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Republicans gather for CPAC opening as Haley commits to fighting on: Live

Republicans are gathering for the latest instalment of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Wednesday, another four-day jamboree of grandstanding speeches, culture war grievances and MAGA electioneering.

The event is once more taking place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC, and will be headlined by Donald Trump, who will make its keynote address on Saturday before heading off to South Carolina for the state primary.

Other guest speakers of note include Liz Truss, Nigel Farage and Argentina’s president Javier Milei as well as a host of right-wing favourites.

Nikki Haley will not be there but did deliver a defiant message to Republicans on Tuesday as she pledged to fight on in the battle for the GOP presidential nomination, saying she wanted to avoid a “Soviet-style election” with only one candidate and claiming that party members “privately dread” Mr Trump but are afraid to say so publicly, warning that he is a serial loser.

“South Carolina will vote on Saturday,” she said. “But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere. I’m campaigning every day until the last person votes.”

Key Points

  • Who’s speaking at CPAC 2024?

  • Nikki Haley vows to stay in the race and keep on fighting Donald Trump

  • Trump ally Scott calls on ‘desperate’ Haley to drop out ahead of South Carolina

  • Trump lashes out at Haley after she declines to say she would endorse him as Republican nominee

  • House lawmakers leave for recess without voting on Ukraine and Israel aid bill

Biden showcases student loan relief efforts as he campaigns in California

19:33 , AP

President Joe Biden is putting the spotlight on his efforts to cancel billions of dollars in student debt as he ramps up his reelection campaign.

Biden, who is in the midst of a three-day campaign swing through California, announced on Wednesday that his administration is automatically canceling federal student loans for nearly 153,000 borrowers as part of a new repayment plan that offers a faster path to forgiveness.

The administration began sending email notifications on Wednesday to some of the borrowers who will benefit from what the White House has dubbed the SAVE program. The cancellations were originally scheduled to start in July, but last month the administration said it would be ready almost six months ahead of schedule, in February.

“Starting today, the first round of folks who are enrolled in our SAVE student loan repayment plan who have paid their loans for 10 years and borrowed $12,000 or less will have their debt cancelled,” Biden posted on social media Wednesday. “That’s 150,000 Americans and counting. And we’re pushing to relieve more.”

The first round of forgiveness from the SAVE plan will clear $1.2 billion in loans. The borrowers will get emails with a message from Biden notifying them that “all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my Administration’s SAVE Plan.”

Continue reading the full article...

It all comes back to Trump... and Russia

19:21 , Oliver O'Connell

Andrew Feinberg writes that it has become increasingly apparent that the sources of whatever “dirt” Republicans claim to have on President Joe Biden and his family can all be traced back to one man...

Read his full report for The Independent:

The Biden ‘bombshells’ all lead back to Trump – and Russia

Watch: Fox News host labels impeachment inquiry ‘so embarrassing’

19:10 , Oliver O'Connell

Biden reportedly tells campaign to highlight ‘crazy s***’ Trump says

19:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Joe Biden has reportedly told his campaign aides to hone in on Trump’s more extreme comments and statements, to highlight the differences between the two 2024 frontrunners.

Sources told CNN that Biden wanted Trump’s “crazy s***” highlighted in an effort to show he is unfit to regain the White House, following months of the Republican trying to disparage Biden in a similar way.

Last night’s raving about dishwasher companies in Ohio would be a good start...

Here’s more.

Biden has told campaign to highlight the ‘crazy s***’ Trump says

Watch: Raskin says ‘impeachment investigation essentially ended yesterday’

18:50 , Oliver O'Connell

House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jamie Rasking remains unimpressed with the alleged case Republicans claim to have against President Joe Biden.

“The impeachment investigation essentially ended yesterday...with the explosive revelation that Mr Smirnov’s allegations about Ukrainian Burisma payments to Joe Biden were concocted along with Russian intelligence agents,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“We obviously again have heard nothing indicating that Joe Biden had anything to do with the business ventures of Hunter Biden for James Biden,” he added.

Porter wins major endorsement in race for open California Senate seat, but trails Schiff

18:42 , Oliver O'Connell

California Democrat rep Katie Porter has won a significant endorsement from The San Francisco Chronicle in the race to fill the Senate seat previously occupied by the late Senator Diane Feinstein.

Also in contention for the coveted place in the Senate are Democrat reps Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee. Republican Steve Garvey is also running. Mr Schiff and Mr Garvey are currently leading according to the latest polling.

Per The Hill:

Rep. Adam Schiff is leading fellow California Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee in the state’s competitive Senate primary, polling results released Tuesday shows.

The Emerson College Polling/Inside California Politics/The Hill survey puts Schiff at the top of the pack with 28 percent, beating out Porter’s 16 percent and Lee’s 9 percent.

Schiff’s closest competitor is Republican Steve Garvey, who scored 22 percent, taking second place in California’s nonpartisan primary — from which the two candidates with the most votes will move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Mr Schiff previously won the endorsement of The Los Angeles Times and has the backing of former speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Biden’s brother accuses House Republicans of ‘flat-out lying’ at impeachment inquiry

18:30 , Oliver O'Connell

James Biden, the brother of President Joe Biden, said in his opening statement as he testified in the Republican impeachment inquiry that those who argued that he used his connection to his brother to enrich himself are “either mistaken, ill-informed, or flat-out lying”.

“In every business venture in which I have been involved, I have relied on my own talent, judgment, skill, and personal relationships—and never my status as Joe Biden’s brother,” he said in the statement on Wednesday.

Republicans have long argued that the entire Biden family is corrupt and that they have used Mr Biden’s political influence in their business schemes – but they have struggled to substantiate their claims.

Gustaf Kilander and Andrew Feinberg report from Washington, DC:

Biden’s brother accuses House Republicans of ‘flat-out lying’

House Republicans remove mention of FBI informant from impeachment inquiry letters

18:15 , Oliver O'Connell

House Republicans removed a reference to an FBI informant in a letter to a possible witness in their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

The interview request letters have generally outlined the reasons for the investigation, including information regarding a supposed source speaking to a Ukrainian gas company executive claiming to have bribed Mr Biden.

The informant, Alexander Smirnov, made up the claim, the Department of Justice said last week.

Republicans now appear to be crossing out anything relating to him in their messages regarding their inquiry.

Gustaf Kilander has the story:

Republicans remove mention of FBI informant from impeachment letters

Trump says his $355m fraud penalty is ‘a form of Navalny’ at Fox News town hall

18:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Donald Trump again compared his own legal struggles to the shocking fate of the late Russian dissident Alexei Navalny during a Fox News town hall event in South Carolina on Tuesday evening.

The former president gave a typically lively performance during the interview with Laura Ingraham, in which he discussed his various ongoing court cases and said his recent order to pay out $355m in financial penalties to the state of New York amounted to “a form of Navalny”, adding: “It is a form of communism or fascism.”

Elsewhere at the town hall, Trump was unable to point to any evidence of “corruption” in President Joe Biden’s background, despite House Republicans’ dubious impeachment investigation continuing, and declared he would commit to debating President Biden “as many [times] as necessary” should he secure the Republican presidential nomination, having shirked the debate stage as a GOP candidate.

He also suggested that Ron DeSantis and Tulsi Gabbard could be in line to be his running mate if he wins the nomination, struggled to given specifics as to how he planned to address the problem of illegal immigration and to answer Ingraham’s question about why he had not simply handed over the classified documents stored at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, as the National Archives had requested, his refusal ultimately leading to a raid on the property by FBI agents in August 2022 and a criminal indictment from Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith.

Here are a few more clips from another incoherent, uninformative and policy-light performance from the man who would be president.

Here’s Mike Bedigan’s report.

Trump says his $355m fraud penalty is ‘a form of Navalny’

How House Republicans are changing their tune on the FBI informant

17:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Journalist Aaron Rupar provides this brief example of how FBI informant Alexander Smirnov has — overnight — gone from being the source of damning evidence showing that Joe Biden is compromised, to just being an ancillary part of a wider case...

Watch: Jim Jordan confronted over ‘facts’ of impeachment inquiry

17:30 , Oliver O'Connell

James Biden denies president has any involvement or financial interest in his business

17:15 , Oliver O'Connell

DOJ asks judge to reconsider pre-trial detention for Smirnov

17:10 , Oliver O'Connell

The Department of Justice has asked federal judge Otis Wright to reconsider yesterday's order of release for Alexander Smirnov, the FBI informant who is charged with making a false claim of bribery against President Joe Biden.

Special Counsel David Weiss wrote in a new filing that the government continues to seek detention of Mr Smirnov because of his claims he has contacts with multiple foreign intelligence agencies who could potentially resettle him outside of the US should he flee.

Mr Smirnov also has access to more than $6m in liquid funds — which he did not disclose to Pretrial Services — and as an Israeli citize,n he can also obtain a new passport by visiting any Israeli consulate (the nearest to Las Vegas being five hours away in Los Angeles).

Mr Weiss again argues that Mr Smirnov’s threat to the 2024 election is ongoing: “Smirnov’s efforts to spread misinformation about a candidate of one of the two major parties in the United States continues.”

You can read the full filing here

And here’s Alex Woodward with our earlier coverage:

FBI informant charged with lying about Biden poses threat to 2024 election, DOJ warns

Trump campaign claims front-runner will wrap up nomination by 12 March

17:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Having widened his polling lead over fellow candidate Nikki Haley in her home state of South Carolina, Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign has released a memo saying they expect him to wrap up the Republican Party’s nomination by 12 March, moving up their initial prediction by a week.

In the memo published on Tuesday, the campaign projects he will exceed the 1,215-delegate threshold on that date, which is after Super Tuesday but coincides with primaries in Hawaii, Washington, Mississippi and Georgia.

There are a total of 2,429 Republican delegates nationwide.

Back in December, the campaign said it believed Trump would seal the deal on 19 March when Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas and Ohio hold their primaries.

They also predict he will take all 50 delegates in Saturday’s primary in South Carolina.

Haley’s campaign is described as “broken down” in the memo and the former governor is referred to as a “wailing loser hell-bent on an alternative reality”.

Should Trump have secured the majority of the delegates by 12 March, he still wouldn’t be the official candidate until the Republican National Convention on 15-18 July in Milwaukee.

Haley has vowed to stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday.

16:50 , Oliver O'Connell

Jimmy Kimmel responds to George Santos suing him over Cameo videos

16:30 , Joe Sommerlad

Jimmy Kimmel has spoken out after George Santos filed a lawsuit accusing him of “deceiving” the scandal-plagued former lawmaker when he paid him to make Cameo videos.

On his late-night show on Tuesday night, the host poked fun at Santos’s lawsuit which claims he believed video requests about a dog named Adolf and a man eating six pounds of loose ground beef were “real messages and that he was duped”.

“He’s being represented by the prestigious law firm of Pot, Kettle, and Black,” Kimmel quipped of the man who was ousted from Congress in shame after a series of lies and alleged fraud came to light.

Martha McHardy has more.

Jimmy Kimmel responds to George Santos suing him over Cameo videos

Biden says Johnson must call Ukraine bill vote

16:20 , Oliver O'Connell

Watch: James Biden arrives for closed-door impeachment testimony

16:10 , Oliver O'Connell

How might South Carolina’s primary play out?

16:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Despite her bold address on Tuesday, Nikki Haley needs to make something happen.

With the Nevada debacle in the rear view window — an embarrassing defeat to “none of these candidates” in a primary in which Donald Trump declined to participate — it’s officially time for his sole remaining challenger for the GOP nomination to prove that she’s still competitive in the literal sense, rather that just on cable news.

South Carolina is the arena. It’s by no means an ace in the hole, but the state where Haley was governor for eight years is the place where she theoretically should be strongest.

It has an open primary, meaning that independent voters can participate.

And she’ll be back across the state this week, hitting campaign stops in Myrtle Beach, the Charleston suburbs, and a former steel town.

But don’t be surprised if this proves to be the end of the line for this spirited campaigner...

What to expect as South Carolina hosts the next (and maybe last) Trump-Haley showdown

Smirnov pre-trial conditions released

15:49 , Oliver O'Connell

Alexander Smirnov, the FBI informant accused of lying about President Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and now being linked to Russian intelligence agents, avoided pre-trial detention yesterday but is under travel restrictions according to a new court filing.

Justice Daniel J Albregts, magistrate judge at the US District Court for the District of Nevada ruled that ahead of the federal criminal case coming to trial, Mr Smirnov is not allowed “to got to airport” in Las Vegas and the government will provide a list of people he is not allowed to have contact with. His passport will also be surrendered to US Pre-Trial Services who will supervise him during this time.

He has no curfew or home detention imposed on him but nevertheless must comply with the court’s travel restrictions and seek approval for anything that falls outside of those rules.

Here’s our earlier reporting on the case:

FBI informant charged with lying about Biden poses threat to 2024 election, DOJ warns

Watch: Jim Jordan challenged over evidence for impeachment

15:35 , Oliver O'Connell

Jasmine Crockett has thoughts about the Biden impeachment ‘nonsense'

15:15 , Oliver O'Connell

Democratic Texas Rep Jasmine Crockett, who serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, has some thoughts about Republican attempts to whip up impeachment charges against President Joe Biden.

She wrote on X:

So let me get this right…

1) Dems were right & R’s were wrong (AGAIN) about this impeachment nonsense, huh?

2) So James Comer & friends were used as Putin’s Puppets b/c well Putin wants his pal Trump back…

3) AND am I still supposed to do this Hunter Biden Deposition next week?

What am I missing? In my humble opinion, it seems like we should spend less time talking about Hunter’s junk & more time digging into, oh say, Russia’s potential, actual infiltration of the Republican PARTY!

Who is supporting Haley in South Carolina?

15:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Trump maintains a substantial lead over Haley in her home state of South Carolina ahead of Saturday’s primary, a new poll shows.

The Suffolk University/USA Today poll shows the former president with 63 per cent support from Palmetto State primary voters — or those who said they are “very likely” to vote.

The former state governor had 35 per cent support.

Trump has an overall lead in the state but certain populations prefer Haley over the front-runner, according to the poll.

Kelly Rissman looks at the numbers.

Moderates and liberals support Haley in South Carolina, says new poll

DOJ warns FBI informant charged with lying about Biden could threaten US elections with Russian intel

14:45 , Oliver O'Connell

A former FBI informant charged with fabricating corruption allegations against President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden is “actively peddling new lies” that threaten US elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials, according to federal law enforcement.

Alexander Smirnov – who allegedly “provided false derogatory information” about the president and his son in interviews with the FBI – told authorities that he has “extensive and extremely recent” contacts with foreign intelligence officials, according to the US Department of Justice.

Alex Woodward has the details:

FBI informant charged with lying about Biden poses threat to 2024 election, DOJ warns

And here’s Rep Pat Fallon downplaying the story as “ancillary” to House Republican attempts to impeach President Biden:

Today: Biden’s brother to testify in House Republicans impeachment inquiry

14:32 , Oliver O'Connell

President Joe Biden’s brother James Biden is set to give testimony today during a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, as part of their impeachment inquiry into the president.

The interview on Wednesday in their so-far chaotic and lacklustre investigation will take place after the House Republicans brought forward a number of business and family associates who testified that Mr Biden has not been a part of any of his family business dealings abroad – the main allegation that prompted the inquiry in the first place.

Republicans leading the probe are fighting against increasing dissatisfaction within their own party over the investigation, with many concerned that it might backfire in an election year and lose them their narrow House majority.

Gustaf Kilander gives us all the background to the dubious case against the president and his family.

Biden’s brother to testify in House Republicans impeachment inquiry

Here’s Rep Jim Jordan talking about the alleged evidence that he claims links President Biden to the case:

Haley’s strategy is clear: Run out the clock on Trump

14:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Here’s Eric Garcia with more on what exactly the former UN ambassador’s game plan is right now.

Nikki Haley’s strategy is clear: Run out the clock on Trump

Haley vows ‘I’m not going anywhere’ ahead of South Carolina primary

13:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley delivered a defiant speech ahead of her home state’s primary on Saturday and insisted that she will not quit the 2024 race even if she loses.

Haley, who won two terms as governor of the Palmetto State, insisted that she does not fear Trump’s retribution and is in it for the long haul

“South Carolina will vote on Saturday. But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere,” she said in Greenville on Tuesday at a press conference at which reporters had assembled fully expecting her to announce that she was suspending her campaign, seeing no path to victory.

Eric Garcia has more.

Defiant Haley insists she doesn’t fear Trump’s retribution: ‘I’m not going anywhere’

CPAC: Trump boosters, Biden attacks and Liz Truss

12:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Once again, a throng of conservative activists, Republican elected officials and young right-wingers will descend on National Harbor, just outside of DC, for another instalment of CPAC.

The event has served multiple purposes throughout the years. It often showcases new conservative talent, sets the tone for what major policies conservatives will champion in the next election and often allows potential candidates for president to test the waters.

Indeed, in 2011, Donald Trump gave his first political speech at the conservative gathering. It debuted his conservative star turn and laid the groundwork for him becoming the Republican nominee for president in 2016 and winning the presidency.

This year, though, with Trump as the GOP’s presumptive nominee, CPAC – which runs from Wednesday to Saturday – will have a different tone and will serve as a booster for his campaign against Joe Biden in the general election.

Here’s what to expect this week, courtesy of Eric Garcia.

What to expect at Republicans’ CPAC event this week

Roll up! Roll up! Here’s who’s speaking at CPAC

11:00 , Joe Sommerlad

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) returns once more this week for another serving of Republican grandstanding, grievance-airing and merchandise shilling.

The four-day event that bills itself as the “largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world” returns to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC, from Wednesday until Saturday 24 February.

Here’s which right-wing “luminaries” will be taking to the main stage.

Who’s speaking at CPAC? All the scheduled presenters

Russia faces ‘major sanctions’ from Biden administration after Navalny death

10:30 , Oliver O'Connell

The White House has announced that a new package of sanctions against Russia is set to go into effect following the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a Siberian prison camp.

The administration said the package would be released on Friday. This comes after President Joe Biden’s comments to reporters on Monday that he was considering new sanctions.

“We already have sanctions, but we are considering additional sanctions, yes,” he said.

Gustaf Kilander reports from Washington, DC:

White House to hit Russia with ‘major sanctions’ in response to Navalny’s death

Top oversight Democrat slams Biden impeachment witness as ‘chaotic to the point of burlesque’

09:30 , Oliver O'Connell

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee has harshly criticised a witness for the Republicans in their impeachment effort of President Joe Biden.

In a scathing nine-page letter obtained by The Independent, Maryland Rep Jamie Raskin went after Tony Bobulinski, a former business associate of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

Gustaf Kilander reports on what he wrote:

‘Chaotic and burlesque’: Top oversight Democrat slams Biden impeachment witness

06:30 , Oliver O'Connell

Nikki Haley says she would pardon Donald Trump if elected president

‘I’m not going anywhere’: Defiant Haley insists she doesn’t fear Trump’s retribution

04:30 , Oliver O'Connell

Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley delivered a defiant speech ahead of her home state’s primary on Saturday and insisted that she will not quit the 2024 race even if she loses her home state’s primary this Saturday.

Ms Haley, who won two terms as governor of South Carolina, insisted that even if she loses, she does not fear former president Donald Trump’s retribution.

“That’s why I refuse to quit. South Carolina will vote on Saturday. But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere,” she said at a speech in Greenville on Tuesday.

Eric Garcia reports:

Defiant Haley insists she doesn’t fear Trump’s retribution: ‘I’m not going anywhere’

Watch: Manchin asked if Trump has moral fibre to be president

02:30 , Oliver O'Connell

Biden campaign raises $42m in January ‘driven by grassroots’

01:30 , Oliver O'Connell

The Biden campaign and the Democratic Party raised more $42m in January in a fundraising haul “driven by” grassroots efforts, officials said.

The Democrats now have $130m in cash on hand as the general election season is set to be one of the longest in recent memory.

Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager, said in a statement that “January’s fundraising haul – driven by a powerhouse grassroots fundraising program that continues to grow month by month – is an indisputable show of strength to start the election year”.

The campaign claimed to have raised almost $278m since April last year, saying that its $130m cash on hand was the “highest total of any democratic candidate in history”. The president’s re-election campaign also noted that January was its strongest month for grassroots fundraising.

Gustaf Kilander looks at the figures:

Biden campaign and Democrats raise $42m in January ‘driven by grassroots’

13 GOP senators call on leadership to push for Mayorkas impeachment trial

00:30 , Oliver O'Connell

Thirteen Republican senators have called on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to push for an impeachment trial of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas following the vote in the House of Representatives to impeach him.

They might need a few more senators on board to make this happen...

Nikki Haley’s strategy is clear: Run out the clock on Trump

00:00 , Oliver O'Connell

Read the latest from The Independent’s Eric Garcia:

Nikki Haley’s strategy is clear: Run out the clock on Trump

In pictures: Trump films Fox News town hall in Greenville, South Carolina

Tuesday 20 February 2024 23:30 , Oliver O'Connell

Donald Trump arrives at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump arrives at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (AFP via Getty Images)
Mr Trump speaks with moderator Laura Ingraham of Fox News (AP)
Mr Trump speaks with moderator Laura Ingraham of Fox News (AP)
South Carolina’s Republican primary takes place this Saturday (Getty Images)
South Carolina’s Republican primary takes place this Saturday (Getty Images)
 (AP)
(AP)

What to expect at Republicans’ CPAC event this week

Tuesday 20 February 2024 23:00 , Oliver O'Connell

Once again, a throng of conservative activists, Republican elected officials and young right-wingers will descend on National Harbor just outside of Washington, DC for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

CPAC has served multiple purposes throughout the years. It often showcases new conservative talent, sets the tone for what major policies conservatives will champion in the next election and often allows potential candidates for president to test the waters. Indeed, in 2011, Donald Trump gave his first political speech at the conservative gathering. It debuted his conservative star turn and laid the groundwork for him becoming the Republican nominee for president in 2016 and winning the presidency.

This year, though, with Mr Trump being the presumptive nominee, CPAC – which runs from Wednesday to Saturday – will have a different tone and will serve as a booster for his campaign against Joe Biden in the general election.

Here’s what to expect this week at CPAC.

What to expect at Republicans’ CPAC event this week

FBI informant accused of false claims of bribery against Biden had contact with Russian intelligence

Tuesday 20 February 2024 22:30 , Oliver O'Connell

In a court filing seeking pretrial detention, the Department of Justice alleges that Alexander Smirnov, an FBI informant accused of making false claims of bribery against President Joe Biden, had contacts with Russian intelligence.

“He claims to have contacts with multiple foreign intelligence agencies and had plans to leave the US two days after he was arrested last week for a months-long, multi-country foreign trip. During this trip, the defendant claimed to be meeting with foreign intelligence contacts.”

During an interview with the FBI, “Smirnov admitted that officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story about [Hunter Biden].”

The filing includes a passage that states about a meeting at Ukrainian energy firm Burisma: “At no point during this meeting ... did Burisma Offical 2 tell Smirnov that Burisma had hired [Hunter Biden] to ‘protect us, through his dad, from all kinds of problems.’”

Mr Smirnov also had access to over $6m in liquid funds, “more than enough money for him to live comfortably overseas for the rest of his life”.

Further, the filing says: “When he was interviewed by FBI agents in September 2023, Smirnov repeated some of his false claims, changed his story as to other of his claims, and promoted a new false narrative after he said he met with Russian officials.”

In addition: “Law enforcement knows about Smirnov’s contact with officials affiliated with Russian intelligence because Smirnov himself reported on a number of those contacts to his FBI Handler.”

He also told his handler: “The Russian Intelligence Service intercepted several calls placed by prominent US persons the Russian government may use as ‘kompromat’ in the 2024 election, depending on who the candidates will be.”

Read the full filing here

Here’s our earlier reporting on the case courtesy of Andrew Feinberg in Washington, DC:

FBI ‘source’ who made bribery allegations against Biden charged with false statements

Schumer hits out at Graham over border ‘photo-op’ after voting against security bill

Tuesday 20 February 2024 22:24 , Oliver O'Connell

Top oversight Democrat slams Biden impeachment witness as ‘chaotic to the point of burlesque'

Tuesday 20 February 2024 22:00 , Oliver O'Connell

Gustaf Kilander reports:

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee has harshly criticised a witness for the Republicans in their impeachment effort of President Joe Biden.

In a scathing nine-page letter obtained by The Independent, Maryland Rep Jamie Raskin went after Tony Bobulinski, a former business associate of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

Mr Bobulinski subsequently became a staunch Biden family detractor, appearing before the House panel last week where he once again shared claims he also made during the 2020 election that the president had acted to create opportunities for his family to make money abroad.

Mr Bobulinski claimed that the Biden business schemes “sold out to foreign actors who were seeking to gain influence and access to Joe Biden and the United States government”.

On Tuesday, Mr Raskin wrote in a letter to Mr Bobulinski’s lawyer and the Republican chair of the panel, Kentucky Rep James Comer, that Mr Bobulinski’s “interview was chaotic to the point of burlesque as he repeatedly yelled, shouted, filibustered, and hurled outlandish and baseless accusations and insults against Democratic Members and staff”.

Continue reading...

‘Chaotic and burlesque’: Top oversight Democrat slams Biden impeachment witness

Biden campaign likens second term Trump policy goals to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale'

Tuesday 20 February 2024 21:30 , Oliver O'Connell

Lauren Hitt, senior spokesperson for the Biden campaign calls the supposed policy goals of a second Trump presidency “straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale” when asked about a Politico report that allies of the former president are pushing a “Christian nationalist” agenda.

“This is straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. Nationwide abortion bans, attacks on same-sex marriage, and restrictions on contraception — this is the horrifying reality being openly discussed by Team Trump and the likely architects of his second term agenda,” said Ms Hitt in a statement.

“Every day Donald Trump openly supports an agenda of restricting Americans" freedoms, dividing our country, and attacking our rights. That’s what he will do as president. It’s not who we are as Americans. Like they’ve done election after election, Americans will reject Donald Trump and his out-of-touch extremism again this November.”

Trump campaign says he will wrap up nomination by 12 March

Tuesday 20 February 2024 21:11 , Oliver O'Connell

Having widened his polling lead over fellow candidate Nikki Haley in her home state of South Carolina, Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign has released a memo saying they expect him to wrap up the Republican Party’s nomination by 12 March, moving up their initial prediction by a week.

In the memo published on Tuesday, the campaign projects he will exceed the 1,215-delegate threshold on that date, which is after Super Tuesday but coincides with primaries in Hawaii, Washington, Mississippi, and Georgia. There are a total of 2,429 Republican delegates nationwide.

Back in December, the campaign said it believed Mr Trump would seal the deal on 19 March when Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and Ohio hold their primaries.

They also predict he will take all 50 delegates in Saturday’s primary in South Carolina.

Ms Haley’s campaign is described as “broken down” in the memo and the former governor is referred to as a “wailing loser hell-bent on an alternative reality”.

Should Mr Trump have secured the majority of the delegates by 12 March, he still wouldn’t be the official candidate until the Republican National Convention on 15-18 July in Milwaukee.

Ms Haley has vowed to stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday.

Newsom asked if he would step to replace Biden if need be

Tuesday 20 February 2024 21:00 , Oliver O'Connell

California governor Gavin Newsom is asked at a press event if there’s any chance he’d join the 2024 presidential race if President Joe Biden isn’t on the ticket for some reason.

He responds by saying that the president is coming to California tonight and will be in the Bay Area tomorrow and that he hopes to be invited to Mr Biden’s inauguration for a second term.

Watch: Haley hits Trump over comparison with Navalny

Tuesday 20 February 2024 20:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Poll: Haley has support of moderates and liberals in South Carolina

Tuesday 20 February 2024 20:30 , Oliver O'Connell

Undeterred by a series of legal battles, former president Donald Trump maintains a substantial lead over Nikki Haley, his last remaining 2024 GOP competitor, in her home state of South Carolina, a new poll shows.

The Suffolk University/USA Today poll shows the former president with 63 per cent support from South Carolina primary voters — or those who said they are “very likely” to vote. The former South Carolina governor had 35 per cent support.

Mr Trump has an overall lead in the state but certain populations prefer Ms Haley over the Republican frontrunner, according to the poll.

Kelly Rissman looks at the numbers:

Moderates and liberals support Haley in South Carolina, says new poll

Watch: Haley accuses Trump of trying to hold a Soviet-style election

Tuesday 20 February 2024 20:00 , Oliver O'Connell

Watch: Who would Biden rather run against?

Tuesday 20 February 2024 19:40 , Oliver O'Connell

Navalny issued chilling warning about second Trump term

Tuesday 20 February 2024 19:30 , Oliver O'Connell

Alexei Navalny issued a chilling warning about what a second presidential term for Donald Trump could mean in one of his final letters before he died in an Arctic prison last week.

The staunch opponent of Vladmir Putin also read voraciously from Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Solzhenitsyn to occupy his mind and prevent himself from sinking into despair amid the brutal conditions in which he was held.

In one 3 December letter to Evgeny Feldman, a photographer who covered his attempted run for president in 2018 and now lives in exile in Latvia, Navalny wrote that he feared that if anything should happen to President Joe Biden – a distinct possibility, he felt, given the American’s advanced age – “Trump will become president”.

To Navalny, a second Mr Trump term was a “really scary” prospect for the wider world.

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Navalny issued chilling warning about second Trump term in final letters from prison

Watch: Biden campaign to ramp up highlighting Trump’s inflammatory statements

Tuesday 20 February 2024 19:24 , Oliver O'Connell

...which is not exactly how it was reported by CNN this lunchtime.

Although worth pointing out that it was a direct quote from a source:

Who’s speaking at CPAC this weekend?

Tuesday 20 February 2024 19:00 , Oliver O'Connell

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) returns once more this week for another serving of Republican grandstanding, grievance-airing and merchandise shilling.

The four-day event that bills itself as the “largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world” returns to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC, from Wednesday 21 February to Saturday 24 February.

Brace yourselves libs, you’re about to get well and truly owned, writes Joe Sommerlad:

Who’s speaking at CPAC? All the scheduled presenters

What is Haley’s gameplan?

Tuesday 20 February 2024 18:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Former White House staffer turned pundit and presenter Alyssa Farah Griffin believes she knows what Nikki Haley’s gameplan is going forward:

Voices: Who would pay $99 to smell like Donald Trump?

Tuesday 20 February 2024 18:30 , Oliver O'Connell

“I thought the most outlandish celebrity-scented product I’d see in my lifetime was Gwyneth Paltrow marketing a candle called This Smells Like My Vagina on her website Goop for $75,” writes Rowan Pelling.

“But, in a race to the, um, bottom, no one’s going to outdo the nuclear levels of toxic chutzpah wielded by Donald Trump.

“The former president’s riposte to being fined $355m and deemed malodorous by former GOP congressman Adam Kinzinger is to launch Victory47, a new fragrance in For Him and For Her versions, at a mere $99 a pop.”

Who’d pay $99 to smell like Donald Trump? Eau d’Insurrection, anyone…?

DeSantis announces media availability... in South Carolina?

Tuesday 20 February 2024 18:05 , Oliver O'Connell

White House to hit Russia with ‘major sanctions’ in response to Navalny’s death

Tuesday 20 February 2024 18:00 , Oliver O'Connell

The White House has announced that a new package of sanctions against Russia is set to go into effect following the death of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in a prison camp in the Arctic Circle.

The administration said the package would be released on Friday. This comes after President Joe Biden’s comments to reporters on Monday that he was considering new sanctions.

“We already have sanctions, but we are considering additional sanctions, yes,” he said.

On Friday, Mr Biden blamed the death of Mr Navalny on Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting that while the US was unsure what took place, it was “a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did”.

Gustaf Kilander reports:

White House to hit Russia with ‘major sanctions’ in response to Navalny’s death

Watch: Emotional moment Haley chokes back tears talking about deployed husband

Tuesday 20 February 2024 17:50 , Oliver O'Connell

Defiant Haley insists she doesn’t fear Trump’s retribution as she vows to stay in race

Tuesday 20 February 2024 17:42 , Oliver O'Connell

Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley delivered a defiant speech ahead of her home state’s primary on Saturday and insisted that she will not leave even if she loses the primary.

Ms Haley, who won two terms as governor of South Carolina, insisted that even if she loses the primary she does not fear former president Donald Trump’s retribution, citing the fact that only three states have voted so far in the primary contests and that plenty of Republican primary voters are on her side.

“That’s why I refuse to quit. South Carolina will vote on Saturday. But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere,” she said at a speech in Greenville on Tuesday.

Eric Garcia watched the former UN ambassador’s remarks:

Defiant Haley insists she doesn’t fear Trump’s retribution: ‘I’m not going anywhere’

Tuesday 20 February 2024 17:25 , Oliver O'Connell

The truth is, Americans already know what Joe Biden and Donald Trump will do. But we’re just as concerned with who they are. They’re dividers at a time when America desperately, urgently, needs a uniter.

All they do is turn us against each other. Trump calls his fellow Americans vermin. Biden calls his fellow Americans fascists. Trump and Biden don’t just demand that people pick sides. They demand that their followers hate the other side.

Look where that’s gotten us. Congress is too divided and broken to do its job. Families won’t even talk to each other at the dinner table. We’re separating into opposing camps that view each other as un-American, if not downright evil.

These are dangerous times. The most important thing we must do is regain our focus and shared sense of purpose. The worst thing we can do is become even more distracted and divided.

Tuesday 20 February 2024 17:22 , Oliver O'Connell

Trump and Biden are two old men who are only getting older. Nearly 60% of Americans say Trump and Biden are both too old to be president—because they are. We’ve all seen them fumble their words and get confused about world leaders. That’s not who you want in the Oval Office when Russia launches a nuclear weapon at our satellites or China shuts down our electricity grid.

We’re talking about the most demanding job in human history. You don’t give it to someone who’s at risk of dementia. You give it to someone who is disciplined—someone who can work day and night for eight years straight. No vendettas. No drama. Just results.

Even if Trump and Biden weren’t too old—and again, they are—Americans still oppose them because we know what they’ll do. They’ve already done tremendous damage—and they’re just getting started.

Tuesday 20 February 2024 17:22 , Oliver O'Connell

After bashing President Biden about the border, Ms Haley turned her focus to Mr Trump calling him “unhinged” and focused on the past and not the future.

It’s not normal to insult our military heroes and veterans. It’s not normal to spend fifty million dollars in campaign donations on personal court cases. It’s not normal to threaten the people who back your opponent. And it’s not normal to call on Russia to invade NATO countries. Donald Trump has done all that and more in just the last month.

Look, I’ve said it many times -- I think Donald Trump was the right president at the right time. But times change—and so has Trump. He’s gotten more unstable and unhinged. He spends more time in courtrooms than on the campaign trail. He refuses to debate. He’s completely distracted. And everything is about him. He’s so obsessed with his own demons from the past, he can’t focus on delivering the future Americans deserve.

Tuesday 20 February 2024 17:18 , Oliver O'Connell

Nikki Haley tells a crowd of supporters: “South Carolina will vote on Saturday. But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere.”

She jokes regarding the attacks she and Donald Trump have made at each other: “Some people used to say I was running because I really wanted to be Vice President. I think I’ve pretty well settled that question.”

“We don’t anoint kings in this country. We have elections. And Donald Trump, of all people, should know we don’t rig elections!” Ms Haley says.

Of the current president, she says: “First thing’s first: Joe Biden is doing more damage to himself than any Republican could ever do. Every time he opens his mouth, he sounds like his mind is closing up shop.”

Watch LIVE: Nikki Haley speaks after vowing to stay in presidential race

Tuesday 20 February 2024 16:58 , Oliver O'Connell

Tuesday 20 February 2024 16:45 , AP

Trump not happy

Trump, in recent days, has shown flashes of fury in response to Haley’s refusal to cede the nomination.

He called her “stupid” and “birdbrain” in a social media post over the weekend and his campaign released a memo ahead of her speech on Tuesday predicting that she would be forced out of the race after losing her home state on Saturday.

“The true ‘State’ of Nikki Haley’s campaign?” Trump’s campaign chiefs wrote. “Broken down, out of ideas, out of gas, and completely outperformed by every measure, by Donald Trump.”

Eager to pivot toward a general election matchup against Biden, the Republican former president is taking aggressive steps to assume control of the Republican National Committee, the GOP’s nationwide political machine, which is supposed to stay neutral in presidential primary elections. Last week, Trump announced plans to install his campaign’s senior adviser Chris LaCivita, as RNC’s chief operating officer and daughter-in-law Lara Trump as the committee’s co-chair.

And there is every expectation that current Chair Ronna McDaniel will step down after Trump wins South Carolina’s primary and party officials will ultimately acquiesce to Trump’s wishes. Privately, Haley’s team concedes there is nothing it can do to stop the Trump takeover.

In the interview, Haley warned her party against letting Trump raid the RNC’s coffers to pay for his legal fees while taking a short-term view of Trump’s political prospects.

Trump’s standing will fundamentally change if he is a convicted felon before Election Day, Haley said, acknowledging that such an outcome is a very real possibility as Trump navigates 91 felony charges across four separate criminal cases.

“People are not looking six months down the road when these court cases have taken place,” Haley said. “He’s going to be in a courtroom all of March, April, May and June. How in the world do you win a general election when these cases keep going and the judgments keep coming?”

As for her path forward, Haley said she’s focused only on her plans through Super Tuesday. As for staying in the race through the July convention, she said she hasn’t thought that far ahead.

Some voters wish she would.

Gil White, a 75-year-old Republican veteran from James Island, South Carolina, said he was a Trump loyalist until the former president criticized Haley’s husband, a military serviceman, last week.

“For him to disparage a military man in deployment is just too much,” White said while attending a Haley rally in Kiawah Island over the weekend.

He acknowledged concerns about Haley’s chances against Trump, but said he wants her to stay in the race even if she continues to lose.

“I want the choice,” he said.

Tuesday 20 February 2024 16:35 , AP

Haley’s campaign raised $5 million in a fundraising swing after her second-place finish in New Hampshire that included stops in Texas, Florida, New York, and California, Perez-Cubas said. Her campaign raised $16.5 million in January alone — her best fundraising month ever — which includes $2 million in small-dollar donations online in the 48 hours after Trump threatened to “permanently bar” Haley supporters from his MAGA movement.

Haley raised another $1 million last week in the 24 hours after Trump attacked her husband, a military serviceman currently serving overseas.

The lone member of Congress who has endorsed Haley, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., insisted that she would stay in the race even if she is blown out in South Carolina, a state where she lives and served two terms as governor.

“Obviously, you want to win them all, but for those who say it’s going to embarrass her, or end her political career, I disagree. She’s willing to take that risk,” Norman said in an interview. “I think it’s a courageous thing she’s doing.”

Moving forward, Haley’s team is especially focused on several Super Tuesday states with open or semi-open Republican primaries that allows a broader collection of voters to participate — especially independents and moderates — instead of just hardcore conservatives.

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Tuesday 20 February 2024 16:25 , AP

Haley’s Hurdles

History would suggest Haley has no chance of stopping Trump. Never before has a Republican lost even the first two primary contests, as Haley has by an average of 21 points, and gone on the win the party’s presidential nomination. Polls suggest she is a major underdog in her home state on Saturday and in the 16 Super Tuesday contests to follow. And since he announced his first presidential bid in 2015, every effort by a Republican to blunt Trump’s rise has failed.

Yet she is leaning into the fight.

Lest anyone question her commitment, Haley’s campaign is spending more than $500,000 on a new television advertising campaign set to begin running Wednesday in Michigan ahead of the state’s Feb. 27 primary, according to spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas. At the same time, the AP has obtained Haley’s post-South Carolina travel schedule that features 11 separate stops in seven days across Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Virginia, Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The schedule also includes at least 10 high-dollar private fundraising events.

Indeed, Haley’s expansive base of big- and small-dollar donors is donating at an extraordinary pace despite her underwhelming performance at the polls. That’s a reflection of persistent Republican fears about Trump’s ability to win over independents and moderate voters in the general election and serious concerns about his turbulent leadership should he return to the White House.

“I’m going to support her up to the convention,” said Republican donor Eric Levine, who co-hosted a New York fundraiser for Haley earlier this month. “We’re not prepared to fold our tents and pray at the alter of Donald Trump.”

“There’s value in her sticking in and gathering delegates, because if and when he stumbles,” Levine continued, “who knows what happens.”

Levine is far from alone.

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Haley vows to keep fighting Trump

Tuesday 20 February 2024 16:15 , AP

There are no wins on the horizon for Nikki Haley.

Those close to the former United Nations ambassador, the last major Republican candidate standing in Donald Trump’s path to the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination, are privately bracing for a blowout loss in her home state’s primary election in South Carolina on Saturday. And they cannot name a state where she is likely to beat Trump in the coming weeks.

But ahead of a major address on Tuesday, Haley told The Associated Press that she will not leave the Republican primary election regardless of Saturday’s result. And backed by the strongest fundraising numbers of her political career, she vowed to stay in the fight against Trump at least until after Super Tuesday’s slate of more than a dozen contests on March 5.

“Ten days after South Carolina, another 20 states vote. I mean, this isn’t Russia. We don’t want someone to go in and just get 99% of the vote,” Haley said. “What is the rush? Why is everybody so panicked about me having to get out of this race?”

In fact, some Republicans are encouraging Haley to stay in the campaign even if she continues to lose — potentially all the way to the Republican National Convention in July. Her continued presence could come in handy in the event that the 77-year-old former president, perhaps the most volatile major party front-runner in U.S. history, becomes a convicted felon or stumbles into another major scandal.

As Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement presses for her exit, a defiant Haley will outline her rationale for sticking in the race for the foreseeable future Tuesday afternoon in South Carolina. In an interview ahead of the speech, she highlighted Trump’s legal exposure and criticized MAGA activists who say she’s hurting Trump’s chances against President Joe Biden in the general election by refusing to drop out.

“That’s about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. If I get out of the race today, it will be the longest general election in history,” Haley said.

She also pushed back when asked if there is any primary state where she can defeat Trump.

“Instead of asking me what states I’m gonna win, why don’t we ask how he’s gonna win a general election after spending a full year in a courtroom?”

Full story: Biden campaign and Democrats raise $42m in January ‘driven by grassroots’

Tuesday 20 February 2024 16:00 , Oliver O'Connell

The Biden campaign and the Democratic Party raised more $42m in January in a fundraising haul “driven by” grassroots efforts, officials said.

The Democrats now have $130m in cash on hand as the general election season is set to be one of the longest in recent memory.

Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement that “January’s fundraising haul – driven by a powerhouse grassroots fundraising program that continues to grow month by month – is an indisputable show of strength to start the election year”.

Gustaf Kilander reports from Washington, DC:

Biden campaign and Democrats raise $42m in January ‘driven by grassroots’

Watch: Haley adamant she is staying in race

Tuesday 20 February 2024 15:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Pelosi speaks out on Putin’s leverage over Trump: ‘It’s probably financial’

Tuesday 20 February 2024 15:30 , Joe Sommerlad

Here’s more vitriol from the former House speaker against the Republican.

Shweta Sharma has this report on Pelosi invoking the kompromat alluded to in the Steele dossier way back in 2016.

Pelosi speaks out on Putin’s leverage over Trump: ‘It’s probably financial’

Tuesday 20 February 2024 15:15 , AP

While the Bidens will be pursuing deep-pocketed donors this week, the campaign points to the number of smaller donations it has raised as an encouraging sign for the president.

The campaign says 97% of the 3 million donations it has received thus far were under $200 each. Biden has also received pledges from 158,000 “sustaining donors” who have committed to donating on a monthly basis — more than double the amount Biden had at this point in the 2020 cycle.

Those totals include donations to Biden’s political operation and to a network of joint fundraising arrangements with the national and state Democratic parties. Biden’s 2020 campaign raised over $1bn, and could need even more in a likely Trump rematch.

“This haul will go directly to reaching the voters who will decide this election,” said Biden campaign senior communications adviser TJ Ducklo.

Biden heads to California to rev up his fundraising

Tuesday 20 February 2024 15:10 , AP

President Joe Biden heads to California on Tuesday looking to soak up more cash for his reelection bid during a three-day swing through the state.

Going into the trip, Biden's campaign and the Democratic National Committee announced Tuesday that they had collected $42m in contributions during January from 422,000 donors. Biden ended January with $130m in cash on hand. Campaign officials said that is the highest total amassed by any Democratic candidate at this point in the cycle.

Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez called the haul "an indisputable show of strength to start the election year.”

“While Team Biden-Harris continues to build on its fundraising machine, Republicans are divided – either spending money fighting Donald Trump, or spending money in support of Donald Trump’s extreme and losing agenda," she said.

The campaign will need to keep fundraising for what is expected to be a hotly contested and expensive battle with former President Trump, who has emerged as the GOP's likely nominee.

This week’s trip to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area will mark Biden’s third visit to California in just over two months for political events. He’s trying to make up for lost time after largely avoiding the Democratic donor stronghold during last year’s strikes by the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA.

Biden heads first to Los Angeles, where he will take part in a fundraiser. He’ll also make campaign stops in San Francisco and Los Altos Hills this week and deliver a policy speech near Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Biden made a quick visit to Los Angeles earlier this month for a meeting with supporters in the city’s upscale Bel Air neighborhood. He and first lady Jill Biden also spent a weekend in December in the Los Angeles area for campaign events.

The first lady is traveling Tuesday to Guilford, Connecticut, to hold a campaign fundraiser on behalf of her husband.

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