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What's rigged now? The 2020 debates, Trump complains

Then-Republican nominee Donald Trump and then-Democratic nominee Hillary

Then-Republican nominee Donald Trump and then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at the first 2016 presidential debate at Hofstra University. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Rick Wilking

Working the refs already

"Unfair to Donald Trump" was almost as constant a theme during the 2016 campaign as "Make America Great Again." It's on his playback loop as president, too. Now Trump is putting his victim cards on the table for the 2020 general election race.

In a series of tweets, the president threatened to refuse to work with the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonprofit corporation founded by the Republican and Democratic parties in 1987 to sponsor and produce the debates. He complained, without evidence, that the commission is “stacked with Trump Haters & Never Trumpers.”

Referring to a technical problem that occurred during the first 2016 debate at Hofstra University, Trump claimed the commission was “forced to publicly apologize for modulating my microphone." The commission acknowledged there were issues that affected the sound level in the hall, but it didn't apologize.

Responding to Trump on Monday, the commission said, "Our record is one of fairness, balance and nonpartisanship." The commission has scheduled three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate for the 2020 election cycle.

The New York Times reported last week Trump was mulling whether to skip the debates, and his concerns included which media personalities would be chosen as moderators. But Trump declared, "I look very much forward to debating whoever the lucky person is who stumbles across the finish line in the little watched Do Nothing Democrat Debates.” His record “is so good” that “perhaps I would consider more than 3 debates,” the tweets said.

He said there were "many options" for organizing the debates, "including doing them directly & avoiding the nasty politics of this very biased Commission.”

Frank Fahrenkopf, the commission’s co-founder and Republican co-chair, has pushed back in recent months against conservative complaints that it favors liberal-leaning moderators. “We’re looking for that person who is as unbiased as possible, will do a fair job, and be a facilitator,” he told Politico in October.

Countdown to impeachment

The House is on track to hold a historic debate and vote on whether to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress this week, most likely Wednesday, writes Newsday's Tom Brune.

The House Judiciary Committee made public Monday a 658-page report to accompany the nine-page resolution containing the two articles of impeachment against Trump. In what amounts to a rebuttal of GOP criticism that the Democrats couldn't find actual crimes, the report alleges “multiple federal crimes” including criminal bribery and wire fraud under the broad umbrella of “abuse of power.”

“Although President Trump’s actions need not rise to the level of a criminal violation to justify impeachment, his conduct here was criminal,” the panel’s Democrats wrote. The Republicans’ dissent in the report called the evidence of wrongdoing “weak” and based on “inferences built upon presumption and hearsay.”

House Democratic leaders said they are confident they will have the votes to approve those two articles of impeachment, despite some defections.

Schumer: We want witnesses

As he waits to discuss Senate trial rules with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pressed his demand Monday for witnesses to be called to testify.

"Trials have witnesses," Schumer said. "That's what trials are all about." His wish list includes acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton, Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey and a senior adviser to Mulvaney, Robert Blair.

“The four witnesses we propose have direct knowledge of why the aid to Ukraine was delayed,” Schumer said. “They might present exculpatory evidence that helps President Trump. It may be incriminating against the president. But they should be heard.”

Schumer also slammed McConnell's comment last week that Republicans are working in "total coordination" with the White House to defend Trump.

Janison: He who rules without rules

Cover-up — obstruction of Congress' investigation — isn't worse than the specific crimes alleged by Democrats in the impeachment case, but it's a key part of it, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Even the corrupt and disgraced President Richard Nixon, while refusing to turn over key tape recordings, had his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, his special counsel Charles Colson and personal attorney Herbert Kalmbach testify on Capitol Hill, the Democrats' report said.

By contrast, it notes, "President Trump’s categorical blockade of the House impeachment inquiry has no analogue in the history of the Republic." 

Trump's longtime refusal to play by the rules and practices that apply to others have made his jeering defiance of congressional subpoenas part of his pattern. That includes withholding his tax information, refusing to submit to live questioning by special counsel Robert Mueller and not bothering to void apparent conflicts with his business.

Bellone for Bloomberg

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Monday that he is endorsing Michael Bloomberg for president. Bellone contended the billionaire former New York City mayor could move the county into the Democratic column in 2020, Newsday's John Valenti reports.

"We need someone who can win key suburban counties like Suffolk County that swung from Obama to Trump," Bellone said. "Mike is the best candidate to lead our country forward.”

Bellone said he was “inspired” by service initiatives first developed by Bloomberg in launching his own like Suffolk311, the nonemergency government and information services center.

A new Quinnipiac poll Monday showed Bloomberg in fifth place among the Democratic candidates with 7%, up from 5% a week ago. He has spent more than $100 million from his fortune for an ad blitz.

More cash, not much carry

Quinnipiac also found Trump's approval rating as high as it has ever measured it, 43%, while 52% disapprove. (Others have scored approval a few points higher.) But voter favor for Trump is still a lagging indicator compared with how they view the economy.

Registered voters are feeling more positive about the economy than at any time in the last 18 years, as 73% rate it excellent or good. Among those with the positive view, 56% in Quinnipiac's survey approve of the job Trump is doing, while 40% disapprove.

Opinion on impeachment is unchanged from a week ago. In Monday’s poll, 45% say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 51% don’t think so.

What else is happening:

  • In a newly published interview, Rudy Giuliani told The New Yorker that ousting the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was crucial to his effort to find dirt on Democrats on behalf of Trump. "I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way," he said. "She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody." The respected career diplomat's removal became a central thread of the impeachment inquiry.
  • Before meeting with Trump on the results of his latest Ukraine sleuthing, Giuliani said he'd touted it to the president as "more than you can imagine." On Monday, Trump described the material Giuliani presented as "not too much." But Trump also called him "a very great crime fighter" who "knows what he’s doing.”
  • Allegations of sexism by Bloomberg and sexual harassment and bias at his company are coming under renewed scrutiny, with recent lawsuits blaming him for the corporate culture there, ABC News reported. Elizabeth Warren called on Bloomberg to release women who won legal settlements from nondisclosure agreements.
  • Carly Fiorina, an also-ran in the 2016 Republican primaries, says of Trump: "I think it is vital that he be impeached." But Fiorina told CNN she's undecided whether he should be removed this close to an election, and she didn't rule out voting for him. "It depends who the Democrats put up," she said.
  • A federal judge rejected former national security adviser Mike Flynn's effort to blame FBI entrapment and prosecutorial misconduct for his guilty plea to lying to agents. Sentencing is set for Jan. 28.
  • Democratic hopeful Andrew Yang unveiled a health care plan focused on reducing costs. It doesn't address the issue of the millions who lack coverage or have trouble affording it.

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