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Michael Flynn's sentencing is set for December
By Eli Watkins and Katelyn Polantz
CNN
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is set to be sentenced on December 18 for lying to FBI investigators, federal Judge Emmet Sullivan said Wednesday.
Flynn pleaded guilty to one charge last December as a result of the special counsel probe led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Both prosecutors and Flynn's defense team told Sullivan on Monday that he was ready to be sentenced, following several requests for delays. Sullivan's scheduling the sentencing for December means it falls well after the midterm elections in early November.
Flynn had disclosed that he was cooperating with the Mueller investigation when he pleaded guilty last December to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. The statements from the legal teams on Monday suggested that cooperation was coming to an end.
Flynn was a major supporter of President Donald Trump during his 2016 bid for the White House, and after Trump's win he was tapped to be his national security adviser.
The retired lieutenant general left the White House shortly into Trump's tenure as President amid questions about his contacts with Russia, and the looming sentencing date underscores the legal fallout he and several other Trump associates have faced.
Last week, Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort pleaded guilty in Washington to one count of conspiracy against the US and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice due to attempts to tamper with witnesses.

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Trump touts North Korea gesture. Lawmakers warn of perils.
By Zachary Cohen
CNN
President Donald Trump sought to project momentum into his dealings with North Korea on Wednesday, saying a summit between leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in boded well for peace despite little indication that the two leaders had made any real progress toward denuclearization. In contrast, lawmakers and experts urged caution.
Trump struck an optimistic tone while speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House just hours after Moon and Kim announced that North Korea would close a key missile test facility in the presence of "international experts" and potentially destroy a key nuclear complex if the United States agrees to corresponding measures.
"We had very good news from North Korea, South Korea. They met, and we had some great responses," he said before again touting his personal rapport with Kim.
"The relationships, I have to tell you, at least on a personal basis, they're very good. It's very much calmed down," Trump said. "We're talking. It's very calm. He's calm. I'm calm. So we'll see what happens."
But several US lawmakers made it very clear that they remain skeptical about North Korea's willingness to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, encouraging the administration to keep up its pressure campaign on Pyongyang despite the public display of cooperation from Kim and Moon.
"Surprise, surprise: North Korea wants concessions from the US for steps far short of denuclearization. Glad the admin has made no commitments. Maximum pressure campaign should proceed," Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted following the summit.
Trump's Wednesday comments came as the US and its allies have ramped up efforts to monitor and document evidence of sanctions violations.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed Russia on Monday, accusing Moscow of "cheating" and acting like a "virus" by helping North Korea evade international sanctions aimed at curbing Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Congressional lawmakers have also pushed administration officials to step up enforcement of shipping sanctions during recent hearings on Capitol Hill.
'A gesture that mimics disarmament'
As part of the agreement signed Wednesday, Pyongyang pledged to destroy both the Tongchang-ri missile engine test site and the Yongbyon nuclear site, which is believed to be used for the production of fissile material, if the United States takes reciprocal measures.
But some analysts warn that offer may amount to nothing more than "a gesture that mimics disarmament."
"North Korea had previously offered to dismantle the engine test stand at Tongchang-ri, which is no longer necessary for developing North Korea's missiles. The offer to allow observers is new, but North Korea made a similar offer with regard to the nuclear test site, and it turned out they meant journalists," according to Jeffrey Lewis, director for the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
"The offer on Yongbyon is more interesting," he said, noting that while it is possible Kim may be willing to destroy the site, he appeared to make only a very vague commitment conditioned on US actions.
And even if Kim follows through with that pledge, Lewis said, many experts believe "North Korea built the Yongbyon enrichment plant with the intention of offering it in negotiations, while keeping Kangson and perhaps other enrichment sites."
"So these measures are gestures that resemble disarmament, but they don't actually constrain North Korea's nuclear and missile programs," he told CNN.
Sen. Graham slams Moon's visit
Kim's offer is expected to be a topic of discussion when Trump and Moon meet at the United Nations later this month, a conversation he hopes will help pave the way for a second Trump-Kim summit, one diplomatic source told CNN.
While this source said South Korea ultimately hopes for a deal predicated on North Korea's commitment to a step-for-step process, Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested this week that Moon's visit to Pyongyang may undermine US efforts to achieve denuclearization.
"I'm concerned South Korea's visit is going to undermine efforts by @SecPompeo and Ambassador @nikkihaley to impose maximum pressure on the North Korean regime. While North Korea has stopped testing missiles and nuclear devices, they have NOT moved toward denuclearization," the South Carolina Republican said in a tweet.
The rapid warming of relations between North Korea and South Korea is also raising some eyebrows at the State Department, according to Mintaro Oba, a former Korea desk officer who served under President Barack Obama.
"There's a fear that moving too quickly on inter-Korean relations will undermine US efforts to maintain pressure on North Korea to denuclearize and prematurely open the door to renewed economic engagements," he said.
"It's a dynamic that comes from a long-standing mismatch in outlook between Seoul, which prioritizes peace and stability in its immediate neighborhood, and Washington -- which has an overwhelming focus on denuclearization," Oba added.
Kim said Wednesday that he and Moon are committed to showing the world "how this divided nation is going to bring about a new future on its own."
But that future depends greatly on the outcome of talks between the US and North Korea.
And analysts say the ball is now in Washington's court.
Negotiations between the US and North Korea appear to have hit an impasse since Trump and Kim met in Singapore more than three months ago.
"What the United States needs to be looking for right now are genuine steps from the North Koreans that indicate a willingness to move the process forward. If North Korea is genuinely willing to close down Yongbyon and to allow in inspectors ... those are just partial steps, but those are genuine steps forward," said Michael Fuchs, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
"The biggest outstanding question still remains -- what price the North Koreans want to extract from the United States," Fuchs said.
However, the White House said earlier this month that Trump is open to another summit with Kim despite national security adviser John Bolton's assertion that the US is still waiting for Pyongyang to take steps toward denuclearization.
A second Trump-Kim summit?
Trump has routinely touted his personal rapport with Kim though his failure to secure a concrete pledge on denuclearization during the Singapore summit has raised concerns that the North Korean leader is using flattery to draw out the process without making any real concessions.
Moon has also become increasingly convinced that direct talks between the two leaders are the key to any agreement, the diplomatic source told CNN, adding that Seoul is taking its cues from what Trump says, rather than comments by Bolton or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Standing side by side with Kim in Pyongyang, Moon expressed hope on Wednesday that talks would resume between North Korea and the US.
"They have continuously shown their trust towards one another and I hope there will be another summit between the two countries as soon as possible," Moon said.
Moon and his top advisers have consistently said they want to make inter-Korea meetings a regular part of North-South relations and see them as a helpful step in establishing a permanent peace.
Ahead of this week's talks, it was expected that the two leaders would continue to work to formally end the Korean War, which ended in an armistice 65 years ago.
While a formal peace regime officially ending the war would need buy-in from the US and China -- the other participants in the conflict -- experts agree there is nothing to stop the two Koreas declaring an end to the war themselves or signing a bilateral peace treaty.
A big part of any negotiation to end the war would be the status of the thousands of US troops stationed in South Korea as part of the two countries' alliance. The North has long seen the US military's large footprint in South Korea as a direct threat.

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McCaskill to vote no on Kavanaugh, cites dark money concerns
By Kate Sullivan
CNN
Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said Wednesday she is voting no on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, citing concerns over his stance on anonymous political contributions.
McCaskill's position is significant given that she is running for re-election this year in a state President Donald Trump won in 2016, and Kavanaugh's supporters are targeting Democrats in red or purple states as possible "yes" votes. Republicans, however, hold a 51-49 majority in the chamber and could still confirm Kavanaugh's appointment even if all Democrats were to oppose his nomination.
McCaskill said in a statement her decision is not based on the allegations of sexual assault in the 1980s against the judge made by California professor Christine Blasey Ford, "but rather on his positions on several key issues, most importantly the avalanche of dark, anonymous money that is crushing our democracy." Kavanaugh has denied Ford's allegations.
"He has revealed his bias against limits on campaign donations which places him completely out of the mainstream of this nation," McCaskill said. "Judge Kavanaugh will give free reign to anonymous donors and foreign governments through their citizens to spend money to interfere and influence our elections with so-called 'issue ads.'"
The senator said the "issue ads" are flooding airwaves "to directly influence election outcomes, drowning the concept of individuals having the strongest voice in our democracy," and expressed concern that Kavanaugh has said there should be no restrictions on the ads.
McCaskill said she is also uncomfortable about Kavanaugh's view on "presidential power as it relates to the rule of law, and his position that corporations are people," but said "it is his allegiance to the position that unlimited donations and dark anonymous money, from even foreign interests, should be allowed to swamp the voices of individuals that has been the determining factor in my decision to vote no on his nomination."

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Donald Trump's failing grade on ethics
Analysis by Chris Cillizza
CNN Editor-at-large
President Donald Trump loves to tout the fact that there has never been another president like him. When it comes to his ratings on ethics, he's right.
Gallup recently asked people to rate the ethical standards of Trump as compared to the seven men who held the office prior to him -- so, all the way back to Richard Nixon. The results were stark: Trump was rated as less ethical than each of his predecessors, often by overwhelming amounts.
Of the seven, Trump was judged by more than 50% of respondents to have lower ethical standards than six. The one outlier was, of course, Nixon, who was chased from office after the Watergate scandal was revealed. In spite of that, 43% said that Nixon had higher ethical standards than Trump, while 37% said Trump's ethics were higher than Tricky Dick's. So the current President is seen by the public as less ethical than the guy who resigned the presidency just ahead of a near-certain impeachment.
And ethical standards don't appear to be a purely partisan judgment. Nearly seven in 10 people said Ronald Reagan had higher ethical standards than Trump while almost six in 10 said the same of Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter.
The question -- and this is always the question with Trump -- is whether any of this means anything. While there's no "ethics" question on the 2016 exit poll, there is one on whether a candidate is honest and trustworthy. Just one in three voters said Trump was. And yet, he is President.
Ethics and trustworthiness are not the exact same thing. And what people said when they voted for candidate Trump versus how they feel about President Trump may well be two very different things.
The Point: Under the traditional rules of politics, a president who is regarded as unethical (particularly one who made a campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of Washington corruption) would pay a price for it. Or is this yet another example of how political gravity impacts -- or doesn't impact -- Trump?

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Jeff Sessions moves to further tighten immigration courts as Trump attacks him
By Tal Kopan
CNN
Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued his efforts to tighten control of the immigration courts with two quiet moves Tuesday night, even as President Donald Trump said he was "not happy" with Sessions on immigration.
In one decision, Sessions further constrained the discretion of immigration judges to show leniency to undocumented immigrants. In the other, he signaled he may restrict the ability of immigrants awaiting asylum hearings to be let out of detention.
The moves are the latest in a series of steps Sessions has taken to assert his authority over the immigration courts and thus the way immigration law is enforced in the US. The immigration judges' union and the national association for immigration lawyers have decried the moves as threatening the due process rights of immigrants and the independence of judges, while immigration hardliners have hailed Sessions as restoring immigration laws to their original intent.
The moves also come as Trump, who campaigned largely on his aggressive immigration views, has repeatedly attacked his attorney general publicly, including in an interview with Hill.TV on Tuesday. In the interview, Trump lamented Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation and said he was dissatisfied on immigration.
"I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad," Trump said, according to Hill.TV. "I'm not happy at the border. I'm not happy with numerous things."
Sessions, however, has been at the forefront of the administration's aggressive immigration agenda, especially in using his unique authority to single-handedly overrule the immigration courts' appellate body and issue interpretations of immigration law. Those binding rulings must be followed by the nation's nearly 400 immigration judges, who are technically employees of Sessions and the Justice Department under US law.
On Tuesday, Sessions used that authority to refer himself more cases so he could rule on them.
In a pair of linked cases, Sessions ruled that immigration judges are not allowed to use their discretion to terminate or dismiss cases. Under the ruling, only if the Department of Homeland Security decides it no longer wants to pursue the case or the immigrant achieves or proves a legal right to stay in the US can a judge dismiss their deportation case. Judges may not simply decide the case is not worth pursuing further.
The move follows a similar ruling Sessions made earlier this year that judges are not allowed to use their discretion to close cases either. Closure effectively ends proceedings but doesn't dismiss the case altogether.
"The authority to dismiss or terminate proceedings is not a free-floating power an immigration judge may invoke whenever he or she believes that a case no longer merits space on the docket," Sessions wrote.
The executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Benjamin Johnson, called the decision "part of a systematic effort to marginalize the role of immigration judges in their own courtrooms" in a statement.
"Time and time again the Attorney General's actions have shown us that an immigration court system housed under the Department of Justice cannot be one that guarantees due process," Johnson's statement said, and he called for the immigration courts to be established as an independent institution outside of the Justice Department.
National Association of Immigration Judges President Ashley Tabaddor told CNN the use of Sessions' authorities to curtail judges' discretion was "concerning" as part of a broader use of the immigration courts to align with the administration's policy priorities.
"It's just another way of putting more pressure and increasing the backlog and the pressure on judges to just to do more cases and faster with limited resources and limited tools," Tabaddor said. "It's another representation of the improper use of the court as an extension of the law enforcement policies of the executive branch."
Also on Tuesday, Sessions signaled he may be inclined to keep asylum seekers in detention while they await their hearings.
The attorney general has not made a decision yet, but he referred himself a case that would consider whether asylum seekers are entitled to bond hearings. He invited interested members of the public to submit arguments to him about it by Oct. 16.
The question Sessions poses is whether an immigration appeals court ruling from 2005 should be overturned, a decision that found that immigrants who pass the first interview threshold to pursue the right to stay in the US under asylum law are entitled to bond hearings and potential release from custody.
If Sessions were to decide that immigrants are not eligible for such hearings, tens of thousands of them could be kept in detention while their cases are being heard.
The administration and its supporters argue that keeping more immigrants in detention will prevent them from absconding into the US and disappearing from authorities, thus deterring more immigrants from coming to the US illegally.
But immigration advocates argue that such moves are designed to undercut the ability of immigrants to seek lawful protections in the US. It is much harder to obtain legal representation in detention, attorneys argue, and immigrants are not guaranteed legal representation in court. Additionally, with asylum law's complexities, advocates warn that the rapid pace of cases in detention courts make it more difficult for the immigrants to build their cases.

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URGENT - Grassley sets Friday deadline to hear back from Kavanaugh accuser
(CNN) -- Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has set 10 a.m. Friday as the deadline for Christine Blasey Ford's legal team to respond to his request for her to speak to the committee regarding her sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
In a letter to the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Grassley also asked for an unredacted version of the original letter Ford sent to Feinstein about the alleged incident. Ford's private letter to Feinstein alleged that, at a party during their high school years, Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom, tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.
If Ford chooses not to speak to the committee, the hearing Grassley had scheduled for Monday would likely be canceled and the panel could move to vote by midweek, sources say.
Sources also cautioned that planning is still fluid and could change given how tumultuous the confirmation process has been.

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URGENT - Kavanaugh accuser's lawyer: 'Rush to a hearing is unnecessary'
(CNN) -- An attorney for Christine Blasey Ford said Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is unnecessarily rushing toward a hearing by pushing for her to testify about her allegation of sexual assault against President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Ford has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's choice for the nation's highest court, of sexually assaulting her at a party during their teenage years. Kavanaugh has denied the charges.
Grassley has set a hearing for Monday for both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify about the incident.
"The rush to a hearing is unnecessary, and contrary to the Committee discovering the truth," said Lisa Banks, Ford's attorney, in a statement to CNN.
Banks added that Ford has been "thrust into the spotlight" and isn't able to go home because she's receiving threats to her and her family's safety.
"She continues to believe that a full non-partisan investigation of this matter is needed and she is willing to cooperate with the Committee," Banks said. "However, the Committee's stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation; there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding."

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Kavanaugh accuser's lawyer: 'Rush to a hearing is unnecessary'
By Eli Watkins and MJ Lee
CNN
An attorney for Christine Blasey Ford said Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is unnecessarily rushing toward a hearing by pushing for her to testify about her allegation of sexual assault against President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Ford has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's choice for the nation's highest court, of sexually assaulting her at a party during their teenage years. Kavanaugh has denied the charges.
Grassley has set a hearing for Monday for both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify about the incident.
"The rush to a hearing is unnecessary, and contrary to the Committee discovering the truth," said Lisa Banks, Ford's attorney, in a statement to CNN.
Banks added that Ford has been "thrust into the spotlight" and isn't able to go home because she's receiving threats to her and her family's safety.
"She continues to believe that a full non-partisan investigation of this matter is needed and she is willing to cooperate with the Committee," Banks said. "However, the Committee's stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation; there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding."
The Washington Post was first to report on the statement.
Ford said that at the time of the alleged incident, Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were "stumbling drunk" and Judge was in the room when Kavanaugh groped her and tried to remove her clothes.
Judge said in a statement to the committee via an attorney that he had "no memory of this alleged incident" and did "not want to speak publicly regarding the incidents described in Dr. Ford's letter."
After coming forward on Sunday against Kavanaugh, Ford indicated through her attorney on Monday that she would be willing to testify before Congress.
Grassley announced later that he would convene a hearing with both Ford and Kavanaugh, who has denied her allegations, on the coming Monday. Ford's attorneys said Tuesday that she did not want to testify without an FBI investigation into the matter first, a call that Grassley rebuffed.
He said on Wednesday that he did not believe an FBI investigation would be appropriate, arguing that it is the Senate's constitutional role to review the nominee's record and saying he would focus on encouraging Ford to speak with the committee in some form.
"The FBI does not make a credibility assessment of any information it receives with respect to a nominee," Grassley wrote to Ford on Wednesday.
He added, "We have no power to commandeer an Executive Branch agency into conducting our due diligence."
Ford and her attorneys may be forced to make a decision soon.
Grassley said Wednesday in a letter to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, that he was setting a deadline of Friday at 10 a.m. for a decision from Ford on whether she will testify.
President Donald Trump continued to stand by Kavanaugh on Wednesday and downplayed the notion he would have the FBI look into her allegations. He said it would be "wonderful" if Ford testified and "unfortunate" otherwise.
"If she shows up and makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting, and we'll have to make a decision," he said.

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