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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump raises new allegations against the FBI

10/19/17 11:20AM

One of the more important pieces of the puzzle surrounding the Trump-Russia scandal is the dossier put together by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative, and despite Republican efforts to discredit the document, it's stood up pretty well to scrutiny.

Given that the dossier, put together during the 2016 election, points to connections between Donald Trump and Russia, it's not good news for the White House that the document hasn't been discredited. This also helps explain why the president continues to attack it, as he did again this morning.

"Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?"

For now, let's look past the fact that Trump really ought to avoid admonishing those who take advantage of their 5th Amendment protections -- especially since some people close to him may soon be doing the same thing.

Let's instead focus on the precise nature of the president's new allegation. According to what Trump published this morning for all the world to see, he thinks it's possible that the Federal Bureau of Investigation cooperated with a foreign adversary, in secret, in order to undermine him. Indeed, Trump explicitly raised the possibility of the FBI "paying for" the dossier in question.

That's a rather serious allegation for a sitting president to just casually throw around on Twitter -- without proof -- against the nation's top law enforcement agency. And yet, Trump it did anyway.

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Republicans scramble to quickly and quietly wrap up Russia probe

10/19/17 10:43AM

A couple of weeks ago, Politico reported that Donald Trump loyalists on Capitol Hill are "losing patience with Republican leaders over the wide-ranging Russia probes creeping into his inner circle." Trump devotees, the article added, are outraged with GOP leaders for "allowing" the investigation into the scandal to continue.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent marveled at the time, "Remarkably, these Trump-allied Republicans are explicitly asserting that GOP leaders are betraying Trump by failing to squelch ongoing efforts to get to the bottom of a hostile foreign power's apparent sabotage of our democracy, in addition to the possibility of Trump campaign collusion with it."

The pressure hasn't abated. The Washington Post published an op-ed last week from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, on the efforts to conclude the probes.

[Despite recent discoveries], there are growing calls from the White House and outside parties aligned with the president to halt the congressional investigations rather than allow the evidence to dictate the pace and breadth of our inquiry. The White House may hope it can prematurely end the congressional probes and then apply pressure to wrap up special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's work as well.

This would be a terrible subversion of justice. But already these efforts are having an effect, as some witnesses are being rushed before Congress without regard for best investigative practices, sometimes out of order or before we obtain documents necessary to question them. Still other witnesses, essential to laying the foundation for the more significant interviews, have yet to be invited before the committee.

The president himself is helping lead the charge. At a White House event on Monday, Donald Trump called for an "end" to the investigations, adding, "I think the American public is sick of it,"

A CNN report added yesterday that a "growing number of key Republicans" are pushing congressional leaders to wrap up the probe, insisting that the examination of last year's events shouldn't extend into 2018.

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San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sept. 12, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Roy Moore falsely claims kneeling protests are 'against the law'

10/19/17 10:00AM

When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) formally endorsed Roy Moore's Senate candidacy in Alabama this week, the ostensibly libertarian Republican made a specific kind of pitch on Moore's behalf. "We need more people in Washington, D.C., that will stand on principle and defend the Constitution," the senator said.

At face value, this was plainly ridiculous in light of Moore's brazenly unconstitutional beliefs, but Rand Paul's endorsement looked just a little worse yesterday when Time magazine published this piece.

Senate candidate Roy Moore believes that professional athletes who take a knee during the national anthem are breaking the law.

In an interview with TIME magazine, the Alabama Republican argued that NFL players and others who have protested police violence are violating a section of the U.S. code which outlines how people should conduct themselves when the anthem is played. (The code merely outlines proper etiquette, and there are no legal penalties outlined in the law.)

"It's against the law, you know that?" he said. "It was an act of Congress that every man stand and put their hand over their heart. That's the law."

No, it's not. There is no such law. In fact, if Congress tried to pass such a law, it'd be unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court precedent. As one justice famously wrote, "[T]hose who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."

Have I mentioned that Roy Moore has spent much of his adult life as a judge -- albeit a judge who was twice removed from the bench for ethics violations? Presumably he'd have some basic familiarity with the idea of state-imposed exercises in patriotism.

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Sen. Patty Murray speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol July 10, 2014.

Trump's health care 'incoherence' undermines bipartisan deal

10/19/17 09:23AM

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has earned a reputation for being pretty mild-mannered, and we don't usually hear her publicly express frustrations with other policymakers. But yesterday, as the AP reported, even Murray found Donald Trump erraticism hard to take.

President Donald Trump is proving to be an erratic trading partner as he kicks thorny policy issues to Congress and then sends conflicting signals about what he really wants.

His rapid backpedal on a short-term health care fix this week is the latest example to leave Republicans and Democrats alike scratching their heads.

"The president has had six positions on our bill," an exasperated Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Wednesday after Trump offered multiple reads on a bipartisan plan to keep health insurance markets in business, ultimately ending with a thumbs-down.

That's not much of an exaggeration. Over a brief  period, the president was against, then for, then against, then for, then against a bipartisan agreement struck by Murray and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). The deal, in which both sides benefit, seeks to undo much of the damage Trump himself imposed on the system.

Indeed, the president personally called Lamar Alexander two weeks ago to encourage him to strike this deal, and according to Trump, White House officials participated directly in the talks that produced the compromise --- which made it all the more curious when the president rejected the proposal (after supporting it, and opposing it, and, well, you get the idea).

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the core problem appears to be Donald Trump's profound confusion over the basics. The president has somehow convinced himself that insurers have "made a fortune" from cost-sharing-reduction (CSR) payments, which isn't at all true. He also seems certain that these CSRs represent a "bailout" of the insurance industry, which doesn't make any sense at all. Slate and Vox yesterday both described Trump's posture yesterday with the same adjective: "incoherent."

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Team Trump suggests it's 'hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy'

10/19/17 08:40AM

Republican policymakers are confronting all kinds of challenges while trying to advance some kind of tax reform package, and near the top is a political problem: Americans don't want to see the wealthy get another giant tax break, and that appears to be the centerpiece of the GOP plan.

For the most part, Donald Trump and his allies have largely dealt with this dilemma by lying -- the president has repeatedly said working-class Americans would be the main beneficiaries, which is absurdly untrue -- but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made a very different case to Politico this week. As Mnuchin sees it, Republicans are giving the rich a big tax cut, but only because it's too darn difficult not to.

Mnuchin also changed course somewhat in his defense of the GOP's tax blueprint, conceding it would slash taxes on the wealthy but that doing so was unavoidable because rich people already pay so much in tax.

"The top 20 percent of the people pay 95 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent of the people pay 81 percent of the taxes," he said. "So when you're cutting taxes across the board, it's very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class. The math, given how much you are collecting, is just hard to do."

This is amusing for a variety of reasons, but the phrase to remember is "when you're cutting taxes across the board." There's some truth to the fact that if one starts with an across-the-board tax cut as the principal goal, those Americans at the top are bound to end up as the biggest beneficiaries in real terms.

But therein lies the rub: an across-the-board tax cut isn't necessary. If Mnuchin and the other Republican architects of the party's tax plan wanted to craft a less regressive proposal, it'd be incredibly easy to do so.

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Image: Trump Announces Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act

The check Trump promised to send to a grieving father, but didn't

10/19/17 08:00AM

In January 2016, Donald Trump held a fundraiser in Iowa for veterans' charities, and at the end of the event, the Republican made a bold boast: he'd raised $6 million for vets, and he'd contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.

A few months later, the public learned that neither of Trump's claims were true: he'd exaggerated the total amount of donations, and the money Trump vowed to contribute from his personal finances hadn't been sent. The then-candidate scrambled to send the money only after journalists began asking about his broken promise.

Something eerily similar happened yesterday.

We talked briefly about the Washington Post's reporting on Chris Baldridge, whose son, Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, was killed in Afghanistan. The president called the father directly and said something unexpected.

President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

A White House spokesperson insisted yesterday that a check "has been sent," and described the line of inquiry as "disgusting." But that led to an obvious question: did Trump send the money or not?

As it turns out, the White House did send the check -- yesterday. In other words, Trump kept his promise months after the fact, but only when confronted with questions, just like when he lied last year about the money he'd donated to veterans' charities.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.18.17

10/18/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest mass shooting: "A manhunt was underway Wednesday for a gunman who opened fire inside the Maryland business where he worked, killing three co-workers and critically wounding two others, police said."

* Recovery in Puerto Rico has been slow: "Four weeks since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the recovery priorities are: Make sure food, water and supplies get delivered, ensure hospitals are operating and communication and energy is re-established for critical infrastructure."

* A case we've been watching: "A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Trump administration to allow a pregnant, undocumented teenager to obtain an abortion."

* Perhaps there's no "proof" after all? "The White House on Wednesday said President Donald Trump did not record his phone call with the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger, though he claimed to have 'proof' that Rep. Frederica Wilson's (D-FL) account of his remarks was not accurate."

* More on this on tonight's show: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions rebuffed repeated requests from Democratic lawmakers Wednesday to detail his conversations with President Trump on the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey in May."

* Good question: "Two different federal judges this week blocked President Trump from enforcing the latest version of his travel ban, which would have barred various travelers and immigrants from eight different countries from entering the U.S.... What happens to people on the banned list now?"

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

Trump faces new scrutiny over grieving military families

10/18/17 04:46PM

It started with a simple, 17-word question. At a White House press conference, a reporter asked Donald Trump, "Why haven't we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger?" The president ignored the question, instead shifting the discussion to how impressed he's been with himself over his outreach to families of Americans killed in action.

In other words, instead of addressing the deadliest attack on U.S. forces since he became president, Trump wanted to have a conversation about himself and his perceived superiority over his predecessors.

This has become problematic in a variety of ways -- lying about Barack Obama, for example, was unwise and unnecessary -- including the fact that Trump's self-aggrandizing boasts has led to scrutiny that makes him look worse, not better. Trump, for example, bragged yesterday that he's "called every family" of American servicemen and women killed in action, unlike other recent presidents. The Associated Press took a closer look and found that the claim isn't true.

...AP found relatives of four soldiers who died overseas during Trump's presidency who said they never received calls from him. Relatives of two also confirmed they did not get letters. And proof is plentiful that Barack Obama and George W. Bush -- saddled with far more combat casualties than the roughly two dozen so far under Trump -- took painstaking steps to write, call or meet bereaved military families.

After her Army son died in an armored vehicle rollover in Syria in May, Sheila Murphy says, she got no call or letter from Trump, even as she waited months for his condolences and wrote him that "some days I don't want to live."

The Washington Post  reports today, meanwhile, that Trump did call Chris Baldridge, whose son, Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, was killed in Afghanistan. But as part of their conversation over the summer, the president offered the grieving father "$25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family."

Though the article initially reported that "neither happened," a White House spokesperson insisted a check "has been sent." (At this point, it's not yet clear when the check was sent or what the date is on the check.)

The Post also reported that some of the families who lost loved ones killed in action "said they had not heard from the president," since Trump took office.

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Two weeks later, Trump still hasn't addressed US deaths in Niger

10/18/17 12:42PM

On Oct. 4, exactly two weeks ago, four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in northwestern Africa. Donald Trump, who routinely tweets a series of provocative thoughts in response to deadly terrorism said nothing. As the remains of the U.S. Special Forces soldiers started to return home, Trump again said nothing, golfing as the caskets arrived at Dover Air Force.

As the Washington Post reported today, the president has had plenty to say about a wide range of topics since the deadly attack in Niger -- he's apparently upset with protesting athletes, Democrats, the mayor or San Juan, and major American news organizations -- but Trump has remained completely silent on the deadliest attack on U.S. military forces since he took office.

That seemed to change on Monday, when a reporter asked about his reticence, but even then, Trump's answer covered a lot of ground -- he's impressed with his communications with family members of the fallen, and he's taken some cheap and misleading shots at Barack Obama -- without even trying to address the underlying question:

Why did these four Americans die?

It's not that the other questions are unimportant. When Trump lies about the records of his predecessors, it matters. When the president says he calls each of the families of those killed in action, but fails to follow through, it matters. When he clumsily tries and fails to bring comfort to those who are grieving, it matters. When Trump seems to exploit the memory of his chief of staff's son, who died in Afghanistan, for petty political purposes, it matters.

But we're still left with the fact that the president, as The Atlantic's David Graham noted today, has "pushed the conversation even further away from the actual question of the fallen soldiers."

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.18.17

10/18/17 12:00PM

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

* Though nearly every recent statewide poll in Virginia's gubernatorial race has shown Ralph Northam (D) with a narrow lead over Ed Gillespie (R), a new Monmouth University poll found Gillespie narrowly ahead, 48% to 47%.

* Confirming what's been widely assumed, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced this morning that he'll run for a third term next year.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election Doug Jones (D) launched a new television ad this week, making an interesting boast: "I can work with Republicans better than Roy Moore can work with anyone."

* Democratic candidates' success in state legislative special elections continued yesterday, with Paul Feeney (D) winning a state Senate race in Massachusetts. The seat was previously held by a Dem, so his victory will not change the balance in the state legislature.

* Steve Bannon was in Arizona last night, throwing his support behind Kelli Ward's (R) far-right primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake (R).

* On a related note, in Nevada's U.S. Senate Republican primary, Danny Tarkanian said this week he's "disgusted" with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and wouldn't support him if elected. Tarkanian is taking on incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R).

* Facing questions about alleged campaign finance irregularities, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.) is starting to pay more in legal fees than his campaign is collecting in contributions. Roll Call  reports that in Hunter's most recent quarterly fundraising report, the Republican spent roughly $134,000 on legal fees, while raising about $91,440.

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