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Highlights from Attorney General Barr's combative testimony before Congress

Attorney General Bill Barr finally testified today before the raucous House Judiciary Committee, where grandstanding and bomb-throwing tactics by lawmakers have become a staple of oversight hearings in the Trump era.

Why it matters: Less than 100 days out from the election, Democrats on the committee have little recourse for changing the behavior of an official they've accused of embodying the president's most corrupt impulses.

  • Instead, they sought today to illuminate what Chair Jerry Nadler described in opening remarks as a "persistent war" against the Justice Department's independence "in an apparent effort to secure favors" for Trump.
  • Republicans played their usual hits — praising Barr for rooting out alleged corruption in the FBI's Russia investigation and accusing Democrats of whitewashing violent attacks by protesters on law enforcement.


  • On Portland: "What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest. It is, by any objective measure, an assault on the government of the United States," Barr said in his opening statement.
  • On 2020: Barr testified that he has "no reason to think" the election will be rigged, as Trump has claimed, but said he believes there could be a "high risk" of voter fraud due to "the wholesale conversion of election to mail-in voting."
  • On foreign interference: Barr acknowledged that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and said, "I think we have to assume" the Kremlin is trying to do so again. Asked whether it would be appropriate for the president to solicit foreign help, he at first said that it "depends what kind of assistance," before relenting: "No, it's not appropriate."
  • On Roger Stone: Barr dismissed the idea that Trump should be investigated for commuting Stone's sentence, but claimed he has not seen Trump's tweets praising Stone for not testifying against him. The attorney general has previously said the president's tweets can "make it impossible" for him to do his job.
  • On Geoffrey Berman's firing: Barr admitted that the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan had not agreed to "step down," as he claimed the night of Berman's removal, but contended that it's "the language we usually use to leave flexibility as to whether the person is doing it on their own." Barr later added, "He may not have known it, but he was stepping down."

The bottom line: Democrats accused Barr of employing one standard of justice for the president's friends and another for everybody else. Republicans and Barr insisted that the reality is the opposite — arguing that the attorney general has worked to correct the weaponization of law enforcement against Trump.

Clinton and Warren speaking the same night at Dem convention

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton both are slated to speak on the Wednesday of the Democratic convention — Aug. 19 — four sources familiar with the planning told Axios.

Why it matters: That's the same night Joe Biden's running mate (to be revealed next week) will address the nation. Clinton and Warren represent two of the most influential wise-women of Democratic politics with the potential to turn out millions of establishment and progressive voters in November.

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Trump says he's considering order on pre-existing condition protections, which already exists

President Trump announced on Friday he will pursue an executive order requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, something that is already law.

Why it matters: The Affordable Care Act already requires insurers to cover pre-existing conditions. The Trump administration is currently arguing in a case before the Supreme Court to strike down that very law — including its pre-existing condition protections.

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President Trump, speaking from a podium at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., on Friday announced that he is prepared to issue executive orders suspending payroll taxes and extending enhanced unemployment benefits through the end of 2020, and halting student loan interest and payments indefinitely.

Why it matters: The impending orders come after talks between the White House and Democratic leadership collapsed Friday afternoon. But Trump said he remains committed to striking a deal with Congress on a broader stimulus package before signing the orders.

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Trump affirms: "We are going a different way" on coronavirus aid

President Trump tweeted on Friday that his administration is "going a different way" with coronavirus aid after negotiations with congressional Democrats stalled again, suggesting he will use an executive order to address stimulus spending.

What he's saying: "Pelosi and Schumer only interested in Bailout Money for poorly run Democrat cities and states. Nothing to do with China Virus! Want one trillion dollars. No interest. We are going a different way!" Trump tweeted.

Trump's swift, sweeping China offensive

President Trump's rhetoric on China has tended to run hotter than his actions — until now.

Why it matters: Even at the height of Trump's trade war, his administration never hit China as hard, as fast, and on as many fronts as it is right now.

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Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr. agrees to “indefinite leave of absence”

Jerry Falwell Jr. will take an “indefinite leave of absence” from his his roles as president and chancellor of Liberty University after posting a photo of himself with unzipped pants and an arm around a woman on social media, according to the school.

The state of play: The picture, which has since been deleted, drew backlash and charges of hypocrisy from conservative political figures because the university's honor code strictly prohibits students from having "sexual relations outside of a biblically-ordained marriage," and recommends they dress with“appropriateness” and “modesty."

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White House recommends Trump issue executive orders on coronavirus aid

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said President Trump should sign executive orders unilaterally addressing coronavirus stimulus spending after negotiations with congressional Democrats stalled again on Friday.

Why it matters: Friday was viewed as a self-imposed deadline to negotiate a new relief bill. But after an intense week of negotiations on Capitol Hill, White House and Democratic leadership failed to reach a deal on delivering much needed aid to Americans and businesses.

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Counterintelligence chief: Russia aiming to “denigrate” Biden ahead of election

National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said Friday that the Russian government is "using a range of measures" to "denigrate former Vice President Biden" before the November election.

Why it matters: Evanina warned that some Kremlin-linked actors are trying to support President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television, while others are spreading false claims about corruption to undermine Biden and the Democratic Party.

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