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The Pompeo aide who tasked the officials with collecting the records, State Department Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna, ordered recipients of the memo to “immediately search their files for any electronic or paper records responsive to this request, to include emails, documents, spreadsheets, databases, and electronic media, etc.”

Kenna specifically asked for all communications in 2016 and 2017 between former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and any then-current State Department official that centered on the Trump campaign or Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled a dossier of allegations against president Donald Trump. Kenna also asked for similar records from the same time period showing communications between former Bill Clinton senior adviser Sidney Blumenthal, who was also a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and freelance journalist Cody Shearer and any official then at the State Department.

The memo also asks recipients to refer to Grassley and Johnson’s letter — which asks for more records about the Obama administration’s Ukraine policies, including whether anti-corruption funding or support to Kyiv may have been “misused” — when considering document searches, and notes that the department has already addressed some of the other senators’ requests related to Ukraine and the Bidens.

In a statement provided after this article was published, a State Department official said: “The Department regularly receives oversight and investigative requests from Congress and public information requests via the Freedom of Information Act. It is required by the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), the basic regulations for the Department, for the Executive Secretariat to coordinate searches for any documents via a written “tasker,” and this leaked internal memo is part of that required process that is undertaken in response to both FOIA information requests and Congressional oversight and investigations requests. The Executive Secretariat position in no way weighs in on policy issues.”

The memo, which is marked “sensitive but unclassified,” was issued as House Democrats are seeking information about the State Department’s level of compliance with the GOP-led investigations. It also lists a “due date” of Aug. 28, around the time Johnson is expected to release public reports on his investigations.

A spokesman for Johnson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The State Department also did not immediately respond. Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Grassley, noted that the senators’ July 28 letter included in the memo is “largely a recap of old inquiries that, thus far, they’ve failed to respond to.”

“Obviously, getting responses to the senators’ inquiries would be a welcomed development,” Foy added. “Better late than never.”

Democratic congressional aides who spoke to POLITICO described the State Department’s handling of the Johnson and Grassley document request as extremely unusual, with clear evidence of politicization. For one thing, the aides said, Grassley and Johnson’s document request did not set date ranges for any of the responsive documents, but State Department officials decided to cut them off at December 2017 — a limit that would ensure any potentially damaging evidence of Trump’s own actions in Ukraine were excluded.

Secondly, the senators’ request didn’t include a deadline for the State Department to respond, an ordinary feature of oversight requests. But the State Department tasked its top officials to respond by Aug. 28, a deadline that comports with Johnson’s efforts to release a final report in September. And, the aides noted, the State Department’s marshaling of resources to aid Johnson and Grassley in response to a voluntary request stands in stark contrast to the department’s refusal to share any documents with the House, even in response to subpoenas.

“There is no question that this is a politicized misuse of department resources,” one of the aides said. “What’s remarkable is they’re so brazen about it.”

Under ordinary circumstances, the State Department would treat Democratic and Republican document requests equally and negotiate to limit the burdens placed on the agencies. But the apparent acquiescence to the parameters set by Johnson and Grassley’s letter, without preceding negotiations to limit the scope of the request, suggests an unusual level of deference to the committees, the aides said.

House Democrats have railed against the State Department, accusing top officials there of cooperating with GOP probes while ignoring their requests for documents. They point to the department’s refusal to provide any documents to the House during its impeachment investigation last fall, even as a series of high-level witnesses testified willingly and against the administration’s wishes about what they described as an effort by Trump to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

This time around, the State Department has been making witnesses available to the Republican investigators without the need for subpoenas, including top Europe and Eurasia official George Kent, who sat for a deposition before Johnson’s panel earlier this month.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) has subpoenaed the department for copies of any documents being provided to Johnson and Grassley, and on Monday he ripped Pompeo for ignoring the request.

“I am deeply concerned by what appears to be a partisan misuse of Department of State resources to assist Senate Republicans in a political smear of Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden,” Engel wrote at the time.

Kenna, who was nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Peru, was a key figure in the House impeachment of Trump, acting as a gatekeeper for Pompeo during crucial outreach from Trump allies seeking to discredit the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Kenna told a Senate panel during her confirmation hearing this month that she found some of that outreach, including from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, “deeply disturbing.”

Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Grassley, who chairs the Finance Committee, have faced intense scrutiny from Democrats who have alleged the GOP senators are misusing their power in order to target the president’s political opponents. They have also accused Johnson in particular of using Russian disinformation to denigrate Biden.

Johnson has vehemently denied that claim, but last week he said his investigations “would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection and certainly be pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for Vice President Biden.”

Earlier this year, the Homeland Security Committee granted Johnson wide-ranging authority to subpoena a slew of former Obama administration officials in connection with the panel’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe and the Obama White House’s handling of the presidential transition period.

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Democrats elect Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney to lead campaign arm

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As incoming DCCC chief, Maloney will have one of the trickiest jobs in Washington after the Democrats’ down-ballot trouncing at the polls last month that left Republicans between five and seven seats away from the majority. He will have to convince dozens of new candidates to run in a potentially unfavorable environment and in districts that have yet to be drawn.

Maloney will be immediately inserted into the center of an ideological debate that has gripped House Democrats since Nov 3., with the caucus’s warring factions pointing fingers at each other over exactly why they’re staring down a shrunken majority come January.

Many moderate Democrats — who largely supported Maloney for his ability to win in a Trump-won district — are demanding a new party message that veers starkly away from the GOP’s attacks on socialism and progressive slogans like “defund the police.”

Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are dissecting the internal gears at DCCC, arguing that the operation needs to rely on more diverse staff and consultants, devote more resources to get-out-the-vote efforts and completely rethink its digital operations.

Many progressives, particularly lawmakers of color, had flocked behind Cárdenas, who proved to be a prolific fundraiser and organizer as he built the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s campaign arm, BOLD Pac, from the ground up. And he staked his campaign on a vow to Democrats’ increasingly apparent struggles with Latino. The party suffered surprising losses in heavily Latino seats in Florida, Texas and California.

Cárdenas was vocal about reforming some of DCCC’s practices, including ending a contentious policy that banned the organization from hiring any consultant that has helped a primary challenger of a sitting Democrat — a practice that enraged progressives.

Maloney has acknowledged concerns with messaging and said he would reconsider the DCCC blacklist, though he has been mostly restrained — both publicly and privately — in his assessment of DCCC’s miscalculations.

“The smart thing for the DCCC chair to do is to say, I don’t know what happened until I’ve really had a chance to dig into the numbers,” Maloney said in a recent interview.

As chair, Maloney will have an additional task of shepherding members through the decennial redistricting process, which is fraught with politics and internal bickering, particularly in states that are on track to lose a seat. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the Census Bureau will almost certainly not be able to release its reapportionment data in December, delaying states ability to draw new maps.

It’s entirely possible that redistricting alone creates enough red-friendly seats to place Republicans in the majority in 2022. The GOP has total control of the process in many key states, including Texas, Florida and North Carolina, which could have a combined total of 82 seats.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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Students May Not Be Allowed To Return To University For Five Weeks After Christmas To Prevent Spreading Coronavirus Round Campus

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Many students can only begin to return to campus at the end of January, and some not until 5 week into the spring term

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Students who go home for Christmas may have to wait five weeks into the spring term before they can return to campus.

That is according to new government coronavirus guidance, which says the measure “is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students”.

The plan says those on practical or medical courses should be allowed to come back on a staggered basis over three weeks from 4 January.

But for those who do not have work, clinical or practical placements or on “courses requiring access to specialist or technical equipment”, they should not begin to go back until 25 January at the earliest, and should be spread out over a fortnight until 7 February.

As most universities plan to end their spring term after 12 weeks on 26 March, some students may be away from campus for almost half of that time.

And with the education department guidance on going home for Christmas stating people should return between tomorrow and 9 December, some students may be off-campus for more than two months.

Professor Glen O’Hara, who teaches modern and contemporary history at Oxford Brookes university criticised the plans, tweeting: “It is a total joke and an insult to hard-working lecturers and students. 

“It is badly-written, badly-planned and a complete mess. Disgusting.”

The document to higher education providers, published this afternoon, states: “The government is committed to prioritising education and wants to enable all students, including those who have travelled home for the winter break, to return to university and resume blended learning. 

“While we are confident that the face-to-face teaching element of blended learning can be done in COVID-secure environments, the mass movement of students across the country poses a greater risk for the transmission of infection between areas.

“It is important that measures are taken to manage the return to university carefully, to protect students, staff and local communities, while reducing disruption to education. 

“This guidance sets out how we will support HE providers to enable students to return as safely as possible following the winter break, by staggering this process and to facilitate testing for all.”

Providers are advised that: “The return of students should be staggered over 5 weeks – this is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students.”

It also states universities must offer “asymptomatic mass testing to all students on their return”, and says if they are using lateral flow tests then they should be tested twice, the second one three days after their arrival.

The guidance on who can return says “from 4 January to week commencing 18 January 2021 HE providers should allow those students on practical courses to return to campus in line with their planned start dates”.

It adds: “The remaining courses should be offered online from the beginning of term so that students can continue their studies from home. 

“HE providers should plan for students to return gradually from 25 January, over a 2-week period.”

Students are also told to “use private transport wherever possible and only use public transport if they have no other option”, and universities should encourage people to “avoid car sharing with anyone outside their household or support bubble”.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:   “The health and wellbeing of students, staff and local communities is always our primary concern and this plan will enable a safer return for all students. But we must do this in a way which minimises the risk of transmission.

“I know students have had to make sacrifices this year and have faced a number of challenges, but this staggered return will help to protect students, staff and communities.

“It is so important students have the support they need to continue their education, which is why we are providing up to £20m funding for those facing hardship in these exceptional times.”

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Joe Biden: Covid vaccination in US will not be mandatory

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Mr Biden, and state governors who would be on the front lines of any such mandate, might prefer to target only certain segments of the population more at risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19. For instance, employers could be encouraged to require healthcare and nursing home workers to be immunised, and most children already must have up-to-date shot records before attending public or private schools.

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