President Trump said he was “surprised” by Attorney General William Barr’son Monday of his repeated claims that the Russia inquiry was a plot of the Obama administration, according to CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. Mr. Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden have come under attack by Mr. Trump and his allies after Biden was among a list of Obama administration officials who requested intelligence reports that “unmasked” former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s identity in 2016 and 2017. All of the officials named were authorized to see the unmasked reports. The list of names was declassified by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell and made public by two Republican senators last week. “I think Obama, and Biden, knew about it. They were participants, but, so I’m a little surprised by that statement,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the White House Monday afternoon. The President later added, “So I think it’s just a continuation of a double standard. I’m surprised by it. I’m surprised by it.”
Earlier in the day, Barr said an ongoing internal Justice Department review into the origins of the FBI’s probe into Mr. Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign is not expected to lead to a criminal investigation into Mr. Obama or Mr. Biden. CBS News digital reporter Melissa Quinn says Barr made the comments during aon Monday, during which he was asked about Mr. Trump’s recent suggestion that Mr. Obama and his top officials committed crimes in the last few weeks of the previous administration. Barr provided an update about the ongoing investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, who was selected by the attorney general to review the origins of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. While some aspects of the matter are being examined as potential crimes, Barr said neither Mr. Obama nor Biden are expected to be prosecuted. “As to President Obama and Vice President Biden, whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today, I don’t expect Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man,” he said. “Our concern over potential criminality is focused on others.”
Barr criticized the FBI and the country’s intelligence apparatus for its investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, saying they advanced a “false and utterly baseless Russian collusion narrative against the president.” While Durham’s probe will determine whether any federal laws were broken, Barr vowed it will not be used to target Mr. Trump’s political opponents. “This cannot be and it will not be a tit-for-tat exercise. We are not going to lower the standards just to achieve a result,” he said. Barr said the November contest between Mr. Trump and Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, should be “based on a robust debate of policy issues and we cannot allow this process to be hijacked by efforts to drum up criminal investigations of either candidate.” Any investigation into either Mr. Trump or Biden, Barr added, must receive his stamp of approval.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
During a virtual gathering of the Asian American Pacific Islander Victory Fund on Monday, Biden accused Mr. Trump of stoking anti-AAPI sentiment in the United States during the pandemic, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. Biden said that instead of a quick response to the virus, “we got denial, delays, distraction, many of which were nakedly xenophobic.” Biden continued, “the AAPI community deserves better than a president who never misses an opportunity to stroke innuendo, fan the flames of hate.” The former vice president cited the back-and-forth between CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang and Mr. Trump last week as an example. “You deserve better than a president who aggressively and childishly insults [an] Asian-American reporter,” Biden told the forum, “Think of that. The president of the United States for the whole world to see insults an Asian-American reporter in the Rose Garden for doing her job asking a direct question.” While Biden’s remarks were very serious, the presentation was right out of a “Veep” episode. Biden is now out of his basement and is broadcasting from his porch. The floor-to-ceiling doors behind him were open and at the beginning of his remarks, Biden proactively apologized for the loud Canada geese out on the pond. During the 13 minutes of remarks, the geese honked so loud it was at many times hard to understand Biden.
Later during the forum, Senator Kamala Harris spoke highly about Mr. Biden, CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry adds. Harris said there was a need to elect Biden to stop Mr. Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell from nominating more conservative and “unqualified” judges to the courts. She emphasized the Supreme Court and singled out Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch by name. She noted that Biden was sworn in during his second term by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She said it’s not just enough to win the presidency, but Democrats must also win the Senate as well to confirm judges appointed by Joe Biden.
Mr. Trump told reporters Monday he has taken hydroxychloroquine and zinc “for a couple of weeks,” administered to him by the White House doctor, reports CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. Clinical trials, academic analysis and scientific studies have shown the drug significantly increases risk of death in certain patients with limited effectiveness in treating COVID-19. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned against use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial. “I take it because I hear very good things,” the President said.
Mr. Trump, a frequent critic of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19, will visit the swing state Thursday. In his third visit to a battleground state in three weeks, Trump will tour Ford Motor Co.’s Rawsonville, delivering remarks to the manufacturing plant in Ypsilanti. The auto plant has been repurposed to manufacture ventilators.
GOP PARTY PLANNING
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told reporters Monday she had “not heard any concerns from delegates, or our state party chairs” about holding the upcoming Republican National Convention amid the coronavirus pandemic. “I think there’s a recognition obviously that August 24th – August 27th is quite a ways away, and there is ample time for us to adjust if necessary,” the Chairwoman added. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports the RNC and Trump re-election campaign this month doubled their legal budget to $20 million across battleground states in an effort to stop Democrats’ push to ease remote voting restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Pressed on whether Republicans will engage in “ballot harvesting” efforts — permitting people to pick up and deliver absentee ballots other individuals have cast — in states where it becomes law, McDaniel said she is “not going to share how we will adjust right now. But we will be looking at ways to obviously engage in that if that becomes the law. We don’t want it to become the law though. That is where we are. We think it is a bad practice and we are fighting it everywhere we can.”
Whitmer is signing an executive order that allows the partial re-opening of retail businesses and restaurants and bars with limited seating in the Upper Peninsula and the greater Traverse City region. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman says the partial reopenings will begin on May 22. The executive order also allows local governments to proceed cautiously if it is within their jurisdiction. “If they want to take a more cautious course, they’re free to limit the operation of restaurants or bars within their jurisdiction, including restricting such establishments to outdoor seating,” Whitmer added. With the Memorial Day weekend approaching, Whitmer offered a candid message to people who might consider traveling to those regions. “Please think long and hard before you take a trip into them,” Whitmer said. Businesses that plan to reopen must adopt safety measures, such as COVID-19 training for workers that includes infection-control practices in the workplace and properly using personal protective equipment (PPE).
A new federal lawsuit filed in Wisconsin on Monday is seeking changes to the upcoming August and November elections in the key battleground state, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. The group of voters and advocacy groups who filed the suit are asking to ensure that in-person voting can be conducted safely, including mandating polling sites comply with social distancing, and ensuring there are enough poll workers to staff polling sites. During Wisconsin’s April election, many cities had to reduce their polling locations. That led to long lines in some cities, including Milwaukee, which reduced its number of polling locations from 180 to five. The lawsuit also wants all eligible voters to be sent absentee ballot request forms so they can be returned in time and ensuring online registration and ballot request systems can handle increased traffic. Some Wisconsin voters reported that they didn’t receive absentee ballots until after the April 7 election and weren’t able to participate as a result. Health officials in Wisconsin say that 71 people who voted in-person or worked the April 7 election also tested positive for COVID-19, though they stress those people may have become infected elsewhere.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission released a report Monday afternoon detailing the massive increase in absentee voting during the April 7 election and challenges that presented. According to the report, 61.8% of ballots were cast by mail during the election, while another 12.6% of people cast in-person absentee ballots and a quarter voted in person on Election Day. Typically, the WEC says more than 80% of Wisconsinites vote in person on Election Day and only 6% of ballots are cast by mail. Wisconsin state law normally requires absentee ballots to be returned by 8:00 p.m. CT on Election Day, but a federal judge extended the deadline until April 13. The WEC reported on Monday that the extension “resulted in an additional 79,054 ballots being counted for this election.” In an effort to improve the absentee request process going forward, the WEC “is exploring the opportunity to mail [an absentee ballot request form] to every registered voter without a current absentee ballot request on file for 2020.” Overall, the report found that while many local officials had to overcome major challenges, “the election did not produce an unusual number of unreturned or rejected ballots.”
The “Win Justice campaign” announced Monday it plans to launch another $30 million effort to “expand the electorate” this fall through paid advertising and organizing in four swing states: Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, and Wisconsin. The announcement matches the spending the same coalition of four left-leaning groups – Center for Community Change Action, Color of Change PAC, Planned Parenthood Votes, and the Service Employees International Union – committed in the 2018 midterm elections, where the group has touted its role in several Democratic Party victories. The coalition has tapped Gabriel di Chiara, formerly a key aide to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign in Nevada, to head their effort in the state. “Win Justice was proud to be a part of Nevada’s historic 2018 election, helping deliver progressive victories up and down the ballot — and led to the nation’s first ever majority-woman state legislature,” di Chiara, Nevada State Director for Win Justice, told CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin in a statement.
IN THE HOUSE
Congressman Steven Horsford of Nevada is facing some calls for resignation and demands for a congressional ethics investigation after the Democrat admitted to a yearslong extramarital affair while in office with a former campaign intern to then-Sen. Harry Reid. News of the relationship with Horsford, who has campaigned as a “devoted family man,” was disclosed in a series of podcast episodes first reported on by the Las Vegas Review Journal, says CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. Horsford is up for reelection in a potentially competitive race this fall for Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District. Horsford won the seat in 2018 after Democrat Ruben Kihuen, facing an ethics investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, . In a statement a spokeswoman for Horsford said the relationship “has no bearing on the Congressman’s ability to fight for the people of Nevada and he fully intends to serve them in this Congress, and beyond.”
IN THE SENATE
Senator Cory Gardner released his first ad of the cycle over the weekend, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. The ad highlights his efforts to help Colorado through the coronavirus pandemic. Like others in competitive races, Gardner focuses on bipartisanship instead of showcasing an alliance with Mr. Trump. The ad features Democratic Governor Jared Polis thanking Gardner for doing everything he has asked to help the state through the response. His campaign has placed almost $290,000 in ad reservations since last week, according to data from Kantar/CMAG.
The president over the weekend mentioned Senator Susan Collins of Maine in a tweet complaining about a segment on “tweeted her displeasure with the president’s decision to fire the State Department Inspector General saying that the president has not provided legal justification for the removal of the IG. Collins said in a statement to CBS News that, “There seems to be a bit of confusion. My comments were in reference to the removal of the State Department Inspector General.”” featuring whistleblower Rick Bright, a former research director within the Department of Health and Human Services. In the tweet, he said he hopes Susan Collins “is listening.” Collins has co-authored whistleblower protection legislation. Separately, Collins, over the weekend,
“As a long-time, strong supporter of our Inspectors General, I am concerned about the President’s firing of IGs as well as the appointment of a political appointee from within the Department of Transportation to be the acting IG in that Department,” Collins’ statement said. “I coauthored the 2008 law that requires the president to notify Congress and provide a justification for the removal of an IG. It is not sufficient for the president to say simply that he has lost confidence in the official. Rather, when we wrote the 2008 law, Congress expected a detailed explanation from the President 30 days prior to the removal of an IG.
“The Inspectors General are key to accountability in federal programs and root out waste, fraud, and abuse and report to both the President and Congress. I previously joined Senator Grassley in a letter to the President asking for an explanation for the removal of the Intelligence Community IG, Michael Atkinson. I will continue to work with Senator Grassley to explore other remedies to ensure the independence of our government watchdogs, the Inspectors General.”