GOP impeachment sideshow driven by ‘conspiracy theories’

Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump, pontificates in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The president’s lawyer insists the real story is a debunked conspiracy theory. A senior White House adviser blames the “deep state.” And a Republican congressman is pointing at Joe Biden’s son.

As the Democrats drive an impeachment inquiry toward a potential vote by the end of the year, President Donald Trump’s allies are struggling over how he should manage the starkest threat to his presidency. The jockeying broke into the open Sunday on the talk show circuit, with a parade of Republicans erupting into a surge of second-guessing.

At the top of the list: Rudy Giuliani’s false charge that it was Ukraine that meddled in the 2016 elections. The former New York mayor has been encouraging Ukraine to investigate both Biden and Hillary Clinton.

“I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again,” said Tom Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser. “That conspiracy theory has got to go, they have to stop with that, it cannot continue to be repeated.”

Not only did Giuliani repeat it Sunday, he brandished pieces of paper he said were affidavits supporting his story.

“Tom Bossert doesn’t know what’s he’s talking about,” Guiliani said. He added that Trump was framed by the Democrats.

Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, meanwhile, noted that he’s worked in the federal government “for nearly three years.”

“I know the difference between whistleblower and a deep state operative,” Miller said. “This is a deep state operative, pure and simple.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, heatedly said Trump was merely asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to root out corruption. That, Jordan said, includes Hunter Biden’s membership on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either of the Bidens.

Mixed messaging reflects the difficulty Republicans are having defending the president against documents released by the White House that feature Trump’s own words and actions. A partial transcript and a whistleblower complaint form the heart of the House impeachment inquiry and describe Trump pressuring a foreign president to investigate Biden’s family.

In a series of tweets Sunday night, Trump said he deserved to meet “my accuser” as well as whoever provided the whistleblower with what the president called “largely incorrect” information. He also accused Democrats of “doing great harm to our Country” in an effort to destabilize the nation and the 2020 election.

Trump has insisted the call was “perfect” and pushed to release both documents.

“He didn’t even know that it was wrong,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, describing a phone call from Trump in which the president suggested the documents would exonerate him.

But Democrats seized on them as evidence that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” by asking for a foreign leader’s help undermining a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden. Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry and on Sunday told other Democrats that public sentiment had swung behind the probe.

By all accounts, the Democratic impeachment effort was speeding ahead with a fair amount of coordination between Pelosi, Democratic messaging experts and its political operation.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that he expects the whistleblower to testify “very soon,” though details were still being worked out and no date had been set. Hearings and depositions were starting this week. Many Democrats are pushing for a vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year, mindful of the looming 2020 elections.

Schiff said in one interview that his committee intends to subpoena Giuliani for documents and may eventually want to hear from Giuliani directly. In a separate TV appearance, Giuliani said he would not cooperate with Schiff, but then acknowledged he would do what Trump tells him. The White House did not provide an official response on whether the president would allow Giuliani to cooperate.

Lawyers for the whistleblower expressed concern about that individual’s safety, noting that some have offered a $50,000 “bounty” for the whistleblower’s identity. They said they expect the situation to become even more dangerous for their client and any other whistleblowers, as Congress seeks to investigate this matter.

On a conference call Sunday, Pelosi, traveling in Texas, urged Democrats to proceed “not with negative attitudes towards him, but a positive attitude towards our responsibility,” according to an aide on the call who shared the exchange on condition of anonymity. Polling, Pelosi said, had changed “drastically” in the Democrats’ favor.

A one-day NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted Sept. 25 found that about half of Americans — 49% — approve of the House formally starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

There remains a stark partisan divide on the issue, with 88% of Democrats approving and 93% of Republicans disapproving of the inquiry. But the findings suggest some movement in opinions on the issue. Earlier polls conducted throughout Trump’s presidency have consistently found a majority saying he should not be impeached and removed from office.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York urged the caucus to talk about impeachment by repeating the words “betrayal, abuse of power, national security.” The Democrats’ campaign arm swung behind lawmakers to support the impeachment drive as they run for reelection, according to another call participant to spoke on condition of anonymity.

The contrast with the Republicans’ selection of responses was striking.

A combative House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that nothing in Trump’s phone call rose to the level of an impeachable offense.

“Why would we move forward on impeachment?” the California Republican said. “There’s not something that you have to defend here.”

Bossert, an alumnus of Republican George W. Bush’s administration, offered a theory and some advice to Trump: Move past the fury over the 2016 Russia investigation, in which special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of conspiracy but plenty of examples of Trump’s obstruction.

“I honestly believe this president has not gotten his pound of flesh yet from past grievances on the 2016 investigation,” Bossert said. “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down.”

Two advisers to the Biden campaign sent a letter Sunday urging major news networks to stop booking Giuliani on their shows, accusing Trump’s personal attorney of spreading “false, debunked conspiracy theories” on behalf of the president. The letter to management and anchors of shows at ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News added: “By giving him your air time, you are allowing him to introduce increasingly unhinged, unfounded and desperate lies into the national conversation.”

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Giuliani appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” while Schiff was interviewed on ABC and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Bossert spoke on ABC and Miller on “Fox News Sunday.” Jordan appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Pelosi and McCarthy appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington; writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta; and AP Polling Director Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Clock ticks on a possible Trump impeachment

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The political clock is a significant factor in whether majority House Democrats launch any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

There’s increasing pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to at least start an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump obstructed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation . Pelosi is resisting for a number of reasons. But the tick-tock of time is an inexorable one as the 2020 presidential and congressional elections cast a widening shadow over Washington. As it spreads, the window for launching any impeachment proceedings shrinks, making the prospect of doing so beyond December unappetizing for wide swaths of Democrats.

That reality could limit how long Pelosi can say yes or no to impeachment questions stemming from Mueller’s report.

“Whatever we do needs to be done in 2019. We need to begin it in 2019. It doesn’t necessarily have to wrap up in 2019,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who serves on the House Judiciary Committee that would consider any such proceedings. “I think when we get into 2020 in the election year, it’s very late.”

That’s the commonality across Democrats divided over what to do now about Trump, described in the Mueller report as repeatedly trying to shut down the investigation. There’s a widespread feeling that the House would have to launch any impeachment proceedings this summer or fall, or it will be too late. There’s also a feeling that Pelosi knows this.

“I think they want to drag out the clock,” said Heidi Hess, co-director of CREDO Action, one of the leading liberal groups that called on Pelosi this week to push forward with impeachment.

Pelosi, the daughter and sister of former Baltimore mayors and a congressional veteran herself, on Wednesday made clear she’s well aware of the political clock — and says everything is unfolding as it should.

“We know exactly what path we are on,” Pelosi, a member of Congress during the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, told reporters. “We know exactly what actions we need to take. And while that may take more time than some people want it to take, I respect their impatience.”

In line with her approach, the House is expected next week to hold former White House Counsel Don McGahn and Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. More contempt votes against members of the administration will follow.

Cautioned Pelosi in what’s become a mantra: “One step at a time, as fast as we can move.”

Inside Congress, dozens of congressional Democrats say they want some kind of impeachment proceedings, at some point. But beneath that debate there’s a recognition of the march of time and the plain fact that the available days for any such action are fewer than Congress’ calendar makes it appear.

The schedule has politicos gaming out when, if ever, impeachment proceedings would have to begin and when they become less likely. The calculus starts with the calendar but also moves quickly into the politics. Other regular congressional business looms, such as the federal budget, nominations and more, including whether Republicans can turn back Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico. Interviews with Democrats inside and outside Congress suggest this political logic: The later it gets in in 2019, the harder impeachment becomes.

Congress is not known for moving swiftly on legislation or investigations. The proceedings against Clinton for lying and obstruction took three months from the time the Republican-led House received prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s report to its vote to impeach the president. Nearly another two months went by before the Senate acquitted Clinton, exacerbating what some veterans see as a nearly unbridgeable rift in the country.

In theory, the House could do what legislators tend to loathe: Cancel or shorten its five-week August recess, or its multi-week recesses in October, November and December to allow for impeachment proceedings. But it’s far from clear the party broadly supports moving to impeachment in the first place, for now.

Sen. Tom Daschle, who was Democratic leader during the Senate’s trial of Clinton, said Congress’ role investigating the administration should be the focus in the short term.

“The closer it gets to the election, the more consequential it would be politically,” he said in a telephone interview. “From an institutional point of view it seems to me that timing is irrelevant.”

Other Pelosi allies see enough time ahead to make impeachment-related decisions.

“I don’t think we have a fear of time, yet,” said Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, a member of the Judiciary Committee introducing legislation to formalize the panel’s investigations.

As for working during recess, she went there.

“We could be in and out and you could still be here two or three days doing what you need to do,” Jackson Lee said. “I was reminded that Watergate really broke in hearings (which were) in August of 1974.”

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Associated Press Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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House subpoenas McGahn as leaders downplay impeachment

White House counsel Don McGahn. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP, File)

A House chairman on Monday subpoenaed former White House Counsel Don McGahn as Democratic leaders moved to deepen their investigation of President Donald Trump while bottling up talk among their rank-and-file of impeaching him.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler was one of six powerful committee leaders making their case on a conference call with other House Democrats late in the day that they are effectively investigating Trump-related matters ranging from potential obstruction to his personal and business taxes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged divided Democrats to focus on fact-finding rather than the prospect of any impeachment proceedings after the damning details of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Nadler and the other chairmen made clear they believe Trump did obstruct justice, according to people on the call who weren’t authorized to discuss it by name. McGahn would be a star witness for any such case because he refused Trump’s demand to set Mueller’s firing in motion, according to the report.

“The Special Counsel’s report, even in redacted form, outlines substantial evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction and other abuses,” Nadler said in a statement released as the conference call got underway. “It now falls to Congress to determine for itself the full scope of the misconduct and to decide what steps to take in the exercise of our duties of oversight, legislation and constitutional accountability.”

The subpoena angered Republicans even as it functioned as a reassurance to impatient Democrats.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, pointed out that McGahn sat for 30 hours of interviews with Mueller and said Nadler was asking for some items that he knows cannot be produced.

Trump himself insisted he wasn’t worried.

“Not even a little bit,” he said when asked Monday whether he was concerned about impeachment. However, his many tweets seeking to undermine the report’s credibility indicate he is hardly shrugging it aside.

“Only high crimes and misdemeanors can lead to impeachment,” he said Monday on Twitter. “There were no crimes by me (No Collusion, No Obstruction), so you can’t impeach. It was the Democrats that committed the crimes, not your Republican President!”

On the other end of the scale, Pelosi’s approach disappointed some Democrats who are agitating for impeachment proceedings. According to her spokesman, Rep. Val Demings of Florida said she believed the House has enough evidence to begin the process.

McGahn was a vital witness for Mueller, recounting the president’s outrage over the investigation and his efforts to curtail it.

The former White House counsel described, for instance, being called at home by the president on the night of June 17, 2017, and directed to call the Justice Department and say that Mueller had conflicts of interest and should be removed. McGahn declined the command, “deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,” the Mueller report said.

Once that episode became public in the news media, the president demanded that McGahn dispute the reports and asked him why he had told Mueller about it and why he had taken notes of their conversations. McGahn refused to back down, the report said.

Nadler’s announcement was one of several leadership moves aimed at calming a struggle among Democrats to speak with one voice about what to do in light of Mueller’s startling account of Trump’s repeated efforts to fire him, shut down his probe and get allies to lie.

After Mueller’s report was released last week, the most prominent of the Democratic freshmen, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, signed on to Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s resolution calling for an investigation into Trump’s conduct and the question of whether it merits a formal impeachment charge in the House.

“Mueller’s report is clear in pointing to Congress’ responsibility in investigating obstruction of justice by the President,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

On Monday, Pelosi’s letter made clear there was no Democratic disagreement that Trump “at a minimum, engaged in highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior which does not bring honor to the office he holds.” But she acknowledged the party’s officeholders have a range of views on how to proceed.

She counseled them repeatedly to go after facts, not resort to “passion or prejudice” in the intense run-up to the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. She is the de facto leader of her party until Democrats nominate a candidate to challenge Trump, so her words echoed on the presidential campaign trail.

“We all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth,” Pelosi wrote. “It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings.”

As the conference call got underway, Nadler’s subpoena announcement was made public, an indication that the facts-first approach was moving ahead. Pelosi, calling from New York City, spoke briefly. Then she put a show of leadership force on the line — six committee chairmen, some of the most powerful people in Congress — to give more details, according to people on the call.

Nadler went first. Others who followed were Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Water and Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal. The call lasted about 90 minutes and included about 170 Democrats.

During a series of town hall events on CNN Monday night, several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates weighed in. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren repeated her call for an impeachment vote, saying that if lawmakers believe the president’s actions were appropriate, “they should have to take that vote and live with it.”

California Sen. Kamala Harris said she believes “Congress should take the steps toward impeachment.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Trump should be held accountable, but she stopped short of calling for impeachment.

There’s more coming to keep Trump’s reported misdeeds in public. Congressional panels are demanding the unredacted version of the Mueller report and its underlying material gathered from the investigation. Attorney General William Barr is expected to testify in the House and Senate next week. Nadler has summoned Mueller to testify next month, though no date has been set.

In the face of the intense run-up to the 2020 election, Pelosi implicitly suggested Democrats resist creating episodes like the one in January in which Tlaib was recorded declaring the House would impeach Trump.

“We must show the American people we are proceeding free from passion or prejudice, strictly on the presentation of fact,” Pelosi wrote.

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Associated Press Writers Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick and Will Weissert contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Schumer: Chaos in Washington? Blame Trump

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks to members of the media following a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The leader of Senate Democrats says “chaos” in the Trump administration on immigration and other policy is the president’s fault.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday that President Donald Trump “cannot keep changing personnel, changing strategy, tweeting your way through a problem as serious” as immigration. The New York Democrat said the result is “chaos when it comes to border issues, all created by the president and his whimsical, erratic and oftentimes nasty pursuit of policy.”

Schumer spoke after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned under pressure from a president frustrated that she wasn’t taking a hard enough line on immigration, part of a shakeup at DHS.

Trump has overseen massive turnover at the top of agencies, often without naming permanent replacements.

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Some Republicans unhappy with Trump’s blasts at McCain

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., says that he’s had enough of President Donald Trump’s personal attacks on the late John McCain and that “the country deserves better.” (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Casting aside rare censure from Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump aimed new blasts of invective at the late John McCain , even claiming credit for the senator’s moving Washington funeral and complaining he was never properly thanked.

By the time the president began his anti-McCain tirade in Ohio on Wednesday, several leading Republicans had signaled a new willingness to defy Trump by defending the Vietnam War veteran as a hero seven months after he died of brain cancer . One GOP senator called Trump’s remarks “deplorable.”

Trump then launched a lengthy rant in which he claimed without citing evidence that McCain had pushed for a war and failed America’s veterans.

“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted,” Trump told reporters at a campaign-style rally in Lima, Ohio. “I didn’t get (a) thank you but that’s OK.”

In fact, McCain’s family made clear that Trump was not welcome during the weeklong, cross-country ceremonies that the senator had planned himself. Instead, McCain invited former Presidents George W. Bush, who defeated McCain during the 2000 GOP nomination fight, and Barack Obama, who defeated him in 2008, to deliver eulogies on the value of pursuing goals greater than oneself. Trump signed off on the military transport of McCain’s body, went golfing and was uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter during the Washington events.

Trump’s publicly nursed grudge against McCain has not appeared to alienate core supporters, some of whom had soured on the senator by the time of his death. Aware of this, GOP lawmakers until now have stayed subdued or silent though Trump sometimes infuriated them with his comments on their late colleague.

McCain’s allies suggested it was time for that to change.

“I hope (Trump’s) indecency to John’s memory and to the McCain family will convince more officeholders that they can’t ignore the damage Trump is doing to politics and to the country’s well-being or remain silent despite their concerns,” said Mark Salter, McCain’s biographer. “They must speak up.”

Trump has said for years that he doesn’t think McCain is a hero because the senator was captured in Vietnam. McCain was tortured and held prisoner for more than five years.

The president has never served in the military and obtained a series of deferments to avoid going to Vietnam, including one attained with a physician’s letter stating that he suffered from bone spurs in his feet.

One McCain Senate vote in particular is the thumbs-down Trump can’t seem to forget. The Arizona senator in 2017 sank the GOP effort to repeal Obama’s health care law. Trump was furious, and it showed even in the days after McCain’s death last August. The administration lowered the American flag over the White House to half-staff when McCain died on a Saturday, but then raised it by Monday. After public outcry, the White House flags were again lowered.

This week, Trump unloaded a new series of anti-McCain tweets in which he said he never had been “a fan” and never would be.

His relentless new targeting of the deceased senator seemed to cross a boundary for several Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called McCain “a rare patriot and genuine American hero in the Senate.” McConnell tweeted, “His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes.”

The Kentucky Republican, who is up for re-election next year, never mentioned Trump, but others weren’t so shy.

Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia said not only the McCain family but the nation “deserves better” than Trump’s disparagement.

“I don’t care if he’s president of the United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world,” Isakson told The Bulwark, a conservative news and opinion website. Later, Isakson called Trump’s remarks “deplorable.”

“It will (be) deplorable seven months from now if he says it again,” Isakson continued in remarks on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind” radio show, “and I will continue to speak out.”

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee whom Trump briefly considered nominating as secretary of state, tweeted praise for McCain on Tuesday — and criticism of Trump.

“I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God,” Romney wrote.

Pushback also came from Sen. Martha McSally, a Republican Air Force veteran appointed to McCain’s seat from Arizona.

“John McCain is an American hero and I am thankful for his life of service and legacy to our country and Arizona,” she tweeted Wednesday. “Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve.”

That McSally declined to criticize Trump directly reflected the broader wariness among Republicans to cross a president famous for mobilizing his followers against GOP lawmakers he deems disloyal. But this week, Trump seemed to inspire a new determination among some to draw a line, however delicately.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who wept openly on the Senate floor after McCain died but has allied himself strongly with Trump, said, “I think the president’s comments about Sen. McCain hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Sen. McCain.”

“A lot of people are coming to John’s defense now. … I don’t like it when he says things about my friend John McCain.”

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, were eager to jump into the uproar.

“I look forward to soon re-introducing my legislation re-naming the Senate Russell Building after American hero, Senator John McCain,” tweeted Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Catherine Lucey in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Nasty talk in Washington: Who’s the worst?

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

There’s a lot of talk in Washington these days about whether that quaint politeness known as “civility” is possible — or even desirable — among the nation’s political combatants.

Lots of people got riled up over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and party leaders now are branding opponents as “mobs” gone mad, and worse. Then there is President Donald Trump, an innovator in the field of talking smack, trying to energize his supporters for the Nov. 6 congressional elections.

It’s not likely to get better soon, with both parties straining for control of Congress on Election Day.

A look at the “conversation”:

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THE LEADER

Trump kicked off his presidential campaign in 2015 by saying many Mexicans are rapists and murderers. He scorned his Republican challengers as “lyin’,” ″little” and “low-energy.” He called women ugly, hysterical, even “a dog.”

Critics hated it. But after all, as Trump reminds everyone, he won.

Now, the president is back at it in the afterglow of Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court approval, calling confirmation opponents an “angry mob” of Democrats, some of them plain “evil.”

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LAMENTING CIVILITY’S LOSS

Not all fellow Republicans think the spread of this kind of talk is a good thing.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has long tsk-tsked the president’s incendiary style, said this week: “There is a lot of division in the country today and it’s coming from both sides — and it is disheartening.” The Wisconsin Republican, who is retiring after this year, says the economic and security anxieties that many Americans face give oxygen to the polarizing, and action to somehow reduce those stresses might help restore more productive conversations.

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DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH

Hillary Clinton says Democrats actually have to be even tougher.

“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” she said on CNN. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”

She likened the rhetoric during Kavanaugh’s consideration to other Republican attacks including “what they did to me for 25 years” as first lady, senator from New York, secretary of state and presidential candidate. Two years after Trump’s victory, she notes, he still routinely brings her up, calling her “Crooked Hillary.”

“You can be civil but you can’t overcome what they intend to do unless you win elections,” she said. Republicans are driven by “the lust for power.”

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LOOK WHO’S TALKING

What about that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? “When you have the last presidential nominee for president saying incivility should continue until the Democrats win the House, for goodness sake, I think we know who the culprits are here when it comes to the quality of discourse in the country, and it’s not coming from the Republican side of the aisle.”

But what about Trump?

“It’s not my job to do a routine sort of daily critique of the president’s observations, and I speak up when I think it’s necessary,” he said. “He’s a unique politician, there’s no question about that.”

Besides, he said in an interview with The Associated Press, “We’re not here to have fun. It’s OK to have big fights once in a while.”

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MORE THAN MEAN TALK?

Sen. Cory Gardner, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said there have been threats against Kavanaugh, white powder sent to the Pentagon, the White House and lawmakers, and his own wife received a text message showing “a graphic beheading.” He also said some Kavanaugh foes had paraphrased Michelle Obama’s peaceful campaign mantra by saying, “When they go low, we kick back.”

He said that behavior must stop, “it time we step back from that brink.”

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THE WHITE HOUSE

Not all the uncivil talk is so violent. Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway delivered a short form master class Wednesday while taking Clinton to task.

“Usually when she opens her mouth, respectfully, she offends at least one half of the country,” Conway said on Fox News Channel.

“It’s one thing to call us deplorable, irredeemable, laugh at people who don’t have all the privileges that she has had with her Ivy League law degree and through her marriage to a much more popular man who actually was a two-term president that she’ll never be,” Conway said.

And, while Trump campaigns for Republican candidates, “I don’t see all these Democratic candidates banging down Hillary Clinton’s door asking her to lock arms.”

Actually, Clinton will campaign soon on behalf of Florida gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram and Juana Summers contributed to this report.

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Affidavits reveal Ford discussed Kavanaugh’s attack long before nomination

A woman wears a shirt that reads “Believe Women” with a button that reads “I Believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford” as protesters against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh tell their personal stories of sexual assault outside offices of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As two parents watched their children play. At a restaurant with a friend. As a neighbor walked her dog.

In all three otherwise everyday scenes, Christine Blasey Ford described to others about being sexually assaulted many years earlier by a future federal judge, according to sworn affidavits her lawyers said Wednesday they submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. A fourth from her husband says that during a 2012 couples therapy session, Ford named her attacker as Brett Kavanaugh. President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh July 9 to the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh has staunchly denied that he ever sexually assaulted anyone. His allies, including Trump, have cast doubt on the accusation in part because of a lack of corroboration.

Here’s a look at the statements, signed this week, that are certain to play a key role in Thursday’s committee hearing where she and Kavanaugh are expected to testify separately.

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ACCUSATION, DENIAL AND TRUMP

Ford went public with her story, and her name, in The Washington Post. Ford and Kavanaugh, students at separate private high schools in Maryland, both attended a party when she was 15 and he was 17, according to her account. Ford says Kavanaugh pushed her into a room and pinned her to a bed. While another boy watched, she says, Kavanaugh tried to pull her clothes off and covered her mouth when she tried to scream. The third person in the room jumped on the bed, the three tumbled to the floor, and Ford escaped. Both boys were inebriated, she said. Ford told The Post that she told her therapist and her husband about the encounter in 2012.

Kavanaugh, confirmed to the appellate court in 2006, has repeatedly and flatly denied Ford’s accusation.

Trump has said he wants to hear from Ford but also stood behind his nominee. Ford’s story, he said, is part of a Democratic “con job.” On Wednesday at the United Nations, he called Kavanaugh “an absolute gem.”

That’s set up a he-said, she-said standoff over the allegations. Trump, Kavanaugh and many of their allies have pointed out that the incident happened more than three decades ago and that Ford apparently didn’t report it at the time.

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FORD’S HUSBAND

Russell Ford, with whom Christine Blasey Ford has two children, said in his statement that he first learned that Ford had “any experience with sexual assault” was around the time the couple got married in 2002. But at the time, Russell Ford’s statement says, she provided no details.

That changed at 2012 at a couples therapy session, he says in the affidavit.

“She said that in high school she had been trapped in a room and physically restrained by one boy who was molesting her while another boy watched,” his statement says. “She said she was able to escape before she was raped, but that the experience was very traumatic because she felt like she had no control and was physically dominated.”

He added: “I remember her saying that the attacker’s name was Brett Kavanaugh, that he was successful lawyer who had grown up in Christine’s home town and that he was well-known in the Washington, D.C. community.”

Kavanaugh’s name came up again while Trump was in the process of selecting his nominee for the first Supreme Court seat, Ford’s husband wrote. He said his wife mentioned that she was afraid Trump would pick Kavanaugh, who was on his list of candidates. Trump instead chose Neil Gorsuch.

Then Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he was retiring, opening up a second seat. The subject came up again, he said.

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THE FRIEND

Adela Gildo-Mazzon states in her sworn affidavit that Ford told her the story about the assault, but did not mention Kavanaugh’s name, when the two met at a Mountain View, California, restaurant in June 2013. Gildo-Mazzon says she has a receipt from the restaurant for that meal.

She said Ford arrived “visibly upset.”

“Christine told me that she had been having a hard day because she was thinking about an assault she experience when she was much younger,” Gildo-Mazzon states. “She said that she had been almost raped by someone who was now a federal judge. She told me she had been trapped in a room with two drunken guys, and that she then escaped, ran away and hid.”

Gildo-Mazzon wrote that after she read Ford’s story in The Washington Post on Sept. 16, “I contacted Christine’s lawyers to advise them that she had told me about this assault in 2013.”

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THE SOFTBALL COACH

Keith Koegler’s statement says Ford revealed her story, and Kavanaugh’s name as the alleged attacker, over two years beginning in 2016.

The first was in 2016 as Ford and Koegler, her son’s baseball coach, “were standing together in a public place watching our children play together.” It was shortly after Stanford University student Brock Turner was sentenced for felony sexual assault after raping an unconscious woman on campus.

“Christine expressed anger at Mr. Turner’s lenient sentence, stating that she was particularly bothered by it because she was assaulted in high school by a man who was now a federal judge in Washington, D.C.,” Koegler wrote.

On June 29, two days after Kennedy announced his retirement and nine days before Trump nominated Kavanaugh, Ford wrote Koegler an email that said “the person who assaulted her in high school was the president’s ’favorite for SCOTUS,’” an abbreviation for Supreme Court of the United States, according to Koegler’s statement.

Koegler says he responded: “I remember you telling me about him, but I don’t remember his name. Do you mind telling me so I can read about him?”

Ford’s reply: “Brett Kavanaugh.”

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THE NEIGHBOR

Rebecca White, a neighbor who says her children went to elementary school Ford’s children, says she was walking her dog in 2017 when she encountered Ford outside her home. “She told me she had read a recent social media post I had written about my own experience with sexual assault,” White’s statement says. “She then told me that when she was a young teen, she had been sexually assaulted by an older teen. I remember her saying that her assailant was now a federal judge.”

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Presidents and disasters: A volatile mix

President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd in Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The politics of natural disasters can be tricky for a president.

Long before President Donald Trump tossed paper towels to storm-stricken Puerto Ricans and denied Hurricane Maria’s official death toll, his predecessors struggled to steer the nation through life-and-death emergencies.

To project empathy without looking weak. To show both command and cooperation. To put the focus on victims — but provide leadership, too.

A look at how presidents have grappled with the challenges and opportunities of disaster politics:

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TRUMP

Trump is not known for shows of empathy and relishes fights he thinks will resonate with his core supporters.

That includes a bitter and lasting brawl with Puerto Rico in the year since the U.S. territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria. He also has grappled with getting it right in ruby-red Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey, which dumped nearly 50 inches of rain near Houston.

Trump’s first post-Harvey trip to Texas generated blowback for his failure to meet with victims of the storm. Four days later, he returned — and urged people at a Houston shelter to “have a good time.” He also cheered on volunteers and emergency workers and handed out hot dogs and potato chips to residents. Some critics said the president’s trip took on the tone of a victory lap for successful disaster management.

Trump has had trouble keeping facts right about the devastating storms under his watch.

In June, Trump said on a conference call that the Coast Guard had saved thousands of people while Houston was under water, including what he suggested were hurricane gawkers. “People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well,” the president said. There is no indication the Coast Guard rescued foolhardy storm watchers drifting off the Texas coast.

Then there’s Puerto Rico, flattened by Maria as a Category 4 storm nearly a year ago. Trump pumped two fists in the air when he landed in San Juan last October. The enduring image was of Trump at a San Juan church lobbing paper towels into the crowd as if shooting baskets. At the time, it seemed to reflect Trump’s brand of playfulness. Many people in the crowd smiled and raised their phones to record the moment. But critics quickly dubbed it inappropriate for the massive, grim crisis at hand.

A year later, the official death toll from the storm stands at 2,975. Even as Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas this week, Trump rejected that count and griped that it’s the product of Democrats trying to make him “look bad.” He also tweeted that San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a frequent Trump critic, is “incompetent.”

“The victims of Puerto Rico and the people of Puerto Rico in general do not deserve to be questioned about their pain,” said Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

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OBAMA

On Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and became the costliest storm in U.S. history behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie invited Democratic President Barack Obama to view the storm damage, and when the president arrived, the two shared a friendly, widely photographed greeting. At one point, as the two shook hands, Obama put his left hand on Christie’s right shoulder. The resulting image was derided by some conservatives as a “hug” — and a potential re-election boost for Obama when he was being challenged by Republican Mitt Romney.

The storm is blamed for 182 deaths and cost about $70 billion in New Jersey and New York.

It was one of several natural disasters that gave Obama the opportunity to play the traditional role of comforter-in-chief.

A year earlier, a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri, with winds up to 250 mph and claimed at least 159 lives. Obama visited the moonscape of rubble and tree stumps, and delivered an emotional memorial service speech in which he told the stories of heroic efforts by individuals during the storm.

“It’s in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place,” Obama told the crowd.

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BUSH

President George W. Bush, praised for his leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, stumbled during what proved to be the government’s inadequate response to deadly Hurricane Katrina four years later.

Heading back to Washington after nearly a month on his ranch, Bush had Air Force One fly over part of the devastation, giving him a view of it from high above. The moment was preserved in photographs and generated criticism that he didn’t come in person.

“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” he told FEMA Director Michael Brown, three days after Katrina flooded New Orleans. The storm left 1,800 people dead and caused $151 billion dollars in damage. Much public blame went to the Bush administration for a too-slow response.

Together, the vacation, the high-altitude tour and Bush’s “Brownie moment” left a lasting impression that the president had been detached from the tragedy on the ground.

In his 2010 book “Decision Points,” the former president reflected on his mistakes during Hurricane Katrina, writing that he should have urged the evacuation of New Orleans sooner, visited sooner and shown more empathy.

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CLINTON

Bill Clinton, who famously claimed during the 1992 campaign “I feel your pain,” was a natural at connecting with disaster victims. As president, he visited Des Moines, Iowa, the next year to examine flood damage in the region. He shook hands with people who had lost their homes as well as National Guard troops.

During a visit to a water distribution center, a woman can be heard in footage preserved by C-SPAN telling him, “My house was flooded.”

“I’m so sorry,” Clinton replied.

A weeping woman in pink with a blue small cooler in her hand told Clinton, “My parents lost their home and I have not been home for like a week. I can’t take it anymore.”

He draped an arm around her and said, “Hang in there.”

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved