What to know about Tuesday’s elections

Another Tuesday brings the next slate of compelling midterm primaries across the country.

Democrats look to expand the House map into Trump country with potentially strong recruits running in Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas. Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidates are racing to the right to embrace President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association, while the state’s Democratic primary has drawn national attention and endorsements from the party’s major 2020 presidential prospects.

Here’s what you need to know:

Polls in Georgia close at 7 p.m. ET, and in Arkansas at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Polls in Kentucky are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time. Most of the state is in Eastern Time, but counties in the Central Time Zone close at 7 p.m. ET.

All polls in Texas close by 9 p.m. ET. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time. Most of the state is in Central, but El Paso is in the Mountain Time Zone.

Georgia’s GOP gubernatorial primary mirrors previous 2018 Republican statewide primaries, further showing President Donald Trump’s firm grip on the Republican Party. Georgia Democrats will choose between rising star Stacey Abrams, who could become the first female African-American governor, and state Sen. Stacey Evans.

CNN’s headline on Kentucky says it all: “Democratic House primary in Kentucky pits openly gay mayor against female fighter pilot”

In Texas, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee faces another test between its preferred candidate and a more progressive upstart.

Arkansas Democrats hope state Rep. Clarke Tucker emerges as the challenger to GOP Rep. French Hill, and can put Republicans on defense in a state that voted for Trump by over 25 points in 2016.

Georgia governor:

Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle hopes to earn a promotion to the state’s top political office. In the primary he faces Secretary of State Brian Kemp, among others, who made headlines when he released a TV ad that featured him pointing a shotgun at a boy presumably interested in dating his daughter. Any candidate needs to get 50% or more to earn the nomination, otherwise the top two will move on to a July 24 runoff.

On the Democratic side, former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams got a last-minute endorsement from Hillary Clinton, after racking up endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey. Abrams must defeat state Rep. Stacey Evans first, and would start out as an underdog against her eventual Republican opponent.

Georgia’s 6th District:

Lucy McBath, whose unarmed teenage son was gunned down in his car in 2012, is running in a crowded primary here. She will have to clear 50% to win the nomination Tuesday night, and would begin as a long shot against Rep. Karen Handel, who was elected to the seat last June in what eventually became the most expensive House race in history.

Kentucky’s 6th District:

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and former Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath compete in an atypical Democratic primary. The DCCC has not taken sides, and both candidates have similar stances on policy issues. Gray was the Democratic Senate nominee against Rand Paul in 2016 and lost by about 15 points. McGrath is running as an outsider, and she told CNN over the weekend: “It’s very clear that people are looking for more women. It’s very clear that people are really interested in candidates who aren’t necessarily — that didn’t grow up within the political party.” Whoever wins will take on GOP Rep. Andy Barr. CNN rates the race as Lean Republican.

Texas’ 7th District:

In March, the DCCC took the unusual step of dumping opposition research against progressive candidate Laura Moser in the hopes of taking down her candidacy. The move backfired, and Moser finished second in a seven-person race. Her opponent in Tuesday’s runoff is the more establishment Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who hopes to move on to the general election against GOP Rep. John Culberson. CNN currently rates the race as Lean Republican.

Arkansas’ 2nd District:

Democrats are looking to make inroads in the Clintons’ home state, and recruited state Rep. Clarke Tucker to take on two-term Rep. French Hill in this Little-Rock based district. Hill won his 2014 election with just 52% of the vote, so Tucker could make this a race. CNN also rates this seat as Lean Republican.

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Nunes won’t meet with Justice Department until he gets documents on source

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Sunday that he won’t meet with the Justice Department until he is handed documents related to a confidential FBI source who spoke with Trump campaign aides in 2016 about Russian interference in the election.

Nunes also pointed to reports Friday that the FBI’s confidential source spoke with at least two advisers to President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign about its possible ties to Russia as a reason for his position, accusing someone within the department of leaking the information after he and South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy didn’t take Justice officials up on their most recent offer to answer the lawmakers’ questions in a briefing.

Earlier this month, Nunes threatened to hold Justice Department officials in contempt of Congress if they don’t release documents related to the source that he has subpoenaed.

To quell rising tensions, officials briefed Nunes and South Carolina Republican Rep. Gowdy a couple of weeks ago in a meeting the lawmakers later called “productive.” The department then offered to brief Nunes and Gowdy on Friday with the understanding that certain questions remained outstanding from a previous briefing, but the invitation went unanswered, CNN has reported.

“Now if you look at what happened on Friday night, probably the mother of all leaks, of all time, to two major newspapers, that came out Friday night. Now, had Mr. Gowdy and I went to that meeting, you can bet they would have tried to pin that on us,” Nunes, R-California, told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”

“We had what I thought was a productive meeting, and then, after that meeting, they’ve done nothing but leak and leak and leak,” he continued. “Now, we don’t know exactly who it is over at the Department of Justice or the FBI. I’m not pinning any blame on people. But we’re not going to go to another meeting where we don’t get documents and then the meeting leaks out.”

Nunes told Fox News that he and Gowdy refused to do the briefing after being told they would not get the documents they are seeking.

“They were trying to get Mr. Gowdy and I to go the Department of Justice for, supposedly, another briefing. We said, look, unless we’re going to get documents, we found out Thursday night, they were not going to provide documents, so therefore, we’re not going to go,” Nunes said on Sunday.

The Justice Department and the California Republican have been down this road before. CNN reported earlier this month that Nunes threatened to hold Justice Department officials in contempt of Congress on several occasions for failing to turn over sensitive documents related to the Russia investigation only to not read the materials once they were made available to him.

Mueller interview

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told The Wall Street Journal on Saturday that federal prosecutors would need to make clear the role played by the confidential source and whether the person had compiled any “incriminating information” about Trump’s associates before the President would agree to any interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. Otherwise, Giuliani said, Trump could be “walking into a trap.”

Although Trump has suggested the FBI’s confidential intelligence source was embedded in his campaign, US officials have told CNN that was not the case.

The officials say that the identity of the source had been closely held at the highest levels of the FBI and intelligence community, and the individual has been a source for the FBI and CIA for years.

Officials from the Justice Department, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence have maintained that turning over that information Nunes has requested on the individual would pose a grave risk to the source’s life.

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Venezuelans, rocked by poverty and inflation, head to polls

Venezuelans trekked to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, amid widespread economic anxiety and voter apathy.

President Nicolas Maduro is seeking reelection for a six-year term in an electoral process that has been criticized both inside and outside Venezuela.

The main opposition coalition is boycotting the election, though Maduro is not without challengers.

Maduro’s chief rival for the presidency is Henri Falcon, a former state governor and onetime loyalist of the ruling party who broke ranks in 2010. On Sunday Falcon cited hundreds of complaints of election violations. Election officials said they would address the claims.

Amid allegations from leaders in the region that the election process lacks legitimacy, Maduro said the outcome will be respected.

“There has been a fierce campaign by the government of Donald Trump,” Maduro said in a news conference on Sunday. “In the United States there has been a fierce pressure to try to besmirch the Venezuelan elections — and they couldn’t.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that he was watching the election closely. “Sham elections change nothing. We need Venezuelan people running this country … a nation with so much to offer the world,” he said on Twitter.

Maduro predicted a good electoral turnout and encouraged voters to head to the polls. “Today is a historic day. Let no one miss this historic day,” he said, after casting his ballot and claiming his was the first vote of the day.

Later Sunday, he took to Facebook to call on people to vote, offering to provide transportation to Venezuelans living in remote areas.

“We should feel proud that we have not had any mishaps, that none of the candidates have felt threatened solely for being a candidate,” Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez said.

Polls close at 6 p.m. ET Sunday. Results are expected Sunday night or Monday.

‘Nothing is normal’

The country has endured political tumult and economic misery, including food and medicine shortages, and hyperinflation.

“Nothing is normal,” said citizen Carmen Herrera. “The little bit of money that we earn is not enough to buy even half dozen eggs.”

“I would like to see a change because at this rate we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Because of the deteriorating situation, an estimated 1.6 million people fled the country between 2015 and 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Maduro has been Venezuela’s President since former President Hugo Chavez died in 2013.

Under Chavez, the country turned toward socialism. Many Venezuelans saw him as the hero of the poor. Before he died, Chavez picked Maduro as his successor, which helped put Maduro over the top in the 2013 presidential election.

Once he took power, Maduro kept up Chavez’s practices such as huge welfare programs and price controls for most goods, including food.

Venezuela holds the world’s largest supply of crude oil — which once seemed like an endless gusher of cash for the government.

Plummeting oil prices crashed the country’s economy in 2016. It has since completely collapsed, and the country now finds itself in the middle of a financial crisis. The International Monetary Fund expects that inflation in Venezuela will reach 13,000% in 2018.

Falcon was once a Chavez supporter. In 2010, he broke with the ruling party and has been a vocal critic of the government in recent years. He believes the way out of the financial crisis is the dollarization of the country — pinning the country’s economy on the US dollar.

Casting ballots

Many of those who are boycotting the election believe it is rigged. The event is an afterthought for so many citizens battling despair, fatigue and economic insecurity. People say they are preoccupied with getting their next meal or leaving the country.

“Both my family and I are very undecided about whether we’re going to vote,” said Betty Fernandez.

Falcon — who cast a ballot and spoke to reporters at a polling station — said this is not the time to be complacent. “The hunger situation, the misery, the uncontrolled political situation that our country lives is truly alarming.”

He said there have been no less than 350 reports of election violations. He urged security forces to address the issues.

Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council, is following up.

“We haven’t had any significant incident so far, we don’t have any knowledge of any aggression made or of any greater difficulty during the process,” said Lucena.

CNN staff said one polling station was very quiet and the turnout wasn’t very high at that spot.

Ecuador’s former President Rafael Correa — who has a good relationship with Maduro — was in Caracas monitoring the elections and cited a healthy turnout.

“In a few hours early morning, there was already participation at 30%, which illuminates a big participation at the end of the working day.”

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Trump failure to disclose payoff raises red flags, experts say

Donald Trump’s fresh acknowledgment this week that he reimbursed his lawyer Michael Cohen more than $100,000 in 2017 is raising red flags with ethics experts about why the President withheld information from the public about those payments last year.

Trump’s financial disclosure report released on Wednesday — covering all of 2017– stated the President paid Cohen back last year between $100,001 and $250,000 for various expenses Cohen incurred while working for Trump.

“Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017,” the disclosure said.

While Wednesday’s disclosure did not specify what Cohen was being reimbursed for, he paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 as a part of a hush agreement to keep the porn star quiet about her alleged affair with Trump.

That revelation has brought to stark focus the reality that Trump’s previous financial disclosure report released last June — which covered all of 2016 through mid-April 2017 — made no mention of Trump’s payments to Cohen, despite the fact that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, recently said that Trump’s monthly payments to Cohen began in early 2017.

“Some time after the campaign is over, they set up a reimbursement, $35,000 a month, out of his personal family account,” Giuliani told The New York Times. In total, Trump paid Cohen $460,000 or $470,000 to include money for “incidental expenses,” he added.

It was not immediately clear why Giuliani referred to a significantly higher figure than the range that was disclosed this week.

Trump’s critics and government transparency advocates, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Executive Director Noah Bookbinder, say the Justice Department must investigate whether the failure to disclose the debt last year was “knowing and willful, in which case it would have been a federal crime.”

“The Office of Government Ethics has now determined that the President’s debt to Michael Cohen needs to be reported on his financial disclosure report, rejecting the President’s claim that it does not,” Bookbinder told CNN. “Because this was a debt incurred in 2016 and repaid starting in early 2017, it clearly should have been included on the President’s 2017 report, which covered any debts through May 2017.”

Trump’s explanation for why the Cohen payments were not included in last year’s report was clear in the President’s disclosure this week: He simply did not believe the reimbursement to Cohen was “required to be disclosed as a ‘reportable liabilities.'”

The reason Trump nevertheless included mention of the Cohen payments in his disclosure this week, the report said, was “in the interest of transparency.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders would not elaborate on the statement Thursday when pressed by reporters.

“That was addressed in the financial disclosure. That is something that would be determined by White House counsel,” Sanders said.

But the Office of Government Ethics was unequivocal in its own conclusion, disagreeing with the President.

“The information related to the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability,” it said.

In addition to including a statement on Trump’s financial disclosure, the OGE’s acting director David Apol sent a letter to the Justice Department, noting that Trump should have disclosed the payment under the law.

The office did not, however, specify what year the disclosure should have taken place or indicate whether it believed Trump violated the law.

Former OGE director and CNN contributor Walter Shaub said the letter to the Justice Department raised eyebrows.

“Apol’s decision to release his referral letter was actually quite aggressive,” Shaub said. “His letter is as formal as anything OGE has ever sent DOJ. Most OGE referrals are just informal calls or emails.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on the letter.

Cohen has previously said that he used his personal funds to make the payment, and that the Trump Organization and Trump campaign were not involved in the agreement and neither reimbursed him for the $130,000.

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Nancy Pelosi to take questions in CNN town hall

Less than six months before the midterm elections, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will address the most pressing issues facing the nation, in a live, internationally telecast town hall, CNN announced Wednesday.

The one-hour event, moderated by CNN’s Chris Cuomo, will air Wednesday, May 23 at 9 p.m. ET, and feature audience questions.

With control of the House, and possibly the Senate, on the line, the California Democrat is expected to face an array of domestic and foreign policy questions as Congress continues to struggle with how to find common ground on issues ranging the 700,000 undocumented immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to taxes. The town hall is taking place in the run-up to President Donald Trump’s denuclearization talks with North Korea on June 12.

Pelosi, who has led the House Democratic caucus for 15 years, is expected to speak about her party’s political strategy heading into Election Day. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats in the midterm elections to wrest control of the majority out of Republican hands. Nathan Gonzales, publisher of Inside Elections and a CNN contributor, notes the political climate at this time indicates the “most likely outcome: Democratic gains in the teens to a more dramatic electoral wave.”

With spiking global interest in American politics, the town hall will not only be broadcast in the United States on CNN US, but also around the world on CNN International, CNN en Español as well as CNN SiriusXM Channels 116, 454 and the Westwood One Radio Network. The program will also be made available to the American Forces Network, seen on U.S. military installations around the world.

In addition to live television viewing, the town hall with Pelosi can also be viewed via CNNgo at CNN.com/go and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TV and Android TV along with all CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Cuomo, who was recently named the host of “Cuomo Prime Time,” will permanently move into the 9 p.m. ET slot on June 4.

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Trump’s lawyer lied about Russian connections

President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, claimed in a January 2017 interview that the Trump Organization had no recent relationship with Russia, months before admitting he had personally pursued a business deal there on behalf of the company during the 2016 presidential campaign.

A day after CNN broke news about the so-called dossier in January 2017, radio host Sean Hannity asked Cohen whether anybody “within the campaign or around Donald Trump,” had spoken to “anybody in Russia,” Cohen replied, “No.”

“There’s no relationship,” Cohen told Hannity in the January 11, 2017 appearance. “The last time that there was any activity between the Trump Organization — actually, wasn’t even really the Trump Organization, it was the Miss Universe pageant, it was held in Moscow,” Cohen said, referring to the pageant held in 2013.

Cohen’s answer ignored his own work dealing with Russia on behalf of the Trump Organization during the 2016 presidential campaign. CNN reported in September 2017 Cohen sent emails during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign seeking the assistance of the Kremlin in an effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen has said he dropped the project in January 2016.

Cohen told CNN that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not respond to his emails. He also said that, before the proposal was abandoned, he discussed it with Trump three times and Trump signed a preliminary agreement for it in October 2015, well into his run for the presidency.

The owner of I.C. Expert Investment Company, a Russian company, also signed the document. Cohen said in a September 2017 statement to Congress the proposal “was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”

Cohen’s work for Trump has come under increased scrutiny since the FBI raided his home and office last month. That scrutiny intensified last week after porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawyer revealed that a US investment firm with ties to a Russian oligarch made payments to Cohen’s consulting firm, Essential Consultants. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have questioned the Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, about the payments, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

CNN’s KFile reviewed all of Cohen’s appearances on Hannity’s radio program after compiling dates of his appearances through archived social media posts. Audio of the episodes were obtained from the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, which monitors and stores audio of Hannity’s program.

Cohen did not respond to a request for comment.

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