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New indictments revealed against Manafort after Gates pleads guilty

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and false statement charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

Gates admitted to taking part in a conspiracy to hide tens of millions of dollars that he and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort obtained for their lobbying and consulting work related to Ukraine. Gates also acknowledged that, during a debriefing with the special counsel’s office and the FBI earlier this month, he lied about the pair’s Ukraine-related work.

The plea deal leaves Manafort alone fighting charges.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson released two new indictments against Manafort, one returned last week and another returned earlier Friday, removing some foreign-account-reporting charges that are part of a new tax and bank fraud focused indictment prosecutors unveiled in Virginia Thursday against both Manafort and Gates.

Gates’ plea deal requires Gates to cooperate with Mueller’s various investigations including his prosecution of Manafort, Gates’ former business partner and mentor, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman until August 2016.

Jackson accepted Gates’ guilty plea Friday afternoon but set no immediate sate for sentencing. The plea agreement says that if prosecutors deem Gates to have provided “substantial assistance” to the government, they’ll file a motion that could increase Gates’ chances of getting a more lenient sentence than the guidelines recommend. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Gates could receive between about four-and-a-half and six years in prison on the two-count plea.

The Virginia charges Gates faces would be dismissed at sentencing.

Gates, wearing a dark blue suit and maroon tie and sporting the beard he grew after his indictment in October, seemed calm during the 45-minute hearing on the second floor of the federal courthouse near Capitol Hill.

Flanked by his defense attorney, Thomas Green, Gates stood at a courtroom lectern and spoke in quick bursts as he answered Jackson’s questions about whether he understood the rights he was giving up and the possibility consequences of the plea.

“Did you in fact lie to the special counsel’s office and the FBI on Feb. 1st of this year?” Jackson asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Gates said, offering similar answers as the judge summarized the other charges he was admitting to.

At the end of the lengthy back and forth, the judge asked Gates, bluntly: “What’s your decision?”

“Guilty, your honor,” Gates replied.

Mueller prosecutors Greg Andres and Andrew Weissmann also appeared at the hearing, outlining the scope of the scheme Gates was admitting to. Andres said Gates, described in court filings as Manafort’s “right-hand man,” was deeply and directly involved in helping Manafort avoid taxes on the tens of millions of dollars he made for his work related to Ukraine.

“Mr. Gates assisted Mr. Manafort in hiding income by denominating overseas payments as loans,” Andres said, adding that Gates had “misled the tax accountants in various ways.”

Weissmann offered some new details about the lobbying Manafort and Gates allegedly did for Ukraine. The prosecutor said that in 2012 and 2013 the men “secretly retained” a group of former European officials to make statements favorable to Ukraine’s Party of Regents.

While the ex-officials posed as dispassionate observers, “in fact, they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine,” Weissmann said. He said Manafort and Gates used foreign accounts to direct $2 million Euros to pay the former officials, known as the Hapsburg Group.

Weissmann said the ex-officials lobbied U.S. members of Congress, executive branch officials and their staffs—activities that should have been reported at the time under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The new indictment filed against Manafort on Friday provides some new details on the Ukraine-related lobbying work, including that in an “EYES ONLY” memo, Manafort called the so-called Hapsburg Group’s lobbying effort “SUPER VIP.” He said it would involve “a small group of high-level European highly influencial [sic] champions and politically credible friends who can act informally and without any visible relationship with the Government of Ukraine.”

The group was led by a “former European chancellor,” the revised indictment of Manafort says, without further identifying the foreign leader.

In a statement released via his spokesman, Manafort said: “Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today, I continue to maintain my innocence. I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.”

Green, Gates’ lawyer, noted during the hearing Friday that the plea agreement leaves open the possibility for Gates’ defense to argue that Manafort should bear “disproportionate” responsibility for the illegal conduct because he directed the scheme.

Gates served as a deputy to Manafort when he ran the Trump campaign from June to August of 2016. Gates then reportedly continued to work in a liaison role between the campaign and the Republican National Committee, although precisely what he did in that capacity is unclear.

While defendants entering into plea deals are typically required to provide information about everything prosecutors have under investigation, it’s unclear how much insight Gates has into the core issues being investigated by Mueller: how Russia allegedly sought to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump campaign officials or American Trump backers colluded with such efforts.

“This indictment has nothing to do with the White House or the president,” White House adviser Mercedes Schlapp said in a Fox News appearance Friday, apparently referring to Gates’ planned guilty plea. “As you know, we have been cooperative with the special counsel. As we continue to see, there’s no evidence of collusion, no evidence of wrongdoing.”

Jackson set May 14 for a status update on Gates’ role in the case. However, Gates’ sentencing could be put off until after Manafort goes to trial or otherwise resolves the separate charges in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia.

After the hearing concluded Friday, Weissmann crossed the courtroom and gave Gates a firm handshake. The men appeared to talk cordially, with Green also chiming in.

Gates did not comment on his plea as he left the courthouse Friday. Green also said he’d have no comment for the time being. “Keeping our powder dry,” the defense attorney said.

The conspiracy count largely tracks with the indictment Mueller’s team filed against Manafort and Gates last October, but consolidating the charges into one count reduced Gates’ potential prison time. Combined with the false statement charge, the most Gates could possibly receive is ten years behind bars, although his sentence is almost certain to be lower.

The false statement charge Gates admitted to focuses on his comments to Mueller’s team on Feb. 1 about a 2013 meeting involving Manafort and Republican California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, as well as former congressman Vin Weber, now a lobbyist at Mercury. That meeting was detailed in a June 2017 filing by Manafort’s firm retroactively disclosing foreign lobbying.

Mercury and another firm, the Podesta Group, were referenced in the original October indictments, though not by name. Neither firm has been charged in the investigation.

Gates admitted Friday that he lied when he said Manafort told him there was no discussion of Ukraine at the meeting. The charge says Manafort never made such a statement and Gates helped prepare a report on Ukraine-related discussions that Manafort indicated took place at the meeting.

In an interview with POLITICO last year, Rohrabacher said the two men, who have known each other for decades, had dinner together at the Capitol Hill Club.

“Manafort’s an old friend,” Rohrabacher said. “And after the dinner I think he gave me a very modest campaign contribution.”

The GOP lawmaker said they discussed Manafort’s work in Ukraine, Rohrabacher said, but it wasn’t the main focus of the dinner.

“In retrospect, I don’t remember him talking about specifically who it was who had given him a contract,” Rohrabacher said. “Frankly, I don’t remember if it was the Russians or the Ukrainians. … He certainly wasn’t trying to twist my arm on any policy issue.”

On the same day Gates allegedly lied to the FBI, Gates’ entire defense team moved to withdraw from the case. After some legal wrangling, Jackson released the three lawyers Thursday. Her agreement to do so came after after Green, formally entered his appearance Thursday afternoon.

The new criminal bank fraud and tax charges issued Thursday by a grand jury in Alexandria allege that Gates and Manafort filed false tax returns for several years and Gates was directly involved in providing what prosecutors say was doctored financial information.

Jackson has imposed a gag order limiting public statements by the defendants and by the lawyers involved in the D.C. case.

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The top 10 governor's races of 2018

While Washington obsesses over congressional elections and gyrations in the generic ballot, the 36 races for governor across the country this fall could be the most consequential contests of 2018.

Special and off-year elections across the country suggest a possible Democratic wave that could reduce the party’s historic deficit: Only 16 of the nation’s 50 governors are Democrats. But 23 of the three-dozen gubernatorial races this year are in Republican-held states.

These races are critical to both parties’ plans over the next four years: They can have a major impact on President Donald Trump’s efforts to implement a conservative agenda, and many of these governors will play an important role in the redistricting process following the 2020 Census, shaping political maps for the coming decade.

Much has happened since we last updated our governors’ race rankings late last year. In Illinois, both parties’ front-runners have been besieged by their primary opponents, with just three-and-a-half weeks until voters go to the polls to pick the nominees. The Ohio primary isn’t until May, but both parties have fights ahead there, too. In Alaska, the sitting, independent governor’s approval ratings have plummeted, raising GOP hopes of taking back the Republican-leaning state in the fall.

As governors from across the country descend on Washington for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association, here is POLITICO’s updated list of the 10 governorships most likely to change parties in November.

1. Illinois — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is running for reelection. (Previous ranking: 1)

Rauner remains the most vulnerable governor in America — but much has changed ahead of the March 20 primary. Rauner’s primary challenger, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, is running incendiary television ads aimed at turning conservatives against the incumbent. But things may be even more unsettled on the Democratic side: Controversial comments by self-funding front-runner J.B. Pritzker about African-Americans has widened an opening for his opponents in the primary. State Sen. Daniel Biss has emerged as a top competitor to Pritzker in the primary and points to polls of him leading Rauner in the general election. Both Rauner and Pritzker have been forced to begin airing attack ads against their two main primary rivals. Rauner and Pritkzer, both billionaires, are still likely to win their bruising primaries, setting up the general election to be among the most expensive state races in the nation’s history.

2. Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage is term-limited. (3)

No clear front-runner has emerged among the handful of candidates in Republican gubernatorial primary to succeed LePage, but state Senate President Mike Thibodeau and former state Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew are positioned to vie for the nomination. Democrats are eager to retake control of the governor’s mansion — and while state Attorney General Janet Mills leads the primary field, attorney Adam Cote and former state House Speaker Mark Eves are running competitively in the primary, racking up endorsements and strong fundraising numbers.

3. New Mexico — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is term-limited. (2)

Democrats face a contested primary: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the front-runner, has to fend off state Sen. Joe Cervantes and businessman Jeff Apodaca. Republican Rep. Steve Pearce is set to coast to the GOP nomination. Nevertheless, Democrats are bullish about their chances in New Mexico. Martinez’s approval ratings are underwater, and Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016. Also fueling Democratic optimism: Other prominent Democrats, like Sen. Martin Heinrich, are the heavy favorites to win their respective races.

4. Nevada — Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval is term-limited. (5)

Even if 2018 is a wave election for Democrats, Republicans could still come out holding on to Nevada’s governor’s mansion, where Sandoval remains popular, and state Attorney General Adam Laxalt holds a strong position at the front of the Republican primary for governor. Laxalt is competing against businessman Jared Fisher and state Treasurer Dan Schwartz in the GOP primary, but most polling shows Laxalt comfortably ahead. Democrats have a heated primary on their hands between Clark County Chairman Steve Sisolak and Clark County Vice Chairwoman Chris Giunchigliani. Giunchigliani has picked up endorsements from EMILY’s List and the Nevada State Education Association, while Sisolak has been endorsed by other influential unions, like the Clark County Education Association.

5. Alaska — Independent Gov. Bill Walker is seeking reelection. (7)

Walker’s approval ratings have plummeted down below 30 percent, according to Morning Consult’s polling over the fourth quarter of last year. A trio of Republicans are running in the gubernatorial primary to unseat Walker. Unless a strong Democratic candidate emerges — former Sen. Mark Begich has flirted with a possible candidacy — or Walker’s approval ratings improve, the race could be a strong pickup opportunity for Republicans.

6. Connecticut — Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy is retiring. (4)

In the second half of 2017, Republicans were optimistic that Malloy’s notably low approval ratings and a large unwieldy primary opened the window for a GOP win in deep-blue Connecticut. But the Republican primary, like the Democratic one, is crowded and has shown no signs of straightening out. A Tremont Public Advisors poll released this week found the generic gubernatorial ballot statistically tied, compared to a GOP lead on the generic ballot last year. Still, a Democratic victory is far from certain, and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and 2006 Senate nominee Ned Lamont are competing in a crowded primary.

7. Florida — Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term-limited. (6)

Florida is one of four states — along with Nevada, Arizona and Ohio — where the Republican Governors Association has pre-booked a total of $20 million in advertising for the fall. Of those four states, the most money, $9.4 million, is going to Florida. Republicans face a massive, protracted battle in the late-August primary, however, between the well-funded state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Trump-endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis. The same is true in the four-way Democratic primary between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Rep. Gwen Graham, businessman Chris King, and former Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine. The few polls of the primary have shown Graham leading, but a large chunk of those surveyed said they are undecided.

8. Ohio — Republican Gov. John Kasich is term-limited. (9)

Both parties are trying to cull their primary fields ahead of the early May vote. The state GOP central committee endorsed state Attorney General Mike DeWine over Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, but Taylor has vowed to stay in the race. (Rep. Jim Renacci switched to the Senate race last month, making it a two-way race between DeWine and Taylor.) Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich roiled the race when he entered the contest on the eve of the filing deadline. Kucinich, this week, was endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-aligned Our Revolution group, a surprising move since frontrunner Richard Cordray had been scooping up endorsements from former competitors and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Cordray is still the favorite for the nomination, but he’s being forced to respond to the iconoclastic Kucinich.

9. Maryland — Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is running for reelection. (10)

Hogan’s approval ratings remain stellar. A Goucher College poll this week showed 61 percent of Marylanders approve of Hogan’s job performance, while only 18 percent disapprove. But take a closer look at Hogan’s reelect numbers: Just 47 percent say they will vote to reelect Hogan, while 43 percent say they definitely or lean toward voting for another candidate. The same poll showed a wide-open Democratic primary race. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker led Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in the Democratic primary, 19 percent to 12 percent, with former NAACP president and CEO Ben Jealous at 10 percent.

10. Wisconsin — Republican Gov. Scott Walker is running for reelection. (Not rated)

Walker is seeking a third term in 2018, and Democrats are hungry to stop him. A surprise Democratic victory in a state Senate special election last month has Democrats optimistic they might finally topple Walker, who has won three statewide elections since 2010. But there’s no clear front-runner in the primary among the more than a dozen candidates running. Walker’s reelection team has already begun aggressively running a campaign aimed at highlighting the governor’s accomplishments. Walker himself has also made sure to endorse and hold fundraisers around the country for gubernatorial and Senate candidates to help build his network for reelection.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Georgia, Iowa, Michigan (8), Pennsylvania, Tennessee

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Midterm campaign Trump debuts at CPAC

President Donald Trump abandoned a scripted speech to conservatives on Friday to launch into a greatest hits roster of lines from his 2016 campaign, marking a return to candidate mode as he begins campaigning for Republicans in the midterm elections.

The speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference was supposed to highlight tax cuts and sanctions targeting North Korea, but veered instead to familiar tropes, including his victory over “crooked” Hillary Clinton and a spirited reading of “The Snake,” an allegorical song that candidate Trump used frequently to illustrate dangers posed by undocumented immigrants.

It was a departure from the slightly more controlled, presidential Trump — who was back in evidence at the White House later in the day speaking alongside Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — and a sign that the president plans to lean heavily on what’s worked for him in the past as he tries to boost Republicans in the November elections.

“It’s now his party. It’s now his conservative movement and there are no challengers. This was like a victory speech,” said Ed Rollins, lead strategist for the pro-Trump Great America super PAC. “It was the kickoff to the 2018 campaign — and the 2020.”

Calling his first 365 days “the most successful first year in the history of the presidency”, Trump went off script to rattle through a list of superlative achievements — the “biggest” tax cuts, “heaviest” sanctions and record firearms prosecutions.

“I think now we’ve proved that I’m a conservative, right?” Trump told the crowd, as he ran over his allotted time. “We have put more great conservative ideas into use than perhaps ever before in American history.”

Trump warned that complacency in November’s elections could lead to Democratic gains in Congress and, in turn, gun control and higher taxes.

His revival of familiar themes — including not just “crooked” Hillary but also the “very, very crooked” media — prompted chants of “USA” and “Lock her up!” from the crowd at the National Harbor convention center just south of Washington.

Republicans, who control the House and Senate, have advanced their agenda sometimes in spite of the president. Going into this year’s midterms, it’s far from certain that Trump, or the party, can translate those accomplishments into congressional gains.

Democrats are defending 25 Senate seats, including 10 in states that supported Trump over Clinton in 2016, compared with Republicans’ eight. Still, Democrats hope to capitalize on Trump’s low approval ratings, scandals and an investigation into Russian campaign meddling to pare or eliminate Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

As Trump basked in CPAC’s friendly glow, a former campaign aide, Rick Gates, was pleading guilty to charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller in a deal that requires Gates to cooperate with Mueller’s prosecution of Paul Manafort, Gates’ former business partner and Trump’s onetime chairman.

“He made it very clear he’s going to campaign very aggressively in 2018,” Rollins said. “Whether that’s good or bad we’ll find out.”

Trump urged the audience — about 1,000 people — not to get complacent.

“We have a problem: We need more Republicans,” Trump said. “We have to worry — right now, we have a big race coming up in ’18. You have to get out. You have to just get that enthusiasm. Keep it going.”

“If they get in, they will repeal your tax cuts, they will put judges in that you wouldn’t believe, they’ll take away your Second Amendment, which we will never allow to happen,” Trump said.

Excerpts of the speech released before Trump took the stage suggested he would spotlight his administration’s announcement of sanctions on North Korea, advertised as the “LARGEST EVER.” But Trump mentioned the sanctions only as he wound up his remarks, and only, he said, “because people have asked” — without including details.

Trump’s Friday address marked the second consecutive year he spoke at the CPAC summit. With the president’s conservative bona fides now cemented, the venue this year became an important event for rallying his base.

CPAC is organized by American Conservative Union head Matt Schlapp, whose wife, Mercedes Schlapp, is a White House adviser for strategic communications.

Trump had a lukewarm welcome at CPAC last year. This year the president owned the crowd, but the gathering prompted furious debate among conservatives for its Trump-friendly list of speakers, which included Sebastian Gorka, a former White House aide and alt-right hero, and Marion Le Pen, the niece of French National Front Party chief Marine Le Pen.

Yesterday, Trump stuck to his conservative message. A week after a deadly school shooting that killed 17 in Parkland, Florida, he gave little ground on gun control. He called for an end to gun-free school zones and said teachers should be armed.

“Well-trained, gun-adept teachers and coaches should be able to carry concealed firearms,” Trump said. “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.”

The president touted his deregulatory agenda and claimed that “Obamacare is just being wiped out” after Congress repealed a requirement that individuals carry health insurance.

The president also paid homage to Billy Graham, the prominent American pastor and longtime presidential adviser who passed away this week at 99.

“We will never forget the historic crowds, the voice, the energy, and the profound faith of a preacher named Billy Graham,” Trump said.

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Democrats fear California crack-up

LOS ANGELES — California Democrats are united in their disdain for President Donald Trump. But that’s about all they can agree on.

Heading into the annual state Democratic Party convention in San Diego this weekend, the Democratic-controlled Legislature is mired in a contentious sexual harassment scandal. Cutthroat primaries have party officials on edge. And grass-roots activists are still seething, nearly two years after Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary.

Escalating the tension in the nation’s most populous state, the national party and a handful of other outside groups are beginning to muscle into crowded congressional races, hoping to head off a nightmare scenario in which the state’s unusual, top-two primary system results in no Democratic candidate at all appearing on November ballots in several key races.

“The gloves are coming off,” said Joshua Morrow, executive director of 314 Action, a political action committee that announced this week it will spend at least $1 million on television ads in the Los Angeles area ahead of the June primary, seeking to bolster three preferred Democrats running in crowded primaries.

The state convention — which is expected to draw several thousand activists and party officials — comes as California Democrats seek to highlight their dominance as a model for the party nationwide.

Democrats presently hold every statewide office and large majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Four potential presidential candidates are scheduled to address delegates over the weekend: U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, as well as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.

But infighting appears certain. In addition to a contested races for governor and attorney general, one of the most obvious flash points is the ongoing debate among state lawmakers over single-payer health care. State Senate leader Kevin de León’s bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is another likely point of conflict, with progressive groups courting delegates in an effort to block the state’s senior senator from receiving the party endorsement.

Like the fight over single-payer health care, the Senate primary is colored by the lingering bitterness surrounding the 2016 Sanders-Clinton primary.

“We’re a very big tent; that’s how it is, and [there is] a lot of excitement. Sure, there could be some negative stories coming out of there, but it also shows how excited people are, that this midterm election is as important as a presidential year,” said former Sen. Barbara Boxer.

“Politics,” she said, is “rough and tumble.”

Southern California is critical to Democratic efforts nationally to retake the House, so party endorsements in a number of races add another dose of volatility to the weekend.

In races for 14 GOP-held House seats around California, the number of Democrats lining up to take on Republican incumbents is record-breaking, leading party leaders to worry that the competition, and the elbow-throwing, could damage the unity and energy that has been fired up by the party faithful’s dislike of Trump.

Those fights will unfold against the backdrop of mounting fears that the state’s top-two primary — in which the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election regardless of party affiliation — could leave Democrats off the November ballot in several key House contests.

Rep. Adam Schiff acknowledged California Democrats need to become more focused.

“The jungle primary is a real concern … we saw before in the district that [Congressman] Pete Aguilar now represents that you can have a district that is even majority or plurality Democratic, and you get too many Democratic candidates — and you get two Republicans in the runoff. So that is a real concern,” he said.

Earlier this month, Democratic strategist Joe Trippi and pollster Paul Maslin launched a new super PAC, CA-BAM!, in part to help cull the field in competitive races, while national and state party leaders press candidates to consider the potential ramifications of over-crowded primaries.

“There have been conversations going on between party leadership and [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] leaders and members of Congress trying to talk to various candidates,” said Eric Bauman, chairman of the California Democratic Party. “Without telling people, ‘Hey, you have to get out of the race’ — because that’s not the way Democrats do things — but to try to bring people to a sense of realization that if we have five, six, seven Democrats running in a race and they have two Republicans, they’re going to get the two spots.”

In a recent call with candidates seeking to succeed retiring Rep. Ed Royce, Bauman said he told the group, “If we lose the opportunity to deliver three, four or more seats to the Democratic conference, then America loses the opportunity to have at least one House that acts as a stop for Trump’s divisive and hateful agenda.”

Down-ticket Democrats are already sharpening their elbows. In the race to unseat Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in Orange County, Democrat Harley Rouda’s campaign accused fellow Democrat Hans Keirstead of lying about his credentials, then announced it had asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate Keirstead for “failure to comply with the FEC’s financial disclosure rules,” for allegedly not providing information about underlying holdings in investment accounts.

Democrats are widely favored to prevail in November in California’s statewide elections. But in the more uncertain House races, the DCCC has been conducting polling and said it is “keeping all options on the table” for intervening in primary elections. The prospect of national Democrats attempting to pick winners has infuriated some candidates and Democratic activists.

“Local Democrats don’t appreciate Washington telling them who their nominee ought to be,” said Schiff. “So it’s a real problem. And we haven’t figured out how to resolve that.”

Dave Jacobson, a Democratic strategist working with several House campaigns, said delegates “will refuse to be dictated to by the Washington power brokers and top-down politics.”

“Rather than suppressing Democratic votes, and a healthy debate among wide-ranging fields of Democratic candidates, Washington Democrats should focus like a laser on attacking Republicans who are promising to advocate for the Trump agenda,” he said.

But if Democrats are now looking ahead to the 2018 midterms, they’re also fretting about embarrassments from their recent past.

One lawmaker facing accusations of sexual harassment, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, has indicated she will contest efforts to oust her from the Legislature. Another, state Sen. Tony Mendoza, resigned this week amid accusations of inappropriate behavior. But he could still run for reelection — and press for an endorsement.

Garcia, who effectively won the party’s endorsement in a preconvention meeting before stories about her alleged conduct broke, cannot technically be denied the plum unless the party scraps all the endorsements under convention rules. Party leaders and insiders are leaning on Garcia to stand down and take herself out of the running — and to spare the party the mortifying possibility of endorsing her while she stands accused and under a cloud of investigation.

But on her Facebook page, Garcia — who urged men accused of sexual harassment to step down — has denied accusations and has said she will cooperate with the investigation, while mounting a fight to maintain her seat.

The Democratic Party’s women’s caucus, headed by Christine Pelosi, is expected to tackle the issue at a Saturday morning meeting that could be raucous and divisive. Garcia, Pelosi said, “has yet to respond” to many in the party who have asked her remove her name from the consent calendar.

“Job One is making sure the people who go out and ask for the party’s endorsement are people we want to support, who will be champions for our issues,’’ she said. “A candidate who is willing to sweep harassment under the rug is not a candidate who will fight for the rights of vulnerable people … and a candidate who is harassing staff isn’t someone you want to send people to work for.”

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Kushner's security clearance and access ‘up to Gen. Kelly,’ Trump says

President Donald Trump said Friday the decision over whether to give Jared Kushner a waiver on his security clearance will be “up to” chief of staff John Kelly.

“That’ll be up to Gen. Kelly,” Trump said during a press conference at the White House. “Gen. Kelly respects Jared a lot and Gen. Kelly will make that call. I won’t make that call.”

The president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser has been working on an interim security clearance since joining the White House in January 2017, accessing sensitive information including the president’s daily intelligence briefing.

He is one of dozens of staffers, including his wife Ivanka, working without permanent clearance.

The White House’s handling of clearances came under scrutiny after reports that Kelly had been aware that former staff secretary Rob Porter, who was accused by his two ex-wives of verbal and physical abuse, did not have a full security clearance in part because of a previous protective order granted during one of his divorces.

The scandal prompted Kelly to crack down on staffers working without full clearance, more than a year into the Trump administration.

In a five-page document released last week, Kelly ordered a series of initiatives aimed at bolstering protocols.

The proposed remedies included a formalized notification-regarding-clearances process between the White House counsel’s office, the personnel security office and the FBI; and new restrictions on what classified information those with interim security clearances can obtain, among other measures.

“The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted — especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information,” Kelly said in the memo. “We should — and in the future, must — do better.”

The White House had last fall quietly imposed a ban on allowing any new staff to access sensitive information without permanent clearance. Staffers who were already working on interim clearances were allowed to continue in their roles.

Trump on Friday railed against what he described as pre-existing issues with the security clearance process.

“We inherited a system that’s broken. It’s a system where many people have — just it’s taken months and months and months” to be processed, Trump said.

Trump added that Kushner, who has been working on Middle East peace issues, has “done an outstanding job” despite having “been treated very unfairly” by outside groups.

The president was pressed on the topic during a bilateral meeting at the White House with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that regardless of changes to the clearance process, Kushner’s duties would not change.

“Mr. Kushner’s work that he has done will not be impacted and he’s going to continue to do the work that he’s done over the last year,” Sanders said.

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How MB2 Dental Solutions Approaches Practice Management

Dental practice management firms are by and large very staid and boring. Dr. Chris Villanueva and his business partners opened MB2 Dental Solutions with a goal of injecting some life into this industry. They embrace a youth culture and having fun during the day while still being highly professional. Employees are encouraged to be innovative and come up with procedures that allow them to be more efficient and more helpful to the dentists they work with.At MB2 Dental Solutions they have a deeper connection to the dental practices they work with. The dentist and MB2 Dental Solutions become partners in running the dental practice. However, this partnership stops at the exam room door as the dentists have complete autonomy when it comes to treating their patients. Dentists are also able to decide what technology they want to incorporate into their practices including in the front office.

The dentists that partner with MB2 Dental Solutions have a wide variety of resources available to them. Some dentists want to be involved in most aspects of running a practice while others take a bit more of a hands-off approach and have MB2 Dental Solutions run more of the business side of their practice. They can avail themselves of many services such as IT, payroll services, accounting, training, and more.When partnering with MB2 Dental Solutions the dentists also get to decide things such as what insurance they are willing to accept and what their payor mix will be. Because no two dentists are the same the services offered by MB2 Dental Solutions are completely flexible to meet whatever the dentist is looking for.

MB2 Dental Solutions has also come up with ways to create a community of dentists. The dentists they work with often network so that they can become better dentists, run their practices more efficiently, and learn how to be the best stewards of the dental profession. Dr. Chris Villanueva, who operates as the chief executive officer, has set up annual retreats for their partnered dentists where they can get to know each other better in a fun setting such as in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico or on a white-water rafting trip.MB2 Dental Solutions also acts as a family in other ways. For instance, many of their partnered dentists and their employees were affected by Hurricane Harvey. They raised $100,000 to help these people as well as food and other supplies they had trucked to Houston.

Pot smoking vs. spousal abuse: Security clearance double standard alleged

From speeding to pot smoking to, in one case, ownership of a Canadian brewery, rank-and-file government employees often see their security clearances challenged, denied or revoked for issues they consider relatively minor.

Which makes them all the more frustrated to see White House staffers with major red flags in their backgrounds given permission to handle classified information.

Lawyers say they’ve seen government workers and federal contractors run into serious clearance problems over occasional marijuana use, routine debts or small-scale foreign investments while top Trump officials like former staff secretary Rob Porter worked with a clearance for about a year despite allegations of spousal abuse. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, continues to hold a clearance despite owing tens of millions of dollars in debt — some owed to a German bank.

“They’re getting away with murder,” said Sheldon Cohen, a Virginia attorney who spent two decades representing workers in clearance fights. “What is going on in the White House, if it was taking place involving people at agencies or in private industry, they would never get a clearance.”

During the Obama administration, one Defense Department contractor had his clearance proposed for denial on the grounds that he had investments in Canada, according to the man’s lawyer.

“They issued a statement to deny him his clearance because he was the owner of 50 percent of a brewery in Canada and had a warehouse full of beer and other alcohol up there,” said Mark Zaid, who represented the contractor. The clearance was eventually granted after Zaid protested through the Defense Department process.

White House chief of staff John Kelly issued a five-page memo last week owning up, in general terms, to a poorly run process. He’s ordered a crackdown of sorts, particularly on interim clearances. The changes could put Kelly in conflict with Kushner, who has reportedly been working with an interim clearance, unless Trump grants his son-in-law and adviser a special dispensation.

Porter resigned earlier this month as questions swirled about how he’d remained at the White House in a senior role with access to classified information.

The Porter scandal and scrutiny of Kushner’s clearance has cast a bright light on the White House’s approach to clearance, one that lawyers in the field say smacks of special treatment.

“If Kushner or these other folks were just regular employees, there’s no way they would have gotten interim clearances. They’re receiving some special dispensation somewhere up the food chain,” said Elaine Fitch, an attorney in Washington who handles cases for government employees. “It’s absolutely not fair. … Most of our clients are treated much worse than what’s going on with these folks in the White House.”

The FBI conducts background investigations of White House officials seeking security clearances and makes recommendations that the White House can overrule. Employees for other departments and agencies are typically assessed by Office of Personnel Management investigators or contractors.

One CIA contractor whom Cohen represented found his clearance canceled after he was charged with child endangerment for driving too fast with his children in the car, even though a judge dismissed the charges at a trial.

“He immediately reported it and had to go get counseled. The charges were thrown out by a circuit court in Virginia,” Cohen recalled. “We tried to get the clearance reinstated, but the agency would never reinstate it. He lost his job at that contractor and couldn’t get clearance anywhere else.”

Asked how fast the man was driving, Cohen said: “It wasn’t like 150 miles an hour or anything. … I think he said he was late for Thanksgiving dinner.”

While the FBI generally excuses past use of recreational drugs like marijuana, so long as the applicant is honest about it, any drug use after a clearance is issued can be a death knell — even for pot smoking in states or cities where it is legal.

Fitch said one of her clients “smoked pot two times while they had clearance, and that was the end of that.”

Cohen recalled the case of an Obama White House aide who was immediately escorted off the grounds for suspected drug use.

“I represented someone who was on the White House staff and failed a random drug test. He was out before the end of the day,” the attorney said.

Lawyers cited debt as another recurring problem. Clearances are often denied for failure to pay debts on time, or for money owed to foreigners. Sometimes just the sheer amount of money owed is grounds for a denial, even if someone isn’t in arrears.

“I’ve had people denied clearance based upon school debt that they had, about $300,000 to $400,000 in combined college and grad school debt, even though they were timely in paying it,” said Zaid, who also handles national security cases including Freedom of Information Act litigation for POLITICO reporters.

A recently released financial disclosure by Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, showed that during the early months of 2016, Kushner’s indebtedness increased under three separate unsecured lines of credit. The changes took the couple’s reported debts to a range of approximately $31 million to $155 million last June from a range of between about $19 million and $98 million reported last March.

How their financial picture has changed since last summer is unknown.

One of the credit lines, valued at $5 million to $25 million in both the March and June reports, is from Germany-based Deutsche Bank. A portion of Kushner’s financial holdings was sold to a family trust last year, but many assets are still owned by him. His family’s real estate projects have incurred even larger loans from Deutsche Bank as well as partnerships with investors in Israel and financing from Chinese nationals.

Experienced security clearance lawyers say the debts and various foreign ties could be an insurmountable problem for Kushner’s clearance if he were applying via one of the various intelligence agencies.

However, Kelly issued a statement Tuesday suggesting that despite his promise to crack down on interim clearances, a way would be found to let Kushner do his work related to Middle East peace, Mexico and other issues. The chief of staff also appeared intent on playing down the notion that the issue has spurred personal tension between the two men.

“As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico,” Kelly said.

“Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the president’s agenda,” Kelly said of Kushner. “There is no truth to any suggestion otherwise.”

A source familiar with the situation told POLITICO on Wednesday that it will be difficult for Kelly to abide by his newly announced policy and still approve a full, permanent clearance for Kushner.

“If that policy is held to, Jared would not be able to see top security information. And I don’t know if he’d be able to work in the building,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “He’s either going to get an exemption which causes a big news story, or he’ll have to do something else. From what I’m seeing, they’re fighting like hell to push Kelly out to get an exception.”

President Trump — who has final say on any clearance matter — may ultimately have to resolve the issue himself. “This is one of those tough calls for the president,” the source said.

Many clearance lawyers welcome Kelly’s memo on tightening up the White House clearance process.

“Recent events have exposed some remaining shortcomings,” the chief of staff observed. “Now is the time to take a hard look at the way the White House processes clearance requests.”

Kelly also stressed the need “for the process to continue functioning without political interference.”

One of his assertions did trigger sharp dissent. Kelly claimed that agencies across the government use different standards to grant clearances. Lawyers who work in the field say that, by and large, that is not true, and that agencies use the same standard to rule on clearance requests.

“The system isn’t broken,” Zaid said. “It’s the White House system that’s broken.”

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Trump offers plenty of ideas but no concrete plan on guns

Arming teachers. “Hardening” schools. Strengthening background checks. Raising the age for gun purchases. Banning bump stocks. Reopening mental institutions. Even revisiting the rating system for video games and movies.

That was the dizzying array of suggestions President Donald Trump threw out in just one meeting Thursday for how to deal with gun violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

But it wasn’t clear how he planned to transform any of his ideas into reality. Trump told the gathering of law enforcement officials in the White House’s Roosevelt Room that he’d reached out to lawmakers in recent days who signaled a willingness to consider background checks – it wasn’t immediately clear who – and asserted that the minimum age for long gun purchases should be raised to 21, a move long opposed by the National Rifle Association. “And the NRA will back it,” the president said – even though the organization said the opposite just this week.

The comments came a day after Trump surprised aides during a listening session with school shooting survivors by advancing the idea of rolling back gun-free zone restrictions at schools to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons as a deterrent, a proposal long promoted by the NRA.

Yet as with health care and immigration, Trump has appeared to search for a clear agenda, offering sometimes contradictory prescriptions.

Trump heartily backed gun rights on the presidential campaign and boasted as recently as his State of the Union address about his efforts to protect the Second Amendment—but since the shooting, he has shown an inclination to take steps in response as student survivors and bereaved parents have become omnipresent on cable news demanding change.

At the White House event, Trump called the suspected Florida gunman “a sicko” and said there is a “tremendous feeling” toward making changes in the wake of the Parkland attack, “including at the NRA.”

Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said at a briefing Thursday that Trump spoke last weekend with Chris Cox, the head of the NRA’s legislative arm.

“In dealing with school safety issues, we don’t expect to agree with the NRA on every single issue,” Shah said. “It’s going to be part of an ongoing conversation [with] their stakeholders along with family members, students, parents, teachers who the president heard from yesterday, local officials who he talk to today. So he’s going to get opinions from a lot of folks and he’s going to come to the right steps that are necessary.”

Shah added: “He’s going to take input from a lot of folks and come forward with proposals that we think can improve school safety.”

Trump has already called on the Justice Department to act on bump stocks, gun accessories that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire faster, though a government review of the accessories was already underway. Legislation similar to Trump’s background-checks idea has stalled in Congress because Republicans want to pair it with language expanding rights to carry concealed weapons.

Yet even as Trump flirted with some ideas that the gun lobby is wary of — particularly raising the legal age for buying guns like the assault rifle used in the Parkland shooting, something Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said this week he’d support — the president also went out of his way to flag his support for the NRA, which has been staunchly supportive since the 2016 campaign.

“Chris and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots,” Trump tweeted early Thursday. “They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

At both Thursday’s event and the one with families on Wednesday, Trump adopted many of the gun lobby’s arguments. “I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” Trump said, borrowing a line that was used by NRA head Wayne LaPierre in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday morning.

“What President Trump thinks are the solutions to gun violence are straight out of the NRA playbook,” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “He is an anti-gun reform, anti-gun safety president.”

The Brady Campaign and other organizations calling for gun control have laid out priorities including universal background checks, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and enacting a national “extreme risk law,” a restraining order-type law that would allow a judge to temporarily revoke someone’s firearms and ability to purchase weapons under certain criteria.

Trump has not endorsed any of those ideas.

At Thursday’s meeting, he brushed off comments by Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart about active-shooter drills, calling the exercises — which are practiced in many schools — “a very negative thing” and “very hard on children.”

He said his preference would be for a “hardened school” where children could be kept safe.

Trump also continued to push the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.

“I never said ‘give teachers guns’ like was stated on Fake News @CNN & @nbc,” Trump tweeted. “What I said was to look at the possibility of giving concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience – only the best. 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions.”

“Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A ‘gun free’ school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!” he tweeted.

It’s a position he has tried to defend before. In May 2016, as a candidate, Trump said, “I don’t want to have guns in classrooms, although in some cases teachers should have guns in classrooms, frankly.” He later told CNN that “school resource officers” or trained teachers should have weapons.

He accused his opponent at the time, Hillary Clinton, of misinterpreting his position, remarking that “the way she said it meant like every student should be sitting there carrying guns.”

The idea of arming teachers has prompted opposition from education groups, who say it would not prevent violence. The high school in Parkland, Florida had an armed security official who did not encounter the shooter. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said at a town hall event hosted Wednesday night by CNN that he does not support arming teachers.

In states that have let school districts decide about allowing firearms on campus, few school boards have been interested.

The NRA backs the idea. LaPierre expressed support for the push to arm school officials during his CPAC speech, calling on educators to scrap “gun-free zones,” which he said created “wide-open targets” for shooters.

“To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said.

Rubio knocked down the idea of bringing guns on school campuses during a CNN town hall Wednesday with students and parents from Stoneman Douglas. “I would admit to you right now, I answer that as much as a father as I do as a senator, the notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something that, quite frankly, I’m comfortable with,” Rubio said.

Trump’s legislative push appears to be in its early stages. Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been a leading voice calling for gun control since the Sandy Hook shootings, had not yet heard from the president, though his office said White House staff reached out on Thursday.

He has said he opposes Trump’s idea for putting guns on campuses.

“That’s an insane idea that will make our schools less safe, not more safe,” he told CNN. “It’s a creation of the gun lobby. The gun industry, for years, has called on societies to arm themselves in order to protect themselves, which belies all the evidence that tells us that communities and homes that have more guns are more likely to be subject to gun crimes. But it has the benefit of allowing the gun industry to sell more guns.”

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Trump praises NRA leaders as 'great American patriots'

President Donald Trump called the leaders of the National Rifle Association “Great People and Great American Patriots” on Thursday as the gun lobbyist faces a wave of backlash after last week’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The president, who vowed to “come through” for the NRA at its annual conference last year, said he believed the organization would “do the right thing” in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman killed 17 and injured more than a dozen.

“What many people don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, is that Wayne, Chris and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots,” Trump tweeted in reference to Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox, the NRA’s executive vice president and its executive director for legislative action, respectively.

The president added: “They love our Country and will do the right thing.”

On Wednesday, Trump expressed support for measures at odds with the NRA’s legislative agenda during a listening session at the White House with Stoneman Douglas students, gun control advocates, D.C.-area education officials and others. He vowed that his administration would be “very strong” on age requirements for gun sales of assault weapons, a measure the NRA said in a statement it opposed.

In a Thursday morning Twitter spree, Trump pledged to push “Comprehensive Background Checks” and end the sale of bump stocks, the gun accessory used in the deadly Las Vegas shooting. He also emphasized the need to improve mental health.

But at Wednesday’s listening session, Trump also voiced support for measures previously promoted by the major gun-rights lobbying organization, including backing “concealed carry” by some teachers and trained officials on school campuses.

The president received the endorsement of the NRA during the 2016 presidential campaign.

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Mueller adds new tax, bank fraud charges against Manafort, Gates

Special counsel Robert Mueller turned up the pressure on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates, as a federal grand jury returned a new indictment Thursday charging the two men with tax and bank fraud.

The new 32-count indictment returned by a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia comes after Mueller separately charged the pair in Washington last year with money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents for their work related to Ukraine.

The new indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of dramatically understating their income on federal tax returns filed from 2010 through 2014. The pair is also accused of bank fraud totaling more than $20 million tied to three loans Manafort applied for in connection with various homes he owns.

In all, Manafort and Gates laundered more than $30 million in income, chiefly from their Ukraine work, the new indictment alleges.

None of the charges currently facing the pair appears to relate directly to the core of Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the special counsel has jurisdiction to pursue any crimes he finds in the course of his probe, and the new charges Thursday show he is ramping up pressure on the former aides to President Donald Trump.

Some of the alleged bank fraud appears to have overlapped with the Trump campaign. Manafort and Gates joined the campaign in the spring of 2016 to help plan for the Republican National Convention, and Manafort was campaign chairman from May until he resigned on Aug. 19. But the White House has subsequently tried to distance itself from him, with Trump saying at one point that Manafort only worked for him for a “very short period of time.”

The scrutiny of the pair so far has focused on their lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainian government and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2006 to 2015. The initial indictment claimed they generated tens of millions of dollars through that work, which was then laundered through “scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.”

Prosecutors claim in the new indictment that Manafort made various misrepresentations to obtain loans, including forging profit-and-loss statements for his consulting businesses.

No new defendants were charged in the latest indictment, but it alleges that the men had a “conspirator” at at least one of the lenders from which Manafort obtained the loans.

In response to one of the profit-and-loss statements provided in connection with a loan request, the unnamed “conspirator” allegedly replied that the document was too obviously faked.

“Looks Dr’d. Can’t someone just do a clean excel doc and pdf to me?” the indictment quotes the bank employee as replying.

Based on the description of the loan in the court document, the lender appears to be Providence, R.I.-based Citizens Bank. A spokesman there declined to comment on Thursday.

Prosecutors said the case against Manafort and Gates filed in Washington in October will continue, although it appears a few charges from that indictment are being moved to the Virginia case. Defendants in tax cases have the right to insist on being charged in their home district. Mueller’s team said they were willing to consolidate the case in Washington, but either Manafort or Gates declined to agree to be prosecuted on those charges in Washington.

The parallel legal cases will increase the complexity and cost of the legal defense for Manafort and Gates.

Gates’ legal team has been in flux recently, with his existing lawyers, Shanlon Wu, Walter Mack and AnneMarie McAvoy, seeking to withdraw for reasons that have not been explained publicly.

Longtime Washington defense lawyer Thomas Green of Sidley Austin formally entered an appearance in the case Thursday and consented to the other lawyers departing.

Lawyers for Manafort and Gates did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new charges. The judge in the Washington case has imposed a gag order, but the Virginia case will be heard before another judge, T.S. Ellis.

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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