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A banana republic for which Trump stands? He demands Barr probe of Bidens

President Donald Trump with Attorney General William Barr

President Donald Trump with Attorney General William Barr on Air Force One on Sept. 1. Credit: Bloomberg / Christopher Dilts

Ask of Barr: Bidens behind bars

The rock legend Meat Loaf, once a contestant on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice," had a hit in the 1990s with the song "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)."

In a way, that describes a dilemma facing Attorney General William Barr after the president demanded that he launch a Justice Department investigation of Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter two weeks before the election.

"We’ve got to get the attorney general to act," Trump said Tuesday in an interview on "Fox & Friends." "He’s got to act, and he’s got to act fast. He’s got to appoint somebody. This is major corruption, and this has to be known about before the election." That last part makes nakedly clear Trump's motive is to obtain a new cudgel to wield against his opponent.

It's a reprise of the pressures Trump put on Ukraine in 2019 by holding up U.S. military aid while he and his emissaries were demanding a publicly announced investigation by Kyiv of the Bidens. Then and now, the demand was based on unproved and frequently discredited theories promoted by Giuliani — lately through the New York Post and other pro-Trump right-wing media — that the former vice president bent policy for his son's business interests. Trump has yet to specify what crime he believes the Bidens committed, The Associated Press notes, but it hasn't stopped him from calling for their imprisonment.

Back to Barr. In his tenure as attorney general, he has done much to earn Trump's affection: sanitizing the findings of the Russia investigation's special counsel Robert Mueller, intervening with Justice Department prosecutors to go easy on Trump allies Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, seconding Trump's thinly based claims that mail-in balloting would invite massive fraud and ordering investigations of the Russia investigation.

On that last count, Barr is now disappointing Trump. Handing out favors of leniency, sketchy as that might be, is a big step short of ginning up criminal charges. A Barr-initiated inquiry of Obama administration "unmasking" practices from foreign surveillance intercepts closed with no actionable finding. Another, on the roots of the Russia investigation, is expected to extend past Election Day with no clear result in sight.

Trump recently retweeted a photo meme of Barr with the caption, "for the love of GOD ARREST SOMEBODY." He has long called for locking up assorted Obama administration figures for fancifully described felonies, but an American president weaponizing a law enforcement system, which is supposed to operate independent of politics, against his opponent in an approaching election would be extraordinary. The Justice Department had no comment on Trump's demands.

Trump's China account

Trump and his allies have tried to portray Joe Biden as soft on China, in part because of Hunter Biden's business dealings, but The New York Times found Trump has done private deals with the Chinese state.

It's one of three foreign nations — the others are Britain and Ireland — where the president maintains bank accounts that are held under corporate names, according to a Times analysis of Trump tax records that the newspaper obtained.

The records show a Trump company paid $188,561 in taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015. Starting in 2008, Trump spent a decade unsuccessfully pursuing projects in China, operating an office there during his first run for president and forging a partnership with a major government-controlled company, the report said.

Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said the company had "opened an account with a Chinese bank having offices in the United States in order to pay the local taxes" associated with efforts to do business there. Garten wouldn't name the bank.

Janison: Intel inside Trump camp

Not long ago, it was unheard of for the director of national intelligence to run interference for a president’s undocumented character assassinations against his opponent, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

But part of the Trump administration’s eye-popping role in helping his reelection campaign involves the director, John Ratcliffe. As a Texas congressman, he won rave reviews from Trump during the House impeachment hearings by trying to explain away Trump’s failed pressure to get Ukraine officials to smear Biden and his son.

"Is it ever OK to invite a foreign government to become involved in an election involving a political opponent? The answer is yes! It better be. We do it all the time," Ratcliffe said during a hearing on Dec. 12.

He got the DNI job on Trump's second try to put him there; the first stalled because Ratcliffe had embellished his credentials. Now he's helping Trump stir the pot again about the Bidens.

On Monday, Ratcliffe told Fox Business News that Trump supporters' distribution of materials from what is officially described as Hunter Biden's laptop was "not part of some Russian disinformation campaign." The provenance and meaning of the materials remain unclear.

This day in polls

A New York Times/Siena College national poll finds Joe Biden with a 9-point lead, 50% to 41%.

Biden was favored over Trump on most pressing issues and has drawn even with the president regarding who would best handle the economy, which was a Trump strength. Americans saw Biden as more capable of uniting the country, by nearly 20 points.

Other polls found good reason for Trump to be playing defense in states he won in 2016. A Times/Siena survey showed a 45%-45% tie in Georgia. Reuters/Ipsos polls found Biden with a 3-point advantage in North Carolina and up by 7 points in Michigan. An ABC News/Washington Post poll of North Carolina voters was a virtual tie, with 49% for Biden and 48% for Trump.

Fauci's GOP fans

Trump's declaration that Dr. Anthony Fauci is a "disaster" isn't catching on with several Republican senators.

"I got a lot of confidence in Dr. Fauci," said Thom Tillis of North Carolina. "In terms of Dr. Fauci, I trust his judgment," said Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Both Tillis and Graham are in tough election contests.

Mitt Romney of Utah said, "Dr. Fauci is an esteemed professional with extraordinary expertise and capability, and I have full confidence in his leadership and capacity." Lamar Alexander of Tennessee tweeted: "Dr. Fauci is one of our country’s most distinguished public servants. … If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of COVID-19, & it would be safer to go back to school & back to work & out to eat."

Fauci, in an interview with Los Angeles radio station KNX-AM, brushed off the president's attacks by paraphrasing a famous movie line. "It’s like in ‘The Godfather’: nothing personal, strictly business as far as I’m concerned. I just want to do my job and take care of the people of this country. That’s all I want to do."

Melania calls in sick

Melania Trump canceled a planned appearance with her husband Tuesday at an Erie, Pennsylvania, rally, because of the lingering effects of her bout with the coronavirus, her chief of staff Stephanie Grisham said.

"Mrs. Trump continues to feel better every day following her recovery from COVID-19, but with a lingering cough, and out of an abundance of caution, she will not be traveling today," Grisham said.

Aside from addressing the Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden in August and joining the president onstage after the Sept. 29 debate, the first lady has made few public appearances to boost her husband’s campaign this year. Back in March, the first lady was scheduled to hold a fundraiser on her husband’s behalf, but that was canceled. Her office at the time cited an unspecified "scheduling conflict."

Trump joked at the Tuesday night rally that if not for the virus, he would not have to campaign in places like Erie because he would have been so far ahead. Now he has to say, "Hello, Erie, may I please have your vote?"

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Trump wants House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff to be punished in some form for alleging the Hunter Biden laptop stories are part of a smear campaign that originated as part of Russian disinformation. "This guy, he ought to be put away, or he ought to be, you know, something should happen with him," Trump said on "Fox & Friends."
  • Also on the Fox morning show, Trump asserted that he will win Long Island and upstate New York by a "landslide" on Election Day and argued that the state still remains in play, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. In 2016, Trump narrowly won Suffolk and lost Nassau. The latest Siena College poll of state voters showed the president trailing Joe Biden by 32 points.
  • Trump cut short an interview taping with Lesley Stahl of CBS' "60 Minutes," complaining in tweets that it was "FAKE and BIASED." It is scheduled to air Sunday night, along with Biden's interview by Norah O'Donnell.
  • Senior federal officials report the White House pressured to grant what would essentially be a no-bid contract to lease the Defense Department's mid-band spectrum — premium real estate for the 5G market — to Rivada Networks, a company in which prominent Republicans and Trump supporters have investments, according to CNN.
  • When Trump tweeted that he had authorized the full declassification of all documents having to do with the Russia investigation, he didn't mean it literally and didn't intend to make redacted information from the Mueller investigation public, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in a court filing.
  • Televangelist Pat Robertson said on "The 700 Club" Tuesday that he had been told by God that Trump will be reelected, followed by the beginning of the End Times prophecy.
  • Earth will have a close encounter with an asteroid traveling 25,000 mph on Nov. 2, the eve of Election Day, said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. NASA said the space rock is roughly the size of a refrigerator but has only a 0.41% chance of entering the atmosphere. "It’s not big enough to cause harm," Tyson said.

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