Seattle and Empire State Building in New York City.

Biden was joined by his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and her husband, Doug Emhoff. Harris also spoke, saying that for months, Americans have "grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together. Though we may be physically separated, we, the American people, are united in spirit and my abiding hope, my abiding prayer, is that we emerge from this ordeal with a new wisdom: to cherish simple moments, to imagine new possibilities, and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another." Catherine Garcia

January 19, 2021

Just because he's leaving the White House, that doesn't mean President Trump is ready to put politics behind him.

In recent days, Trump has talked with aides and friends about starting a new political party, called the "Patriot Party," people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. Trump wants to still exert influence over politics, they said, and thinks this is one way of making sure that happens.

Trump does have a loyal base, but it's almost guaranteed Republican officials would oppose the Patriot Party, due to fears it would attract too many GOP voters. Catherine Garcia

January 19, 2021

Twelve National Guard members have been removed from inauguration duties and sent home, following screenings to see if any of the troops were involved in extremist activity, Defense Department officials confirmed on Tuesday.

Two of the troops made threatening comments about politicians via text and on social media, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters. He would not reveal the exact threats, only saying they were "inappropriate." The other 10 National Guard members were removed due to domestic abuse, criminal investigations, and outstanding complaints, The New York Times reports.

In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, officials have been looking to root out any troops with anti-government or white supremacist sympathies, and the FBI helped the military vet the more than 25,000 National Guard members being deployed to D.C amid the inaugural festivities. "At this point, we don't have the time to rundown every single piece of information," Hokanson said. "But there's enough information for us to determine to remove them from the Capitol."

Hokanson and other officials stressed that most of the National Guard troops are dedicated to protecting the United States, with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) saying in a statement they "put their lives on hold to answer the call to service. They will defend the U.S. Capitol with their lives, and I trust them implicitly with mine." Catherine Garcia

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