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US politics live: Eric Holder faces ‘Fast and Furious’ questions in Congress December 8, 2011

1.20pm: Virginia Tech is in lock-down after shots were heard near the campus:

Virginia Tech says a police officer has been shot, and a possible second victim has been reported at a parking lot near the campus.

Authorities are seeking a suspect.

A campus-wide alert tells students and faculty to stay inside and lock doors.

Virginia Tech, as most people will recall, was the site of the tragic shooting of 32 students and staff members by a student on the campus in 2007.

1.15pm: Erick Erickson, the influential conservative Republican and co-founder of RedState, says that the Republican presidential nomination may go to the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa next year:

I think it is time to move beyond wishful thinking and take seriously the idea of having a brokered convention with someone other than the current crop of candidates becoming the nominee.

Erickson is not a nut – and this is a sidelight in a longer piece he has written on the state of the GOP race. And my view that there is some wishful thinking going on there. But Erickson isn’t alone among Republicans in saying this.

1.01pm: The morning-after pill decision mentioned earlier has been the subject of considerable controversy, with the American Academy of Pediatrics calling Sebelius’ decision to keep the pill on sale behind pharamcy counters “medically inexplicable”.

AP reports:

Pediatricians say the morning-after pill is safe — containing a high dose of the same female hormone that’s in regular birth control pills — especially compared to some existing over-the-counter medicines.

“I don’t think 11-year-olds go into Rite Aid and buy anything,” much less a single pill that costs about $50, added fellow AAP member Dr Cora Breuner, a professor of pediatric and adolescent medicine at the University of Washington.

With all due respect to Dr Breuner, at my local branch of [national drugstore chain], a bright 11-year-old could probably get a job behind the counter.

12.43pm: At Eric Holder’s hearing, the attorney general says there is a suspect in the killing of US border agent Brian Terry – thought to have been killed by a gun obtained from the botched Fast and Furious operation – but that he can’t speak any further because a court has sealed the matter.

12.36pm: At Obama’s mini press conference, the subject of the “Plan B” morning-after pill came up, and the decision by the Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius to keep the drug behind pharmacy counters rather than on open shelves.

In response to a question, Obama says Sebelius was concerned a 10-year-old could get the medication, which could be dangerous. “Most parents would probably feel the same way,” Obama said.

The morning-after pill will still be available without a prescription to those 17 and older who can prove their age.

12.30pm: Some massive grandstanding going on by Darryl Issa, complete with props – a set of boxes showing the information he has received from a gun-dealer compared with a solitary box showing the information he received from the Justice Department.

I’m not quite sure what his point is but it looks good on television. Well, C-Span 3.

Sample quote from Issa: “When he comes before us saying he will clean house, no house has been cleaned.”

12.22pm: The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent overview of the position Eric Holder finds himself in over Fast and Furious and the chorus of Republicans calling for his resignation.

It also notes this:

While the White House has remained relatively quiet on Fast and Furious, other Democrats have come to Holder’s defense, saying Republican calls for resignation are clearly partisan, in part because they’ve largely ignored a smaller-scale gun-walking program, “Operation Wide Receiver,” implemented during the Bush administration. However, that program, unlike Fast and Furious, was a joint operation with Mexican authorities.

12.10pm: Back to Eric Holder, who is being grilled, baked and roasted by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee over the failure of Fast and Furious.

Earlier, Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin told Holder:

If we don’t get to the bottom of this – and that requires your assistance on that – there is only one alternative that Congress has, and it’s called impeachment, where our subpoena powers are plenary and there can’t be any type of a legal immunity or privilege that can be asserted on that.

Now, you know, I’ve done more impeachments than anybody else in the history of the country. It is an expensive and messy affair. And I don’t want to go this far.

A rare moment of humour happened shortly after, from veteran Democrat John Conyers: “I merely wanted to clear the record with Jim Sensenbrenner. I’ve had far more impeachment experience than he has.”

12.04pm: And there’s this news: Iran’s state television appears to be showing video of the top secret US RQ-170 Sentinel drone that crash-landed inside Iran last week.

If the video is legitimate, the drone looks like it is intact.

12 noon: Asked about his vow to cut short his holiday until the payroll tax holiday is extended, Obama says he will delay his vacation to Hawaii until Congress acts: “I will not ask anybody to do something I’m not willing to do myself.”

With grim humour he looks at the assembled journalists and says: “Maybe we’ll have a white Christmas here in Washington.” Someone groans softly in the background.

11.56am: Obama is asked about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and what he means when he says he’s looking at all the options:

Obama: All options means I’m not taking any options off the table.

Reporter: Can you tell us what those options might be?

Obama: No.

Obama does go on to say that the US has imposed the toughest level of sanctions against Iran of any administration, and that Iran can either be isolated or “act responsibly”.

11.53am: On the European debt crisis, Obama says “obviously I am very concerned about what’s happening in Europe”. He says that he has repeatedly spoken to European leaders such as Merkel and Sarkozy, and the only question is political will:

It’s not as if we’re talking about some improvished country … this is Europe, with some of the wealthiest countries on earth.

Obama goes on to say:

We’re going to do everything we can to push them in a good direction on this … if we see Europe tank, that obviously could have a big impact on our ability to create jobs.

11.49am: Obama says he is still committed to appointing Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Finance Protection Board – and won’t rule out a recess appointment (a constitutional device that allows the president to circumvent congressional approval):

Why wouldn’t we want somebody just to make sure people are being treated fairly? Especially when not only is a family affected but our whole economy is affected.

We have Republicans in Congress who appear to have entirely forgotten how we got into this mess.

The bottom line, according to Obama, “is we’re going to look at all our options. My hope is the Republicans come to their senses.”

11.42am: Speaking from the White House briefing room, President Obama says there was no reason for the Senate to block Richard Cordray’s nomination: “This makes absolutely no sense.”

Obama is now taking questions – and the first one is on the accusations by Republican presidential candidates that he has guilty of “appeasement” of Israel’s enemies.

Here’s Obama’s pithy response:

Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.

Hard to argue with that.

11.20am: More Congressional gridlock: the Senate blocks the nomination of Richard Cordray as head of the new consumer watchdog, the Consumer Finance Protection Board. Despite winning the vote 53 to 45 Cordray’s nomination failed to clear the 60 votes required for cloture, in effect filibustering the nomination:

Republicans said they had three demands. One was for a five-member board to oversee the agency. Another was for “safety and soundness” checks of the agency’s decision-making. And they wanted the agency’s funding to be approved by Congress rather than have its budget approved by the Federal Reserve.

President Obama is to speak on the subject shortly.

11.13am: In attempt to derail the Newt Gingrich bandwagon, the Romney campaign sent out two surrogates this morning to attack his record – a sign that the GOP fight is getting more brutal, as the Los Angeles Times reports.

Former Missouri Senator Jim Talent – who served under Gingrich when he was Speaker of the House in the mid-1990s – and a Romney supporter, appeared at a press conference:

The speaker’s running as a reliable and trusted conservative leader. And what we’re here to say, with reluctance, but clearly, is that he’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader because he’s not a reliable or trustworthy leader.

Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu laced into Gingrich for his remarks about the Medicare proposals of Republican congressman Paul Ryan earlier this year:

For Newt Gingrich, in an effort of self-aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that had no other purpose than to try and make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one can imagine happening.

That’s reference to Gingrich calling Ryan’s plans “right-wing social engineering”.

Things are heating up nicely.

11.41am: The committee is now going into recess to allow members to vote.

10.40am: Darryl Issa, the Republican chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is next up to take a swing at Holder:

My committee just next door was systemically lied to by your own representatives. There is a high likelihood individual was deliberately duped, but he was duped by people who still work for you today, still work for you today.

The president has said he has full confidence in this attorney general. I have no confidence in a president who has full confidence in an attorney general who has in fact not terminated or dealt with the individuals, including key lieutenants who from the very beginning had some knowledge and long before Brian Terry was gunned down knew enough to stop this programme.

10.37am: Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is quickly on the attack, telling Eric Holder:

I am disappointed in the department’s repeated refusal to cooperate with this committee’s oversight request.

This lack of cooperation is evident in the department’s handling of inquiries related to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Operation Fast and Furious and the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. And inconsistent statements from department officials about who knew what and when have only raised more concerns.

10.32am: Perhaps forlornly, Eric Holder says investigators should avoid soring political pints. That ship has sailed, I’m afraid.

Holder also attempts to address the death of US law enforcement officer Brian Terry – who may have been killed by a gun smuggled as part of the Fast and Furious operation:

Nearly one year ago, working to protect his fellow citizens, US Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was violently murdered in Arizona. We all should feel outrage about his death, and – as I have communicated directly to Agent Terry’s family – we are dedicated to pursuing justice on his behalf.

The Department is also working to answer questions that the Terry family has raised, including whether and how firearms connected to Fast and Furious could end up with Mexican drug cartels.

10.29am: More from Holder – who warns that the guns lost during Fast and Furious will be found for “years to come”:

Although the Department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come. Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border.

In other words, Fast and Furious will be a running sore for the administration.

Holder attempts to put the figures into the context of the huge flow of arms from the US to Mexico:

As we work to identify where errors occurred and to ensure that these mistakes never happen again, we must not lose sight of the critical challenge this flawed operation has highlighted: the battle to stop the flow of guns to Mexico. Of the nearly 94,000 guns that have been recovered and traced in Mexico in the last five years, more than 64,000 were sourced to the United States. In the last five years, the trafficking of firearms across our Southwest Border has contributed to approximately 40,000 deaths.

10.20am: Eric Holder is now before the committee – you can follow it live via C-Span 3 – and in his opening remarks describes the failure of Fast and Furious as “inexcusable”.

Holder told the committee that “addressing the unacceptable rate of illegal firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico” led to the disasterous policy:

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of that laudable goal unacceptable tactics were adopted as a part of Operation Fast and Furious. As I have repeatedly stated, allowing guns to walk – whether in this Administration or in the prior one – is wholly unacceptable. The use of this misguided tactic is inexcusable. And it must never happen again.



Police on the streets of Monterrey, Mexico. Photograph: Tomas Bravo/Reuters

10.11am: By way of background on the influence of US-sourced guns in Mexico’s drug war, the Guardian’s Chris McGreal has just visited Texas and published this investigation:

It’s a war sustained by a merry-go-round. The cartels use the money paid by Americans for drugs to buy weapons at US guns stores, which are then shipped across the frontier, often using the same vehicles and routes used to smuggle more narcotics north. The weapons are used by the cartels to protect narcotics production in their battle with the Mexican police and army, and smuggle drugs north.

Good morning: US Attorney General Eric Holder appears before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions over the government’s failed operation known as Fast and Furious, a gunning-running sting that led to weapons being passed in the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels.

It’s a complex subject but Republicans in the House of Representatives have been investigating the Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and how the Mexican cartels ended up with hundreds of firearms as a result.

Here’s the background:

Two years ago, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched a “gun walking” operation that permitted several gun shops in Arizona to sell a total of more than 2,000 semi-automatic weapons destined for drug cartels with the intention of tracking the guns and busting the smuggling operations.

But the agents carrying out Operation Fast and Furious lost track of about 1,400 of the guns – some of which were later identified as being used in killings in Mexico and other attacks, including an incident in which a Mexican military helicopter was shot down. Two of the weapons were also recovered after a gun battle in Arizona last year in which a US border patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed.

Now Holder appears before the House Judiciary Committee to be grilled once more on who knew what and when.

Elsewhere, the Republican presidential hopefuls are out and about, with more polling evidence of Newt Gingrich surging in the polls – and the Mitt Romney campaign organising a firm response this morning, rolling out some heavyweight surrogates to attack Gingrich’s record and shore up Romney’s base in New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary on 10 January.

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Massachusetts to allow access to Romney paper records December 7, 2011

Massachusetts will allow some public access to hundreds of previously off-limits boxes of official records generated by Mitt Romney‘s office when he was governor from 2003 to 2007, a state official said on Tuesday.

Romney has asserted that a 1997 decision by the Massachusetts state supreme court means that while paper records of his administration are property of the state, they are exempt from public disclosure.

But the state had allowed access to some of the estimated 600 boxes of paper records from Romney’s governorship held by the state archives.

The surge in requests to review the records comes after reports that Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret.

The move during the final weeks of Romney’s administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, Massachusetts officials say.

The effort to purge electronic records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.

The requests to see the paper records and continuing questions about the public disclosure law prompted Massachusetts state officials last month to briefly impose a moratorium on access to the records.

But later they relented and allowed access to about 20% of records that previously had been opened for public inspection.

On Tuesday, Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, the elected official in charge of the state archives, said that officials are still reviewing the law as it relates to Romney’s records, but have decided that they will now allow journalists and the public to request access to any boxes of records that had not previously been released.

However, nonpolitical archivists will review and redact the records before any are made public, McNiff said.

At a campaign appearance on Tuesday in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Romney said his office had sent the state archives “all that was required under the law.”

Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of e-mails and the claim that his paper records are not subject to public disclosure hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.

Five weeks before the first contests in Iowa, Romney has seen his position as frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates whittled away in the polls as rival Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gained ground.

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US politics live: Herman Cain denies endorsement rumours December 6, 2011

Good morning: Herman Cain may have crashed out of the Republican presidential nomination contest but now the battle begins for his followers, donors and supporters, orphaned by Cain’s decision to drop out.

Cain is said to be holding a press conference at 2pm today – supposedly to announce who he is endorsing – although Cain’s chaotic campaign appears once again to be in two minds about what is actually happening, including whether Cain will endorse anyone and whether the press conference will actually take place at all. So no change there.

In other political news, soi-disant Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich will make a visit to Donald Trump in New York City, as controversy swirls over Trump’s plan to hold a Republican candidates debate in Iowa on 27 December.

And with exactly a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, Gingrich launches his first television ad in the Hawkeye State as a new poll shows him leading, and Mitt Romney suffers a backlash from his “Mittless protection programme” campaign strategy.

10.11am: Now Fox News is quoting “reports” that there will be no Herman Cain endorsement today. Why does that not surprise me?



Donald Trump. Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

10.26am: Earlier this morning serial self-publiscist Donald Trump got into a verbal tussle with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that was – how can we put this? – not the highest point in either man’s career.

Part of the issue was Trump’s vanity Republican presidential debate supposedly scheduled for 27 December – although criticism from within the Republican base may mean it never actually happens, which would be a loss to the gaity of the nation.

So far Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have said they will not appear. Huntsman – who appears to be enjoying a mini-revival – appeared on Fox News just now, and said à propos of Trump’s debate:

I’m not going to kiss his ring, I’m not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy.

That’s not image we need on a Monday morning, Jon Huntsman.

10.34am: Cruel, cynical journalists are pointing out that Newt Gingrich’s meeting with Donald Trump at Trump Tower is conventiently next door to Tiffany’s. Which could be handy:

In 2005 and 2006, the former House speaker turned presidential candidate carried as much as $500,000 in debt to the premier jewelry company, according to financial disclosures filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

10.43am: Will the Trump debate happen? Karl Rove isn’t happy at the idea, and blasted the concept in a Fox News interview this morning, picked up by Mediaite:

It’s really odd. Here’s a guy [Trump] who is saying, I’m going to endorse one of you and that gives him leverage … more importantly, what the heck are Republicans candidates doing showing up to a debate with a guy who says, ‘I may run for president as an independent’? I think the Republican national chairman should step in and say, we strongly discourage every candidate from appearing….

And anyway, says Karl Rove, nobody will watch a political debate on 27 December.

11am: What is going on in Iowa? This is the most interesting news piece of the day – an excellent Roll Call piece explaining that the 2012 Iowa ground operations are a shadow of the frantic activity that marked 2008:

Presidential candidates have minimally organized their Iowa campaigns — if they’re organizing at all. One month before the Jan. 3 caucuses, Iowa veterans expect one of the most unpredictable, nontraditional caucuses in recent history.

“To be sitting here on Dec 1 with no campaign announcing a 99-county chair organization is mind-boggling,” said Tim Albrecht, a veteran of the caucuses and spokesman for Governor Terry Branstad, who has not endorsed a candidate. “That’s the first thing you check off on your organizational checklist. This is the clearest, most glaring indication of just how wide open the Iowa caucus is at this point.”

Not a single presidential candidate has opened more than one office in the Hawkeye State. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who polls show is a frontrunner in the race, just opened his first Iowa office, a headquarters based in Urbandale.

That is amazing. So here’s my prediction: Ron Paul will win the Iowa caucus on 3 January. You read it here first, or first-ish. The reason being: winning caucuses requires a huge administrative effort: lots of staff, lots of volunteers and lots of effort. From what I can tell, Ron Paul is the only one with all three in Iowa right now.

And also: hats off to Roll Call for doing some reporting on ground, rather than sucking their thumbs in their NYC or DC offices.

11.08am: Quote of the day from the Roll Call reporting on Iowa mentioned below. It comes from Chuck Laudner, said to be a Santorum supporter and “longtime Iowa operative”:

I would remind people that this is a caucus, not a primary. And the caucus is on January 3, after a three-day, federal, drunken holiday.

11.26am: So, Newt Gingrich to be the Republican nominee? Not according to those who know Newt well – such as Republicans who served in Congress under Gingrich’s leadership a million years ago in the 1990s.

Tom Coburn, now the Republican senator from Oklahoma, was first elected to Congress as part of the 1994 wave of “Contract With America” Republicans and served in the House under Speaker Gingrich. He’s unleashed this killer quote:

His life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president. I am not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich, having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership.

Zing.

11.48am: The Daily Beast gets an interview with Ginger White, the former lady friend of Herman Cain. It’s a typically tasteful, restrained piece of Daily Beast reporting:

White said that over the years, her arrangement with Cain took an emotional toll. “One time we were having sex, and I was looking up at the ceiling, thinking about, ‘What am I going to buy at the grocery store tomorrow? What am I going to do with my kids tomorrow?’” she recalled.

12.03pm: Non-career politician (prior to 2001) Mitt Romney likes to boast of his success at Bain Capital as part of his resume as a private sector “job creator”. The Los Angeles Times takes a closer look at Romney’s record there:

Four of the 10 companies Bain acquired declared bankruptcy within a few years, shedding thousands of jobs. The prospectus shows that Bain investors profited in eight of the 10 deals, including three of the four that ended in bankruptcy.

Interesting sidenote, in light of the fact that Herman Cain’s CV highlight was as head of Godfather’s Pizza, is this:

The firm’s largest investment was its 1999 buyout of Domino’s Pizza, into which Bain put $188.8m, eventually reaping a fivefold return.

So after Cain was head of Godfather’s Pizza, Romney was de facto head of Domino’s Pizza? Basically the 2012 Republican nomination was a re-run of the late 1990s pizza wars.

12.21pm: No news on Herman Cain’s endorsement today. The New York Times’s Caucus blog talks to the lonely, orphaned supporters of Herman Cain in Iowa, now floating in political purgatory:

Jeff Jorgensen, the Republican chairman in Pottawattamie County, who endorsed Mr Cain, said the main priority was finding a viable candidate who can defeat Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.

“We are definitely trying to stop the steamrolling Romney machine,” Mr Jorgensen said. “It’s not that we don’t like him – he’s a formidable candidate. But we don’t think he espouses the conservative values we’d like to see in our nominee.

12.42pm: Here’s that Donald Trump interview-cum-slagfest with dear old Chuck Todd on MSNBC today.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Donald Trump doesn’t take no for an answer. Or Yes. Or anything.

12.55pm: Roll the “breaking news” screen splash: President Obama – remember him? – is to make a statement at 1.30pm ET. We think it’s about a compromise deal with Republicans over the payroll tax. Or it could be to appoint Herman Cain as Secretary of State. Who knows? Actually we know and it’s the former.

1.25pm: While we are waiting on President Obama to do some actual presidenting, here’s Newt Gingrich’s new campaign ad now running in Iowa:

“Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past,” says cuddly Uncle Newt, adding: “I don’t believe that.” Who are these “some people” Newt?

Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner notes: “the one-minute spot includes a dreamy, vaguely upbeat flute-driven song that sounds identical to the one that plays when Sam returns to the Shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings.”

Insert your own geeky Lord of the Rings reference here comparing Newt to Saruman or something:

Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, and his hands marvelously skilled; and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt.

There’s also a Gladiator reference in there. Anyway, Newt’s wasting his time with LOTR’s references. Everyone knows Ron Paul has got that fanbase sewn up.

1.36pm: Slate’s David Weigel follows up on Senator Tom Coburn’s attack on Newt Gingrich by reading Coburn’s book about the 1994 Republican revolution, Breach of Trust. He finds a few gems of Newtophobia:

Before the government shutdown we thought Newt Gingrich was invincible,” writes Coburn. “After the shutdown, however, he was like a whipped dog who still barked, yet cowered, in Clinton’s presence.

Get that quote into an attack ad, pronto.

1.45pm: Meanwhile, here’s a rocking ad from the Ron Paul campaign, which appears to be aimed at the crucial 15-year-old male demographic:

As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes: “The only thing missing from this Ron Paul ad as Denis Leary as narrator and more Ford trucks.” Indeed. Someone should sue.

2.01pm: So we had the two minute warning for Obama to appear … about 10 minutes ago.

2.08pm: Another two-minute warning for Obama to start speaking at the White House briefing room.

2.10pm: Obama appears, finally. CNN has lost the sound feed.

Obama says he wants to extend the payroll tax cut, to “provide security for middle class families” by adding around $1,000 for the average working family. His jobs package would extend and widen the payroll tax cut, taking the benefit to $1,500 a year – but Republicans won’t join him:

I know there are plenty of Republicans who have sworn never to raise taxes … How come the only time there’s a catch is when it comes to middle class families?

Obama says he is willing to work with Republicans for tax cuts “in a responsible way”. But in a surprise move, it appears the Republican proposals are “irresponsible”. Obama is also calling for extending unemployment insurance for long-term out of work

In what can only be pure coincidence, Obama’s delayed statement happened to coincide with the start of the Newt Gingrich-Donald Trump joint press conference. Fancy.

But even after Obama has finished, Fox News isn’t cutting over to Gingrich/Trump.

2.20pm: Sensible Republican operative Mike Murphy tweets his foreboding about the Donald Trump debate:

GOP candidates would be foolish to show up at Trump’s clown circus/debate. Walk away…

Obviously as a journalist I hope the Trump debate goes ahead. As a human being, not so much.



Herman Cain announcing the suspension of his presidential campaign. Photograph: John Adkisson/Reuters

2.42pm: So Herman Cain will be making no endorsement today, according to the man himself:

I am not endorsing anybody today or in the very immediate future. I can’t say I won’t endorse, but not in the immediate timeframe.

That’s from MSNBC, which listened into a conference call between Cain and his soon-to-be former staff members:

Cain’s plans for the next chapter of his career were quickly followed by an attempt to directly address accusations that he sought to promote his recently-published book while campaigning, or perhaps host a cable news television show in the future.

“That is not my motivation,” he said. “I did not choose to run for the president of the United States to advance my own self.

By the way, Cain sent out an appeal for donations from his supporters the day before “suspending” his campaign.

3.03pm: Currently trending on Twitter – #GOPMuppetHearings:

Mr Grover, who, exactly are the monsters at the end of this ‘book’ that you keep warning us about?

3.18pm: Exciting news for West Wing fans:

Exclusive: The upcoming HBO drama about cable news from The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin finally has a name. TVNewser has learned that HBO is expected to call the series Newsroom.

Sorkin’s series follows fictional cable news anchor Will McCallister (Jeff Daniels) and his “News Night” staff at the fictional cable news channel UBS.

Not sure that the Swiss investment bank UBS will be delighted. Or the BBC’s Newsnight, for that mater. But otherwise: high pressure TV environment … hmm, shades of Studio 60 anyone?



Newt Gingrich hearts Donald Trump. Photograph: Paul Sancya/AP

3.28pm: So Newt Gingrich met Donald Trump today, with Newt making industrial-grade sucking noises to attract Trump’s endorsement, as if that’s of any value.

The two held a press conference – well, they talked into some TV cameras – afterwards, according to AP, where Gingrich defended his decision to take part in Trump’s vanity-debate later this month:

This is a country that elected a peanut farmer to the presidency. This is a country that elected an actor who made two movies with a chimpanzee to the presidency. Donald Trump is a great showman; he’s also a great businessman. I think one of the differences between my party and the other party is we actually go to people who know how to create jobs. We need to be open to new ways of doing things.

For his part Trump defended Gingrich’s recent remarks that poor children should be working part-time cleaning toilets in schools:

I thought it was a great idea. We’re going to be picking 10 young wonderful children and make them ‘apprenti’. We’re going to have a little fun with it.

See, Newt Gingrich? You meet with Donald Trump and all he does is launch a new reality TV show.

3.38pm: Politics in Vermont is always slightly different to the rest of America:

The state of Vermont threw its support Monday behind a folk artist whose T-shirt business is being threatened by the nation’s second largest chicken restaurant chain because of his use of the phrase “eat more kale.”

Governor Peter Shumlin said that state would do all it could to help Bo Muller-Moore raise money to defend his small business, and by extension all Vermont small businesses and local agriculture, against what they both see as “corporate bullying” by the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A.

4.03pm: AP reports that the White House is backing its ambassador to Belgium, accused by some – including Mitt Romney – of downplaying anti-semitism in a recent speech. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said today that Howard Gutman would remain in his post in Brussels.

Here’s the transcript of Gutman’s remarks:

What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. … It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.

It too is a serious problem. It too must be discussed and solutions explored. No Jewish student – and no Muslim student or student of any heritage or religion – should ever feel intimidated on a University campus for their heritage or religion leading to academic leaders quitting in protest. No high school or grammar school Jewish student – and no Muslim high school or grammar school student or student of any heritage or religion – should be beaten up over their heritage or religion.

4.13pm: The National Review also thunders against the Trump debate idea, calling it a “sideshow”:

We had hoped that after the brief and frivolous publicity stunt Trump branded as exploration of a presidential run, there would be no further occasion to rehearse the many ways in which his sometime association with the Republican party hurts the conservative cause. So we’ll keep it brief: Trump is a tax-hike-supporting, missile-defense-opposing, universal-health-care-advocating, eminent-domain abusing, Schumer-Weiner-Rangel-Reid-donating, long-time-pro-choice economic protectionist who in 2008 called George W. Bush “evil” and lauded president-elect Barack Obama as a potentially “great president” who would “lead by consensus.

4.20pm: Oh dear. It appears that former vice president Dan Quayle is endorsing Mitt Romney. Yes, that’ll do it.

Republican officials on Monday told The Associated Press that Quayle plans to announce his support for the former Massachusetts governor Tuesday afternoon.

Romney has an event scheduled Tuesday in Paradise Valley, Arizona, where Quayle has a home.

4.35pm: The National Journal breaks down the latest Gallup poll of the Republican candidates and concludes that only Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich pass the voters’ acceptability threshold, in effect making this a two-horse race from now on:

Romney and Gingrich are the only two candidates that Republican primary voters believe would be acceptable presidential nominees. Gingrich holds a narrow, but significant advantage over Romney on this front, with 61% viewing him as acceptable, with 54% viewing Romney acceptably.

Polling figures can change, as we have seen so far.

5pm: Time to wrap things for the evening – which means Herman Cain will probably endorse Donald Trump for president at 5.01pm ET. In which case, we’ll have to cover it tomorrow when Cain retracts the endorsement and instead backs Hillary Clinton.

And as for Donald Trump: an online Fox News poll found that 31% said a Trump endorsement would make them less likely to vote for that candidate.

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Mitt Romney’s staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records

Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret, Reuters has learned.

The move during the final weeks of Romney’s administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, according to Massachusetts officials.

The effort to purge the records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.

Five weeks before the first contests in Iowa, Romney has seen his position as frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates whittled away in the polls as rival Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gained ground.

When Romney left the governorship of Massachusetts, 11 of his aides bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers to keep for themselves. Also before he left office, the governor’s staff had emails and other electronic communications by Romney’s administration wiped from state servers, state officials say.

Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney’s four-year tenure as governor, which ended in January 2007. Precisely what information was erased is unclear.

Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of emails – and a claim by Romney that paper records of his governorship are not subject to public disclosure – hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.

As Massachusetts governor Romney worked with a Democrat-led state house to close a budget shortfall and signed a healthcare overhaul that required nearly all state residents to buy insurance or face penalties.

The Massachusetts healthcare law became a model for Barack Obama’s nationwide healthcare programme, enacted into law in 2010. As a presidential candidate, however, Romney has criticised Obama’s plan as an overreach by the federal government.

Massachusetts officials say they have no basis to believe Romney’s staff violated any state laws or policies in removing his administration’s records.

They acknowledge, however, that state law on maintaining and disclosing official records is vague and has not been updated to deal with issues related to digital records and other modern technology.

Romney’s spokesmen emphasise that he followed the law and precedent in deleting the emails, installing new computers in the governor’s office and buying up hard drives.

However, Theresa Dolan, former director of administration for the governor’s office, told Reuters that Romney’s efforts to control or wipe out records from his governorship were unprecedented.

Dolan said that in her 23 years as an aide to successive governors “no one had ever inquired about or expressed the desire” to purchase their computer hard drives before Romney’s tenure.

The cleanup of records by Romney’s staff before his term ended included spending $205,000 for a three-year lease on new computers for the governor’s office, according to official documents and state officials.

In signing the lease Romney aides broke an earlier three-year lease that provided the same number of computers for about half the cost: $108,000.

Lease documents obtained by Reuters under the state’s freedom of information law indicate that the broken lease still had 18 months to run.

As a result of the change in leases the cost to the state for computers in the governor’s office was an additional $97,000.

Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney’s presidential campaign, referred questions on the computer leasing deal and records removal to state officials.

Last week Saul claimed that Deval Patrick, the present Massachusetts governor and a Democrat, was encouraging reports about Romney’s records to cast the former governor as secretive. Patrick’s office has not responded to that allegation.

The removal of digital records by Romney’s staff, first reported by the Boston Globe, has sparked a wave of requests for state officials to release paper records from Romney’s governorship that remain in the state archives.

Massachusetts officials are reviewing state law to determine whether the public should have access to those records.

The issue is clouded by a 1997 state court ruling that could be interpreted to mean that records of the Massachusetts governor are not subject to disclosure. Romney has asserted that his records are exempt from disclosure.

State officials and a longtime Romney adviser have acknowledged that before leaving office Romney asked state archives officials for permission to destroy certain paper records. It is unclear whether his office notified anyone from the state before destroying electronic records.

Officials have said the details of Romney’s request to remove paper records, such as what specific documents he wanted to destroy, could be made public only in response to a request under the state’s freedom of information law. Reuters has filed such a request.

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Herman Cain ends bid for Republican presidential nomination December 5, 2011

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain announces the suspension of his 2012 bid for the White House, saying ‘false and unproved’ sexual accusations have made it impossible for him to carry on. Cain’s departure leaves the race a contest between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and surging rival Newt Gingrich

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