Trump keeps up aggressive attacks on Mueller

President Donald Trump called out special counsel Robert Mueller in a series of typo-ridden tweets Wednesday morning, continuing his recent aggressive attacks on the Russia probe.

“‘Special Council is told to find crimes, wether crimes exist or not. I was opposed the the selection of Mueller to be Special Council, I still am opposed to it. I think President Trump was right when he said there never should have been a Special Council appointed because (…) there was no probable cause for believing that there was any crime, collusion or otherwise, or obstruction of justice!’ So stated by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

Trump later deleted and corrected some, though not all, of the typos in his first tweet.

Dershowitz, a lawyer and professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, referred CNN to his op-ed published by The Hill Wednesday morning, which had similar though not identical comments to those Trump tweeted.

“I stand by what I wrote in The Hill this morning. Please check and quote it. It lays out my point accurately,” Dershowitz said.

In his Hill op-ed, Dershowitz argues that a special counsel should not have been appointed.

“There was no evidence of any crime committed by the Trump administration. But there was plenty of evidence that Russian operatives had tried to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and perhaps other elections, in the hope of destabilizing democracy,” he writes.

He continued: “The vice of a special counsel is that he is supposed to find crimes, and if he comes up empty-handed, after spending lots of taxpayer money, then he is deemed a failure. If he can’t charge the designated target — in this case, the President — he must at least charge some of those close to the target, even if it is for crimes unrelated to the special counsel’s core mandate. By indicting these low-hanging fruits, he shows that he is trying.”

Trump has ratcheted up his criticism of Mueller’s investigation in recent days. Last week, Trump tweeted that the Mueller probe “should never have been started and there was no crime.” He has also questioned the political impartiality of the investigation.

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Justices skeptical of California abortion notification law

Several justices at the Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed skeptical of the free speech implications of a California law that requires licensed pregnancy centers to inform their clients about the availability of state-subsidized family planning services, including abortion.

Religiously affiliated pregnancy clinics who are opposed to abortion say the law is an unconstitutional violation of their free speech rights and that the government cannot compel them to convey a message that goes against their core convictions.

On the conservative side of the bench, Justice Neil Gorsuch, hearing his first abortion-related case since taking the high court, wondered if the state could find different way to advertise its low-cost services without impinging on the speech of anti-abortion rights clinics.

“Why shouldn’t this court take cognizance of the state’s other available means to provide messages?” Gorsuch asked. “If it’s about just ensuring that everyone has full information about their options, why should the state free-ride on a limited number of clinics to provide that information?”

Justice Anthony Kennedy also expressed concern that the law only targets clinics with one particular viewpoint, which would make it much harder to pass the court’s muster.

Justice Samuel Alito seemed to agree and pointed out that the California law exempts many clinics that offer abortion.

“It turns out that just about the only clinics that are covered by this are pro-life clinics,” he said.

And although the liberals on the bench suggested some support for the intent of the law, some of them also expressed concern. Justice Elena Kagan asked if it might have been rigged in a way that would have targeted pro-life groups. “There’s at least a question as to whether this statute has been gerrymandered,” she said and added “that’s a serious issue.”

And Justice Steven Breyer, on a couple of occasions suggested that the court should send the case back down to the lower courts to develop a more robust record. “Don’t we need a trial on this?” he said at one point.

Based on oral arguments Tuesday, that might be California’s only lifeline to the law staying intact.

The case pits free speech rights against access to abortion and it drew protesters from each side to the Court’s plaza. It is one of several First Amendment cases the justices are considering this term. The court has already heard challenges from a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage and a Minnesota man blocked from wearing a tea party shirt to his polling place. How the court rules could also determine the fate of so-called “informed consent” laws, where states direct doctors to tell patients about potential ramifications of an abortion.

In court, a lawyer for California said the law is a neutral regulation aimed at informing women of their health care options, but a lawyer for religiously affiliated pregnancy centers said it forces them to deliver a message that is both detrimental to their cause and in direct conflict with their mission to encourage childbirth.

‘Reasonable licensing’ or government interference?

The California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act requires licensed clinics, which provide services like ultrasounds, to disseminate a notice stating that California has programs providing “immediate, free or low-cost access” to comprehensive family planning services.

The religiously affiliated centers lost their challenge to the law before a California-based federal appeals court.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals said the state has a substantial interest in “ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion.”

It ruled the California law amounted to “reasonable licensing” by the state.

The clinics, represented by the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, say the court used too lax a standard when reviewing the law. The Alliance Defending Freedom is the same group behind the Supreme Court challenge brought by the Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for the marriage of a same-sex couple.

Michael P. Farris, the group’s attorney, told the justices Tuesday that the government can’t force the clinics to deliver a message that goes against their core convictions. They say the law discriminates based on their anti-abortion viewpoint.

“California took aim at pro-life pregnancy centers by compelling licensed centers to point the way to an abortion,” Farris said.

The law also requires unlicensed clinics — those that provide resources such as vitamins and diapers but have no medical providers on site — to disseminate a notice that they are not licensed by the state. Violators are liable for a civil penalty of up to $500.

On the other side, Joshua A. Klein, California’s deputy solicitor general, argued that about 700,000 women in the state become pregnant each year and about half of the pregnancies are unintended. The law, Klein argued, shouldn’t trigger heightened scrutiny from the courts because it doesn’t require anyone to refer a client for an abortion but simply ensures that women will have the information they need when they are confronted with their pregnancy.

The law “is targeted at women who seek free care for pregnancy, not any particular viewpoint,” he said.”

“The First Amendment does not bar states,” from such a “carefully neutral” notice, Klein added.

Supporters of the law — including groups such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL and Planned Parenthood — say it was necessary because some clinics tried to disguise the fact that they oppose abortion.

“The clinics were masquerading as full service reproductive health clinics and deceiving women into thinking they could get bona fide reproductive health care,” said Amy Myrick, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “In fact, the clinics don’t make abortions and contraceptive coverage available.”

The Trump administration has taken a middle ground in the case. Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall told the justices that the law , as applied to the licensed centers, violates the First Amendment and the state has “multiple alternative” ways to pursue its objectives — including advertising its services itself.

But he argued that the justices can uphold the provision aimed at unlicensed centers because they constitute a requirement to simply provide “accurate, uncontroversial” facts about their services.

Impact on ‘informed consent’ laws

How the court rules could impact other laws across the country. Supporters of abortion access say that if the court strikes down the California law, there could be a silver lining to the loss.

They believe such a ruling could negatively impact a different type of regulation, “informed consent laws.” They are opposed by supporters of abortion rights, who feel the laws are misleading and are meant to deliver information about potential dangers of the procedures in an effort to dissuade women from electing to go through with an abortion.

“Several states have laws on books that require providers to give women misleading or untruthful information about discredited links between breast cancer and abortion or mental health harms and abortion,” said Myrick. “If the Court strikes down the California law as a free speech violation those laws should clearly be found to be unconstitutional.”

A decision is expected by July.

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Pritzker, incumbent Rauner to face off in Ill. governor’s race

The big money favorites prevailed on Tuesday in the Illinois gubernatorial primaries, CNN projects, setting the stage for what could be the most expensive governor’s race in US history.

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker outlasted and outspent the Democratic field, while Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a multimillionaire himself, narrowly beat back an insurgent conservative challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

Pritzker poured about $70 million into the primary contest, while businessman Chris Kennedy, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, put up about $2 million of his own cash. State Sen. Daniel Biss, who made a play for progressive Democrats, narrowly leads Kennedy but neither, ultimately, could run with Pritzker, whose campaign overcame a series of high-stakes setbacks while still managing to invest in the groundwork for the coming general election.

“Tonight, we’ve taken the next step of beating Bruce Rauner and putting Illinois back on the side of working families,” Pritzker said in a statement soon after the contest was called.

Rauner’s road to victory in the primary, paved in December 2016 with an initial investment of $50 million from his own coffers, turned rocky toward the finish, as Ives, questioning his bona fides on social issues, made a strong push for conservative voters.

Ives also argued that Rauner’s standing with Illinois voters had fallen so precariously, following years of frustrating deadlocks in the Capitol, that she would be the more viable candidate in November.

“There’s two people that are prominent in state politics right now that cannot win a statewide election,” Ives said on WJBC radio last week. “One of them is Bruce Rauner and the other one is (Democratic House Speaker Mike) Madigan. Those two actually have a lot more in common than Jeanne Ives.”

But Ives’ aggressive and, in one especially jarring ad, offensive messaging also stirred anger across party lines.

An early February spot featuring a male actor portraying a transgender woman thanking — in a deep voice — Rauner “for signing legislation that lets me use the girls’ bathroom” drew a rebuke from the Illinois state Republican Party chairman, who asked that Ives “pull down the ad and immediately apologize to the Illinoisans who were negatively portrayed in a cowardly attempt to stoke political division.”

Both Pritzker and Rauner enter the second leg of the contest hobbled. Democrat Pritzker will be made to answer again for his ugly remarks in nearly decade-old conversations, recorded by the FBI, with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, while also contending with questions about his finances and relationship with Madigan.

Even before Rauner’s projected victory, the Republican Governors Association sought to cast Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt hotel riches, as a “self-serving Illinois political insider” while poking at the Blagojevich tapes, obtained and published by the Chicago Tribune, which reveal Pritzker offering the former governor an unvarnished take on race relations and state politics.

Speaking days after Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, Pritzker and Blagojevich can be heard discussing potential appointees to fill the newly minted president-elect’s US Senate seat.

“I’m sure you thought of this one, but Jesse White,” Pritzker says at one point, suggesting the Illinois secretary of state as a good choice. “Even though I know you (and White) aren’t like, you know, bosom buddies or anything, it covers you on the African-American thing.”

Pritzker apologized last month, with White by his side.

“On that call, I was not my best self,” he said. “I can be better. I have been better and I can do better and I have.”

Former state Senate President Emil Jones, described by Pritzker during the chat as perhaps too “crass” for the job, called on Pritzker to leave the race after the recordings went public and accused the billionaire of “trying to buy the black vote.”

Rauner remains saddled with desperately low approval ratings following a years-long budget crisis — one that ended, in 2017, only after Democratic and Republican state lawmakers banded together to override his veto. He also has work to do in winning back conservatives, who nearly handed the nomination to his opponent, a relative unknown statewide who raised less than $4 million.

“This primary election was hard fought,” Rauner said in a statement late Tuesday night. “I am honored and humbled by this victory because you have given me the chance to win the battle against the corruption that plagues Illinois.”

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Lipinski holds narrow lead in Illinois primary

Rep. Dan Lipinski, a centrist, anti-abortion Democrat, holds a narrow lead over his progressive challenger, Marie Newman, in Tuesday’s primary contest to represent a Chicago-area House seat.

Lipinski was ahead of Newman 51% to 49%, with 90% of precincts’ tallies reported, according to Edison Research.

Lipinski is attempting to keep the seat he’s held since 2005 against an intense effort by pro-abortion-rights and women’s groups — including Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List — to purge the party of an anti-abortion lawmaker in a reliably Democratic district.

In a rare move against an incumbent member of their own party, two Illinois Democrats — US Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez — had endorsed Newman. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, had also thrown his political muscle behind her candidacy.

And former President Barack Obama’s campaign aides mobilized against Lipinski, trashing him at a news conference and noting that he’d been the only Illinois Democrat to vote against Obama’s signature health care law.

Lipinski, for his part, argued for a “big tent” Democratic Party that tolerates a wide range of social views and is focused on the economy.

He said Democrats are still recovering from an Obama era that saw the party bleed hundreds of state legislative seats.

“We have a long way to go, and it’s certainly not the time to be pushing people out of the party, telling people they’re not welcome,” Lipinski told CNN as he campaigned Monday. “That was one of the problems — it’s why Donald Trump got elected in the first place, because Hillary Clinton was not being seen by some people in the Midwest as fighting for working-class men and women.”

The race has been the most serious challenge of Lipinski’s political life. He was first elected in 2004 when his father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski, waited until after the primary to announce his resignation and steer the nomination to his son. Lipinski easily won seven terms in the district, which favored Clinton over Trump by 15 points in 2016.

The only Republican on the ballot in Tuesday’s primary was Holocaust denier Arthur Jones.

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Holocaust denier is GOP nominee in Chicago-area House race

A Holocaust denier is now officially the Republican nominee in a Chicago-area House race after running unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.

Arthur Jones’ campaign website includes a section titled “Holocaust?” and he has been involved with anti-Semitic and racist groups since the 1970s, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The Illinois Republican Party denounced Jones’ campaign earlier this year, saying there is “no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones” in the GOP or the country.

“The Illinois Republican Party and our country have no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones. We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office, including the 3rd Congressional District,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said previously in a statement.

Jones will face off against the Democratic nominee in the 2018 midterm election to represent the solid blue district, where Rep. Dan Lipinski has held the seat for more than a decade. The 3rd District represents parts of Chicago and nearby suburbs, including La Grange and Western Springs.

Lipinski, a blue-dog, anti-abortion Democrat, is up against Marie Newman, a political newcomer who had the support of several progressive groups and liberal lawmakers, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Another race that attracted national attention for all the wrong reasons was in Illinois 5th Congressional district, where the so-called “cannabis candidate,” Benjamin Thomas Wolf, lost his primary bid against incumbent US Rep. Mike Quigley,

In a campaign ad, Wolf smoked marijuana in front of an image of the American flag. That ad ran on Pornhub, among other places, making him the first US politician to advertise on a porn site.

Questions have been raised in several outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, about the truthfulness of his biography — he called himself an “Iraq veteran” for the work he did in Iraq for the State Department — and Politico reported earlier this month on abuse allegations made against him. A former girlfriend, who also interned for his campaign, accused Wolf of physically abusing her during their relationship in a Title IX complaint filed last year.

Wolf denied the allegations to CNN and was at one point granted a “stalking no contact” order against her in a Chicago county court. Wolf also told CNN he never misrepresented his credentials.

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