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With FBI to weigh in on Kavanaugh, is Trump's thumb on the scale?

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during the Senate

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. Photo Credit: Pool / EPA / REX / Shutterstock / Jim Bourg

Bloodhounds on a leash

The FBI was tasked to get to the bottom of the allegations against President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Now partisan warfare has resumed over questions that were left hanging: Which accusations? Whose accusations? Where is the bottom?

"It's not meant to be a fishing expedition," senior Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said Sunday.

According to multiple reports, Senate Republicans and White House counsel Don McGahn — a top strategist for Kavanaugh — have imposed limits on the scope of the new FBI probe and provided a list of just four witnesses approved for agents to interview on stories of sexual misconduct in Kavanaugh's high school and college days. If they want to do additional interviews, they'll have to ask the White House first, The New York Times reported.

After returning from a Saturday night West Virginia rally, during which he attacked Democrats for "meanness" and "anger" toward Kavanaugh, a Trump tweet denied he had imposed such constraints. "I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion," Trump said.

The inquiry has extended beyond the almost-raped charge leveled by Christine Blasey Ford. Agents are said to have spoken with Deborah Ramirez, the Yale classmate who said Kavanaugh exposed himself and touched her inappropriately, according to several reports. But other former classmates who say Kavanaugh dishonestly played down his history of heavy drinking and partying are not on the interview list, The Times said. One Yale friend, Charles Ludington, wants to tell the FBI about Kavanaugh throwing a drink in a man's face and starting a fight.

“Betraying commitment to a real investigation, Republicans apparently are trying to cripple it with a sham, check-the-box set of interviews. What are they hiding?” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on Twitter.

The FBI's efforts got a cautious vote of confidence from James Comey, fired by Trump in May 2017 as the bureau's director. In a Times op-ed, Comey said the one-week deadline was "idiotic," but "the FBI is up for this" and "agents have much better nonsense detectors than partisans." Signaling his own skepticism about Kavanaugh's denials, Comey said the "agents know that obvious lies by the nominee about the meaning of words in a yearbook are a flashing signal to dig deeper."

NAFTA’s afterlife

Canada has agreed to join the trade deal that the U.S. and Mexico reached last month, it was reported late Sunday night.

Reuters said the agreement, which the Trump administration would have to submit to Congress, involves offering U.S. dairy farmers more access to Canada. Ottawa also would agree to an arrangement effectively capping automobile exports to the United States. The Washington Post said the treaty is expected to be signed by leaders of all three countries in 60 days.

Details remain to be announced, but Trump has already said he would not call a new North American free trade agreement by the name NAFTA. Less certain is the political impact on supporters who have been shaken by his trade war stance. 

Trump will portray the deal as a win, but the biggest and potentially costliest battle — with China — remains unresolved.

Janison: All about the midterms

It's not just the question of guilt or innocence driving the Kavanaugh fight. Republicans and Democrats see it cutting both ways in the midterm elections, as The Washington Post reports.

Control of Congress has become the lens through which all players are viewing governmental issues, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. For Trump, that has meant trotting out his frequently played conspiracy card, from the Democrats' "con job" on Kavanaugh to now accusing China of trying to rig the 2018 elections. After all, if Democrats are going to attack his soft spot for Russia's Vladimir Putin, why not throw it back at them?

What a blue wave could wash up

If the Democrats win either or both houses of Congress, there's a strong chance of solving the mystery of what's in Trump's never-disclosed tax returns, Politico reports.

Democrats have plans to use an obscure 1924 law that will enable them to examine the president’s tax filings without his permission. “Probably the approach would be to get all of it, review it, and, depending on what that shows, release all or part of it,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a member of the Ways and Means Committee. There is a recent precedent for revealing confidential tax information: Republicans did it as part of their Obama-era investigations into whether the IRS discriminated against conservative groups.

A Democratic-run House could also launch new investigations of Kavanaugh if he is confirmed, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who stands to be come chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

“We would have to investigate any credible allegations, certainly of perjury and other things that haven’t properly been looked into before," Nadler said on ABC's "This Week."

True bromance

If loving Kim Jong Un is wrong, Trump doesn't want to be right. His expressions of ardor for the brutal North Korean dictator are only getting stronger with the passage of time.

During his news conference Thursday, Trump said of Kim: “He likes me. I like him." He sounded even more smitten at a West Virginia rally Saturday night.

"He wrote me beautiful letters and they're great letters. We fell in love," Trump told the crowd. He joked about criticism he would get from the news media for making a comment some would consider "unpresidential" and for being so positive about the North Korean leader.

Hear Ye, hear Ye

Trump tweeted that the doesn't watch NBC's "Saturday Night Live" any more, but he heard that musical guest Kanye West made a pro-Trump speech to the studio audience after the show. "Word is that Kanye West, who put on a MAGA hat after the show (despite being told “no”), was great. He’s leading the charge!" Trump said. Actually, West already had the hat on when he sang on-air while the credits were rolling.

Said West: "It's so many times that I talk to a white person about this, and they say, 'How could you support Trump? He's racist.' Well, if I was concerned about racism, I would have moved out of America a long time ago."

Trump followed up on Twitter by touting rosier economic stats for blacks and complained: "How do Democrats, who have done NOTHING for African-Americans but TALK, win the Black Vote?"

Holding pattern

Trump's meeting with Rod Rosenstein about the deputy attorney general's future may be delayed beyond his week because of the president's focus on Kavanaugh developments, said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Rosenstein has agreed to meet privately with House Republicans about reports he allegedly suggested secretly recording Trump and raised invoking the 25th Amendment to have him removed from office as unfit.

What else is happening:

  • While defending Kavanaugh, Conway revealed on CNN's “State of the Union” that she was once the victim of sexual assault, reports Newsday's Scott Eidler. She argued women who have suffered such experiences should blame their attackers and not take it out on Kavanaugh for "raw partisan politics." Click here for video.
  • Trump has been telling rally crowds that the Obamacare protections of coverage for pre-existing conditions are "safe." But the administration has been pressing a lawsuit to have them thrown out. The issue is a big one for the midterm elections and has put GOP candidates on the defensive. 
  • Hundreds of migrant children have been moved from shelters and foster homes around the country and bused to a tent city in a West Texas desert, The New York Times reported. There is no school there for the kids, who are undocumented, and who are housed in groups of 20, separated by gender, and sleep in bunks.
  • Melania Trump departs Monday for Africa for her first major solo international trip as first lady. The weeklong, four-nation trip aims to spotlight issues that affect children and their well-being.
  • Trump administration immigration policies have stymied Pentagon plans to restart a program that recruited thousands of people with critical medical or Asian and African language skills and put them on a path to citizenship, The Associated Press reported.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said she'll take a "hard look" after the midterm elections at running for president in 2020.
  • Against the backdrop of the Kavanaugh fight, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been considering new guidelines that would be more favorable to the accused on how allegations of sexual violence are investigated on college campuses.

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