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Key Takeaways From Mueller’s Congressional Testimonies

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  • Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress about the findings of his two-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential efforts by President Donald Trump to obstruct that investigation.
  • Mueller largely stuck to the language of his report, as he had promised he would do earlier if asked to testify.
  • Here are several key takeaways from Mueller’s testimonies.

Mueller Testifies Before Congress

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave his highly anticipated testimonies before two House committees Wednesday, speaking for nearly seven hours.

Mueller’s first testimony was before the Judiciary Committee, where the questions mostly focused obstruction of justice and the whether or not a sitting president can be indicted.

His second testimony was before the Intelligence Committee, where questions focused more on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The former special counsel, for his part, kept his responses short and fairly limited. He gave many yes or no answers, often referring the questioner back to the report, or saying he was not able to talk about the matter legally.

According to CNN, Mueller declined to answer a question or deferred a total of 206 times throughout both hearings.

Following the initial release of the report, Mueller had said before that he did not want to testify before Congress and if he did, he would stick to the report.

His ability to give answers was also further complicated by the Justice Department, which told him he could not answer a wide range of questions. 

Most notably, the Department informed Mueller that he was not allowed to answer questions about people who have not been charged with illegal activities, which made it complicated o talk about Trump and his family.

Now that we have Mueller’s testimonies regarding the findings of his investigation, let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the hearings.

Obstruction of Justice & Exoneration

Mueller started his day on Capitol Hill fielding questions from the House Judiciary Committee.

The Chairman of that Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) pressed Mueller on his conclusions as to whether or not President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice.

“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?” asked Nadler. Mueller responded saying Nadler was correct.

What about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler continued.

“No,” Mueller replied. 

“Your investigation actually found, quote, ‘multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian interference and obstruction investigations.’ Is that correct?” Nadler asked, to which Mueller responded that it was.

Another notable line of questioning about obstruction and indictments came from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). 

‘Sessions was being instructed to tell the special counsel to end the existing investigation into the president and his campaign,’” Lieu read from Mueller’s report. “That’s in the report, correct?” Mueller concurred.

“That would be evidence of an obstructive act because it would naturally obstruct their investigation, correct?” Lieu continued.

“Correct,” Mueller responded.

Questions of Indictment

Lieu later continued to discuss the Department of Justice rule that a sitting president cannot be indicted, which is based off a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

“I believe any reasonable person looking at these facts could conclude that all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met,” he said. “And I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?”

“That is correct,” Mueller answered. He later walked that statement back during his opening statements in front of the Intelligence Committee.

“I wanted to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu,” he said in his opening statement. “It was said, and I quote, ‘you didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said in the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.” 

There was a lot of media focus on that exchange and Mueller’s clarification, but the question Lieu asked Mueller before is also fascinating. In answering Lieu’s question, Mueller confirmed that Trump asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the investigation.

He also seemed to agree with Lieu’s analysis that that would be evidence of an obstructive act.

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) struck a similar tone in a question he posed to Mueller. “So it’s fair to say the president tried to protect himself by asking staff to falsify records relevant to an ongoing investigation?” he asked.

“I would say that is generally a summary,” the special counsel responded.

Regarding the question of whether or not a president could theoretically be indicted once they leave office.

Another one of the most notable moments during Mueller’s testimony in the Judiciary Committee came from this line of questioning from Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO).

Buck asked Mueller if he had found “sufficient evidence to convict President Trump or anyone else with obstruction of justice.” 

Mueller responded that his team “did not make that calculation,” because the OLC opinion “indicates that we cannot indict a sitting president. So one of the tools that a prosecutor would use is not there.” 

Later, Buck asked, “could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?”

“Yes,” Mueller responded.

Trump’s Answers to Mueller’s Questions

Mueller’s testimony at the Intelligence Committee hearing focused more on the portion of his report concerning Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

One of the most talked-about sound bites from that hearing came during questioning from Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). Demings asked a series of questions about Trump’s answers to Mueller’s questions during the investigation.

Mueller never interviewed Trump in person, but Trump gave written answers to Mueller’s questions.

“According to the report there were follow-up questions because of the president’s incomplete answers about the Moscow project,” Demings asked. “Did the president answer your follow up questions either in writing or orally?” 

“No,” Mueller said.

“He did not,” she continued. “In fact, there were many questions that you asked the president that he simply didn’t answer, isn’t that correct?” Mueller responded that it was true.

“And there were many answers that contradicted other evidence you had gathered during the investigation, isn’t that correct Director Mueller?” she asked. 

“Yes,” the special counsel answered.

“Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful?” Demings asked shortly after, 

“There — I would say generally,” he responded.

WikiLeaks & Russia

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) asked the special counsel a series of questions about WikiLeaks.

He asked Mueller if he would agree with an assessment made by Mike Pompeo when he was the director of the CIA that WikiLeaks is a “hostile intelligence service,”  to which Mueller responded, “Absolutely.”

Quigley then read some statements Trump has made in the past about WikiLeaks.

“‘This just came out… WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks,’ Donald Trump, October 10, 2016, ‘This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart, you gotta read it,’ Donald Trump, October 12, 2016. ‘This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,’ Donald Trump, October 31, 2016. ‘Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,’ Donald Trump, November 4, 2016. Do any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?” he asked.

“Well, problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, in terms of some, I don’t know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity,” Mueller responded.

Finally, Mueller also had a now-viral sound-bite about Russian interference in the election during questioning from Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who asked, “in your investigation, did you think this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election, or did you find evidence to suggest they’ll try to do this again?”

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller responded. “The doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Time) (Fox News)

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Trump Administration Moves to Detain Migrant Families Indefinitely

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  • A new rule proposed by the Trump administration would allow it to effectively detain migrant families indefinitely.
  • The rule would roll back the 1997 Flores agreement which has conditions that limit unlicensed detention centers from holding migrant children and their parents for more than 20 days.
  • Under the new rule, families would be held in detention facilities until their cases could be heard. Officials have said that process would take on average two to three months, but others have pointed out that the backlog of cases could lead to families being detained for years.

New Trump Rule

The Trump administration rolled out a new rule Wednesday that would allow it to indefinitely detain migrant families found crossing the border illegally.

The rule would officially end the Flores agreement, a 1997 legal settlement that requires the government to ensure that migrant children are held in safe and sanitary conditions.

Flores was made as part of a federal class-action lawsuit that claimed migrant children held in detention facilities for extended periods of time suffered emotional and physical harm.

Previous coverage about migrant children at U.S. border facilities.

In 2015, District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that under Flores, migrant children can only be held in border facilities for 20 days before they have to be transferred to a licensed facility, where they also must be provided with access to sanitary facilities, medical treatment, and given the ability to contact family members.

However, states do not license family detention centers, and because children had to be moved to licensed facilities, the 2015 ruling also mandated that the 20-day rule applied to parents who arrived at the border with their children.

Over the last year, the Trump administration has been trying to scrap Flores, arguing that limiting detentions of families has caused the recent surge of immigration.

“The Government will now seek to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, a loophole that results in most alien families being released into the country after 20 days,” the White House said in a press release Wednesday. 

“Smugglers have used this loophole as a selling point for aliens who want to cross the border and be released into the interior of the country, exploiting migrant children for profit,” the statement concluded.

Next Steps

Now, under the proposed rule, the administration would be able to hold families until their immigration cases are decided and they are either granted asylum or deported.

According to reports, administration officials said that cases could be resolved in two or three months, but they also noted that because of the massive backlog of immigration cases already in the system, many cases could drag on for months or even years. This means that, at a minimum, children would be kept in detention centers nearly three times longer than they currently are held.

The administration is expected to formally publish the rule later this week. Once it is published, it will go into effect in 60 days, but it first has to be approved by Judge Gee, who has been overseeing the Flores litigation.

However, administration officials expect the legal process to take longer, as immigration advocates have already said that they plan to challenge the new rule in court. 

Advocates have argued that the Flores agreement is essential to provide protection for immigrant children, many of whom are seeking asylum from violence and poverty. 

They say the Trump administration has violated the agreement and harmed migrant children by holding them in facilities with horrible conditions and separating hundreds of them from their parents.

Previous coverage about the Trump administration’s migrant family separation policies.

Others have noted that over the last year, at least seven migrant children have either died in government custody or right after they were released.

“We don’t disagree with detaining children when it’s necessary — namely, if they’re a flight risk or they’re a danger to themselves or others, we agree,” Peter Schey, one of the lead attorneys for the Flores plaintiffs told reporters.

“It’s the unnecessary detention of [a] child that this settlement sought to end,” he continued. “So these regulations really reflect a flagrant disregard on the part of President Trump and his administration for the safety and the well-being of children in the care of the federal government.”

Legal Process

Administration officials have said that the new rule will meet the legal standards set forth by Flores because the detention facilities will be subject to audits to ensure they comply with licensing standards. 

They have also said that the rule is not indefinite detention because migrant families will eventually have their cases heard, even if it takes years.

“This single ruling has substantially caused and continued to fuel the current family unit crisis and the unprecedented flow of Central American families and minors illegally crossing our border,” Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said at a press conference Wednesday. “The new rule closes the legal loophole that arose form the reinterpretation of Flores.”

Schey also said he expects Judge Gee to reject the administration’s new rule. 

“These regulations do not implement the settlement. In fact, it abrogates the settlements. And so I think their efforts will be futile,” he said.

If Gee does not approve the rule, the Trump administration is expected to appeal her decision, and that could drag on for even more months or years, according to legal experts.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)

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DOJ Asks Supreme Court to Rule Against Transgender Workplace Discrimination Protection

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  • The Department of Justice filed a brief on Friday asking the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect workplace discrimination on the basis of being transgender.
  • The DOJ filed the brief in response to a case against Harris Funeral Homes brought by Aimee Stephens, a transgender funeral director who says she was fired after coming out to her boss and saying she would wear a female uniform.
  • Harris Funeral Homes and the DOJ argue Title VII protects against discrimination based on biological sex only, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says LGBTQ+ workers should be protected under sex-based discrimination.

DOJ Submits Brief Against Trans Protection

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender individuals in the workplace.

The brief comes in response to an upcoming case the Supreme Court will hear in October concerning a transgender funeral director who was fired after coming out to her boss in 2013.

Title VII protects workers from employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin.

While some argue sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under the term “sex,” the DOJ argued “sex” only refers to a person’s biological sex. It said when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the interpretation rested on the basis of biological sex.

In the brief, the DOJ stated “[Title VII] simply does not speak to discrimination because of an individual’s gender identity or a disconnect between an individual’s gender identity and the individual’s sex.”

Instead, it argued Title VII prohibits discrimination of people in similar positions and of the opposite biological sex.

The DOJ asserted any changes in the law should be made through Congress, not through the judicial system. Currently, no federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of being transgender; however, in 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that included LGBTQ+ identities in the “sex” category.

“While the issue that the Supreme Court took up is a narrow one, whether civil rights protections against ‘sex’ discrimination passed in 1964 should include ‘gender identity’ and transgender rights, it will have vast implications for religious groups,” said Craig Parshall, General Counsel for National Religious Broadcasters. “There is an increasing movement to force faith-based employers to bend to the newly-minted doctrine that a person’s subjective ideas of how they think of their own gender should always prevail, regardless of the religious conscience of employers, businesses, and ministries.”

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union have condemned the action.

“The Trump-Pence administration’s filing today is both legally and morally unjustifiable,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a Friday statement“Their argument is un-American, anti-business, and flies in the face of decades of federal case law, including established Supreme Court precedent. There can be no justification for such a narrow interpretation of the term ‘sex.’ Our community will not be silent, and we will not be erased.” 

R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes V. EEOC & Aimee Stephens

Aimee Stephens worked for R.G and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan as a funeral director from 2007 to 2013, presenting as a man for the six years of her employment.

In 2013, she decided to come out to her boss, Thomas Rost, in a letter where she stated she would begin wearing a woman’s uniform and start her transitioning process.

She said the decision came after many years of struggling to accept her identity. At one point in her life, she said she considered killing herself.

Though she said she hoped her job performance over the years would help ease her transition, she was fired soon after.

She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in turn, sued the funeral home for discrimination, sending the case to district court.

In court, the funeral home argued Stephens needed to wear a man’s uniform, saying that “[m]aintaining a professional dress code that is not distracting to grieving families is an essential industry requirement that furthers their healing process.”

Rost, who is a devout Christian, also said he does not believe people can change their gender and defended his firing of Stephens under the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The district ruled in favor of the funeral home on both points, concluding Title VII does not extend to discrimination on the basis of being transgender.

In 2018, Stephens and the EEOC appealed the case in circuit court, where it overturned the district decision and ruled in their favor.

“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII,” the decision states. “The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex.”

The circuit also struck down the district’s religious freedom ruling.

This time, the funeral home sought to overturn the decision, arguing that the circuit court had over-reached its authority, and particularly, that it had expanded the definition of what it means to be a man or woman. It asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. In April, the Supreme Court agreed to hold a hearing.

“Harris Homes ‘administers its dress code based on [its] employees’ biological sex, not based on their subjective gender identity,’ the DOJ’s Friday brief states. “Rost has stated that he ‘believe[s] that the Bible teaches that a person’s sex is an immutable God-given gift,’ and he would ‘violat[e] God’s commands’ by ‘permit[ting] one of [Harris Homes’] funeral directors to deny their sex while acting as a representative of [the] organization’ or by permitting a funeral director of either sex to ‘wear the uniform for’ funeral directors of the opposite sex ‘at work.’”

The Supreme Court will also hear two LGBTQ+ other cases involving “sex” discrimination in relation to Title VII and sexual orientation.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Time) (NBC)

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Trump Lashes Out at Rep. Elijah Cummings, Reverend Al Sharpton

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  • President Donald Trump criticized Rep. Elijah Cummings on Twitter Saturday, saying that his district, which includes parts of Baltimore, is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States.”
  • Many responded condemning Trump’s tweets, with some calling them racist, and others pointing out factual inaccuracies.
  • Trump doubled-down by calling Cummings a racist on Sunday. He later went after Reverend Al Sharpton on Twitter after Sharpton said he was going to Baltimore Monday morning.

Trump Criticizes Reverend Al Sharpton

President Donald Trump condemned civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton on Twitter Monday morning amid backlash over tweets the President made regarding Rep. Elijah Cumming (D-MD) over the weekend.

Trump targeted Sharpton after the famous activist and MSNBC host tweeted that he was “headed to Baltimore.” 

The president retweeted the reverend’s post and added his own statement “Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score,” Trump wrote, adding, “Hates Whites & Cops!”

Sharpton responded to Trump in a tweet. “I do make trouble for bigots,” the reverend wrote. “If he really thought I was a con man he would want me in his cabinet.”

Trump Goes After Cummings

Trump’s remarks condemning Sharpton come after the president faced criticism for a number of tweets he made this weekend attacking Rep. Cummings, who represents part of Baltimore.

Cummings has been an open critic of the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis at the border. Earlier this month, Cummings referred to the treatment of migrant children at the border “government-sponsored child abuse.”

Cummings is also the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which is leading multiple investigations into Trump and his administration. On Thursday, the committee voted to subpoena all work-related emails and texts that Trump administration officials had sent from private accounts.

The vote was part of an ongoing probe that expanded after a lawyer for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner said they both used personal accounts for official business, which notably is illegal under federal records laws.

Trump seemed to have both these factors in mind when he took to Twitter Saturday morning.

“Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous,” Trump wrote.

“Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” the president continued. “If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place”

In a separate tweet, Trump seemed to indicate that Cumming’s district was stealing or embezzling money. He also added that the district is “considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States. No human being would want to live there.”

Trump continued to tweet similar things at Cummings on and off for the rest of the day, at one point writing, “He does NOTHING for his very poor, very dangerous and very badly run district! Take a look…. #BlacksForTrump2020.”

Democrats Respond

Cummings responded to the president’s attacks on Twitter, later that day. 

“It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch,” he wrote. “But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”

A number of people take to Twitter to defend Cummings and condemn Trump’s tweets. Some, like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, called Trump’s tweet’s racist. “We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership,” she wrote on Twitter.

Politicians from Maryland and Baltimore specifically also took to Twitter. Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young said in a statement on Twitter that Trump’s “rhetoric is hurt and dangerous to the people’ he’s sworn to represent.”

“Mr. Trump, you are a disappointment to the people of Baltimore, our country, and the world,” he added.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) also chimed in, telling The Washington Post, “This is an example of the racist bully we have as a president, lashing out at Elijah Cummings for speaking the truth and for standing up to the president and his policies.”

“And the president just can’t take that and lashed out in a way that clearly had racial overtones,” he continued. “Elijah Cummings’s district is very diverse. It has lower-income neighborhoods that need a lot of help. And it has very wealthy areas.”

On that note, others pointed out factual inaccuracies in Trump’s claims about Cummings district. Political pollster Nate Silver cited demographics from the “Biggest US Cities” website in a Twitter post to note that Cummings district has many middle and working-class areas.

“MD-7 is the 2nd-wealthiest majority-black district in the country ($58K median household income, per my data; MD-4 is first),” Silver wrote. “Also the 2nd-most well-educated majority-black district (37% bachelors’ degree+; GA-4 is first).”

The Washington Post, also pointed out that the FBI’s 2017 crime report ranked Baltimore the third most dangerous city in the U.S., not the first.

Republicans Respond

Others, however, defended Trump’s remarks or played down what he said.

Speaking with Fox News Sunday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney came to the president’s defense.

“When the president hears lies like that, he’s going to fight back,” Mulvaney said. “It has absolutely zero to do with race. This is what the president does. He fights, and he’s not wrong to do so.”

Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) did not say much about the tweets during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, but he did turn the criticism back to Cummings.

“I didn’t do the tweets,” he said. “I can’t talk about why he did what he did, but I’m very disappointed in people like Congressman Cummings, who is attacking Border Patrol agents that are trying to do their job when the Democrats won’t give them the resources to do it.”

Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), one of the four Republicans who voted to condemn Trump’s tweets telling four American Congresswomen to “go back” to the countries they supposedly came from, also downplayed the most recent tweets in an interview on ABC’s This Week.

“I think these tweets are different from the ones a few days ago or a few weeks ago,” Hurd said.

Trump Responds

Trump responded to the attacks by doubling down on Sunday in a series of tweets.

He specifically responded to Pelosi’s remarks, and blamed the Democrats for playing the “race card.”

“Someone please explain to Nancy Pelosi, who was recently called racist by those in her own party, that there is nothing wrong with bringing out the very obvious fact that Congressman Elijah Cummings has done a very poor job for his district and the City of Baltimore,” Trump wrote.

In a later tweet, Trump referred to the African American representative as “racist Elijah Cummings.”

A number of people have compared Trump’s statements about Cummings and Baltimore to other remarks he has made in the past. In a now-viral video, CNN host Victor Blackwell, a native of Baltimore, noted that Trump often uses the term infestation when talking to minorities.

Blackwell specifically noted Trump’s tweets from a few weeks ago where he said that the four progressive Congresswomen known as the Squad should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Aaron Rupar of Vox also echoed that, posting screenshots of other times Trump has used that same language. Rupar included examples like in 2018, when Trump referred to sanctuary cities in California as “crime infested.”

He also included a 2017 attack on African American Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), where the president wrote that Lewis should focus on the “burning and crime-infested inner-cities of the U.S.”

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

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