February 14, 2020

Attorney General William Barr took the unusual step Thursday of going on President Trump's favorite medium, TV, to complain that Trump's tweeting about Roger Stone's sentence and other Justice Department matters makes it "impossible for me to do my job." Barr's criticism wouldn't have come as a surprise to Trump, a person familiar with the situation tells Politico. "The attorney general had talked to the president a number of times and told him he was getting frustrated with these statements."

Congressional Republicans agreed with Barr that Trump should curb his tweeting. Democrats suggested Barr was really complaining that Trump is making it "impossible" to quietly do his bidding.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump "wasn't bothered by the comments." This "benign response from the White House prompted speculation from some quarters that Barr‘s message was aimed more at calming the furor at the Justice Department over the episode than actually scolding Trump," Politico reports. Not all of Trump's allies responded so benignly, though. "I am so disappointed in Bill Barr," Fox Business host Lou Dobbs exclaimed Thursday night. Barr's job is to stomp out "the deep state," not join it, he said. "I don't want to hear any crap about an independent Justice Department. This Justice Department, as does every one, works for the president."

Dobbs was giving public voice to months of Trump's behind-the-scenes raging "toward the Justice Department — more about whom the department has not charged with crimes than about whom it has charged," like Stone, The Washington Post reports. After Barr's Justice Department declined to charge former FBI Director James Comey, for example, Trump "complained so loudly and swore so frequently in the Oval Office that some of his aides discussed it for days."

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick noted the disconnect between congressional Republicans always waving off Trump's tweeted attacks on various targets — judges, jurors, New York — and "Bill Barr saying, 'Oh, no, these tweets are ... real and they're consequential, and they're making it hard to do my job.'" It's "just head-snapping," she said on MSNBC, "that we can't pick whether these tweets are a joke or whether they're real." Peter Weber

2:02 p.m.

After teasing the idea of commuting former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's prison sentence, President Trump has pulled the trigger.

Last summer, Trump said he was thinking "very strongly" about commuting Blagojevich's prison sentence, saying the former governor has "been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn't have said what he said, but it was braggadocio you would say." Six months later, Trump confirmed Tuesday he has commuted Blagojevich's sentence. This followed a report from The New York Times that he had done so.

"I did commute his sentence," Trump told reporters. "So he'll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail. That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence, in my opinion."

Blagojevich was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2011 after trying to essentially sell former President Obama's Senate seat. He had been recorded saying of the seat, "I've got this thing, and it's f--ing golden. I'm just not giving it up for f--ing nothing." Trump said last year that there "have been many politicians — I'm not one of them, by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone." Blagojevich was also convicted over shakedown attempts involving a racetrack and a children's hospital as prosecutors cited a "pattern of racketeering activity" in office, NBC News reports.

Shortly after his comments last August, CNN reported that Trump seemed to have "backed off" the idea of commuting Blagojevich's sentence after receiving pushback from Illinois Republicans. But since then, he evidently came back around to the idea. Trump said Tuesday that Blagojevich "seemed like a very nice person" when he appeared "for a short while on The Apprentice," where Trump fired him after complaining that his "Harry Potter facts were not accurate." Brendan Morrow

1:54 p.m.

Was a fourth-place finish last week in the New Hampshire primary for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) an outlier, or does it spell doom for her campaign in the eyes of voters in Nevada, where she'll be put to the test next?

Some of her supporters in the Silver State think she'll be fine, The New York Times reports. "New Hampshire doesn't matter," said Pat Campbell-Cozzi, 76. "I know where she'll be after the final vote."

Heather McGhee, the former president of progressive think tank Demos, thinks there's something to that line of thinking, though she was much less confident than Campbell-Cozzi. McGhee said the Democratic race is very "fluid" right now, exemplified by New Hampshire, where 48 percent of voters made their final decision in the last two days before the primary. In that sense, Nevada remains up for grabs, but McGhee said Warren's grassroots supporters will have to show up and make it happen themselves.

Undecided voters are — naturally — a little more skeptical about caucusing for Warren in Nevada than her die-hards are after she struggled in New Hampshire, which borders her home state of Massachusetts. "It was concerning — do they know something I don't?" said Kristin Ritenhouse, 49. "Because my neighbors like me." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

1:40 p.m.

Roger Stone will be sentenced on Thursday and President Trump can do nothing about it.

That's the message U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who's overseeing the criminal case against Trump's longtime adviser, sent Tuesday when she confirmed the date of Stone's sentencing hearing. Despite receiving threats from Trump to delay the sentencing for a second time, that "would not be a prudent thing to do under all the circumstances," Jackson said.

Uproar surrounding Stone's upcoming sentencing arose last week when prosecutors in the case recommended a 7–9 year prison term for Stone's crimes of lying to Congress and witness tampering. Trump tweeted to complain about the suggestion, and Attorney General William Barr intervened, with the DOJ eventually recommending a lighter sentence for Stone. Trump then repeatedly attacked Jackson's handling of the case, including in Twitter threads Tuesday morning where he cited Fox & Friends to call for her to delay Stone's sentencing.

Despite the presidential controversy, "I'm willing to make sure there are no consequences that flow from the announcement of the sentence at the sentencing hearing," Jackson said in a Tuesday scheduling call. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:30 p.m.

President Trump on Tuesday issued an executive order pardoning Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

That name might ring a bell for NFL fans — DeBartolo used to own the San Francisco 49ers, overseeing the franchise during its heyday in the 1980s and '90s when the team won five Super Bowls. He eventually passed ownership on to his sister, Denise York, when he pleaded guilty to a felony in 1998.

DeBartolo was involved in the gambling fraud case of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, who was eventually sent to prison on racketeering, conspiracy, and extortion charges. DeBartolo testified that he paid Edwards $400,000 to secure a riverboat casino license. DeBartolo himself was charged with failing to report a bribery. He didn't go to prison, but was suspended from the NFL in 1997 and fined $1 million in addition to giving up his ownership. Still, he found his way to Canton, Ohio, when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

Some of DeBartolo's former players, including legendary 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, were at the White House on Tuesday. Rice said "I take my hat off" to Trump for the decision. Read more at USA Today and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

12:15 p.m.

Expect former President Barack Obama's radio silence on the 2020 Democratic primary to continue in the coming months. After all, he's reportedly got a very specific reason for staying out of it.

Obama has intentionally remained on the sidelines throughout the primary so far, not throwing his support behind any candidate, including former Vice President Joe Biden. This, New York Magazine reports, is part of a "choreographed strategy" on the part of Obama, who is "increasingly sure he will need to play a prominent role in bringing the party back together and calming its tensions later this summer."

Between now and then, Obama is "committed to not allowing his personal thoughts to dribble out" into the open, the report says, since this might make it more challenging for him to serve as an "honest broker." Apparently, this effort could be going better considering this very same report features a few of Obama's personal thoughts, including that he's supposedly "unimpressed" with Biden's campaign.

A Fox Business report recently suggested Obama was considering speaking out about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as he becomes nervous that he'll secure the Democratic nomination. But there's reportedly not much truth to that, and a source told New York Magazine, "there is no way Barack Obama is intervening, unless something very strange happens."

In fact, Obama reportedly isn't paying a whole lot of attention to the "day-to-day dynamics" of the race, following it through newspaper reports but not even watching all of the Democratic debates. But Obama is reportedly "sure that he'll have to catch up" on these dynamics he's been missing out on later, meaning some binge-watching of the Democratic primary may soon be in the cards. Read the full report at New York Magazine. Brendan Morrow

11:53 a.m.

The campaign team for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) believes the Democratic presidential candidate is surging after a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary last week, but they're also acknowledging they face an uphill battle because of a lack of resources.

For example, per The Washington Post, the campaign had to drive the New Hampshire bus to Nevada because they didn't have one there, and Klobuchar's Iowa caucus specialist is handling the same task in the Silver State. "We're putting the airplane together as we're flying," an anonymous Klobuchar campaign adviser told the Post.

One of the key issues outside of Nevada the Klobuchar campaign faces is what to do about Super Tuesday in March, when 14 states will vote for the Democratic nominee, providing one-third of all delegates selected. The Klobuchar team reportedly spent hours this past weekend debating whether it's worth it to even really compete in some of the more delegate-rich Super Tuesday states like Texas and California given the amount of cash it could require to make a dent. As one Klobuchar adviser said, "it's a little bit more difficult" in those situations given "the sheer dollars" necessary. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

11:09 a.m.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been re-elected to a second term with 50.64 percent of the vote, results released Tuesday reveal.

It's been five months since Afghans voted in that election, with concerns of fraud and mechanical error forcing recounts. Yet supporters of Ghani's rival Abdullah Abdullah have so far refused to accept the results and have even proposed creating an alternative government, putting a peace deal between the Taliban and the U.S. in question, The Washington Post reports.

Ghani received a majority of the vote, meaning there won't be a runoff in the election. Abdullah meanwhile earned 39.5 percent of the vote, according to Afghanistan’s election commission. Abdullah's backers say that commission was biased in favor of Ghani, and former vice president of Ghani turned top Abdullah supporter Abdul Rashid Dostum said last week that "if they announce a government based on fraud, we will announce a parallel government," per The New York Times.

The September vote was marred by Taliban attacks aimed at destabilizing the election, though President Trump's refusal to hold peace talks scheduled for that time eventually allowed the vote to proceed. U.S.-Taliban negotiations have since continued, and both sides said a few days ago they agreed to a conditional deal. But uncertainty in the government could jeopardize the next step after a U.S.-Taliban agreement, which involved negotiations between Afghanistan's government and Taliban leaders. Kathryn Krawczyk

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