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    Democrat Linda Belcher thanks her supporters following her victory in Tuesday's special election. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

    Democrats gained a seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives Tuesday after a special election following the suicide of a GOP lawmaker who had faced sexual assault allegations.

    Linda Belcher, a retired teacher and former Democratic state lawmaker, soundly defeated Rebecca Johnson, who was attempting to serve out the remainder of her late husband's term.

    Belcher had lost to Dan Johnson by fewer than 200 votes in 2016.

    In December 2017, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published an interview with a woman who claimed that Dan Johnson had sexually assaulted her in 2013, when she was 17. The interview was accompanied by pages of police documents.

    Amid bipartisan calls for his resignation, Johnson denied the allegations on Facebook on the night of Dec. 13 before shooting and killing himself hours later.

    Rebecca Johnson also denied the allegations against her late husband, claiming he was a victim of "an assault from the left." She refused to concede defeat Tuesday night, citing "widespread voter fraud."

    "I've heard from and about people all day long saying they went to vote for me at the correct polling place and were refused the opportunity to vote," Johnson said in a news release. "It's like we're in a Third World country."

    [​IMG]
    State Rep. Dan Johnson committed suicide Dec. 13. (AP)

    Earlier in the day, county election officials discovered residents in a particular subdivision were incorrectly listed as not living in the district. Bullitt County Clerk Kevin Mooney said the problem was fixed and poll workers were instructed to send affected voters to another precinct. Mooney said if all of the affected voters had voted for Johnson, it would not have changed the outcome.

    At her campaign headquarters in downtown Shepherdsville, Belcher said she won the election "fair and square." It's the third time voters have elected Belcher, who was first elected in 2008 when she replaced her husband on the ballot after he was killed in a car wreck.

    Belcher said it was "hard to say" if sexual assault allegations against Dan Johnson and his death played a part in the election, adding: "I have tried to stay very positive and away from that whole situation."

    Belcher told a reporter Bullitt County "has spoken what it wants."

    She added, "It wants honesty and integrity and a very visible person as their state representative."

    Carol Schneider, 65, called Rebecca Johnson "a die-hard, stand-by-your-man kind of woman." But she voted for Belcher, she said, because Johnson was "hanging on to a bunch of lies and now that he's dead he's like this martyr."

    James Carmony, 47, said he wasn't sure he believed the sexual assault allegations and said he ultimately voted for Johnson because she is a Republican and he believed she would support the state's GOP governor. "A lot of things like that come out, sometimes they are true and sometimes they are not."

    Tuesday's election was also one of the first signs in 2018 that Democrats have momentum heading into the pivotal midterm elections two years into Donald Trump's presidency.

    The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said it's at least the 35th contested seat Democrats have taken from Republicans since Trump was inaugurated. And it may have come in the reddest district to date. Trump won Kentucky's 49th House district in 2016 with more than 72 percent of the vote. On Tuesday, the Democratic candidate won with more than 68 percent of the vote.

    "The results here show that if we can win in this district, we can win anywhere," said Ben Self, chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party. "I think this shows the entire House, the Kentucky House, is in play."

    Republicans scoffed at that notion, with state GOP spokesman Tres Watson pointing to low turnout and the circumstances of Johnson's suicide "clouding the outcome."
     
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    (CNN) The House Intelligence Committee on Saturday released a Democratic memo in redacted form that seeks to undercut Republican claims of FBI surveillance abuses.

    The committee made the Democratic memo public after the White House signed off following negotiations between the FBI and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, over what in the document should be redacted.

    Earlier this month, the White House objected to releasing the memo, saying that sensitive material had to be removed first.
    Schiff's memo was written to rebut a Republican memo that accuses the FBI of suppressing Democratic ties to an opposition research dossier on then-candidate Donald Trump and Russia used in the FISA warrant for former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

    The memo defended both the FBI and Justice Department's role in obtaining the FISA warrant — agencies that have been under fire from Republican critics who have also sought to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

    "The Democratic response memo released today should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC," Schiff said in a statement. "Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests."

    The White House said in a statement that nothing in the Democratic memo counters Trump's statements that neither he nor his campaign colluded with Russia.

    "While the Democrats' memorandum attempts to undercut the President politically, the President supported its release in the interest of transparency," the statement read. "Nevertheless, this politically driven document fails to answer serious concerns raised by the Majority's memorandum about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate, loaded with uncorroborated allegations, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign."

    Later Saturday evening, Trump tweeted: "The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!"

    Schiff and other Democrats charge that the Republican memo led by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of California is misleading and omits key facts, including that the FISA application did state that ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier, was paid by a political entity. FBI Director Christopher Wray also expressed concerns about the Nunes memo, publicly warning the White House that omitted information could impact the memo's veracity.

    Speaking Saturday afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Nunes said that he wanted the Democratic memo released "because we think it is clear evidence that the Democrats are not only trying to cover this up, but they're also colluding with parts of the government to help cover this up.

    "So what you basically will read in the Democratic memo is that they are advocating that it's okay for the FBI and DOJ to use political dirt paid for by one campaign and use it against the other campaign," Nunes said.

    In a written statement, Nunes added that "the FISA court was misled about Mr. Page's past interactions with the FBI in which he helped build a case against Russian operatives in America who were brought to justice. It defies belief that the Department of Justice and FBI failed to provide information to a secret court that they had provided to an open federal court regarding their past interactions with Mr. Page."

    Main arguments
    Two of the key arguments in Schiff's memo are that the FBI's request for a FISA warrant on Page was proper, and that the political motivations behind Steele's research were sufficiently disclosed.

    The Schiff memo cites the FBI's previous interest in Page, including a March 2016 interview with him about his contact with Russian intelligence.

    "The FBI's concern about and knowledge of Page's activities therefore long predate the FBI's receipt of Steele's information," the memo states.

    The memo also argues that Steele, who authored the dossier on Trump and Russia, played no role in the FBI's launching of the counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which occurred on July 31, 2016.

    "Steele's reporting did not reach the counterintelligence team investigating Russia at FBI headquarters until mid-September 2016, more than seven weeks after the FBI opened its investigation, because the probe's existence was so closely held within the FBI," the memo states.

    By September 2016, the memo says, the FBI had already opened "sub-inquiries" into a number of Trump campaign associates beyond Page, although the number is redacted.

    In the three subsequent FISA renewals, the Justice Department provided information "obtained through multiple independent sources" that corroborated parts of what Steele reported about Page, the memo states, though many details of that section are redacted.

    Steele's role debated
    The memo states that Steele's role was properly disclosed in the October 2016 FISA application, including his political motivations. The Republican memo argues that the FISA application failed to note that Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee were indirectly paying for Steele's research.

    The Schiff memo cites the FISA application's note that Steele's research appeared intended for use "to discredit" Trump's campaign, and argues that the Justice Department appropriately did not "unmask" US officials in the FISA application.
    The memo notes that when the FISA application was first filed, Steele was not told by Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson that Clinton's campaign and the DNC were paying Fusion GPS for his research.

    "The identified US person (Simpson) never advised source #1 (Steele) as to the motivation behind the research into candidate #1's ties to Russia," the FISA application states, according to Schiff's memo. "The FBI speculates that the identified US person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit candidate #1's campaign."

    The Republican staff of the House Intelligence Committee issued a rebuttal to Schiff's memo, arguing the FBI appeared to be avoiding informing the court about Steele's connections to Clinton and the DNC — and they charged the Schiff memo also failed to note Steele's connections to Democrats.

    "As clearly stated in the GOP memo, none of the Page FISA applications 'disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele's efforts,'" the Republican document states. "Instead, the FISA application relies on a convoluted statement buried in a footnote. This is clearly an attempt to avoid informing the Court, in a straightforward manner that the DNC and Clinton campaign paid for the dossier."

    Partisan feuding over memos
    The release of the Schiff memo caps an unprecedented and tumultuous period for the committee, which has now voted to release two classified documents using an obscure committee rule that had never been invoked previously in the panel's history.
    The committee's Republicans first voted to release the Republican memo last month, without the Democratic rebuttal document, before later agreeing to release the Democratic memo, too.

    Trump indicated he wanted the Republican memo out — over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department. The committee rule puts the decision to object to releasing the classified material in the hands of the President, and he declassified the Republican document without changes.

    But the White House objected to releasing the Democratic memo, citing the concerns about releasing sensitive information, and called for redactions before it could be made public.

    That set off a period of negotiations between the Democratic committee staff and the FBI.

    Schiff had warned he was concerned the White House would make "political redactions," but a senior Democratic committee official said that the redacted document released Saturday "came back clean" from Justice Department and the FBI.
     
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    (CNN) Top Republicans on Capitol Hill have made a concerted decision in their Russia inquiries: They are staying away from digging into the finances of President Donald Trump and his family.

    Six Republican leaders of key committees told CNN they see little reason to pursue those lines of inquiry or made no commitments to do so -- even as Democrats say determining whether there was a financial link between Trump, his family, his business and Russians is essential to understanding whether there was any collusion in the 2016 elections.

    Republicans have resisted calls to issue subpoenas for bank records, seeking Trump's tax returns or sending letters to witnesses to determine whether there were any Trump financial links to Russian actors -- calling the push nothing more than a Democratic fishing expedition.

    While the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee has acknowledged that his panel lacks the resources of special counsel Robert Mueller to dig deeply into financial matters, several Democrats on committees with financial experts on their staff have sought such records. In the House Intelligence Committee, for instance, Democrats have asked for subpoenas to Deutsche Bank, the institution that has been a major lender to the Trump Organization as well as Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser.

    "I think the allegations on money laundering are credible enough that we ought to, in the exercise of due diligence, see if this was one of the other vectors of the Russian active measures campaign," California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, said earlier this month. "To me, that is far more potentially compromising than any salacious video would be."

    Republicans have rebuffed them, arguing that falls outside the scope of the committee's probe.

    "I don't see the link at this stage," Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the House Russia investigation, told CNN. "Deutsche Bank is a German bank -- I don't see the nexus."

    Asked about exploring Russian-Trump business transactions, Conaway was not moved. "I bet every big bank has a Russian customer somewhere," he said.

    The partisan dispute over the Trump finances is a clear sign that Democrats plan to pursue these questions if they retake either chamber of Congress in this year's midterms. And it underscores how Republicans on the Hill have, for the most part, stayed away from vigorous oversight of the Trump administration -- something that is common when either party controls both Congress and the White House.

    'Isn't that what Bob Mueller is doing?'
    Some Democrats have concluded that Mueller's probe is their best hope for getting to the bottom of the Russian collusion question, though Trump himself has warned Mueller from crossing a red line into his family's finances.

    House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, who is also a top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has yet to issue a subpoena as chairman since he took the oversight gavel last June. The South Carolina Republican also brushed off calls by Democrats to pursue the money trail as part of the Russia investigation.

    "Isn't that what Bob Mueller is doing?" Gowdy told CNN when asked about the matter.

    On the House Financial Services Committee, the panel's ranking Democrat, Maxine Waters of California, for nearly a year has called on the committee's chairman, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, to issue subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and help pressure the Treasury Department to cough up documents from its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) over any of Trump's past financial dealings.

    Hensarling has resisted, citing investigations in other House committees, saying doing another one in his panel would be "redundant." And Deutsche Bank has ignored Waters' letters asking for a range of Trump-related information, suggesting it would not disclose confidential information, particularly without a subpoena.

    Hensarling spokeswoman Sarah Flaim pointed to the inquiries that are ongoing in the House and Senate intelligence panels and by Mueller.

    "Those investigations should be allowed to go forward," Flaim said. Hensarling's committee, she said, "will certainly review whatever information the investigations produce."

    Foreign transactions
    In addition to the calls for subpoenaing Deutsche Bank, Democrats point to the comments from Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, who told the House Intelligence Committee last year that it should probe Trump's real estate deals in Florida and New Jersey, as well as Kushner's real estate dealings in New Jersey.

    Democrats have also raised an interest in foreign transactions in places that include the Cayman Islands and Cyprus, particularly surrounding former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. In April 2017, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois traveled to Cyprus to investigate how Russians used money laundering, a trip that came following an Associated Press report that Treasury officials obtained information regarding financial payments Manafort may have received through Cypriot banks.

    Mueller's latest charges against Manafort and his former deputy Rick Gates on Thursday accused them of laundering $30 million and fraudulently securing more than $20 million in loans through real estate holdings. Some of the allegations occurred while Manafort and Gates worked on the Trump campaign, according to the indictment, although none of the activities were tied to their work on the campaign.

    But those areas have gone largely unpursued on Capitol Hill.

    Sen. Ron Wyden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has for months been frustrated with the lack of access to Treasury FinCEN documents. The Oregon Democrat recently fired off a letter for more Treasury documents, this time to obtain records about a lucrative 2008 real estate deal between Trump and a Russian billionaire that raised questions among Democrats about potential money laundering and suspect business dealings.

    But Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has declined to join Wyden in these efforts. And he has rejected Wyden's requested to review Trump's tax returns in a private session.

    "We're not going to do that," Hatch said in the Capitol. "He doesn't want to give up his tax returns, and I believe he's right."

    'A policy dispute'
    In an interview, Wyden said the Senate Intelligence Committee, under the chairmanship of Sen. Richard Burr, has shown little willingness to pursue these lines of inquiry as well.

    "This is a policy dispute," said Wyden, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee. "The chairman does not believe that this is really the focus of the committee's work. I, on the other hand, say counterintelligence is right at the heart of our obligations. Counterintelligence 101 is following the money, because following money is how you compromise people."

    Burr, a North Carolina Republican, pushed back at Wyden's assertions that the committee wasn't "following the money," but he declined to provide any details.

    "Nothing has precluded him from digging further than what we've dug," Burr said of Wyden. "We've had access to whatever financial records we asked for."

    Asked if that meant the panel has asked for Trump financial records, Burr said: "I'm not going to get into everything we've asked for. The investigation has explored all the areas we thought were pertinent."

    Last year, Burr and the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, did obtain some FinCEN documents amid threats to hold up a Treasury nominee. In an interview last month, Warner suggested that their panel didn't have the resources compared to the special counsel to dig through financial matters, saying Mueller has "tools we don't have" on financial issues.
    The Senate Judiciary Committee has also investigated Russia's role in the 2016 elections -- and any ties with Trump associates. But the GOP chairman of the committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, made clear that investigating finances would not be part of the inquiry.

    "That's not part of what we're doing," Grassley said.
     
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    Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump on Monday criticized Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama for their handling of the North Korean threat during remarks Monday to state governors at the White House.

    "The Bush administration did nothing," Trump said. "The Obama administration wanted to do something. He told me it's the single biggest problem. They didn't do anything. It would have been much easier in those days than it is now."

    Trump contrasted the actions of the two previous administrations with his own, arguing that in the wake of his administration's latest sanctions aimed at isolating North Korea that "we've been very tough on them."

    The threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs has loomed large over Trump's presidency, with experts estimating that North Korea could be months away from obtaining the capability of striking the US with a nuclear weapon.

    Rapid advances in North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs have raised the stakes for the US' response. Trump has repeatedly expressed a sense of urgency about those advances and made clear he will not allow North Korea to gain the capability of striking the US with a nuclear weapon.

    Trump has previously blamed Bush, Obama and President Bill Clinton for failing to stop North Korea's nuclear advances during an interview last month with Reuters.

    During his remarks on Monday to a gathering of US governors, Trump also praised China for doing "more, probably, than they've ever done" in pressuring North Korea, but said Russia has undercut those efforts to isolate North Korea by "sending in what China is taking out."
     
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    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-...-trump-over-dreamers-immigrants-idUSKCN1GA1UO

    Supreme Court rejects Trump over 'Dreamers' immigrants
    Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt a setback to President Donald Trump, requiring his administration to maintain protections he has sought to end for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally into the United States as children.

    The justices refused to hear the administration’s appeal of a federal judge’s Jan. 9 nationwide injunction that halted Trump’s move to rescind a program that benefits immigrants known as “Dreamers” implemented in 2012 by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

    The protections were due to start phasing out in March under the Republican president’s action, announced in September.

    Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, roughly 700,000 young adult, mostly Hispanics, are protected from deportation and given work permits for two-year periods, after which they must re-apply. Congress so far has failed to pass legislation to address the fate of the “Dreamers,” including a potential path to citizenship.

    San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled last month that the government must continue to process renewals of existing DACA applications while litigation over the legality of Trump’s action is resolved, prompting the administration’s unusual move to bypass a federal appeals court and take the matter directly to the Supreme Court.

    “The DACA program -- which provides work permits and myriad government benefits to illegal immigrants en masse -- is clearly unlawful. The district judge’s decision to unilaterally re-impose a program that Congress had explicitly and repeatedly rejected is a usurpation of legislative authority,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said.

    “We look forward to having this case expeditiously heard by the appeals court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, where we fully expect to prevail,” Shah added.

    The administration argued Obama exceeded his powers under the Constitution when he bypassed Congress and created DACA.

    Alsup ruled that the challengers, including the states of California, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota and Obama’s former homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano, were likely to succeed in arguing that the administration’s decision to end DACA was arbitrary.

    In a brief order, the Supreme Court justices said the appeal was “denied without prejudice,” indicating they will maintain an open mind on the underlying legal issue still being considered by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The justices also said they expect the lower court to “proceed expeditiously to decide this case.”

    Trump, meeting with governors at the White House, took a swipe at the appeals court, which has ruled against him in other key cases, as well as the broader American judiciary.

    [​IMG]

    Activists and DACA recipients march up Broadway during the start of their 'Walk to Stay Home,' a five-day 250-mile walk from New York to Washington D.C., to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

    “Nothing’s as bad as the 9th Circuit,” Trump said.

    “It’s really sad when every single case filed against us is in the 9th Circuit. We lose, we lose, we lose and then we do fine in the Supreme Court,” Trump added. “But what does that tell you about our court system? It’s a very, very sad thing.”

    ‘FULLY LEGAL’

    California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, called the administration’s bid to bypass the 9th Circuit ”unusual and unnecessary“ and said the DACA program is ”fully legal. “For the sake of the Dreamers who help make our economy and our state strong, the rescission of DACA should not be allowed to stand,” Becerra said.

    Immigration activists said they were grateful the Supreme Court gave current DACA recipients more time, but said many young immigrants are still left unprotected.

    “We need a permanent solution now,” said Greisa Martinez, a DACA recipient who works in Washington with the immigrants’ rights group United We Dream. “This back and forth on DACA and the legislative process has created a crisis in our community.”

    The DACA dispute is the latest major case brought to the Supreme Court for its consideration arising from Trump’s immigration policies. The justices are due to hear arguments in April on the legality of his latest travel ban order barring entry to people from several Muslim-majority nations.

    Trump’s move to rescind DACA prompted legal challenges by Democratic state attorneys general and various organizations and individuals in multiple federal courts.

    On Feb. 13, a second U.S. judge issued a similar injunction ordering the administration to keep DACA in place. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn acted in a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs including a group of states led by New York.

    Judges Alsup and Garaufis did not say that the administration could not at some point end the program, only that there was evidence it did not follow the correct procedures in doing so.

    The rulings allow those who had previously applied for protections and whose two-year status was soon to expire to apply beyond the deadline set by the administration in September. The original plan put on hold by the court rulings said that only those who re-applied by October and whose status was due to expire by March 5 could re-apply.

    The administration is not processing new applications.
     
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    (CNN) President Donald Trump resumed his criticism Tuesday of the investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Russia.

    Trump's messages broke a relative Twitter silence for the President, who, aside from several retweets, hadn't tweeted since Saturday. It also comes after he had called for gun restrictions in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school massacre.
    "WITCH HUNT," Trump simply wrote at one point Tuesday.

    The tweets include commentary on Fox doubting that his campaign colluded with Russia, which he has vigorously denied. One tweet reiterated his commonly stated belief that his 2016 general election opponent, Hillary Clinton, should be investigated for "criminality."

    Trump's communications director, Hope Hicks, is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee later Tuesday, sources with knowledge of the matter tell CNN.

    The House panel plans to interview Hicks about any knowledge she has of contacts that occurred between other Trump associates and Russians, as well as other controversies.
     

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