Mueller speaks. But will he comment again?

Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller’s team finds itself in a difficult spot — stuck between pressure from those who will argue his office has set a precedent, and the desire to maintain a silence that has helped insulate the probe from the heated political chatter surrounding it. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Mueller Investigation

The special counsel is stuck between pressure from those who want his team to keep discussing news stories, and a desire to maintain silence.

Robert Mueller’s office has thrown into question its approach to future controversial Russia probe stories after upending 20 months of blanket “no comments” last week.

President Donald Trump’s lawyers are heralding the special counsel’s team for its rare move on Friday night to knock down a BuzzFeed report suggesting the president directed his former lawyer to commit perjury. And the president’s allies are pressing Mueller to maintain the same standard going forward for other articles that raise concerns. But even legal experts supportive of Mueller’s move see the statement as a one-off designed to protect the investigation’s integrity, not an indication of a shift in strategy.

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So now Mueller’s team finds itself in a difficult spot — stuck between pressure from those who will argue his office has set a precedent, and the desire to maintain a silence that has helped insulate the probe from the heated political chatter surrounding it.

“It obviously creates a slippery slope,” said Randall Samborn, a former federal prosecutor and spokesman on the George W. Bush-era independent counsel probe into who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. “What happens next time?”

Until last week, Mueller’s press policy had been relatively straight forward — no comment.

Spokesman Peter Carr gets peppered daily with media queries detailing the articles journalists are working on, and routinely declines to weigh in, as he initially did before BuzzFeed published its story. While the practice may seem like a fruitless endeavor, legal experts say the exchanges help the special counsel to keep tabs on rumors and theories circulating about the probe.

Carr does occasionally confirm basic details of the investigation to reporters, including the comings and goings of prosecutors. He’s also spoken up on a couple of rare instances: in December 2017 to push back at the Trump transition lawyers who accused the special counsel of stealing their emails, and in a statement last October explaining that Mueller had referred to the FBI an alleged scheme to manufacture sexual assault stories about him.

On media bombshells, however, Mueller has kept quiet. His office didn’t weigh in on two explosive McClatchy reports that the special counsel had evidence placing former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen in Prague during the 2016 campaign. And it’s declined comment throughout a series of scoops in The New York Times, Washington Post and other outlets detailing the investigation’s machinations.

The reluctance to speak out is encoded in Justice Department protocol. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mueller’s boss for much of the investigation, explained that the agency often believes it’s better to stay silent even when an inaccurate story is racing around the internet.

“I don’t comment on investigations. I don’t comment on what we are investigating. I don’t comment on what we are not investigating,” Rosenstein said during a question-and-answer session at the Newseum last May.

“I can tell you a lot of things I read in the media or see on cable TV just aren’t true. People say, ‘If it’s not true, why don’t you correct it?’ And the answer is: because that’s just not the way we operate. We conduct investigations in secret. If we have a basis to prosecute someone, we prosecute them. If we don’t, we close our file and we go home,” added Rosenstein, who remains one of Mueller’s key overseers.

But DOJ’s long-standing practice of neither confirming or denying stories about pending investigations also has its complications, according to current and former Justice Department officials.

“I always thought that the unwritten rule of the department is that we never comment on investigations — until we do,” said Matthew Miller, DOJ‘s first spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder.

Former officials say it has long been the case that department officials would seek to knock down what they viewed as inaccurate stories by giving off-the-record warnings to reporters to recheck their facts or that such a report would be embarrassing to the journalist.

In the case of BuzzFeed, Carr pointed one of the reporters on the story back to a partial statement from Cohen during his plea hearing where he admitting lying to Congress about when discussions were held about the Trump Tower project in Moscow. According to The Washington Post, Carr wanted the journalist to take notice that Cohen didn’t say at the hearing that Trump had explicitly directed him to lie to lawmakers.

While department leaders are leery about inaccurate stories getting into circulation, particularly in prominent news outlets, some DOJ lawyers have cautioned that the practice could lead reporters to assume a story is true when they don’t get such a wave-off.

“That’s an argument you hear from people inside the department all the time,” Miller said.

The former DOJ spokesman said statements or guidance about investigations shouldn’t be routine but are appropriate in extraordinary circumstances. Last week’s BuzzFeed report and the reaction to it was one of those times, he said.

“There are exceptional circumstances — and this was exceptional,” Miller said.

The BuzzFeed story was in a “new, radioactive category,” said John Q. Barrett, who worked on the Reagan-era probe into secret U.S. arms sales to Iran, because it made an allegation of direct criminal conduct by the president.

“That makes it an important thing in the interest of government to knock down,” he said.

Matt Axelrod, a lawyer who served as a top Justice Department official handling sensitive matters, agreed.

“I think they handled this the right way,” said Axelrod, who played a key role as the senior aide to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. “It’s always a tricky balance, but you want to make sure you’re being fair to the people you’re investigating while at the same time protecting the integrity of the investigation.”

But the statement wasn’t an unqualified success even to those who thought the special counsel needed to comment.

“Be clear,” Barrett said, “really knock it down.”

The statement, he added, came across as “grammatically flawed or imperfect and very imprecise in what it was trying to do.”

Carr’s statement specifically called out as “not accurate” the article’s “description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office,” as well as its “characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office.” The careful wording has left the door open to considerable theorizing. Did the article correctly assert that Trump told Cohen to lie, but just misstate how or whether Mueller knew about the incident?

Don’t expect Mueller’s office to be forthcoming.

“It’s pouring a bucket of cold water, but not very clear on what,” said Barrett, now teaching law at St. John’s University after leaving DOJ. “The suggestion is that the entire BuzzFeed story was wrong. If that’s what they meant to say, they could have said that.”

Making matters worse, Barrett said, was a Washington Post follow-up story describing how the Mueller statement came to be — attributed on background to unidentified “people familiar with the matter.”

“To ‘no comment’ and then comment and then supplement the comment with anonymous background augmentation just adds more unclarity to the situation,” Barrett said.

One additional complication for Mueller, Rosenstein and others is the sharp criticism many current and former officials have leveled at former FBI Director James Comey for talking publicly about the findings of the Clinton email probe. In a letter Trump used to justify his firing of Comey, Rosenstein faulted Comey on several grounds, including that the FBI chief defied “a longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information.”

Debate about what it is appropriate and ethical for prosecutors to do when confronted with inaccurate press reports goes back decades.

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, independent counsel Ken Starr faced allegations that his office was leaking damaging information about the president. At the time, Starr rebutted the criticisms by arguing that his office should head off the publication of stories it viewed as inaccurate.

Starr told POLITICO on Tuesday that he stands by his stance.

“In my view, a responsible prosecutor has a duty to combat erroneous media reports that will inevitably mislead the public, while at the same time protecting confidentiality [and] the secrecy of the grand jury process,” Starr said via email.

Mueller’s decision to go after the BuzzFeed report comes as potentially far more consequential decisions loom about what the public should be told about the special counsel’s findings.

The special counsel is required to deliver a final report on his probe to the attorney general — William Barr, Trump’s nominee to the post, had his Senate confirmation hearing last week — who will ultimately decide what pieces to publicly release.

As details about the report seep into the media, Mueller’s team will also face considerable pressure from Trump supporters to repeat its BuzzFeed rebuke.

“If so-called journalists continue to do what the BuzzFeed journalists did, he’ll be forced to respond,” Joe DiGenova, a frequent Fox News pundit who nearly joined Trump’s legal team but remains an informal adviser, told POLITICO. “He has a duty to respond.”

Asked to comment for this story, Mueller’s office declined.

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Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen delays House testimony

Michael Cohen

It’s not clear, however, that Michael Cohen’s testimony will be indefinitely delayed. | Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen is trying to delay his public testimony before the House Oversight Committee, with Cohen’s lawyer citing “ongoing threats against his family” and his continued cooperation with investigators.

Cohen had been scheduled to testify on Feb. 7 at the highly anticipated hearing, which his attorney Lanny Davis noted he had voluntarily agreed to.

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But because of the threats, which Davis alleges came from Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani “as recently as this weekend,” and because of Cohen’s “continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen’s appearance will be postponed to a later date,” he said.

Cohen, who has a relationship with Trump dating back a dozen years, is required to report to federal prison in early March to serve a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion and lying to Congress. But his upcoming incarceration and the allegations of witness tampering against Trump has House Democrats now openly talking about other ways to compel Cohen’s testimony, including a subpoena.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff accused the president of deploying “textbook mob tactics” in a bid to intimidate Cohen from publicly testifying in Congress.

When they started talks with Davis about having Cohen testify, the lawmakers said that “not appearing before Congress was never an option.”

“We expect Mr. Cohen to appear before both committees, and we remain engaged with his counsel about his upcoming appearances,” they said.

In the statement Wednesday, Davis said Cohen thanked House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings “for allowing him to appear” and said Cohen “looks forward to testifying at the appropriate time” but that “this is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first.”

Appearing in the White House Roosevelt Room, Trump brushed aside Cohen’s concerns for his safety.

“I would say he’s been threatened by the truth,” the president said. “He’s only been threatened by the truth. He doesn’t want to do that. Probably for me or other of his clients. He has other clients also, I assume. And he does not want to tell the truth for me or other of his other clients.”

In a text message to POLITICO, Giuliani deferred to his boss’s statement. “President’s response covers it,” the former New York mayor wrote.

Cohen’s upcoming prison sentence stems from various charges, including violating campaign finance laws by arranging hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election. Cohen said in his guilty plea that he orchestrated the payments at Trump’s direction, potentially implicating him in the crime.

His guilty plea was elicited in part by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether Trump’s campaign assisted Russia in efforts to interfere in the election and if Trump has obstructed justice. Cohen has been cooperating with Mueller in the investigation, denouncing his past “blind loyalty” to Trump.

Trump and his legal team initially denied that the payments to women took place, but they now acknowledge the payments but say that Trump believed them to be legal.

The president has used his massive platform on Twitter and cable networks to rip Cohen as a “rat” who was lying to get a reduced sentence. He has also called for investigators to look into Cohen’s father-in-law, who he has suggested is involved in organized crime.

Giuliani has made similar insinuations, leading to speculation that the president and his lawyer were attempting to intimidate Cohen into staying silent.

The Democrats’ plans to have Cohen as one of their first high-profile House witnesses signaled an aggressive start for the new Congress, where some of the party’s most liberal members are already clamoring to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged restraint until Mueller finishes his investigation.

Cohen’s at least temporary change of heart on voluntarily appearing before congressional puts the onus on Democrats to make the next move. Several of the House Oversight panel’s senior Democratic members indicated a subpoena may be in order.

“The general consensus on the committee, for the members I have spoken to, is that we will subpoena him,” Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch told POLTICO. He added that Cohen’s concern about his safety didn’t square with the fact the Capitol and its surrounding office buildings can be locked down to protect witnesses as they come and go.

“We can assure him his safety will be our utmost concern,” Lynch said.

Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, another Democrat, said the panel has to look at a subpoena under the circumstances, given that Cohen is going to prison in March and there is a limited window for him to appear. The Democrat called it a “last resort option,” and argued that “we had wanted him to come voluntarily.”

“It was and remains very important that Mr. Cohen, given his relationship with the Trump Organization and his involvement in so many aspects of what Mr. Mueller is looking at, needs to be heard under oath in open testimony,” Connolly said. “Until a few hours ago, Cohen agreed with that, too.”

Connolly also blasted Trump for creating a hostile environment in which Cohen was afraid to appear. “It has the effect of silencing a key witness and that’s the last thing in the world we want,” he said, adding that Trump has “been not so subtle in attempting to intimidate this witness, and I don’t think Congress can allow that. That’s why the subpoena is a necessary option.”

The notion that Democrats need to bring Cohen in before he begins his prison sentence is up for debate. Some legal experts say it makes more sense from both an optical and planning standpoint to have the Trump lawyer testify before he reports to prison.

“It’s easier to bring him in now when he’s a public person who’s free to move about the country with limitations than it is to bring him in with a U.S. Marshall escort, the Bureau of Prisons and shackles,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami. “Now is the time to get him in and lock him into testimony.”

But John Q. Barrett, a former DOJ official now teaching law at St. John’s University, said Congress could easily find a work-around if they needed to wait until Cohen is in prison. He noted prisoners often are transported back to a prosecutor’s office for testimony or grand jury appearances.

“It’s just another logistical thing to navigate,” he said.

Rachel Bade, Andrew Desiderio and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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Here’s why it’s so hard to find flavored Juul pods right now

Need your mango Juul fix? Good luck finding a store that has it.

Flavored Juul pods are disappearing from vape store shelves across the country, and it’s unclear when they’ll return. Per Juul’s action plan to deter teen use, retailers will have to adopt a system that electronically scans government-issued IDs, but everyone’s waiting on the final word from the FDA before they purchase a scanner.

In November, Juul was facing a regulatory smackdown as the FDA feared the company’s flavored nicotine-delivery pods were getting teens addicted just as youth smoking rates were plummeting. To preempt that, in mid-November Juul released its “action plan” describing the steps it’d take to keep kids from using its product. The most significant was suspending sales of its flavored nicotine pods to retailers. And in the two months since, the company told VICE News, it hasn’t sold a single flavored pod to a retail store. One of the largest vape retail store in America, Avail Vapor, told VICE News its warehouse recently ran out of flavored pods.

Having some of your best-selling products pulled off shelves may seem like a big setback. But that didn’t stop Altria, the multibillion-dollar tobacco conglomerate behind Marlboro, from paying $12.8 billion last month to buy 35% of Juul. Altria and Juul are a perfect match to dominate the e-cig world, as Altria’s CEO described in an investors call the day the deal was announced.

“Let’s imagine the combination of Juul’s leading market position, brand equity and deep innovation pipeline, with [Altria’s] strong retail presence, our ability to connect with adult smokers …, and our deep regulatory affairs expertise,” Altria CEO Howard A. Willard III said.

This segment originally aired January 22, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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Do the Celtics Have Too Much Talent? How Boston Can Trade Depth for Star Power

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 25:  Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards during the game at TD Garden on December 25, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

You’ve heard about too many chefs in the kitchen or too many hands in the pot, but too many talented players on the same NBA roster—is that even possible?

Pose that question to the overloaded Golden State Warriors, and you might get laughed out of the room. Approach the 2018-19 Boston Celtics with it, though, and there’s at least some consideration.

Last year’s group followed a 55-win regular season with back-to-back playoff series triumphs. It then built leads of 2-0 and 3-2 before falling to LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals—the same fate all other challengers endured for nearly a decade straight.

This season’s roster includes all the principle players from that one, plus healthy versions of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, and bouncy rookie big man Robert Williams.

You’d think the Shamrocks would be running away with the LeBron-less East, then, and preparing for this core’s first crack at the championship round. And yet, they’re seeded fifth, stuck in between the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets. They have the worst road record among the top seven seeds (11-13) and the same offensive efficiency as Doc Rivers’ star-free Los Angeles Clippers (110.8).

The Celtics (29-18) have zipped past the halfway point without establishing an identity or enjoying any semblance of consistency. Before their current four-game winning streak, they’d won at least four straight three different times. The first was followed by back-to-back losses, and the others were both trailed by three consecutive defeats.

“It’s tough to win four straight and lose three straight,” Marcus Morris told reporters. “I would be lying if I said we knew our identity because the identity of a good team don’t do that.”

The Celtics, of course, are objectively a good team. Their plus-6.0 net efficiency rating is third-best in the entire Association.

But something is holding them back. Oddsmakers saw 57.5-win potential in this team. Right now, it’s on pace to just barely clear 50.

So, what’s the problem?

“I don’t think we’ve all been on a team like this,” Terry Rozier told Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill. “Young guys who can play, guys who did things in their career, the group that was together last year, then you bring Kyrie and Hayward back, it’s a lot with it.”

Rozier offered a more succinct diagnosis next: “Too talented.” 

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 10:  Kyrie Irving #11, Terry Rozier #12 and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics prior to the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 10, 2019 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It probably isn’t that simple.

Gordon Hayward has been slower to recover than expected, and Jaylen Brown has taken a surprising step backward. The offense gets almost nothing at the foul line (28th in free-throw attempts). The defense is statistically strong, but it’s been skewered by scoring guards like Jamal Murray (48 points), James Harden (45), Kemba Walker (43) and Devin Booker (38). This still isn’t a good rebounding team (16th in percentage).

Frustration has also played a supporting role this season. Irving has called out his supporting cast’s lack of experience and urgency. Al Horford has criticized the effort. Head coach Brad Stevens has questioned the club’s toughness, which is usually one of its primary strengths. There have been blow-ups on the bench and air-clearing team meetings.

This doesn’t mean the roster is inherently flawed or that these issues can’t be corrected with time. But considering how close the Celtics might be to contending, who would blame them for attempting to address these issues in trades that also raise the collective ceiling?

Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger lists Boston “among the most motivated teams” to make a play for All-Star scoring guard Bradley Beal. One executive opined that a package of Jaylen Brown, a first-round pick and either Marcus Morris or Aron Baynes might get something done.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 12: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards plays defense against the Boston Celtics on December 12, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

That would give the Celtics another high-level scorer and experienced closer. Beal would instantly be among Boston’s best spot-up and off-the-dribble shooters, and his assertiveness might help fine-tune an offensive hierarchy—especially if an additional rotation player must be added to the outgoing package.

The Celtics could also try building a package around Rozier for Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who’s playing the best ball of his career and shouldn’t be too costly as a short-term rental.

While Vooch wouldn’t be expected to maintain his marks, his current numbers would make him Boston’s best rebounder (12.0 per game), second-best scorer (20.5 points) and third-best distributor (3.8). The Celtics are always looking for glass-cleaning help, and they could use another oversized shooter (38.2 percent on three-pointers) behind Al Horford.

Or maybe Rozier could be routed to the Utah Jazz, who could stand to upgrade at point guard and just so happen to have a spare interior anchor on hand. Derrick Favors, whose 2019-20 salary is not guaranteed, is basically the best version of what Williams might become. Favors would be a low-maintenance addition to the offense and an above-the-rim asset to the defense.

Orchestrate one or more of these moves, and you’re left with a rotation that’s shallower and heavier at the top. That could be a good thing, considering the way rotations shrink in the playoffs and the fact that Boston’s abundance of quantity might be spoiling its quality.

“The Celtics lack nothing; with Irving, Horford and Hayward healthy, they have everything they need to be exactly who we all expected to them to be,” Dan Devine wrote for The Ringer. “At the moment, though, that kind of seems like the problem. When can a team be less than the sum of its parts? Maybe when it has too much of a good thing.”

While narrowing the offensive focus might help, it’s hard to say if it’d be more beneficial than just practicing patience.

Expectations were sky-high because this roster is stacked. Slicing it now—when the trade values of Brown, Hayward and Rozier might be at their lowest—would be risky, especially without knowing just how good this nucleus can be.

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 10:  Gordon Hayward #20 and Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics react against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 10, 2019 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

“We’re always looking to upgrade our team if those opportunities present themselves. But I think that’s going to be tough,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich” (h/t NBC Sports Boston’s Darren Hartwell). “As far as trading players, I don’t really see much out there. We have a lot of good ones. It’s hard to get better players than we have.”

Could Ainge be posturing? Sure. We’re in peak smokescreen season, after all.

But he knows as well as anyone how much talent is based in Boston right now. He’s also acutely aware of the fact that any trade chip that’s cashed in now is one that couldn’t be used in a future Anthony Davis pursuit.

Maybe Ainge throws caution to the wind and makes a blockbuster move for Beal or Vucevic anyhow. Maybe the executive sits the swap season out and hopes the chemistry clicks. Maybe he splits the difference and makes marginal moves, adding an outside specialist like Wayne Ellington or a complementary rebounder like Robin Lopez or Enes Kanter.

The Celtics aren’t quite what they could be. But it’s on Ainge to decide whether standing pat or trading is the best possible solution.


Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and and accurate through games played Monday. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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Apple AirPods 2 could be coming very soon

We’ve been expecting the Apple AirPods 2 to come out sometime in 2019 for a while now, thanks to analyst reports, patent filings – and our gut feeling. 

It looks like we’re not the only ones either; a recent report from Digitimes says that the Apple AirPods 2 will come out in the first six months of 2019.

It’s important to note that the claims have not been backed up by an official Apple source at this moment in time, so this is far from a firm release date. 

The report from Digitimes also reiterates the rumors that the Apple AirPods 2 will also contain biometric sensors, making them a fitness tracker as well as a pair of true wireless earphones.

Back in July Apple filed a patent for biometric sensors which would allow the AirPods 2 to take on fitness tracking capabilities like those seen in the Jabra Elite Wireless. This followed another patent filed in March

Perhaps more interestingly than heart rate sensing, the sensors would also allow the AirPods 2 to measure stroke volume, which combined with heart rate would allow it to calculate your cardiac output. 

This means the AirPods 2 could, in theory, be much better at establishing how fit you are overall rather than just measuring your heart rate.

The original Apple AirPods. Credit: Apple

The original Apple AirPods. Credit: Apple

Rumor has it

According to a report by Bloomberg in June 2018, the new Apple AirPod 2s could have waterproofing, as well as better Bluetooth connectivity than their predecessors, thanks to the inclusion of the W2 chip used in the Apple Watch 3

There are also rumors that the new buds will feature better ambient sound handling, after a patent from July suggested that Apple is working on some pretty nifty tech for how the earbuds handle outside noise, as well as dissipating pressure from inside the ear canal. 

Of course, this is all speculation. There has so far been no official comment from Apple on the Apple AirPods 2, let alone a confirmation of a released date. Still, everything is pointing to a 2019 release – when exactly, remains to be seen. 

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Ocasio-Cortez and Freedom Caucus ready for battle

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The new class of liberal House Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has frequently been compared to the conservative Freedom Caucus, with each more than happy to challenge party leaders. | Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Jim Jordan, meet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The powerful House Oversight Committee was already stacked with hard-line Republicans ready to serve as President Donald Trump’s first line of defense in a new Democratic House. Now they’ll be going up against Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and other progressive stars eager to investigate the president and his administration.

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“I’m hoping that will rebalance the committee a little bit. We could use a little bit of heft from the left,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), a member of the Oversight Committee.

The new class of liberal House Democrats has frequently been compared to the conservative Freedom Caucus, with each more than happy to challenge party leaders. But on the Oversight Committee, they are typically aligned with leadership, which frequently places its most vocal partisans on the panel.

When Republicans controlled the committee during the Obama administration, Jordan, the top Republican on the panel, and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) investigated the Benghazi attack and Eric Holder’s Justice Department.

Some of the new Democratic additions to the committee are already becoming lightning rods. Tlaib made headlines on her first day in office when she pledged to “impeach the motherf—er,” while Ocasio-Cortez has come under fire for her liberal views and her use of social media to push back on the GOP.

Their Democratic colleagues dismissed concerns of the potential for a circus-like atmosphere when the freshman lawmakers face off against Jordan, Meadows and other Trump loyalists in such a high-profile setting.

“Some people feel like it’s only Republicans who have the right to get passionate about politics. It’s not just Republicans. It’s Democrats, too,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a liberal member of the Oversight Committee. “Progressives are fighting mad about what the Trump administration has done with America. So if they don’t like it, they’re just going to have to learn to live with it.”

Republicans, too, are keenly aware of what the new additions mean for the committee, which will soon begin investigating a wide array of Trump administration scandals and controversies.

“I don’t know that any of them will be timid about expressing their opinions,” Meadows, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said with a smile.

The hard-liners in each party don’t necessarily dislike each other.

Meadows and Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a new Democratic member of the committee, were talking about each other in separate conversations with reporters on Wednesday when they walked past each other.

“Speaking of Ro Khanna — there he is,” said Meadows. “I’m saying nice things!” he quipped to Khanna.

The rare moment of levity even amid the doom and gloom of a government shutdown wasn’t surprising for two lawmakers who attend plays together with their wives and have worked closely on foreign policy initiatives. But they acknowledge that they’ll soon be butting heads on the Oversight Committee.

“I think there will be fireworks, just because of the political nature of the first hearing that we are having,” Meadows added, referring to ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s appearance originally planned for next month. A spokesman for Cohen announced on Wednesday that he was postponing his testimony because of “ongoing threats against his family” from Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, though some Democratic lawmakers are discussing whether to compel Cohen to testify with a subpoena.

While Meadows has earned a reputation as a conservative bomb-thrower on Capitol Hill, he pointed out that he has close relationships with lawmakers across the aisle. In addition to Khanna, Meadows enjoys a good relationship with Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

Meadows said he hopes that things don’t get heated on a personal level in the committee. But Meadows, one of Trump’s designated “warriors,” also warned that he is not afraid to stick up for his beliefs.

“I’m not shy about calling that out,” Meadows said.

There was a high level of interest in joining the Oversight panel, according to Democratic sources. The Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over everything from impeachment to gun policy, is typically seen as a bigger prize for lawmakers. But with Democrats promising to launch a slew of new investigations, a spot on the Oversight Committee suddenly became even more coveted.

Democrats say they aren’t interested in simply scoring political points, but that the GOP-controlled House neglected to probe myriad issues of impropriety under Trump, focusing instead on trying to find evidence of anti-Trump bias within the FBI and Justice Department.

“[The new members] will be able to model some behavior for our Republican colleagues, who have utterly failed to conduct oversight over the last two years,” said Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a member of Democratic leadership.

Ocasio-Cortez won a spot on Oversight even though she was already named to the Financial Services Committee, an exclusive panel. But after she told leaders that she was interested in a spot on Oversight, she was granted a waiver that allows her to serve on both.

Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview that she talked with Cummings about “some of the most pressing and concerning issues in the administration,” adding, “That’s really what we were focusing on and less the political dynamic.”

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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M&S Is Selling A Lemon, Gin And Tonic Sauce For Pancake Day

M&S usually pull it out of the bag when it comes to the things we love. There’s been Jaffa Cake flavoured cocktails, foot-long pigs in blankets and even a washable duvet meaning you don’t need to change your bed sheets…

Now, it’s now selling an indulgent lemon, gin and tonic sauce to smother over your pancakes at breakfast time – we’re all for this shiz.

The boozy sauce is here just in time for Pancake Day (5 March this year), and the tempting topping is priced at just £2 ($2.60) per squeezy bottle.

Here it is in all its glory. Credit: M&S
Here it is in all its glory. Credit: M&S

Putting a tipsy twist on the classic lemon and sugar topping, the sauce is described as both tart and tangy with a punch, emulating the ‘classic flavours’ of a G&T.

Who wouldn’t want that drizzled all over their fluffy pancakes?

It is not just G&T-flavoured either, as the lemon curd actually contains the juniper-based spirit as well as Indian tonic water. However, there will be no hangovers as it’s just 0.5% ABV.

The sauce is currently sold out online but you should still be able to get your hands on some in-store in M&S’ food hall. You’ll just have to elbow everyone out of the way once the doors open in the morning.

Now, for those who aren’t that blessed with culinary skills or skills in the kitchen then fear not because M&S has got everyone covered: they’re selling pre-made ones for ease.

You can choose from blueberry, buttermilk, as well as chocolate chip versions of the classic, smaller Scotch pancakes, all £1.60 per pack of four which you can drizzle with the lemon curd sauce.

Or if you want to make your own, combine milk, eggs and flour into a patter and fry.

A number of supermarkets also sell pre-made batter so you don’t have to mess around mixing up your own and you can spend more time flipping pancakes with the pan. See, you have no excuses now.

M&S's blueberry pancakes. Credit: M&S
M&S’s blueberry pancakes. Credit: M&S

This lemon, gin and tonic sauce isn’t the only indulgent topping M&S has to offer this Pancake Day either.

You will be able to find a boozy Scottish Heather Honey with Single Malt Whiskey in the food hall, which infuses honey with the smoky peat of a single malt. *heavy breathing*

This new honey is slightly more expensive than the lemony sauce as it is £5 ($6.50) a bottle.

Pancake Day can’t come soon enough.

Featured Image Credit: M&S

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