September 11, 2019

Daniel Johnston, a cult singer-songwriter who inspired Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, and Jeff Tweedy, died on Wednesday, his family confirmed. He was 58.

Johnston died of natural causes in his home near Houston. In a statement, Johnston's family said he was a "friend to all" and "although he struggled with mental health issues for much of his adult life, Daniel triumphed over his illness through his prolific output of art and songs."

Johnston's first album, Songs of Pain, came out in 1980, and his most famous songs include "True Love Will Find You in the End," "Walking the Cow," and "Life in Vain." Cobain called him one of the "greatest" songwriters, and his songs have been covered by Beck, Lana Del Rey, Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Flaming Lips. In 2005, a documentary about Johnston was released, called The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and another movie about his life, Hi, How Are You: A Short Film, was made in 2015.

Johnston was also an artist, and his pieces have appeared in galleries around the world, but his most beloved work is the "Hi, How Are You" mural in Austin, Texas. Johnston's brother, Dick, told Rolling Stone on Wednesday that after their father died two years ago, he found boxes filled with his brother's unreleased recordings and documents. "We'll be spending a long time sorting out what he's left behind," he said. "We have lots more to share." Catherine Garcia

3:24 a.m.

Former President Barack Obama celebrated Presidents Day — or "President's Day," as President Trump tweeted Monday — by subtweeting his successor on the economy.

Trump has been touting the economy in his pitch for re-election, often employing exaggeration, and he got Obama's message.

That could have been the end of it, but Trump is not known for letting things go. So on Tuesday, Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro, a key proponent of Trump's trade war with China, went on CNN to explain how Trump's economy is much stronger than Obama's. CNN's Poppy Harlow noted that Obama topped 4 percent GDP growth four times while Trump is yet to hit 3 percent, and he created more jobs on average during his second term than Trump has during his first.

Navarro was undeterred. "Back in the Obama-Biden years, it was horrible," he said, listing some talking points until Harlow finally broke in, noting the data doesn't support his argument. "You can look at your numbers, but I lived that," Navarro replied. "The numbers are the numbers, Peter," Harlow said. "This is all politics," Navarro concluded.

Axios took its own look at the numbers and ranked Trump's economy No. 6 out of the last 10 presidential administrations, based on average GDP growth, "the most comprehensive economic scorecard — and something presidents, especially Trump, use as an example of success." Presidents have limited control over the economy, but the average GDP growth under Trump is higher than under Obama, and "some aspects of the Trump economy, like wage growth and business investment, pale in comparison to other periods," Axios notes.

"Unlike other presidents, Trump inherited a steady economy that's since entered the longest stretch of growth in history," Axios says. "Interest rates remain low. Growth picked up in the wake of the 2017 tax cuts, but now the pace has moderated," hitting 2.3 percent in 2019. The juice from Trump's $1.5 trillion tax cut is wearing off and "businesses were too unnerved by the trade war to spend money on new factories or equipment — a key driver of growth," Axios reports. If consumer spending drops, watch Obama's twitter feed. Peter Weber

2:16 a.m.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg participated in CNN town halls in Nevada on Tuesday night, days before the state's caucuses.

Sanders is leading in the polls and did well in Iowa and New Hampshire, but when asked if he is the Democratic frontrunner, Sanders responded, "Who cares?" He also questioned whether his supporters were really sending threatening messages to Culinary Union in Nevada leaders over the union's criticism of Sanders' heath care proposals. "The idea that anybody who works with me would make a vicious attack against a union leader just because we disagree on an issue is incomprehensible to me," he said. "And you know what, I'm just not sure that that's true."

Buttigieg called out several people close to Trump, including Attorney General William Barr. Barr's politicization of the Justice Department is "an emergency of legitimacy in our justice system," he said. "Our justice system only works if it is immune from the interference of politicians."

He also scoffed at Trump ally Rush Limbaugh lecturing him on family values. Buttigieg said his marriage "never involved me having to send hush money to a porn star after cheating on my spouse," a reference to Trump's 2016 hush-money payoff, via his incarcerated former lawyer Michael Cohen, to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Klobuchar said while it would be "cool" to be the first woman president, "I think the story that we tell and the campaign that we run has to be more than about that. It has to be about people's dreams." She also shared why she was unable to remember the president of Mexico's name last week when asked during an interview — an error Buttigieg brought up. "When that happened, for what it's worth, I had been in the Senate all day," Klobuchar said. "We had six votes, including a resolution to be a check on the president. And I got on a plane and got there at midnight my time and had a fast interview and two forums after that, I think ending at about two or three in the morning. Such is life." Catherine Garcia

1:43 a.m.

President Trump granted a full pardon to former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik on Tuesday, clearing him of his eight counts of tax fraud, lying to federal investigators, and other crimes that accompanied his downfall. Kerik had already served his three years in prison for his crimes, but the pardon wipes out more than his criminal record, the New York Daily News reports. "The pardon cancels out $103,300 in restitution that Kerik still owed the Internal Revenue Service as part of his sentence, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan."

The White House credited Kerik's friend former boss in New York City, Rudy Giuliani — now Trump's personal lawyer and Ukraine fixer — for helping persuade Trump to pardon Kerik. Another friend of both Kerik and Trump, Newsmax chief executive Christopher Ruddy, told the Daily News that Trump's pardon was "a just decision" in light of Kerik's "minor stuff" crimes.

One of Kerik's former colleagues in the Giuliani administration, NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, recalled Kerik's multifaceted downfall from heroic 9/11 figure to flamed-out reject for Homeland Security secretary slightly differently back in late 2004, The New Yorker recounted: "Officials have gotten into trouble for sexual misconduct, abusing their authority, personal bankruptcy, failure to file documents, waste of public funds, receiving substantial unrecorded gifts, and association with organized crime figures. It is rare for anyone to be under fire on all seven of the above issues." Peter Weber

1:32 a.m.

He could have congratulated the state for its strong economy, or even remarked on its gorgeous weather, but instead, White House aide Joe Grogan decided on Tuesday to refer to California as "occupied territory."

Grogan is director of the Domestic Policy Council, and he accompanied Trump on his trip to the West Coast. While in California, Trump will attend fundraisers in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, but instead of focusing on that, Grogan decided to insult nearly 40 million people. "Just landed in California," he tweeted. "POTUS power swing through occupied territory."

His words were quickly condemned, not just by California taxpayers who pay his salary, but also Trump fans like Fox News host Laura Ingraham. "Actually, it's America," she tweeted in response. "And he's president of all the people — even the ones who didn't vote for him." In California, that's a lot of people — voters in the Golden State overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, with Clinton receiving 4,269,978 more votes than Trump. Catherine Garcia

12:32 a.m.

President Trump went from berating former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for his lack of Harry Potter knowledge to commuting his prison sentence.

In 2011, Blagojevich was convicted of wire fraud, attempted extortion, soliciting bribes, conspiracy to commit extortion, and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes, and sentenced to 14 years in prison. The year before, he appeared on The Apprentice, where he bombed a Harry Potter-related task. Trump admonished him for sharing "inaccurate" facts about the boy wizard, and once Blagojevich began blathering about "Slithering and Hufflepuff and Ravencloth," it was all over.

On Tuesday, Trump announced he had commuted Blagojevich's sentence, but didn't mention anything about once firing him from his reality show. "He served eight years in jail, a long time," Trump said. "He seems like a very nice person — don't know him."

Reporters spotted Blagojevich on Tuesday night, as he prepared to board a flight from Denver to Chicago. Blagojevich shared that while in prison, he thought a lot about the "broken and unfair criminal justice system" and how there are "too many people who have too much power who don't have any accountability." He expressed his "most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump," adding that "he's a Republican president, I was a Democratic governor. My fellow Democrats have not been very kind to him — in fact, they've been very unkind to him. If you're asking me what my party affiliation is, I'm a Trumpocrat."

Blagojevich will hold a press conference at his home in Chicago on Wednesday, where he's expected to answer hard-hitting questions, like "Did you finally get around to reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?" Catherine Garcia

12:32 a.m.

President Trump issued seven pardons and four commutations on Tuesday, and most of the highest-profile acts of clemency have one thing in common: Fox News, Justin Baragona and Asawin Suebsaeng report at The Daily Beast. Trump himself said he commuted the sentence of forever Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) — jailed 14 years for trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat and extorting a children's hospital — because he "watched his wife" on Fox News.

"Junk Bond King" Michael Milken's pardon was championed by Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, and former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and convicted stolen car ring participant Angela Stanton both praised Trump themselves on Fox News and had their clemency pleas pushed by high-profile Fox News personalities close to Trump.

"For those who didn't receive the Fox News treatment, it appears that in at least one case, cold hard cash did the talking," Baragona and Suebsaeng report. "Paul Pogue, a construction company owner who pleaded guilty to underpaying his taxes by $473,000 and received three years probation, was issued a full pardon and clemency by the president" after his son, Ben Pogue, and Ben's wife, Ashleigh, contributed more than $200,000 to the Trump Victory Committee since last August, plus more to the Republican National Committee and Donald Trump for President Inc. One advocate for Pogue's pardon, CNN contributor and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), also received a rare $5,700 campaign contribution from Ben and Ashleigh Pogue in 2016.

CNN's Jake Tapper runs through some of the crimes Trump moved to erase by Blagojevich and Kerik, and noted the widespread perception that Trump is using these acts of clemency to tee up pardons of his own convicted friends and allies, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn.

What Trump is really after with these pardons and commutations "is the normalization of corruption," Paul Waldman argues at The Washington Post. "Trump would never argue that Republicans are clean and Democrats are dirty; he wants to convince you that everyone is dirty. In fact, it's a key part of his reelection strategy." Peter Weber

February 18, 2020

Attorney General William Barr has let people close to President Trump know that he is contemplating stepping down in the wake of Trump's tweets about Justice Department criminal investigations, three administration officials told The Washington Post on Tuesday.

Barr has spoken with people inside and out of the White House, and has privately and publicly asked Trump to stop commenting on Justice Department matters, the officials said; Trump has ignored him. Last week, Trump tweeted about his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering. Trump said the sentence recommendation was too severe, and on Tuesday, he suggested Stone should receive a new trial.

Last week, Barr told ABC News that Trump's tweets "make it impossible for me to do my job." Barr hopes that by telling Trump's advisers he might quit, Trump will get the memo, officials told the Post. "He has his limits," said one person familiar with the matter, without elaborating on what line Trump would have to cross to get Barr to step down. Catherine Garcia

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