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McConnell to Propose Raising Tobacco Use Age to 21

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  • Mitch McConnell announced during a press conference Thursday, that he plans to introduce legislation that would raise the age for tobacco use to 21.
  • Currently, 12 states across the country and hundreds of localities have already raised the age from 18 to 21.
  • The use of tobacco products by teens has risen significantly, with many attributing the increase to e-cigarettes.

McConnell Announces New Legislation Proposal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Thursday that he will introduce legislation to raise the tobacco use age from 18 to 21 nationwide.

This legislation would include all tobacco products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping.

“For some time I’ve been hearing from parents of teenage children seeing an unprecedented spike in…vaping, among teens,” McConnell said in a press conference in his home state of Kentucky. “It is reaching epidemic levels around the country.”

Smoking Rates Among American Teens

The use of tobacco products among teenagers was McConnell’s motivating factor in announcing the legislation. According to the CDC, 90 percent of adult smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 21.

The rise of e-cigarettes has led to an increase in teen smoking. In 2017, 2.1 million high school students reported using e-cigarettes. In 2018, that number jumped to 3.6 million. In the state of Kentucky, in 2018, 45 percent of high schoolers used these devices.

According to a 2018 survey by Truth Initiative, 63 percent of Juul users did not know that these devices contained nicotine.

In 12 states, the legal age for tobacco use is already 21. Over 400 towns, cities, and counties have also followed suit. McConnell said he expects bipartisan support of the bill.

The 12 U.S. states where the legal age to purchase tobacco products is 21.

Juul is also behind this move, saying in a statement, “we must restrict youth usage of vapor products.”

See what others are saying: (WLKY) (Politico) (CNBC)

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NYT Report Says Trump Lost Over $1 Billion in a Decade

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  • The New York Times released a report that said President Donald Trump’s businesses accumulated nearly $1.2 billion in losses between 1985 and 1994. 
  • The report also said that Trump got out of paying taxes for eight years and lost more than almost any other taxpayer in the country within those years.
  • All of this comes amid escalating calls for Trump’s tax returns, particularly from Democrats.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee is working on a request to get ahold of them while the New York State government works on legislation that allows Congress to ask for New York State tax documents.

New York Times Report

The New York Times published information that they claim comes from President Donald Trump’s tax returns, which shows over a $1 billion in losses over the course of a decade.

In the report published Tuesday, the Times said that they did not receive actual copies of the president’s tax documents, but got information from someone with legal access to them. They then verified the information using IRS documents and other figures they collected from a prior investigation into his taxes. The data the paper uncovered spanned from 1985 to 1994.

During this timeframe, Trump reportedly saw $1.17 billion in losses. These losses, which stemmed from businesses like his hotels, casinos, and retail space in apartments, were so severe that he did not pay any income taxes for eight out of those ten years.

The Times wrote that within those years, Trump “appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.” Specifically, in 1990 and 1991, he saw losses totaling $250 million each year. According to the Times, this is more than double the losses of the nearest taxpayer.

Trump Responds

The Times spoke to one of Trump’s lawyers, Charles J. Harder, who called these numbers “demonstrably false.”

“I.R.S. transcripts, particularly before the days of electronic filing are notoriously inaccurate,” he added, speaking to the Times in their piece.

A former IRS employee who also spoke to the Times for the investigation countered this. He claimed that this data has gone through intensive quality control and is trusted by many sources.

On Wednesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to explain the losses by saying they were tied to write-offs used by real estate professionals in the 1980s and ’90s. He also called the report “highly inaccurate.”

Congress Fights For Trump’s Taxes

The Times’ report comes as the fight for Trump’s tax returns escalates. Debates over their release began sparking conversation when Trump chose not to disclose them when he became the Republican nominee. That decision broke a strong precedent set by nominees before him.

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin declined the House Ways and Means Committee’s request to see Trump’s tax information between the years of 2013 and 2019.

In a letter to Committee Chairman Richard Neal, he said that the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose, and pursuant to section 6103, the Department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.”

Though many are debating Mnuchin’s right to decline this, as section 6103 of U.S. Internal Revenue Code implies that the Treasury Secretary has obligations to give the Committee tax returns when requested.

“Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request,” the section states.

Still, Mnuchin has fought back, saying you would need a legitimate policy reason, which he does not believe Congress has.

Chairman Neal has said that he will be meeting with the House Council to discuss the next steps. He has even suggested taking the matter right to federal court, as opposed to issuing a subpoena.

“There doesn’t have to be any intermediary step,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “They seem not to be paying a lot of attention to the subpoenas, so take it from there.”

He anticipates having a plan by the end of the week.

Vote in New York State Senate

The fight for Congress’ right to obtain the president’s tax returns is also ongoing in New York. On Wednesday, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would allow Congress to request Trump’s state tax returns in New York. It will advance to the State Assembly next week, which has a Democratic majority. It is also expected to pass there.

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman tweeted on Wednesday morning, saying that the state responsible for Trump’s taxes has to act because “Washington has failed.”

The bill was first introduced in April, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated support for it.

As far as whether or not we will ever see Trump’s tax returns, there is still a lot of skepticism despite Democratic efforts. Trump has refused to release them at every turn, and regularly claims that he cannot because he is under audit.

On Sunday, acting White House Cheif of Staff Mick Mulvaney said that he doesn’t think a release will ever happen.

When asked by Fox News host Bill Hemmer if he believed that Democrats will never see the president’s tax returns, Mulvaney responded, “No, never.”

“Nor should they,” he added.

While the interview was conducted before the Times’ article, his statement suggests that Trump and his Administration are committed to keeping public eyes off those documents.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The Hill) (Fox News)

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Mueller Objects to Barr’s Summary of Report, Says It Created “Public Confusion”

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  • A newly released letter sent by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to Attorney General William Barr revealed Mueller’s objections to the four-page summary of the report that Barr sent to Congress.
  • In the letter, Mueller argues that Barr did not “capture the context” of his investigation, and created “public confusion.”
  • Mueller’s letter echoes the broader debate about whether or not Barr provided enough context in his description of the report, specifically regarding obstruction of justice and the role of Congress.

Mueller’s Letter to Barr

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Special Counsel Robert Mueller expressed concern that Barr’s summary of the report’s conclusion did not accurately capture Mueller’s work and created public confusion about the results of his investigation.

The letter was sent on March 27, three days after Barr sent his four-page summary to Congress, but it was not released to the public until Wednesday when Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the summary, given to Congress nearly a month before the report was released to the public, Barr wrote that Mueller did not find that Donald Trump or anyone in his campaign conspired with Russian officials to interfere in the election.

Barr also stated that Mueller did not reach a conclusion as to whether or not Trump obstructed justice, leaving it to Barr to decide if obstruction happened. Barr concluded it did not amount to obstruction because he believed there was not enough evidence.

“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote in his letter to Barr.

“There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Mueller also said in the letter that he sent Barr a redacted version of the introductions and executive summaries for both volumes of his report. The first volume detailed Russian interference and the second looked at possible obstruction of justice. Mueller argued that while Barr was reviewing the full report, he should still release the already redacted introductions and summaries

“Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation,” Mueller wrote.

Phone Call & Barr’s Response

The day after Mueller sent the letter, he and Barr spoke on the phone regarding the situation.

“The Special Counsel emphasized that nothing in the Attorney General’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading,” said Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec in a statement. “But, he expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the Special Counsel’s obstruction analysis.”

Kupec also said that Barr and Meuller talked about releasing the introductions and executive summaries, but Barr “Ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion.”

The next day Barr, sent a letter to Congress reiterating that his initial letter was not intended to be a summary of the report, and only stated Mueller’s main conclusions.

In other words, Mueller’s argument is not that Barr lied, but that he created a narrative that did not provide enough context on the obstruction debate. The narrative was then spread around by the media for almost a month before the public saw the report.

Now that the report is available to the public, we can compare and contrast what Barr has said to the findings in the report, and unpack some of the statements Barr has made that could use some more context, per Mueller’s letter.

Russian Interference

As noted above, the first section of the report investigated Russian interference in the election.

Barr gave a press conference before the report was released, during which he repeated many of the things that he said in the four-page summary. He said the report had not proven that the president obstructed justice and that there was no evidence of collusion.

He also defended the fact that he had gone farther than the report did and cleared Trump of obstruction.

This statement is true. Mueller’s report did conclude that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Russia.

However, Mueller had a more nuanced take on the subject than just “no collusion.”  This is partly because collusion is not a legal term, and the actual charge is conspiracy, which Mueller did not find enough evidence of to prosecute.

When you look at the full context of the section on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, it says:

“The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

The investigation additionally looked into the hacking of the DNC and the release of the hacked information through Wikileaks and said that Trump asked those close to him to find Clinton’s deleted emails.

“After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would ‘find the 30,000 emails that are missing,’ Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” the report stated.

Mueller also studied connections between people close to Trump and their ties to Russia, including a detailed rundown of the Trump Tower meeting. Again, ultimately the investigators could not find enough evidence to back up a conspiracy charge.

Obstruction of Justice

The second part of the report focused on whether or not certain actions taken by the President towards the Russia Investigation can be considered obstruction of justice.

Barr has said that the report did not come to a conclusion and so he took it upon himself to clear the President.  In his four-page summary, Barr included this quote from the Mueller report: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

However, Barr did not provide the full context of this quote. In the Mueller report, the full excerpt states:

“The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

In other words, Mueller is essentially saying that if he could say with full confidence that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice, he would.

The report lays out multiple instances that could have been obstruction of justice, all of which were accounted to Mueller by sources involved including former Director of the FBI James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and others. These instances included:

  • Trump trying to get Comey to drop the investigation, which he did not.
  • Trump trying to get Sessions to reverse his recusal and get him back on the Russia Investigation, which Sessions did not do.
  • Trump firing Comey.
  • Trump directing McGahn to fire Mueller, who instead chose to resign.
  • Trump trying to prevent the disclosure of Donald Trump Jr.’s involvement in the Trump Tower meeting.
  • Trump and his team urging people not to “flip” for the investigation.

In every instance, Mueller avoids coming to a conclusion on whether an action is or is not obstruction of justice.

Role of Congress

Barr said multiple times that because Mueller did not reach a conclusion, it was up to Barr himself to decide if Trump committed obstruction of justice.

During his press conference prior to the release of the report, Barr was asked if Mueller intended for Congress, rather than the attorney general, to determine if Trump had obstructed justice.

“Special Counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress,” Barr told reporters in response.

This is not true. In fact, Mueller explicitly outlines legal and constitutional arguments explaining that the power to decide whether or not Trump obstructed justice is left to Congress. The report states that this decision is not the job of either the special counsel or Attorney General Barr.

Mueller makes two key arguments here to back up this claim.

First, he points out that Congress has the ability to apply obstruction laws to sitting president under the constitutional system of checks and balances.

The special counsel dives into this a little more, writing, “We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”

The second argument Mueller makes is that “the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice.”  He combines these arguments to say that giving the president immunity “would seriously impair Congress’s power to enact laws.”

What Mueller is saying here is that it would, in fact, be constitutional to apply obstruction laws to Trump if Congress were to find that he did obstruct justice.

This claim is a direct repudiation of Barr, who has repeatedly argued both during his time as Attorney General and before his appointment that the Mueller investigation was overstepping and that Trump could not be charged with obstruction of justice.

However, Mueller’s findings mean that Barr does not have the authority to make this decision, but Congress does.

On Tuesday night, Barr’s prepared testimony for his appearance in the Senate Judiciary Committee was released to the public. In the testimony, Barr defends his decision to conclude that there was no obstruction.

“The prosecutorial judgment whether a crime has been established is an integral part of the Department’s criminal process,” Barr wrote, continuing later, “It would not have been appropriate for me simply to release Volume II of the report without making a prosecutorial judgment.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (Fox News)

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Lawyer Provides Accessible TLDR Breakdown Of The Mueller Report

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With the Mueller Report coming in at a whopping 448 pages, which you can download here, it’s hard to get across in just one easily consumable article all the big standouts. Now, this is a big issue because its incredibly unlikely that a good portion of the general population will get through it all, so many peoples’ takeaway will be heavily influenced by opinion pieces. BUT a good place to start is a legal understanding of what we’re all looking at.

So use this video from LegalEagle as a launch pad. A place to start.

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