March 25, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report, as summarized by Attorney General Robert Barr, lays down "one proposition unambiguously: The special counsel's office did not believe that it could reasonably prove in court that any Trump campaign member or affiliate committed a crime in assisting the Russian government with its efforts," Lawfare writes. "It means there is no smoking gun. ... That's good news, in general, and it's good news for President Trump."

But Mueller explicitly did not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. Barr wrote that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had determined Mueller's evidence "is not sufficient to establish the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense," but "a source with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Daily Beast that it was their interpretation that 'Mueller was making a case to Congress, who (unlike DOJ, in Mueller's view) is empowered to weigh the lawfulness of a president's conduct.'"

Barr's letter "leaves the distinct sense that Mueller's detailed accounting of the president's potential acts of obstruction is significant," and "that may well be the point," Lawfare agrees. An obvious reason Mueller, "being barred from indicting the president," would lay out an extensive case for and against criminal obstruction but not give his prosecutorial opinion is that he's "teed up the question of presidential obstruction for evaluation by a different actor — to wit, by Congress."

Barr's letter actually "seems to suggest that Trump may have done impeachment-worthy things, but not prosecution-related things," Marcy Wheeler argues at Emptywheel. "Mueller found that no Trump flunkie took part in either of the two main Russian interference attempts," and "Barr and Rod Rosenstein, together, decided because Trump did not take part in those two interference attempts, he could be not charged with obstruction," regardless of whether he "was trying to cover up some other crime, like a quid pro quo, which would still merit prosecution." House Democrats should focus on that, Wheeler suggests. Peter Weber

10:54 a.m.

After shutting the door on a 2020 run again and again, might former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have it ever so slightly open?

A new report from The New York Times describing how some Democrats are "daydreaming" about another candidate making an unlikely late entrance into the race includes the detail that Clinton, in recent weeks, has been saying that if she "thought [she] could win," she "would consider entering the primary," although she's "skeptical there would be an opening."

Still, Clinton is reportedly being encouraged to enter the race, and the report details how she has "concerns" about Democrats' current 2020 field, worried about the "durability" of former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign and the "liberal politics" of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), being "unsure of who else can emerge to take on" Trump.

This report comes days after the endless 2020 speculation surrounding Clinton ramped up when she took a shot at Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) by on a podcast suggesting Russians are "grooming" her to run as a third party candidate. Gabbard hit back by challenging Clinton to "join the race directly." Clinton, who recently tweeted at President Trump that he shouldn't "tempt me" to get into the race, would consider a run if Biden "drops out or is badly weakened," the Times reports, citing Democrats close to her.

Clinton isn't the only name being floated to possibly make a late entrance, with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also reportedly telling allies he'd run if he saw an opening, and with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also reportedly being urged to enter. Will any of them actually join the race with just months to go until the Iowa caucuses? Almost certainly not, but as Patrick told the Times, "it's nice to be rumored about." Brendan Morrow

10:35 a.m.

Truly everyone has a podcast now.

Joining a slew of right wingers, your neighbor, and your local grocery store, former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon is now thinking about starting a podcast of his own. He's looking to use the podcast to combat President Trump's impeachment, and, as former Trump campaign chief Corey Lewandowski confirmed to The Washington Post, is trying to get some other ex-Trump associates on board.

As House Democrats' impeachment inquiry continues into Trump, the president has rejected past impeachment strategies and is running his countersurge without a Clinton-esque war room. But Bannon seems to think Trump is doing it all wrong. So he spoke with associates over the weekend about launching a podcast that will double as an "outside war room," three people familiar with his plans tell the Post. "There's no communication between the White House and the Hill or with the grass roots," Bannon later told the Post, adding that the podcast will be a "public media play that will have an everyday focus to help people understand what's going on."

Lewandowski similarly told the Post that "proactive communication is necessary to inform the American people about what's happening." His involvement could some legitimacy to the podcast, seeing as Bannon is still disliked among Trump loyalists, but Lewandowski reportedly might be hired for a White House impeachment defense corps. Read more about Bannon's return to the airwaves at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:00 a.m.

WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann looks set to exit the cash-strapped company with almost $2 billion.

SoftBank Group Corp. has earned approval to take control of WeWork in a deal that will see Neumann receive almost $1.7 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The Japanese company will buy almost $1 billion worth of stock from Neumann as well as provide him with about $500 million in credit and a $185 million consulting fee as he steps down from the board, according to the report. He'll reportedly still have a stake in the company and be a board observer.

Bloomberg's Max Abelson points out the $185 million consulting fee alone is more than just about every CEO in the United States made last year.

Neumann stepped down as CEO of the workspace company last month amid mounting board pressure following an initial public offering delay. Shortly after, WeWork's IPO was withdrawn and reports emerged that the company was set to run out of money before the end of the year.

Now, SoftBank is taking control and valuing WeWork at $8 billion, which the Journal notes is a massive drop from the $47 billion it was valued at in January. SoftBank previously owned about a third of the We Company.

"SoftBank pumped more than $10b in WeWork because it believed in Adam Neumann," CNBC reporter Alex Sherman observed Tuesday. "Now it's paying him $1 billion for his equity and a $185 million consulting fee to go away. Art of the deal."

After the Journal reported Monday that WeWork had delayed layoffs because it couldn't afford to pay severance, The Atlantic's Derek Thompson also observed that Neumann will "have cashed out nearly $2 billion of a company that's literally too poor to fire thousands of employees." Brendan Morrow

9:46 a.m.

Anyone and anything who says something bad about President Trump is now in his lawsuit radar.

Democrats' impeachment inquiry into Trump has coincided with him pledging to sue several congressmembers leading the probe. And now, after threatening a suit against CNN with a not exactly intimidating letter, Trump is seeking to sue MSNBC, The Washington Post, and other news outlets, two people close to Trump tell The Daily Beast.

So far, Trump has pledged a few times to sue House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and threw in a promised suit for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for good measure. That, along with the slightly more concrete plan to sue CNN for "misrepresentation," are examples of how Trump is getting ready to sue "everybody who pisses him off," one senior White House official told The Daily Beast.

Of course, Trump's lawsuit streak is nothing new. He promised suits against his entertainment rivals back in his TV business days: HBO's Bill Maher, Rosie O'Donnell, and MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, to name a few. He's even threatened former ally Stephen Bannon and current ally Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Yet even though Trump has pledged to sue dozens of people and inanimate objects over his lifetime, it's safe to say most of those promises never came through. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:01 a.m.

President Trump's impeachment rhetoric just keeps escalating.

The president once again lashed out Tuesday at the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry, but this time, he did so by labeling it a "lynching." This, CNN's Daniel Dale reports, is the first time Trump has used the word "lynching" during his presidency.

Trump immediately came under fire for this comparison, including from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a civil rights activist and member of the Congressional Black Caucus. "Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you," Rush asked Trump. "Delete this tweet."

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) expressed his disgust in a CNN interview as well, saying this is "one word no president ought to apply to himself." He added, "I'm a product of the South. I know the history of that word." 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are also weighing in, with former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro calling the comparison "beyond shameful." Brendan Morrow

8:08 a.m.

Support for President Trump's impeachment and removal from office is continuing to climb, but not among Republicans.

That's according to new CNN/SSRS poll released Tuesday showing support for Trump's impeachment and removal at 50 percent, a new high. This is up three points since CNN asked the question last month in the days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) officially announced the impeachment inquiry; that September poll already saw a six point jump in impeachment support since May. Forty-three percent said they don't support impeachment in the new poll.

Republican support for impeachment has cooled since the September poll, though, with only six percent of GOP respondents now in favor compared to 14 percent last month. Among Democrats, 87 percent support impeachment, while 50 percent of independents support it. Trump's approval has also risen two points since before the official impeachment inquiry was announced.

This poll comes as Democrats are continuing to investigate whether Trump abused the power of the presidency to push Ukraine to launch investigations that might benefit him politically. In the poll, 49 percent said Trump used the presidency improperly to gain advantage in the 2020 presidential election, up one point since last month, while 43 percent said he didn't, up four points since last month. Among Republicans, 87 percent say Trump didn't use the presidency improperly, up from 71 percent in September.

CNN's poll was conducted by speaking to a random national sample of 1,003 adults over the phone from Oct. 17-20. The margin of error is 3.7 percentage points. Read more results at CNN. Brendan Morrow

8:02 a.m.

Iraq on Tuesday gave the U.S. military the old bartender's line at closing time: You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said over the weekend that most of the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops leaving Syria on President Trump's orders would go to western Iraq and perhaps continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State in Syria, though he suggested Monday that some smaller number might stay in Syria to guard oil fields. On Tuesday, Iraq's military said "all U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdistan Region so that they may be transported outside Iraq," but "there is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq."

A senior U.S. defense official later told Reuters that the situation in Iraq and Syria was still fluid and plans may change.

More than 5,000 U.S. troops are already in Iraq, and growing that number significantly would have political ramifications in a country the U.S. invaded in 2003, left in 2001, then returned to help Iraq fight ISIS. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports, "news of the American withdrawal set off jubilation among Islamic State supporters on social media and encrypted chat networks. It has lifted the morale of fighters in affiliates as far away as Libya and Nigeria." Peter Weber

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