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Trump announces pardon for Michael Flynn in tweet

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President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Wednesday that he has granted his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a “full pardon,” wiping away the guilty plea of the intelligence official, lobbyist and conservative fringe darling for lying to the FBI.

The pardon, coming as Trump enters his last days as President, bookends his four years in office and his supporters’ revisionist take on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since January 2017, the Flynn case has been among the defining scandals and sagas of Trump’s presidency and Attorney General William Barr’s leadership of the Justice Department.

Flynn’s criminal charge had hung over the Trump presidency and shaded nearly every major scandal Trump faced, because Flynn’s lies to the FBI had occurred days into the new administration and were about his transition-time contacts with Russia, which opened the door for warmer relations with a country that had just meddled in the US presidential election.

The pardon also ends a three-year legal saga where, most recently, Flynn’s charge hung in an appeals court in a fight over separation of powers, while the Justice Department was trying to drop the case. The trial-court judge overseeing the case had not taken action since the appeals fight, and was considering whether to dismiss the case or to sentence Flynn. The Justice Department has said Flynn never should have been investigated by the FBI and that his lies to them in January 2017 were immaterial, while Flynn recanted his admissions of guilt.

The White House, in a statement following the President’s announcement, insisted on Flynn’s innocence, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany saying in part: “The President has pardoned General Flynn because he should never have been prosecuted.”
The pardon brings “to an end the relentless, partisan pursuit of an innocent man,” McEnany wrote. The White House did not provide any evidence of Flynn’s innocence in the statement.

Trump said in March that he was “strongly considering” pardoning Flynn and had told aides in recent days that he planned to pardon him before leaving office.

A Justice Department official said on Wednesday that they were not consulted about a pardon and instead were notified in advance of the President exercising his pardon power for Flynn. The Department would have preferred to have seen the case resolved with a dismissal in court, the official added.

The judge in Flynn’s case, Emmet Sullivan of the US District Court in DC, may also have questions left in the case, as could the next Justice Department in the Biden administration. In addition to pleading guilty to one charge, Flynn admitted to lying about his lobbying for Turkey but was not charged with that crime. During the legal proceedings, Sullivan has also asked probing questions about the lawyering around the case, and it is unclear if the judge will attempt to continue his inquiries.

The pardon is likely to play into Trump’s legacy, as he continues to rail against democratic institutions and had used Flynn as a political symbol to rally his supporters. Trump’s critics have claimed for months the administration has abused its power and undermine the rule of law to help former advisers and friends.
Flynn’s pardon is the second presidential act of clemency related to prosecutions of advisers of the President. The first was Roger Stone.

“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to [Flynn] and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!” Trump’s tweet on Wednesday afternoon said.

Flynn, apparently in response, tweeted a reference to a Bible verse from the Book of Jeremiah: ” ‘They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.”

Calls to Russia
Over the past two years, the retired lieutenant general twice appeared before federal judges and admitted, under oath, that he was guilty of lying to the FBI while serving as national security adviser when they asked him about his calls in December 2016 with the then-Russian ambassador. But in recent months, Flynn claimed his innocence, saying he had been duped and positioning himself as a right-wing martyr in Trump’s fight against “deep state” Obama-era leaders and intelligence officials.

The Justice Department never admitted that much. Instead, the department added fuel in recent months to Flynn’s and Trump’s claims that he had been wrongfully investigated and tried to dismiss his charge. Former prosecutors and law enforcement officials widely criticized that legal approach, calling Barr a politically corrupt lackey of Trump’s atop the Justice Department.

The Flynn matter from the beginning has raised questions about Trump’s apparent appeasement of Russia.
After the election in late 2016, Flynn spoke to then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the phone several times, requesting that Russia “reciprocate moderately” to US sanctions for its interference in the election and to oppose the Obama administration in an upcoming United Nations vote. He had discussed the calls with Trump transition officials, special counsel Robert Mueller found, and admitted to not documenting the discussions because they could have been perceived as Trump’s transition team getting in the way of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

“Let’s keep this at even-kill (sic) level; then when we come in, we will have a better conversation where we are going to go regarding our relationship,” Flynn told Kislyak on December 29, 2016, according to transcripts of the calls released by the Trump administration this year.
When FBI agents asked Flynn about the calls in the West Wing in January 2017, Flynn falsely said he had not made the requests of Russia.

In his guilty plea, Flynn also admitted to not telling the Justice Department, which regulates foreign agents in the US, about lobbying for Turkey in 2016. He was not charged with this crime, though the department made clear previously that he could have been.

The aftermath of the Flynn calls with Kislyak, including Trump’s encouragement of then-FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Flynn, contributed to the eventual appointment of Mueller as special counsel, a development that has fueled Trump’s anger for years.
Mueller ultimately found Russia sought to help Trump win in 2016 by leaking stolen Democratic documents, that the Trump political operation embraced those leaks and that Trump repeatedly attempted to thwart the Russia investigation once he became President.

Flynn’s departure from the White House in 2017, days after the FBI interview, came not just because of his lies to the agents. He also lied about his contacts with Kislyak to senior administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence. Senior national security officials at the time believed the lies opened up the possibility Russia could blackmail Flynn.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Trump tweeted in December 2017. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

Long road for Flynn
Flynn cut a deal with Mueller’s team to cooperate in late 2017, early in that investigation. With that step, he potentially avoided more serious criminal charges, and spent hours with investigators sharing details about the Trump campaign’s and transition’s contacts with Russians as well as Trump’s actions to potentially obstruct the Russia investigation in 2017.

But as his case swerved toward a possible brief prison sentence, Flynn fired his lawyers, replacing them with a defense team that worked to unravel his plea in court and publicly campaigned for the pardon.

Ultimately, Flynn scored the pardon after his team attacked the FBI, Mueller prosecutors and his prior defense team in court — even after a federal judge had rejected the theory of Flynn’s team that the FBI had entrapped him. Trump had also folded regular tweets about Flynn into his continued railings about Comey, the FBI, the courts and “Obamagate,” a vague moniker of right-wing conspiracy theory.

Flynn’s lawyers in April had filed hundreds of pages of arguments in court encouraging further investigation of officials. They had made public, for instance, a handwritten note from a top FBI official in 2017 that suggested if Flynn didn’t admit to a crime of improperly negotiating with Russia during the transition and lied to the FBI instead, the Justice Department could prosecute or “get him fired.” Though not a legally improper approach, the FBI official’s blunt planning helped draw additional attention to Flynn’s case, as did findings by other investigators that the FBI had made missteps in its initial handling of the Russia investigation.

The Justice Department subsequently sent several more internal documents without context to Flynn’s team, allowing the private lawyers to make them public and draw attention to their case. Some have mentioned Joe Biden, though Barr has publicly announced Biden isn’t being investigated.

Sullivan held a hearing in September regarding the case, and was still considering those documents. At the hearing, he asked Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell about how much she spoke with the President about the case. She responded they had spoken but she had asked Trump not to pardon Flynn.

In public, both she and Trump had said they wanted the legal system to clear Flynn’s name. But that seemed to grow more unlikely with Trump’s loss of the presidency.

In recent weeks, Powell has been one of the more outspoken advocates for Trump’s conspiracy theories of election fraud, which have been repeatedly rejected by judges. Though the Trump campaign has distanced itself from Powell, Trump has tweeted about her assistance to him in fighting his election loss, and his attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis posed in a picture with Flynn that Ellis posted online.

Powell also spoke at a news conference alongside Giuliani a week ago, vowing to fight for Trump.

Trump’s approach to Flynn’s case clearly shifted as well over the three years since his plea.
“What happened to General Michael Flynn, a war hero, should never be allowed to happen to a citizen of the United States again!” Trump tweeted this April. Pence in late April also said that he now felt more inclined to believe Flynn hadn’t intentionally lied to him.

Trump allies celebrate
Several Trump allies celebrated the news of Flynn’s pardon.

Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, congratulated Flynn and called it “a well deserved day for an American Patriot.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the President “is right to pardon the respected three-star general.” And Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan simply tweeted, “God Bless Michael Flynn!”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, meanwhile, said in a statement that the President “abused the pardon power to reward Michael Flynn, who chose loyalty to Trump over loyalty to his country.”

“There is no doubt that a president has broad power to confer pardons, but when they are deployed to insulate himself, his family, and his associates from criminal investigation, it is a corruption of the Framer’s intent,” the California Democrat said, adding, “It’s no surprise that Trump would go out just as he came in — crooked to the end.”

He added later on CNN that Trump’s pardon of Flynn is a “body blow to our national security. It’s also a body blow to the rule of law and, I think, makes a mockery of our democracy to those watching from around the world.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a California Democrat, called the pardon an “act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power.”

While the President has continued to falsely insist publicly that he won the presidential election rather than Biden, the pardon of Flynn is a sign Trump understands his time in office is coming to a close. He’s expected to issue a string of additional pardons before leaving the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussion.

Read from source: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/11/25/politics/trump-pardon-michael-flynn/index.html

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Senate impeachment trial arguments to start February 9

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The second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is scheduled to begin on February 9 after Senate leaders reached a deal to push it back, giving Trump’s legal team more time to prepare and Senate Democrats a chance to consider Covid-19 legislation and to confirm President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.

House Democrats will formally walk over the single article of impeachment against Trump to the Senate on Monday evening, but the agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will push back the substance of the trial until February. Without an agreement, the trial would have started the afternoon after the article was transmitted to the Senate.
“We have made good progress in our efforts to determine the timing and structure of the impeachment trial of Donald J Trump,” Schumer said Friday evening announcing the trial schedule, saying it would begin the week of February 8.
Under the agreement, the ceremonial functions of the trial will occur next week, with the articles being presented on Monday and senators being sworn in as jurors on Tuesday. Then the trial will pause, while the House impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team exchange pre-trial briefs for two weeks. The final briefs would be due on February 9, allowing the trial itself to begin.
A delay to the impeachment trial also makes sense for Democrats because the trial had threatened to stall the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet, as well as put a stop to any consideration of another Covid stimulus package, as Senate Republicans said Friday they would not allow the Senate to confirm nominees at the same time the trial is going on. The trial’s timing had been one of several logistical hurdles the Senate is tackling amid broader negotiations between Schumer and McConnell over how the 50-50 Senate will be governed.
McConnell had proposed delaying the trial until early February, arguing that Trump’s legal team should be given ample time to prepare after the House’s swift impeachment of Trump for “incitement of insurrection” earlier this month. The timeline Schumer announced Friday evening is one week earlier that what McConnell had proposed, but the Kentucky Republican’s team praised the agreement Friday.” This is a win for due process and fairness,” said McConnell spokesman
The length of the trial is still an open question and will depend both on whether the House impeachment managers seek to call witnesses and the length of senators’ questions for the legal teams. But sources say most believe the trial will be shorter than the three-week 2020 impeachment trial for Trump.
The timing for the trial had remained unsettled on Friday morning as the negotiations continued between Senate leaders. On Friday morning, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would transmit the impeachment article to the Senate on Monday, in effect setting a deadline for the Senate to cut a deal on the trial timing.
“We are respectful of the Senate’s constitutional power over the trial and always attentive to the fairness of the process, noting that the former president will have had the same amount of time to prepare for trial as our Managers,” Pelosi said Friday. “Our Managers are ready to begin to make their case to 100 Senate jurors through the trial process.”
Republicans made clear Friday that Biden’s agenda would have been frozen until the Senate finished the trial, had it taken place next week.
“We won’t be doing any confirmations, we won’t be doing any Covid-19 relief, we won’t be doing anything else other than impeaching a person who’s not even president,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of Senate GOP leadership.
Cornyn said Republicans haven’t given consent to bifurcate the trial days to take up nominations during the trial. “No, it’s not gonna happen,” he said.
In order to convict Trump, Democrats need a two-thirds majority, meaning at least 17 Republicans would have to vote to convict Trump, assuming that all 50 Democrats do. Ten House Republicans joined with Democrats to impeach.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, considered a swing GOP vote, said Friday that the process “has to be fair.”
“My thought process is to see what happens as this unfolds,” she said. “You know, we learned this morning that Speaker Pelosi is going to transmit the article on Monday. As I understand, right now, there hasn’t been an agreed-to schedule on the pre-trial. I think what McConnell laid down was eminently reasonable, in terms of making sure that we got process. Got to have process and the process has to be fair. So yeah, so we’ve got to get started, I guess.”
The Biden administration has publicly taken a hands-off approach to the impeachment process has publicly taken a hands-off approach to the impeachment process. Biden has never had a strong appetite for impeaching Trump, advisers say, but he also has little desire for allowing the Senate trial to drag out any longer than necessary.
“We need to move past this,” a Biden official told CNN. “The only way for that to happen is for the trial to begin.”
But Biden said at a White House announcement Friday that he saw the upside to waiting on the trial. “The more time we have to get up and running and meet these crises, the better,” he said.

‘It will be a full trial’

A faction of Senate Republicans has argued that the impeachment trial would be unconstitutional because Trump has already left office. It’s an argument that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, has suggested Trump’s legal team should adopt.
“I think it’s obvious that the post-presidential impeachment has never occurred in the history of the country for a reason, that it’s unconstitutional, that it sets a bad precedent for the presidency and it continues to divide the nation,” Graham said Friday.
But Schumer pushed back on that argument, noting that both liberal and conservative legal scholars have said there is precedent for an impeachment trial of a former official.
“The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump,” Schumer said. “It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial. But make no mistake, there will be a trial, and when that trial ends, senators will have to decide if they believe Donald John Trump incited the insurrection against the United States.”
McConnell said Friday that the Senate should give Trump a “full and fair process” to mount his impeachment defense.
“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House. The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former President Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself,” McConnell said. “Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense and the Senate can properly consider the factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake.”

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‘QAnon Shaman’ Jake Angeli charged over pro-Trump riots

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A prominent follower of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon has been charged over the US Capitol riots.

Jacob Anthony Chansley, known as Jake Angeli, is in custody on charges including violent entry and disorderly conduct.

Mr Chansley, who calls himself the QAnon Shaman, is allegedly the man pictured with a painted face, fur hat and horns inside Congress on Wednesday.

Donald Trump faces another impeachment charge for his role in the unrest.

Democrats accuse the president of encouraging the riots, in which five people died.

The FBI has been appealing to the public to help bring the assailants to justice.

Mr Chansley has not commented publicly on the charges.

A statement from the federal attorney for Washington DC said: “It is alleged that Chansley was identified as the man seen in media coverage who entered the Capitol building dressed in horns, a bearskin headdress, red, white and blue face paint, shirtless, and tan pants.

“This individual carried a spear, approximately 6 feet in length, with an American flag tied just below the blade.”

The statement said police had also detained a man from Florida believed to have been photographed carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern from the House of Representatives chamber.

Adam Johnson, 36, is being held on charges including one count of theft of government property and one count of violent entry.

Also among those charged is West Virginia lawmaker, Derrick Evans. He is alleged to have posted a video of himself online, standing outside the building with Trump supporters, and then going inside.

He was arrested on Friday and is also accused of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol Grounds, the Department of Justice statement said.

More than a dozen people have now been charged in offences related to the assault on the Capitol building. They include an Alabama man allegedly found with 11 Molotov cocktails near the unrest.

Mr Trump is due to leave office in 11 days. Democrats in the House of Representatives plan to introduce an article of impeachment against him on Monday, for “incitement of insurrection”.

A White House spokesperson said impeaching the president at this late stage would only further divide the country.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55606044

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US election: Trump tells Georgia election official to ‘find’ votes to overturn Biden win

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US President Donald Trump has been recorded telling Georgia’s top election official to “find” enough votes to overturn the election result.

“I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Mr Trump told Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a recording released by the Washington Post.

Mr Raffensperger is heard replying that Georgia’s results were correct.

Mr Biden won Georgia alongside other swing states, winning 306 electoral college votes to his Mr Trump’s 232.

Since the 3 November vote, Mr Trump has been alleging widespread electoral fraud without providing any evidence.

He tweeted on Sunday that Mr Raffensperger had not given details of the fraud the president alleges. “He has no clue!” the president tweeted.

All 50 states have certified the election result, some after recounts and legal appeals. So far, US courts have rejected 60 challenges to Mr Biden’s win.

Congress is due to formally approve the election result on 6 January.

Mr Biden, a Democrat, is due to be inaugurated as president on 20 January.

Voters in Georgia are due to vote again on Tuesday to elect two senators for the state. The result could determine the balance of power in the Senate – if the two Democrat contenders win, then there will be equal numbers of Republican and Democratic senators and Democratic Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris will have the deciding vote.

Mr Biden’s Democrats already control the lower House of Representatives.

What happened during the call?

In the excerpts released by Washington Post, Mr Trump can be heard alternately cajoling and pressurising Georgia’s secretary of state.

He insisted that he had won the election in Georgia and told Mr Raffensperger that there was “nothing wrong with saying you have recalculated”.

Mr Raffensperger responded by saying: “The challenge you have Mr president is that the data you have is wrong.”

Later in the call Mr Trump said the rumour was that ballots had been shredded and voting machinery had been removed from Fulton County in the state – a charge Mr Raffensperger’s lawyer said it was not the case.

The president then threatened the official with possible legal consequences.

“You know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal offence. You can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer,” Mr Trump said.

He told Mr Raffensperger he should re-examine the result in the state.

“You can re-examine it, but re-examine it with people who want to find answers, not people who don’t want to find answers,” he said.

“Mr President, you have people who submit information and we have our people that submit information and then it comes before the court and the court has to make a determination,” Mr Raffensperger replied. “We have to stand by our numbers, we believe our numbers are right.”

 

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-55524838

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