‘We’re not fooling around’: Pelosi and Schiff stand firm as Trump fumes

Were not fooling around: Democratic pair say inquiry will not be slowed and condemn president over blatant effort to intimidate witnesses

Democrats

Donald Trump has been accused of incitement to violence and threatened with obstruction charges in the fast-escalating battle over impeachment, as the president maintained his aggressive counter-attack against Democratic leaders and the whistleblower who precipitated the inquiry.

Were not fooling around here, Adam Schiff, the chair of the powerful House intelligence committee, said in Washington on Wednesday.

Elijah Cummings, the chair of the House oversight committee, revealed that it would issue a subpoena to the White House if it failed to hand over documents on contacts with Ukraine by Friday.

I do not take this step lightly, Cummings said, saying the White House had stonewalled on demands for cooperation for several weeks.

The Democrats investigative steps have infuriated Trump, who was live-tweeting their press conference on Capitol Hill. He denounced the impeachment process, in block capitals, as BULLSHIT and later repeated an extreme claim that Schiff should be investigated for treason.

The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced the start of the impeachment inquiry eight days ago, focusing on a whistleblower complaint that emerged the week before about a July phone call between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The complaint and a memo of the call issued by the White House have since been released, indicating that Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden, a leading rival for the White House in the 2020 election, while the US was withholding vital aid from Ukraine.

Schiff insisted on Wednesday that the inquiry would not be slowed down by presidential stonewalling or threatening language against potential witnesses.

Were very busy, Schiff said. We are proceeding deliberately but at the same time we feel a real sense of urgency here.

Democratic-run House committees heard from the state departments inspector general, an independent watchdog, on Wednesday, followed by the former special envoy on Ukraine on Thursday and the former ambassador to Kyiv next week. But they are battling with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, about other depositions by state department officials and the handover of relevant documents.

Schiff and Pelosi condemned Trump for rhetoric directed at an intelligence agency whistleblower who revealed details of the phone call at the core of the impeachment proceedings.

Trump has referred to the whistleblower and the officials who provided information included in the complaint as spies and implied they should face the death penalty. Senior officials and some leading Republicans have confirmed the whistleblower used recommended legal channels but Trump repeated the spy allegation on Wednesday.

Donald
Donald Trump at the White House with the Finnish PM on Wednesday. Pelosi and Schiffs press conference infuriated the president. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Schiff said the president was engaging in a blatant effort to intimidate witnesses.

Its an incitement of violence, he said.

The president probably doesnt realize how dangerous his statement is, Pelosi added.

Trump, who was clearly watching the press conference live, unleashed an expletive-laced Twitter tirade.

The Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country, not wasting everyones time and energy on BULLSHIT, which is what they have been doing ever since I got overwhelmingly elected in 2016, he said.

The president continued to tweet every few minutes, lashing out at Schiff, who he called a lowlife, until it was time to greet the visiting Finnish president Sauli Niinist. The fury of Trumps commentary reflected how impeachment has come to consume his focus and attention.

At a press conference at the end of his meeting with Niinist, Trump, who repeated one of his favourite self-descriptions as a very stable genius, repeatedly refused to answer a question about what he had been asking Zelenskiy to do in relation to the Bidens, and lost his temper at the Reuters journalist asking it.

Are you talking to me? Trump shouted. Did you hear me? he demanded, telling the journalist to ask the Finnish president a question instead.

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‘Are you talking to me?’: furious Trump takes aim at journalist over Ukraine question video

In his own struggle with Congress, Pompeo was forced to admit on Wednesday he took part in the July phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

Pompeo made the admission while on a trip to Rome, after his participation in the call had been reported in the US press. When asked in a television interview 10 days ago about the Trump conversation with Zelenskiy, Pompeo had looked quizzical and implied he was hearing about it for the first time.

On Wednesday, Pompeo said: As for was I on the phone call? I was on the phone call. But he presented the conversation as part of normal state department business, trying to bolster a new Ukrainian government against the threat of Russia.

He referred dismissively to the growing scandal engulfing the Trump administration as all this noise.

It has become clear Pompeo has only limited power to stop committees from gathering evidence for an impeachment inquiry.

One of the five witnesses deposed, Kurt Volker, former special envoy for Ukraine who resigned last week, confirmed he would speak to the committees in closed session on Thursday. The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday that Volker resigned as Pompeo was attempting to push him out of his post, in the hope of reducing the pressure on the state department.

Schiff said Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Kyiv, would appear next week. Press reports said she was due to give a deposition on 11 October.

The state departments inspector general, Steve Linick, went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to brief Congress on documents related to relations with Ukraine. After the briefing, the Maryland Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin described the material as a collection of unfounded allegations involving the Bidens and Yovanovitch.

Its essentially a packet of propaganda and disinformation spreading conspiracy theories, Raskin said.

The presidents personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has played a central role in the Ukraine scandal, later told CNN that he had sent at least some of the material to Pompeos office earlier this year and that it included information he had been given by previous Ukrainian prosecutors.

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Revealed: how the FBI targeted environmental activists in domestic terror investigations

Protesters were characterized as a threat to national security in what one calls an attempt to criminalize their actions

Dakota Access pipeline

Helen Yost, a 62-year-old environmental educator, has been a committed activist for nearly a decade. She says she spends 60 to 80 hours a week as a community organizer for Wild Idaho Rising Tide; to save money, she lives in an RV. Shes been arrested twice for engaging in non-violent civil disobedience.

Yost may not fit the profile of a domestic terrorist, but in 2014 the FBI classified her as a potential threat to national security. According to hundreds of pages of FBI files obtained by the Guardian through a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) lawsuit, and interviews with activists, Yost and more than a dozen other people campaigning against fossil fuel extraction in North America have been identified indomestic terrorism-related investigations.

The investigations, which targeted individual activists and some environmental organizations, were opened in 2013-2014, at the height of opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline and the expansion of fossil fuel production in North America.

From
From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

The new Foia documents reveal the bureaus motivation for investigating a broad cross-section of the environmental movement and its characterization of non-violent protesters as a potential threat to national security.

In 2010, the DoJs inspector general criticized the FBI for using non-violent civil disobedience as grounds to open domestic terrorism investigations. US citizens swept up in such investigations can be placed on terrorism watchlists and subjected to surveillance and restrictions on international travel. The designation can also lead local law enforcement to take a more confrontational approach when engaging with non-violent activists.

The FBIs 2013-2014 investigation of Keystone XL activists in Houston violated internal agency guidelines designed to prevent the bureau from infringing on constitutionally protected activities. The investigations opened in 2013-2014 were closed after the FBI concluded that the individuals and organizations had not engaged in criminal activity and did not a pose a threat to national security.

In 2015, the Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project, which required state department approval because it would cross international borders, handing the environmental movement a major victory. More large-scale protests followed, including the standoff over the Dakota Access pipeline, which temporarily delayed the project.

But those decisions have been reversed in recent years. Donald Trump has approved construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and his administration has also advocated for stiffer penalties against activists who engage in non-violent direct action targeting fossil fuel infrastructure. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Standing Rock protests, seven states have passed legislation making it a crime to trespass on property containing critical infrastructure.

In its July 2014 file on Yost, the FBI cited federal anti-terrorism legislation prohibiting attacks and other violence against railroad carriers as the primary justification for opening the investigation. Violation of the law can lead to up to 20 years in prison. Activists who engage in non-violent civil disobedience and are charged with minor offenses such as trespassing are typically released within 48 hours.

The FBI characterized Yost as being driven by a desire to stop fossil fuels which, in her political view, are destroying parts of the US, specifically Montana, Idaho and Washington. In addition, the FBI discussed the case with the US attorneys office in Idaho, local law enforcement, and BNSF Railway, which operates the main rail line delivering coal and oil to export terminals in the Pacific north-west.

FBI
From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

According to the FBI file, the bureau opened the investigation based on information that Yost was organizing and planning on conducting illegal activities against railroad companies from Montana into Idaho and Washington.

Yost said Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) never organized direct action protests to disrupt oil train traffic passing in the region. The heavily redacted Yost investigation concludes that no potential criminal violations or priority threats to national security warranting further investigation were identified.

WIRT did participate in a series of community-led events and workshops in July and August 2014 opposing the transport of oil and coal by rail. Investigators may have conflated several community events to assume such fictitious allegations, Yost said in an email.

For several years, WIRT, founded in 2011, had been publicizing its actions on the organizations Facebook page. Much of its activity had focused on stopping the passage of huge trucks known as megaloads, which transport processing equipment to tar sands oil fields in Canada and weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds, along one of Idahos scenic byways.

The campaign involved posting public records on the megaload routes, tracking their progress, and at times blockading their movement.

Yost was also active in protesting against the shipment of coal and oil by rail to export terminals in Seattle. In the summer of 2014, WIRT, along with several other environmental organizations and native groups across the Pacific north-west, sponsored a series of rallies and workshops in the region.

Those protests were peaceful a handful of activists in Montana including the environmental writer Rick Bass were arrested for trespassing and in the end the FBI concluded that Yost did not pose a threat to national security. Several months later the investigation was closed.

However, in the file closing the case, it appears that Yost has been watchlisted, which is standard for named subjects of FBI domestic terrorism investigations, according to Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice. Being watchlisted can lead to heightened scrutiny from law enforcement and delays or additional screenings when traveling. Yost said she had not traveled overseas since the FBI investigation.

Yost, who was contacted by an FBI agent when the case was still active, said she was not surprised by the agencys actions. Surveillance was a form of suppression, she said, and this was another attempt to criminalize the actions of normal people working to protect natural resources. But she remains undeterred.

Assume they know the color of your underwear every morning and get up and resist anyway, Yost said.

Herb Goodwin, a 70-year-old activist, has a similar philosophy. Were all under surveillance, Goodwin said. If they want to look at your stuff, theyre going to.

In 2013-2014 Goodwin frequently participated in actions organized by Yost and WIRT. He was also part of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Bellingham, Washington, in 2011 and was one of 12 individuals arrested that year for blockading a BNSF coal train passing through the city. They became known as the Bellingham 12.

Goodwin was one of at least a dozen environmental activists, many of them affiliated with the group Deep Green Resistance, contacted by FBI agents in autumn 2014. In early October that year, not long after Goodwin returned from a megaload resistance campaign in Idaho, an FBI agent and a police intelligence officer showed up at his residence.According to Goodwin, they wanted to ask him questions about the environmental group Deep Green Resistance. Goodwin refused to cooperate and referred the agents to his lawyer, who himself became a subject of interest to the FBI.

Founded in 2011 Deep Green Resistance (DGR), based on the principles laid out in the book of the same name, describes itself as a radical organization that uses direct action in the fight to save the planet. Though the group supports underground movements, its members abide by a code of conduct that includes a commitment to nonviolence and operating entirely above-ground. According to the groups website, We do not want to be involved in or aware of any underground organizing. In another FBI interview with a DGR member documented in the files, the activist even invited the agents to attend one of DGRs presentations.

FBI files show that the bureau initiated the two-year investigation into DGR to determine if the group or any of its members were planning to engage in the destruction of energy facilities or attacks against railroad companies, referring to the same federal statute cited in the Yost investigation.

But the FBI also took an interest in constitutionally protected activities, including DGR members participation in public meetings and lectures and the groups early organizing efforts.

Even though the FBI investigation found no evidence that DGR was planning to engage in violent activity, it often portrayed the group as an extremist organization. One individual contacted numerous times by the FBI was said to have been a suspected member of the Deep Green Resistances extremist wing and a participant in DGRs Midwest extremist planning process. DGR did have a strategic planning conference in Wisconsin in spring 2012 which they said was attended by about 30 people, but it was publicly advertised and focused on building the organization, fundraising and leadership training.

From
From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 28 November 2014.

The FBI also focused its attention on DGR organizing at Western Washington University, which hosted a lecture in 2011 by two of the groups members, Max Wilbert and Dillon Thomson. Information about the lecture, titled Environmentalism for the New Century, and about the professor who hosted it was included in the FBI files. Wilbert, who attended WWU, is also a member of DGRs board of directors.

As part of the investigation, the FBI met with the universitys police department to discuss possible Deep Green Resistance presence on the WWU campus. The FBI also said it would attempt to determine whether any of the professors in the environmental sciences department were involved in the DGR movement.

FBI
From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 21 November 2013.

The sweeping investigation into DGRs activities was formally closed in 2014 but Wilbert assumes that the group is still being closely watched. Wilbert, who is also a writer and photographer, frequently posts short polemical essays on his Facebook page or the Deep Green Resistance website.

Wilbert said that on 7 September 2018, nearly four years after the investigation was closed, he got a call from an FBI agent in Seattle informing him that the bureau had received an anonymous tip regarding something he had written online. The agent also left a card at Wilberts parents home.

Im pretty outspoken about being a revolutionary, somebody who believes in the necessity for revolutionary change, Wilbert said. Its not something I hide.

An FBI file documenting the online tip describes Wilbert as an environmental extremist involved in inciting violence in Seattle.

German, the former FBI agent, whose recent book, Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide, chronicles the troubling post-9/11 expansion of the FBIs domestic surveillance powers, said the agency had failed to heed the warnings laid out in a 2010 justice department IG investigation that criticized the FBIs targeting of certain domestic advocacy groups. According to German, the Yost files and the two-year DGR investigation show how ineffective these internal oversight mechanisms are to preventing abusive and wasteful investigations of non-violent protesters.

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When Donald met Scott: a reporter’s view of Trump and his White House wonderland

Australian PM Scott Morrison received a full-blown welcome from the US president. Katharine Murphy was on hand for an inside account Support our independent journalism with a one-off or recurring contribution

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Scott Morrison has made his first visit to the United States as prime minister. It was a trip that included a close encounter with the unpredictability of the Trump White House, a foreign policy pivot, and a backlash about a lack of climate policy action. Guardian Australias political editor, Katharine Murphy, travelled, with the prime minister. Here is what she witnessed:

Washington

Weve been positioned at the White House since 5am, watching the sun creep over the American capital. Security is as laborious as youd expect. Dogs sniff bags, then the secret service guys have a good look, passports are collected, checked and returned, White House passes and pins are distributed, and then at last we clear the metal detectors. Eventually we make it to the press briefing room, the small blue one, famous through several presidential administrations but now abandoned by Donald Trump. The modest proportions dont fit his presidency. Now its just a transit zone.

We are greeted by a blond woman in a broad-brimmed hat. June, a self-described southern belle, is receiving visitors in the briefing room, although its not clear why. She identifies herself as a fellow scribe working for Christian radio and television in Nashville. When shes not reporting on the Trump White House, shes rallying Christians for the president. This seems something of a line cross for a reporter with White House press accreditation but weve been on the premises for about 10 minutes and its clear that were not in Kansas any more.

Donald
Donald and Melania Trump welcome Scott and Jenny Morrison on the south lawn with full military honours. Photograph: MAI/REX/Shutterstock

On the other side of the building, visitors are streaming across the South Lawn to grab prime positions to witness The Donald receiving The Scott at the official welcome. Flags, American and Australian, are held aloft on a glorious summery day. Eventually we are permitted to wander down to the lawn as well.

The Donalds grass is lush and slightly dewy, making me regret my choice of footwear. The daylight is now dazzling but the bucolic scene is disturbed by Austin rebuking Steve in the media pen. The confrontation happens just before the splendidly peppy pipe band strides across the lawn for the ceremonial welcome.

Ive never met Austin before this moment but he looks about 30, buttoned down and watchful as a raptor a White House wrangler who looks as though he hasnt sat down, eaten anything apart from a protein bar, or slept more than four hours straight a night since early infancy. Steve has transgressed and Austin convenes a short, sharp show trial in front of me. Ive nabbed a prime position on the fence in the media pen right in front of the entrance, and I dont intend to move unless the secret service guy standing beside me gets feisty.

You left the media area to make a call, Austin says, voice appropriately low so as not to disdain the Wonderful Occasion swelling around us. Steve is older than his accuser and possesses the rumpled look of a longtime print or news wire reporter. Ive never seen Steve before either, but hes clearly part of the White House press pool and looks like a man disinclined to small talk. My guess, from my quick scan of the body language, the suppressed inner sigh, is that Steve has seen a number of Austins in his reporting lifetime, perhaps a small production line of them, and is not much gripped by this power play.

Steve says nothing. Austin persists. In a minute we are going to go full Veep. The secret service told me you left the media area to make a call is this correct? Steve, at the end of his tolerance for JAccuse now, delivers his mic drop. Yah, he says. One of the secret service guys held back the rope so I could get out to make the call. I needed to take the call. I suspect Austin doesnt really know where to take this from here. The aide returns to the front of the fence, shoulders back, eyes front. Its showtime.

Trump strides out of the White House with Melania. From my vantage point they look like a pair of Easter Island statues. This is my first encounter with the current leader of the free world and my curiosity is intense. How will Trump look uncut?

Donald
Donald and Melania Trump arrive to greet Scott Morrison. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Will he look how he does on television, with that weird affect the pursed lips, narrowed eyes and nose and chin set to an upward inflection, indicative of defiance and displeasure? Or is this a posture he adopts only after he pulls on the presidential onesie every day and heads for Fox News, purring ready for my close-up Mr DeMille?

I discover this is how Trump looks all the time, or at least all the time he is in open space. Hes striding to the podium with exactly that look, with Melania, who is a dignified presence yet strangely devoid of life force. Perhaps she laughs and sings and dances in her track pants like no one is watching in her private domain but, in public, Mrs Trump looks like a perfectly proportioned doll in a dolls house.

Over the next little while, Trump will lavish praise on Melania for her crack presidential spouse skills. The first lady, Trump reports over and over during the course of Friday, worked so hard on the table settings for the state dinner, pondering every detail. The flowers, the centrepieces, so wonderful, so beautiful. The best table decorations anyone has ever seen.

Its hard for me to imagine the reality of the first ladys life, what it must be like to agonise over centrepieces for state dinners amid the sound and fury of her husbands bitterly contested presidency. Given her reserved public presence, it feels like an impertinence to wonder.

Theres no time for whimsy in any case, because the Morrisons are now on the premises, ready for their induction into the Trumpiverse. In comparison with the Trumps, Scott and Jenny Morrison, from the Sutherland shire, Australia more latterly of Kirribilli House look like a well-to-do couple from the suburbs. They are earthed in this big moment, respectful of the tradition they are now associated with, the tradition of Washingtons special friends being drawn to the nations bosom.

Scott
Scott Morrisons arrival in Washington marks the second state visit of Donald Trumps presidency. Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/ABACA POOL/EPA

Presumably they are buzzing with anticipation and anxiety, given that the unofficial White House weather forecast for Friday is clear skies, a light breeze and a high probability of catastrophic cyclone once their delegation reaches the Oval Office. Looking normal in this environment takes some doing, but the Morrisons manage.

The troops march, and are duly inspected; the visitors clutch their flags, which flutter gaily in the breeze. The anthems are played. The two couples appear content with each other and the scripted remarks they share with each other and the crowd. Just before the conclusion of the formalities, Austin is back working the fence line to move us, lickety split, to the holding pen outside the Oval Office. Fortunately, the war with Steve seems to have subsided.

Trump
Trump and Morrison review the troops during an official arrival ceremony. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

I wash up near Steve and the other White House wire reporters. One of the group explains to me that Steve is the man if they want to get a question to the president. Trump will answer Steve. Its unclear why thats the case, and I dont ask.

She also gives us tremendously helpful advice: Trump will be on for a rave when we get in there. We are surprised by this. Our assumption was wed be in and out in a matter of minutes. Our river guide shakes her head. Trump, she says, is in an expansive frame of mind. Best we prepare some questions. She also predicts that Trump will struggle to understand our accents. If he doesnt understand, the president will say: Say it. This means ask the question again, she says.

I assume this is some sort of weird in-joke until I hear Trump do just that. Say it, Trump says, narrowing his eyes and curling his lip. Its utterly peculiar, but its an earworm. Once you hear it, its hard to get the locution out of your brain. Say it.

Trump
Trump reacts to questions during a joint press conference with Morrison. Photograph: Sipa USA/SIPA USA/PA Images

The door of the Oval Office swings open and we are thrust into pure madness. The media scrum feeds off the static electricity in the room. It heaves like a wave. Our questions crash on the shore. Thud, thud, thud. Mr President. The Americans in the pool want to know about Joe Biden and the Ukraine controversy a story that will spiral towards impeachment during the week of our visit.

No American journalist gives a crap about Australia, and Morrison, and the second state visit to Washington of this febrile presidency. Fun fact: Emmanuel Macron, back when he imagined he had a talent for Trump whispering, was the first to be afforded the honour. But who cares? Conventions are devalued in the coarseness of politics in 2019. No one pretends to care. Everyone just has to emerge with what they need.

Journalists
Journalists crowd around Morrison and Trump during their press conference. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Once we realise this is going to be nuts a small blazing blitzkrieg at the seat of American power with no rules of engagement Australian reporters also start hurling questions across a range of topics. Trump looks delighted by the disorder. Its where he thrives. Morrison shifts in his seat.

The president lays into the media. We are hopeless, finished, friendless. But Mr President, what about the call? Did you speak to Ukraines new president? It was a beautiful call. Next question. Say it.

The Morrisons sit tight as the stiff westerly blows. The prime minister isnt visibly alarmed but hes hyper alert. Jenny Morrison composes her face into a placid mask until Trump suddenly raises the spectre of nuclear weapons and Iran. I catch her eye at that moment and she startles, ever so slightly. Her eyes, to me, say help me. I catch Morrisons eye a couple of times and the corners of his mouth crinkle.

I am a spectator at this circus but the prime minister isnt permitted the luxury of distancing. Morrison is a peer of the president, a leader of a respectable middle power who has chosen, as the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd puts it with just the right squeeze of lemon during our visit, to play ball with the Mad King to give friendless Donald a friend.

'It
It was a beautiful call. Trump responds to journalists asking about his call with the president of Ukraine. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

The prime minister, unlike us, enjoys the benefit of knowing what Trump really thinks on a range of fronts; he has that baseline to keep him tethered through the rhetorical turbulence. But back in the nosebleed seats we lack those insights. During our 33 minutes in the Oval Office, Australian journalists are on a rollercoaster, hanging upside down, while the president indulges a dialogue with himself about whether to launch a military strike against Iran, or whether restraint is the better course. He lands eventually at restraint but the disorientation is so profound it takes me a while to process thats where weve landed.

Eventually Trump stops feeling all the feelings and we are herded out. I ask one of my fellow travelling reporters whether the president just raised the prospect of nuclear attack, because I fear the sleep deprivation might be messing with my cognition. Hes as knocked around as I am. Yes, he thinks so, but he needs to listen to the recording. TV reporters are wondering out loud how on earth they are going to distil what just happened into a package. How do you do this in a minute and a half?

At the height of my disorientation, I spot Paul Murray from Skys Fox News lite after-dark crew at the back of the room. As we are guided out, Morrison beckons Murray forward and introduces him to the president. This introduction yields an exclusive interview with Trump which includes the simpering question: What do you want to say to your many Australian supporters who wish you nothing but the best in November 2020? I suppose it could have been what was his favourite colour.

Globalisation Stephen Mayne (@MayneReport)

Paul Murray gets his exclusive with @realDonaldTrump but talk about not asking the hard questions. pic.twitter.com/5QnxMW5cHh

September 20, 2019

The madness persists. The day ends with wranglers trying to facilitate some access to the state dinner, which is al fresco, in the Rose Garden. As we are herded through the South Lawn accompanied by the lilt of violins serenading guests and the murmur of clinking glassware and small talk, a secret service guy in night goggles, with foliage in his helmet, suddenly materialises from the bushes and sprints across in front of us.

Mr.
Mr. and Mrs. Trump meet with Mr. and Mrs. Morrison as they attend a state dinner. Photograph: Pool/ABACA/PA Images

Shortly after this our White House wrangler declares this walk off the record, which generates considerable confusion among the scribes. How can a walk to a pool position be off the record? Which bit is off the record? This walk never happened? How do we explain our capacity to bear witness to events at the state dinner? Did we parachute in?

We resolve not to overthink this and press on, and eventually get close enough to see the guests drifting around the Rose Garden: the Australian billionaire box maker Anthony Pratt is hard to miss with his shock of orange hair; the younger Murdochs are there, Lachlan and Sarah, I reckon Ive spotted the mining magnates Twiggy Forrest and the generally reclusive Gina Rinehart, who appears to be floating. I rub my eyes, fearing a fancy. Perhaps Rinehart is not floating, more likely Im swaying, peering through a large shrub, sleep deprived and smacking the mosquitos that threaten my ankles, questioning my life choices.

Fox
Fox CEO and co-chairman of News Corp Lachlan Murdoch (L) and Sarah Murdoch arrive for the state dinner. Photograph: Ron Sachs/POOL/EPA

Hancock
Hancock Prospecting chairwoman Georgina Rinehart arrives for the state dinner. Photograph: Ron Sachs/POOL/EPA

I see Rinehart again the next day, floating (she is definitely wafting like a cloud, because I know Im no longer swaying) into a soiree at the Australian ambassador Joe Hockeys residence, in a white dress with sequins and what appear to be pom poms trailing at the back. Morrisons old chief of staff and new department head, Phil Gaetjens, by contrast, is wandering around in a Wallabies rugby jersey with cut-off sleeves.

While the grandees mingle, Rinehart sets up court with her entourage in a shaded corner of the garden on what looks like a sedan chair, but is actually just a garden settee. The visual cue is Ms Rinehart is receiving guests, as long as they are not journalists. The media mogul Kerry Stokes is also said to be mingling but I dont clap eyes on him.

In Hockeys garden I strike up a conversation with an expatriate pub owner who is now the mayor of Annapolis and is campaigning to tighten gun control. Gavin Buckley, formerly from Western Australia, is an avuncular Democrat at a Republican knees-up, a fish out of water who cant quite believe his luck. Buckley tells me he hugged Hockey for the great honour bestowed upon him.

The whole scene is F Scott Fitzgerald meets the pre-woke capitalism of the 1980s, and the humidity is sending us all bonkers. Servers hand out party pies and sausages with disturbing names like cheese and Vegemite, and bald men in linen sports jackets compete for shade. One of our travelling media pack then proceeds to conduct a mock interview of a new magnolia tree which has just been planted to celebrate the Morrison state visit. With the Magnolia, this is Brett Mason, SBS News. Its a joke, hijinks to help us stay alert when we are hitting that hour of the day when jetlag threatens to take your legs out. But weve crossed the sense barrier and we havent even hit the Trump rally. What could possibly go wrong?

Ohio

Its a voyage with billionaires, this American excursion with Morrison. I confess that this is new territory for me. The cashed-up and politically connected drifted past us during the pomp and circumstance in Washington, and now we are closing in on Anthony Pratt as we speed to Wapakoneta, first airborne and then jammed in Morrisons motorcade with police cars racing past, sirens blaring, to stop traffic on the freeway.

Trump stares impeachment in the face and doesn’t like what he sees

Donald Trump stares impeachment in the face and doesn't like what he sees - CNNPolitics

New York (CNN)Donald Trump’s political tragedy is that he really does believe the call with Ukraine’s President was “perfect,” though it may yet doom him with the stain of impeachment.

On stage at a New York news conference Wednesday, Trump, offered moral support by his Cabinet lieutenants Mike Pompeo and Steven Mnuchin, seemed embittered, lonely and a little confused.
The behavior that he has always trusted to help him come out on top, with its obfuscation, bullying, fact-bending and conspiracy spinning tangents, suddenly didn’t seem to be working. It was the same story for Rudy Giuliani, whose unchained appearances on television that Trump so prizes seemed to dig the President in deeper.
    news
    And in the latest blockbuster revelation, a whistleblower complaint on Trump and Ukraine released Thursday morning accused the President of using his power “to solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 election.
    White House officials, the whistleblower said, were “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
    The officials attempted to “lock down” all records of the phone call, especially the word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced by the White House, the complaint states.
    There has long been a gap between Trump’s conduct and the conventions of the office of the presidency. His success with his supporters has often rested in his willingness to so publicly flout such standards. But now it appears, that his unorthodox methods may have caught up with him.
    Many observers, like fired former FBI Director James Comey, have noted that Trump’s way of doing business and demands for loyalty have similarities with the loaded language of a mafia don.
    The President’s jailed former lawyer Michael Cohen was familiar with the approach Trump exhibited in his dealings with Ukraine.
    “He doesn’t give you questions, he doesn’t give you orders, he speaks in a code. And I understand the code, because I’ve been around him for a decade,” Cohen said in congressional testimony in February.
    But finally Trump, an expert on creating his own reality, may have been undone by facts on a page that he released himself, handing Democrats a clear, apparently prosecutable case, that suggests abuse of power with the transcript of the call with Zelensky.
    Trump is in new territory now.

    Building blocks of impeachment

    politics

      Toobin: Trump’s press conference was a torrent of lies

    Wednesday was another tempestuous day in Washington, where an impeachment drive picked up stunning speed, and in the city where Trump made his legend and desperately fought to save it.
    It started with growing suspicions that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got too far over her skis by launching impeachment hearings on Tuesday before seeing the call transcript or details of a whistleblower complaint on the same issue against Trump.
    But it ended with Democrats increasingly convinced they had the building blocks of a case against the President — one that will pitch the nation into a long, dark political tunnel.
    Looking back, it now seems impossible that the President thought releasing the transcript would get him out of his jam.
    While it did not contain the direct quid pro quo of a threat to halt military aid unless Zelensky launched a probe against Joe Biden, it came perilously close to one.
    The distasteful spectacle of a President of a democratic superpower leaning on the rookie leader of a vulnerable post-Soviet state leaped off the page.
    Trump had long been scheduled to meet Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. In the light of events, their photo-op took on a surreal turn.
    Zelensky made sure to supply the soundbite that Trump had hoped for.
    “There was no pressure,” he said, before the US leader quickly jumped in to make sure no one missed the moment.
    “You know there was no pressure,” he said, turning to reporters. “I appreciate the answer.”
    In a news conference punctuated by angry swipes at reporters later on, the President didn’t have a very organized defense, suggesting that his underpowered White House may struggle to prepare him for the grueling impeachment saga to come.
    He claimed that his request for Zelensky to investigate Biden — that appears to signal an abuse of power — was no different than previous US pressure on Ukraine.
    Yet warnings that aid would be withheld if Kiev failed to improve its governance and fight corruption — made by several US senators and former Vice President Joe Biden — are hardly in the same league as making a similar threat in the hope of getting dirt on a political foe.
    Trump also tried to argue that he’d been courteous with Zelensky — and the transcript did show the avuncular nature that the President sometimes adopts.
    At another point, he offered testimony from an ally.
    “You folks were saying such lies. Such horrible things about a call that was so innocent and so nice,” Trump told reporters. “In fact, (South Carolina Republican Sen.) Lindsey Graham said to me when he read it … he said ‘I can’t believe it. I never knew you could be so nice.'”
    “I was nice. I’m nice to a lot of people. People don’t understand that. But I was,” Trump said, for once sounding vulnerable and upset that he’s been misunderstood.
    He went on a Twitter offensive Thursday morning, painting himself as a victim and sharing op-eds and views of conservative allies rushing to his defense.
    “THE GREATEST SCAM IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN POLITICS!” he tweeted at one point.

    Repeated pressure

    Donald Trump stares impeachment in the face and doesn't like what he sees - CNNPolitics

      Rep. says whistleblower complaint is ‘deeply disturbing’

    But the call transcript showed that Trump repeatedly pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
    Trump also asked the Ukrainian leader to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and US Attorney General William Barr on the issue, the call transcript reveals.
    Initially the impact of the call was to expose the normal partisan fault lines. Democrats declared it a smoking gun and Republicans accused Pelosi of moving without evidence. It was a classic Trump era scenario wherein a person’s eyes told them the story their political standpoint required.
    Yet there was just enough concern and uncertainty on Capitol Hill — especially after the arrival of a classified version of the whistleblower report — to suggest that this is one scrape from which Trump won’t skip free by sparking a new controversy to hijack the news cycle.
    “There’s obviously some very troubling things here,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse told reporters on Wednesday night, calling for the kind of sober deliberation that a Congress torn by the nation’s political divides rarely exhibits.
    “Republicans ought not just circle the wagons and Democrats ought not be using words like ‘impeach’ before they knew anything about the actual substance,” he said.
    Democrats have now gone so far down the road of impeachment that it seems unlikely they will be able to turn back.
    House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that the public evidence so far is “as damning as you can imagine.”
    Trump’s rock solid support among Republicans means that even if some GOP senators waver, the two-third majority needed to convict a President impeached by the House will be elusive.
      Yet the President’s demeanor — so different than his usual relentless combative public image — was enough for pundits, some of whom suggest he has all along wanted to be impeached.
      Trump will surely come out fighting and he will never give up. But Wednesday’s events left a strong impression that he neither wants the agony that is to come nor is fully prepared for it.

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      The Trump-Ukraine scandal is a taste of how dirty the US elections will get | Richard Wolffe

      If youre wondering what the next 14 months of the presidential election looks like, you are already looking at it

      donald trump

      America has a grand tradition of the brazenly dumb criminal: the kind who is so desperately needy that he brags about his guilt.

      Back in the earliest days of the new media known as newspapers, a certain Chicago mob boss rose to fame by calling a press conference to proclaim everyone elses guilt, if not exactly his innocence.

      Al Capone claimed he played no role in the gunning down of a young states attorney called Bill McSwiggin. In fact he said he could have killed him any time but preferred to keep him alive. I paid McSwiggin, Capone said. I paid him plenty and I got what I was paying for.

      Sure enough, Capone was cleared of the murder and became the darling of an insatiable press pack. If you dont act guilty, will anyone really think youre guilty? Especially if everyone else is guilty too.

      Almost a century later, Donald Trump has cornered the Scarface strategy. If he didnt think neo-Nazis were very fine people, Trump could win a Maccabiah medal for chutzpah.

      In some corner of his orange-tipped cranium there are surely a handful of brain cells that are fully aware that his entire family has engaged with foreign dictators and their oligarchs for personal profit.

      But the rest of Trumps brain is an irony-free zone entirely empty of self-awareness. So he and much of his Cabinet fanned out across the gullible media to proclaim everyone elses guilt in a Ukraine scandal that would normally lead to certain impeachment.

      To be clear, the only scandal involving Ukraine is that Trump openly admits that he repeatedly pressed a foreign leader for dirt on his political opponents ahead of a presidential election. For the second election in a row. Only this time, he could use the promise of military and foreign aid to grease his request.

      Its worth quoting Trumps bizarre explanation of this gambit in full, describing his call to the newly-elected president of Ukraine as follows: The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, he told reporters on Sunday. It was largely corruption. All of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we dont want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.

      Now Donald Trump is something of an expert in corruption, if not creating to the corruption. It takes a great deal of creativity to get your own vice-president to stay at your Irish hotel when its 180 miles away from his meetings in Dublin. You cant even conceive of the creativity needed to explain away the US Air Force staying at a luxury golf resort in Scotland that just happens to be another Trump property.

      Trumps excuse was that he knew nothing about the military staying at his hotel, and had nothing to do with Mike Pences long commute from Doonbeg to Dublin. So what if Pences chief of staff said Trump had made a suggestion about the stay? He just had great taste like the military that loves Turnberry so much.

      Trump apparently knows nothing about his own officials lining his own pockets. But he does know a thing or two about Ukraine.

      It was at his own convention in 2016 when his own campaign chairman changed his own party platform to weaken US support for Ukraine against Russias annexation of Crimea and its interference in Ukraines politics.

      Ukraine has got a lot of problems, Trump explained to reporters. The new president is saying that hes going to be able to rid the country of corruption. And I said that would be a great thing. We had a great conversation. We backed I backed Ukraine from the beginning.

      Amnesia is a terrible problem for todays world leaders. Especially the morally dubious ones who are either too brazen or too lazy to think of a decent excuse.

      Somehow Trump has forgotten about how bad a liar his lawyer is, or why Ukraine is even enmeshed in the multiple scandals that would lead to the impeachment of any other president.

      Would Trump let Rudy Giuliani testify to Congress about his own efforts?

      Oh I would have no problem with it, he told reporters on Sunday. Rudy is a very straight shooter. And Rudy wants to see the same thing as a lot of other people with respect to your Ukraine. Ukraine has had a tremendous corruption problem. Somehow they were involved in a lot of different things that took place in our country, and hopefully it can be straightened out.

      Hopefully we can straighten this out for you, Mr President. Rudy shoots so straight that he can break land speed records for lying on national television. Did he ask Ukraines government to investigate Joe Biden? No, actually I didnt, he told CNN, before admitting 30 seconds later, of course I did.

      Somehow Ukraine was involved in a lot of things in American politics, Mr President. Most of them involving Paul Manafort, your old campaign chairman, now serving time in jail for tax evasion on all the cash he made from Ukraines former president. The one supported by Vladimir Putin, whom you asked for help to hack into the emails of your opponents in the last election during a press conference.

      It was a perfect call. A perfect call, Trump said on Sunday. What wasnt perfect is the horrible thing that Joe Biden said. And now he made it a lie when he said he never spoke to his son. I mean, give me a break. Hes already said he spoke to his son. And now he said, yesterday, very firmly. Who wouldnt speak to your son? Of course you spoke to your son. So he made the mistake of saying he never spoke to his son. He spoke to his son.

      The son thing is troubling, Mr President. Troubling because you sound unhinged.

      But more importantly, Trump continued, what he said about the billions of dollars that he wouldnt give them unless they fired the prosecutor. And then he bragged about how they fired the prosecutor and they got the money.

      Oh yes. The money thing. Its a beauty. Biden is smeared by the most braggadociously corrupt president for pushing Ukraine to have a prosecutor who will fight corruption.

      It may be no surprise that Trump is circling the drain while clinging on to his own dizzy conspiracies. His election prospects are miserable and he desperately needs another looney-tuned cartoon like the Clinton email saga.

      But its still surprising to see his secretary of state and Treasury secretary peddling the same smear as if it was just another Sunday talk show subject.

      Is there anyone left with any self-respect in the Republican party? Step forward Mitt Romney, the former Republican nominee and now Utah senator. No really, step forward.

      If the President asked or pressured Ukraines president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out, Romney tweeted.

      Damn the torpedoes. The senator is extremely troubled, if not rather exercised, by the possibility of something that Trump and Giuliani have already admitted on camera.

      If youre wondering what the next 14 months of the presidential election looks like, you are already looking at it. The poor citizens of Ukraine have been looking at it for the last five years, ever since Russian troops marched in and unleashed their disinformation on an unsuspecting world.

      Like Vladimir Putin, Al Capone knew that dont have to be smart to get away with murder. You just have to confuse everyone about what guilt looks like.

      • Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist

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      Cokie Roberts, famed journalist and political commentator, dies at 75

      Roberts spent decades at ABC News, wrote books and never became cynical, colleagues say: When I think of politics, I think of Cokie Roberts

      ABC

      Cokie Roberts, the daughter of politicians who grew up to cover the family business in Washington for ABC News and NPR over several decades, died on Tuesday in Washington of complications from breast cancer. She was 75.

      ABC broke into network programming to announce her death and pay tribute.

      Roberts was the daughter of Hale Boggs, a former House majority leader from Louisiana, and Lindy Boggs, who succeeded her husband in Congress. Roberts worked in radio and at CBS News and PBS before joining ABC News in 1988.

      She was a congressional reporter and analyst who co-anchored the Sunday political show This Week with Sam Donaldson from 1996 to 2002.

      Roberts, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, kept working nearly to the end. She appeared on This Week in August, drawing enough concern about her evident weight loss that she released a statement saying I am doing fine and was looking forward to covering next years election.

      She co-wrote a political column for many years with her husband of 53 years, Steven, who survives her. They had two children.

      Roberts wrote books, focusing on the role of women in history. She wrote two with her husband, one about interfaith families and From This Day Forward, an account of their marriage.

      Current ABC News political reporter Jonathan Karl recalled being in awe of Roberts when he first started working at the network.

      When I think of politics, I think of Cokie Roberts, he said.

      Her colleagues said she never became cynical or lost her love for politics. She did force NPR to clarify her role as a commentator when she wrote a column in 2016 calling on the rational wing of the Republican party to reject Donald Trump as their presidential candidate.

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      Al Sharpton on Donald Trump: ‘He’s a white nationalist’

      The civil rights activist, who recently found himself at the sharp end of the presidents tweets, discusses his history with Trump and the recent mass gun violence

      Barack Obama

      Among the many framed mementoes that clutter the white vinyl walls of the Rev Al Sharptons midtown Manhattan office, there is one he treasures just a little more than the others. Its an official program for the state memorial service held for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg back in 2013.

      Sharpton, the American civil rights stalwart, had been unable to travel to the event in person, and received a copy in the mail signed by a close friend. Across the programs gold lettering, a short message is scrawled in thin black marker: To Rev Sharpton A fellow warrior for justice! The signature is Barack Obamas, who back on that wet December day gave a speech in honor of Mandela that framed his legacy and post-apartheid reconciliation as a clarion call for global justice and peace.

      Theres a degree of beleaguered nostalgia as Sharpton looks at the frame, now a relic not just of a previous presidency but a different era of politics, defined by optimism, ideas and nuance.

      The Obama years thrust Sharpton, often a divisive and radical figure in American politics, further into the mainstream. It was during this time that the Baptist minister, once a direct action campaigner at the heart of some of New York Citys most torrid racial disputes, was given a primetime show on the cable news channel MSNBC and described as the White Houses informal adviser on race.

      I dont care if Donald Trump does 20 tweets on me. Nothing will ever mean more to me than the first black president calling me a warrior for justice on the program of Nelson Mandela, in his own penmanship, he says, pointing to the signature.

      Barack
      Barack Obama walks alongside Amelia Boynton Robinson, the Rev Al Sharpton, Michelle Obama, and Georgia representative John Lewis, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, on 7 March 2015. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

      It has been less than a week since the 64-year-old preacher, born across the East River in Brooklyn, found himself at the sharp end of a typically divisive and inflammatory tweetstorm from the current president of the United States.

      Last week, Trump labelled him a conman, a troublemaker who Hates Whites & Cops! as Sharpton travelled to the majority African American city of Baltimore, Maryland, which the president had earlier described as a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess in an attack on the districts veteran black Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings.

      It was just the latest salvo in Trumps culture war, which has seen a potent mixture of thinly disguised racism directed at black leaders, hardened anti-immigrant rhetoric and Islamophobic slurs.

      A few days later, a 21-year-old white gunman killed 22 people in the border city of El Paso, Texas, in a domestic terror attack allegedly fueled by white nationalism and immigrant hatred.

      Sharpton was shocked, but not completely surprised, when he heard the news. This country is in a very dangerous place if we do not legislatively deal with this and set a different moral tone than this president, he says, his voice rising with the crescendo and intonation you would expect of a lifelong preacher.

      Since Trumps online attack, he claims, he and his civil rights group, the National Action Network, have received a substantial increase in threats.

      They have probably tripled since hes come into office, and quadrupled since he tweeted about me, Sharpton says. Youve got a president of the United States saying Im a troublemaker, so what does that say to someone like the guy that shot up El Paso? Even though you hope that it doesnt lead to that, youd be foolish not to take precautions, because you dont know what nut he may wake up.

      Of course, Sharpton is no stranger to volatile politics. His career as a civil rights campaigner has spanned over 30 years, and he has met his fair share of controversy and, on occasion, violence. He points to the left side of his chest, where in 1991 he was stabbed by a white resident in Brooklyn as he led a protest over the death of Yusuf Hawkins, a black 16-year-old, at the hands of a white mob.

      I know what it is to be hurt. I mean, physically, Ive paid the price. But that stabbing got me past the fear of [being threatened].

      Since then, Sharpton has been on the frontlines of many of Americas most notorious police brutality cases. He marched with the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager from Florida gunned down by a neighborhood watchman in Florida. He attended the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of another unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. He has worked on nearly every high-profile police killing in New York City for the past two decades, none more so than the chokehold death of Eric Garner, who died on Staten Island in 2014.

      Sybrina
      Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of Trayvon Martin, talk to the lawyer Benjamin Crump and the Rev Al Sharpton on 11 April 2012. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

      Its a bright summer morning, and Sharpton is looking typically trim, his hair slicked back, a neatly fitted shirtdisplaying the weight loss he experienced about a decade ago. He leaves the television on throughout our conversation, keeping an eye on cable news and checking his phone, which buzzes constantly.

      Its a quirk he appears to share, ironically, with Trump also a cable TV addict. But their connection goes well beyond this and their recent spat. The pair have known each other for 25 years as flamboyant personalities in this citys social and political scene. Both are lifelong New Yorkers who moved from the outer boroughs to the bright lights of Manhattan, albeit under markedly different circumstances. Their paths have frequently collided.

      Sharpton recalls the first time he met Trump, on a helicopter ride to Atlantic City in New Jersey, accompanied by the boxing promoter Don King in the late 1980s. King and Trump were trying to broker a deal over venue and promotion rights to Mike Tysons fights and, according to Sharpton, had met resistance from the majority black city council. They lobbied him to get involved but he declined.

      I didnt even want to get on the helicopter because I didnt like Donald Trump, he says.

      Sharpton went on to protest outside a Trump building in the midst of the Central Park Five scandal, in 1989, during which the real estate tycoon took out advertisements in all the citys newspapers calling for the death penalty against five teenagers falsely convicted, and years later acquitted, over the rape of a white woman in the park.

      More than two decades later, in 2008, emails seen by the Guardian show that Trump called Sharpton to personally offer him a slot on The Apprentice. Sharpton declined.

      He begged me and I wouldnt do it.

      Trump, perhaps predictably, has characterized their relationship somewhat differently.

      Went to fights with him & Don King, always got along well. He loved Trump! He would ask me for favors often, the president tweeted last week.

      Al
      Al Sharpton attends the 2016 Democratic national convention at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 25 July 2016. Photograph: Earl Gibson III/WireImage

      In 2002 and 2006 the billionaire appeared at Sharptons National Action Network conventions, now among the largest civil rights symposiums in America, as an invited guest. The pair posed for photos, both beaming.

      Does he regret bringing him now?

      I wanted to show bipartisanship, Sharpton says, striking a surprisingly defensive tone. You cant have a civil rights convention where you say Im only going to have one side, and so it was in that spirit.

      But it was after the election of Obama, he says, that his assessment of Trump went from being one of a cynical manipulator of race to a white nationalist, as he led the birther conspiracy movement.

      At our last sit-down meeting he argued with me about Barack Obama not being born here but being born in Kenya. If youre not one of us, youre one of them. Thats when I was convinced Thats who he is. Hes a white nationalist. This is not just some maneuver of his. He deep down inside believes that.

      In the years since Obamas presidential candidacy, Sharpton has played an increasingly prominent role during the Democratic primary season. In 2016, he invited Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to dine with him in Harlem, in carefully managed media events near the National Action Network headquarters. He declined to endorse either ahead of the New York primary.

      Barack
      Barack Obama and the Rev Al Sharpton greet patrons at the restaurant Sylvias before an Obama fundraiser in Harlem, New York, on 29 November 2007. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP

      He was present for both Democratic debates in Detroit last month, and says he has spoken in depth with all of the frontrunners during the campaign. It was telling that shortly after Trumps attack, most candidates were quick to tweet their support for Sharpton, many of them describing him as a personal friend.

      Hes equally coy on endorsements this time around, too, undoubtedly aware that playing it cool will lead to more courtship from the key players, eager to appeal to the African American vote, which will be crucial in the early voting state of South Carolina.

      He is not shy when asked to define his own political capital, though. He lists off his now weekly cable show on MSNBC, his daily radio show, his televised weekly rallies in Harlem, and National Action Network offices around the country. All of this, he claims, is a way to tap tens if not hundreds of thousands of prime voters in black America.

      My role is that I represent a constituency that rallies around these issues, he says. You can say you dont want that constituency. Or you can get to them another way. Be my guest. But we have a proven track record.

      So, candidates aside, what sort of politics does he think will have a chance of beating Trump next year?

      A movement of people who dont want to see a president that is the personification of white nationalism and nativism, he says. The only way the Democrats can miss it is if they have a candidate that is not courageous enough to use that issue. But if they stand up, Trump beats himself.

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