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E.g., 12/18/2018

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 12.18.18

12/18/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I wonder what else he may have said that's untrue: "As questions swirl about his credibility, former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone settled a defamation suit seeking $100 million in damages on Monday for publishing false and misleading statements on InfoWars.com, a far-right website known for promoting conspiracy theories."

* A case to watch: "California and 15 other states asked a federal judge on Monday to protect current health care coverage for millions of Americans while courts sort out the implications of his ruling that the Affordable Care Act was invalid in its entirety."

* The right thing to do: "After months of waiting, a Yemeni mother has been granted permission by the State Department to fly to California to say goodbye to her dying 2-year-old son, according to her attorney."

* I've written about Blum's case a few times, and the facts look awful for him: "The Office of Congressional Ethics released its report on allegations against Iowa Republican Rod Blum Monday, while the House Ethics Committee announced that it is continuing its own inquiry, but likely not for long."

* The word "bailout" apparently sounds bad, so the White House has euphemisms: "President Donald Trump on Monday said he authorized a second round of payments from an aid package of up to $12 billion designed to help farmers stung by the U.S. trade war with China, billing it as a promise kept to a key constituency.... 'I have authorized Secretary Perdue to implement the 2nd round of Market Facilitation Payments,' he said, referring to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue."

* Donald Trump wants the Federal Reserve to "feel the market."

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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

Judge to Michael Flynn: 'Arguably, you sold your country out'

12/18/18 04:27PM

Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes, though he expected the sentencing phase to go relatively smoothly. Both his defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed that Flynn -- a cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation -- should not face a prison sentence.

But the sentencing recommendations are really just advisory, and courts can go their own way. Today, the judge in Flynn's case examined his misdeeds and took the proceedings in an unexpected direction.

A federal judge, in a dramatic hearing on Tuesday, agreed to delay the sentencing hearing for former national security adviser Michael Flynn because he may be able to provide additional cooperation to federal investigators, and get credit for it.

Flynn was due to be sentenced for lying to the FBI last year about his contacts with Russian officials in the aftermath of the 2016 campaign as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.

But during Tuesday's hearing, Sullivan pulled few punches when it came to Flynn's conduct, saying he couldn't hide his "disgust" with the retired Army lieutenant general and questioned why he hadn't been charged with treason.

Sullivan, about whom conservatives had high hopes, told Flynn at one point, "Arguably, you sold your country out" by working as an unregistered foreign agent. The judge even broached the subject of "treason," though he later downplayed the comments.

Once it became clear that a prison sentence may very well be in Flynn's future, Donald Trump's former national security adviser and his attorneys asked to postpone the sentencing process. At this point, Flynn will try to provide additional information to federal investigators, in the hopes that additional cooperation will lead to a more favorable sentence.

More than a few Republicans have invested quite a bit of time and energy into the idea that Flynn's crimes were minor and inconsequential. The president himself said the retired general merely made "the smallest of misstatements."

The judge in this case took a good look at what Flynn did and came to a very different conclusion.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

As it closes, Trump Foundation accused of 'shocking' illegalities

12/18/18 02:01PM

The Washington Post published a short but memorable sentence the other day: "Two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation."

This has the added benefit of being true. The president himself is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, which is a rough starting point, but it looks worse when we note that Trump's campaign, private business, and inaugural committee have also faced investigations. Heck, even Trump University was credibly accused of fraud before the president settled the case (after promising he wouldn't).

But I continue to believe the Trump Foundation's scandal is the underappreciated controversy of the Trump era. The so-called "charity" announced today that it will permanently close its doors.

The Trump Foundation -- the charitable foundation started by President Donald Trump years before he became a presidential candidate, which New York's top prosecutor said exhibited a "shocking pattern of illegality" -- will dissolve according to a court filing.

The foundation will give away its assets to other non-profit organizations in the next 30 days, according to an agreement between state prosecutors and the Trump Foundation, according to an agreement reached between New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood and the Trump Foundation.

It does not stop the lawsuit by AG's office has filed against the foundation, which was formed in 1987 and that action will continue.

For those looking for some kind accountability, the fact that the scrutiny will continue is itself important -- because the scope and scale of the alleged wrongdoing is simply amazing.

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Image: Reported Shooting At Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas

Trump administration advances ban on 'bump stocks'

12/18/18 12:46PM

At a White House press conference in early October, Donald Trump boasted, "We're knocking out bump stocks. I've told the NRA. I've told them. Bump stocks are gone."

The president, added. "And over the next couple of weeks, I'll be able to write it up."

Today, as the Associated Press reported, the new policy is starting to come into focus.

The Trump administration moved Tuesday to officially ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like automatic firearms, and has made them illegal to possess beginning in late March.

The devices will be banned under a federal law that prohibits machine guns, according to a senior Justice Department official.

It's taken a while to get to this point. Bump stocks came to the fore more than a year ago, when a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas, firing approximately 90 rounds in 10 seconds during the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The White House announced a proposed ban nine months ago. It'll now go into effect 90 days after the new regulation is formally published, a move that's expected to happen later this week.

But while reform advocates are eager to see any kind of new restrictions that might save lives, today's news comes with some significant caveats.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.18.18

12/18/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced this morning that he's appointing Rep. Martha McSally (R) to fill the Senate seat once held by Sen. John McCain (R). McSally will have to run to keep that seat in two years, and given that fact that the Republican congresswoman just lost a Senate race last month, it's a safe bet Democrats will target this race.

* In the first big retirement announcement of the 2020 election cycle, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced he won't seek a fourth term in two years. As the 2018 results in the Volunteer State helped prove, even the most electable Democrats find it awfully tough to compete in Tennessee, but it'll be interesting to see whether Alexander is the first of many retirements.

* On a related note, Donald Trump reportedly reached out to Alexander and urged him not to retire. Evidently, the senator was unmoved.

* Less than a week after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a new measure limiting early voting in his state, progressive groups have already filed suit in federal court, asking a judge to reject the new policy.

* Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., announced yesterday that he won't seek a third term. The Democratic Hoosier -- who's also a veteran of the war in Iraq and a Rhodes Scholar -- has been rumored to be interested in a possible 2020 presidential campaign, and Buttigieg did little to knock down that chatter yesterday.

* As 2018 draws to a close, Gallup's new report shows Donald Trump's approval rating dropping to 38%, as his disapproval rating inched higher to 57%.

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The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.

White House eyes defense funds for Trump's border priorities

12/18/18 11:22AM

Donald Trump has argued for quite a while that he expects Congress to approve $5 billion in taxpayer-funded spending for his proposed border wall. If lawmakers balk, the president has said he's prepared to shut down the government.

This morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested Trump will not follow through on those threats. The Washington Post  reported:

...Sanders told Fox News Channel: "We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion."

"At the end of the day we don't want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border," Sanders said.

Sanders said the White House was exploring other funding sources and believed it could be legally done.

To the extent that people were concerned about a shutdown in three days, Sanders' rhetoric, if it's to be believed, is reassuring. The sooner the White House backs off its demands for $5 billion for a border wall, the sooner Congress can keep the government's lights on and start preparing to leave town for the holidays.

But when Trump's chief spokesperson hints at "other ways" to get the money, it's important to ask for details about the alternate revenue streams.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

In lame-duck session, Republicans set their sights low

12/18/18 10:46AM

Eight years ago this month, the Obama White House put together an ambitious to-do list for the post-election lame-duck session. There was a memorable exchange between then-Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Jake Tapper, who covered the White House for ABC News at the time.

TAPPER: So just to put a period on this, the president thinks that funding the government, passing unemployment-insurance extensions "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, the DREAM Act, tax cuts, and START all can be done?

GIBBS: Yes.

TAPPER: In the next 18 days?

GIBBS: Yes.

TAPPER: Good luck.

The skepticism was understandable, but by the time the dust had cleared, Team Obama's ambitions paid off. In the 2010 lame-duck session -- the last lame-duck session in which one party controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress -- Democrats repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," ratified the New START treaty, passed the Zadroga 9/11 health bill, reached an agreement with Republicans on some expiring tax breaks, and confirmed more than a few judicial nominees. (In that same lame-duck session, Dems very nearly approved the Dream Act, too, but they couldn't quite overcome a Republican filibuster.)

It was such an extraordinarily productive session for Democrats that one angry House Republican pushed legislation, called the "End the Lame Duck Act," to prevent future Congresses from even having post-election legislative sessions.

Eight years later, it's Republicans who, at least for now, control the White House, Senate, and House. But to the consternation of some on the right, this year's lame-duck session is shaping up to be rather underwhelming.

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Image: James Comey Testifies At Senate Hearing On Russian Interference In US Election

Comey presses Republicans to 'stand up and speak the truth'

12/18/18 10:07AM

Since Democratic gains in the midterm elections last month, Republicans have generally struggled to come up with a clear and consistent message about the results and the road ahead. Most GOP leaders -- in Congress and in the White House -- have, however, pushed one line with great vigor: they've pleaded with Democrats not to investigate Donald Trump.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) joined the partisan chorus on "Meet the Press" the other day, telling NBC News' Chuck Todd, "My advice [to the incoming Democratic House majority] would be: legislate, don't investigate."

Part of the problem with the pitch is that there's no reason to see this as an either/or proposition, since the House majority can legislate and conduct oversight at the same time. The other angle of note is the degree to which the GOP appeal is breathtakingly hypocritical.

Almost exactly 24 hours after Roy Blunt pressed House Dems not to investigate the Republican White House, the outgoing GOP majority held another hearing with former FBI Director James Comey, peppering him with questions about Hillary Clinton's emails. "How does that make any sense at all?" Comey asked.

But as NBC News noted, the former FBI director also tied these concerns to the larger issue of Republican indifference to Trump's attacks on federal law enforcement.

"Republicans used to understand that the actions of a president matter, the words of a president matter, the rule of law matters, and the truth matters. Where are those Republicans today?" he asked.

Those Republicans joining Trump in an effort to undermine the FBI will have "to explain to their grandchildren what they did," Comey said.

"At some point someone has to stand up and in the face of fear of Fox News, fear of their base, fear of mean tweets, stand up for the values of this country and not slink away into retirement, but stand up and speak the truth."

It's a compelling message, to be sure. I'm less sure, however, that Jim Comey is the best messenger.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As shutdown deadline looms, Republicans are lost without a map

12/18/18 09:20AM

A week ago today, Donald Trump held a rather dramatic meeting with Democratic congressional leaders about how and whether to prevent a government shutdown. The Republican president, true to form, insisted that Congress approve $5 billion in taxpayer funds for construction of a giant border wall -- and he blamed Democrats for standing in the way.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer took turns explaining to Trump that the votes for his priority simply aren't there, even in the GOP-led House. This exchange stood out:

PELOSI: There are no votes in the House, a majority of votes, for a wall -- no matter where you start.

SCHUMER: That is exactly right. You don't have the votes in the House.

TRUMP: If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them — in one session, it would be done.

PELOSI: Well, then go do it. Go do it.

The soon-to-be House Speaker effectively dared Trump to have the House pass the bill he's eager to sign -- regardless of its Senate prospects -- because Pelosi knew what Trump didn't: the votes really aren't there.

The president didn't believe her. He should have. The Washington Post  reported overnight, "House Republicans last week considered putting legislation on the floor that would offer $5 billion for a border wall as Trump has demanded. But Hill leadership eventually told the president that there were not enough votes to pass it."

Trump was apparently working under the assumption that he could simply snap his fingers and direct the Republican-led House to approve spending for a wall. Both parties' leaders have now told him he's wrong. It's a reminder of something Greg Sargent noted yesterday: the president has not yet come to terms with just how weak he's become.

All of which brings us to the question of what's poised to happen. After all, the deadline for the next government shutdown is Friday -- as in, three days from now -- and no one seems to believe policymakers are near a resolution to this fight.

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The bronze 'Charging Bull' sculpture that symbolizes Wall Street is photographed Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006, in the financial district of New York.

The stock market is no longer Donald Trump's favorite metric

12/18/18 08:40AM

It was just two months ago when Donald Trump pointed to Wall Street as proof of how successful his presidency has been. "The stock market is at an all-time high," he boasted. "Think of that -- over 50 percent since my election. Fifty percent. People -- the 401(k)s -- and they have 401(k)s, and they were dying with them for years. Now they're so happy."

A lot can change in a couple of months.

Two benchmark U.S. stock indexes are careening toward a historically bad December.

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 are on pace for their worst December performance since 1931, when stocks were battered during the Great Depression. The Dow and S&P 500 are down 7.8 percent and 7.6 percent this month, respectively.

Wall Street's major indexes are in negative territory for the year. The S&P 500 is up about 12% since Trump took office, not 50%.

On Nov. 17, 2017, as the fight over the Republican tax plan was heating up in Congress, the president published a tweet that read, "Great numbers on Stocks and the Economy. If we get Tax Cuts and Reform, we'll really see some great results!"

Since that day, the S&P 500 is down 1.5% -- despite the fact that the GOP passed its regressive tax breaks.

Complicating matters for the president, Catherine Rampell noted yesterday that the stock market's performance under Obama was vastly better than it's been under Trump at comparable points in their respective presidencies.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Even after the election, Russia helped Trump, targeted Mueller

12/18/18 08:00AM

Two years after Russia launched an intelligence operation to help put Donald Trump in office, we're still learning more about what Vladimir Putin's government did -- and when.

For example, a detailed analysis prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee explained in detail how pro-Trump Russian agents "harnessed the major players of America's tech industry in a sophisticated propaganda effort that was far more extensive than originally understood." The initiative's focus was on, among other things, suppressing the African-American vote.

But what's less understood is the degree to which the Russian campaign continued well after it successfully aided the Kremlin's preferred American candidate. In fact, as the Washington Post  reported overnight, the Russian effort specifically targeted Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- the man the Republican White House sees as a dangerous nemesis.

Months after President Trump took office, Russia's disinformation teams trained their sights on a new target: special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Having worked to help get Trump into the White House, they now worked to neutralize the biggest threat to his staying there.

The Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies.

The Post's report also cited research from a Clemson University team, which found that Russians tweeted about Mueller more than 5,000 times: "Some called for his firing, while others mocked him as incompetent and still others campaigned for the end of his 'entire fake investigation.'"

The president hasn't used that exact phrase, but it's very much in line with Trump's anti-Mueller messaging.

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