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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.25.19

06/25/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* At the border: "The government has moved about 100 migrant children to a Texas border patrol facility dogged by allegations that it was housing minors without providing adequate food or access to soap and toothpaste, a Border Patrol official said Tuesday."

* The shake-up continues: "Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders told employees on Tuesday that he would be stepping down from his post on July 5, according to a spokesman for the agency."

* Iran: "Fresh sanctions levied by the United States drew an intense reaction from Iran on Tuesday, with a senior official saying they spell the 'permanent closure' of diplomacy between the two countries."

* A case we've been following: "A once-secret plea deal reached a decade ago with wealthy convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein must stand, despite objections from many of his victims who were teenagers at the time, federal prosecutors said in a new court filing."

* Sanders' successor: "First lady Melania Trump announced Tuesday that her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, will now serve as White House press secretary, replacing Sarah Sanders, who is leaving at the end of the month."

* Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs a big bill: "Illinois' new governor delivered on a top campaign promise Tuesday by signing legislation legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, making the state the 11th to do so and the first to implement a statewide cannabis marketplace designed by legislators."

* Stuff like this makes me nervous: "President Donald Trump has recently mused to confidants about withdrawing from a longstanding defense treaty with Japan, according to three people familiar with the matter, in his latest complaint about what he sees as unfair U.S. security pacts."

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

Allegations against indicted House Republican get even worse

06/25/19 12:40PM

As a rule, when people talk about politicians being in bed with lobbyists, the rhetoric isn't intended to be taken literally.

There are exceptions.

Justice Department prosecutors alleged on Monday that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) used campaign contributions to have multiple extramarital affairs, including a $1,000 ski vacation with a female lobbyist.

According to the court filing, Hunter started using the campaign funds to "carry out a series of intimate relationships" with five women soon after he first entered office in 2009.

The first woman ("Individual 14") was a lobbyist. For about three years, Hunter dipped into his campaign contributions to pay for a couple's ski getaway (which cost more than $1,000), a road trip to Virginia Beach, and hotel stays, according to prosecutors.

TPM's report added that the Republican congressman's alleged relationship with the lobbyist ended in 2012 -- he'd been married for roughly 14 years at the time -- though prosecutors have accused Hunter of having four other affairs over the course of the four years that followed. Donors allegedly picked up the tab for expenses related to each of the relationships.

While these claims against the indicted GOP lawmaker will still need to be proven in court, the allegations do help contextualize matters a bit.

In case anyone needs a refresher, the GOP congressman and his wife were charged last summer, and the criminal indictment was quite brutal: federal prosecutors alleged that the Hunters stole more than $250,000 in campaign funds and used the money to pay for personal purchases, ranging from trips to school tuition to dental work to veterinary care.

As if that weren’t enough, the Hunters allegedly went to great lengths to cover up the scheme: according to prosecutors, they made fraudulent claims that their purchases were for charities, including veterans’ charities. A Washington Post report added that the prosecutors’ allegations “read like a caricature of a corrupt, greedy politician.”

The California Republican’s defense has evolved a bit over time.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.25.19

06/25/19 12:00PM

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

* A new MoveOn.org straw poll found 38% of the group's progressive members listed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as their first choice. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who received MoveOn.org's endorsement in 2016, was second in the straw poll with 17% support.

* Speaking of surveys, a new Emerson poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democrats' 2020 field with 34% support, followed by Sanders with 27%. Warren was third with 14%, and like nearly every other recent poll, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) rounded out the top five.

* On a related note, the same Emerson poll found each of the top Democratic contenders leading Donald Trump in hypothetical general-election match-ups.

* Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) officially endorsed Kamala Harris' presidential campaign this morning. A week ago, the Californian didn't have any congressional endorsements outside of her home state, but over the last five days, Harris has picked up three -- and all are members of the Congressional Black Caucus. As Nate Silver noted this morning, "A gradual shift in support among black leaders from Biden/undecided to Harris would be one of the most significant events of the primary."

* Warren, Sanders, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) may be 2020 rivals, but this week, they're partnering up in opposition to Sinclair Broadcast Group's acquisition of 21 regional sports networks. The progressive senators are pressing the FEC and the Justice Department to conduct a review.

* In an effort to duplicate the success Democrats have had in small-donor fundraising through ActBlue, Republicans this week launched their rival online mechanism, which they're calling WinRed.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

A less-than-ideal time for a 'Latinos for Trump' event

06/25/19 11:20AM

In August 2017, after deadly violence broke out on the streets of Charlottesville, Donald Trump publicly defended the "very fine people" among the racist activists. The Republican president also expressed his deep affection for monuments honoring Confederate leaders who took up arms against the United States during the Civil War.

It was against this backdrop that Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, traveled to Detroit for ... wait for it ... an outreach event for African-American voters, encouraging the community to support Republican candidates.

As the Detroit News reported at the time, "The timing couldn't have been more awkward."

Nearly two years later, a similar dynamic is unfolding.

Vice President Pence is traveling to Florida on Tuesday to launch a national "Latinos for Trump" initiative in a bid to bolster support for the Republican ticket at time when new polling shows large majorities of Hispanics favoring the election of a Democrat next year.

Pence is scheduled to appear later Tuesday morning in Miami, the city that is hosting the first of the Democratic presidential debates this week. Florida, home to more than 2 million Hispanic registered voters, is a key state for Trump's reelection fortunes next year.

To borrow the Detroit News' phrasing, the timing couldn't be more awkward.

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Image: U.S. ICE officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta

Even ICE agents are reportedly 'losing patience' with Trump's antics

06/25/19 10:51AM

Eight days ago, Donald Trump blindsided much of his own team by announcing a new initiative: he would use Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to "begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States." The raids were scheduled to begin six days later in several major American cities.

As the administration scrambled to mobilize, the president reversed course the day before the raids were poised to begin. Just hours after defending his plan, Trump said the mass deportations would be delayed. (His stated explanation didn't make much sense.)

Immigrants and their advocates in targeted communities weren't sure what to think -- this president has earned a reputation for saying one thing and doing another -- and as it turns out, some ICE officials felt a similar sense of uncertainty.

The New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer noted in a new piece, published yesterday, that the agency -- generally seen as politically aligned with the White House -- is "losing patience" with Trump's erratic approach. John Amaya, a former deputy chief of staff at ICE, told Blitzer the president's directive was "a dumb-s**t political move."

On Sunday, I spoke to an ICE officer about the week's events. "Almost nobody was looking forward to this operation," the officer said. "It was a boondoggle, a nightmare." Even on the eve of the operation, many of the most important details remained unresolved.

"This was a family op. So where are we going to put the families? There's no room to detain them, so are we going to put them in hotels?" the officer said. On Friday, an answer came down from ice leadership: the families would be placed in hotels while ice figured out what to do with them. That, in turn, raised other questions. "So the families are in hotels, but who's going to watch them?" the officer continued. "What happens if the person we arrest has a U.S.-citizen child? What do we do with the children? Do we need to get booster seats for the vans? Should we get the kids toys to play with?"

Trump's tweet broadcasting the operation had also created a safety issue for the officers involved. "No police agency goes out and says, 'Tomorrow, between four and eight, we're going to be in these neighborhoods,' " the officer said.

While the ICE officer didn't want to be identified, it'd be a mistake to assume he or she was alone. Indeed, even acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan was rather transparent in raising concerns about Trump's gambit.

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A man holds an earth balloon into the air as people fill the street before a global warming march in New York Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (Photo by Mel Evans/AP)

Despite Pence's claim, Team Trump doesn't 'follow the science' on climate

06/25/19 10:07AM

CNN's Jake Tapper asked Vice President Mike Pence a straightforward question over the weekend: does he see climate change as a threat. The Indiana Republican gave every indication that he didn't want to answer, though he eventually said, "I think we're making great progress reducing carbon emissions, America has the cleanest air and water in the world."

The host quickly reminded Pence that the United States does not, in reality, have the cleanest air and water in the world. Complicating matters, we're not making great progress in reducing carbon emissions, either.

As part of the same exchange, however, the vice president tried to deliver a reassurance to the public: "[W]hat I will tell you is that we will always follow the science on that in this administration."

The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Consider this striking report from Politico, published over the weekend.

The Trump administration has refused to publicize dozens of government-funded studies that carry warnings about the effects of climate change, defying a longstanding practice of touting such findings by the Agriculture Department's acclaimed in-house scientists.

The studies range from a groundbreaking discovery that rice loses vitamins in a carbon-rich environment — a potentially serious health concern for the 600 million people world-wide whose diet consists mostly of rice — to a finding that climate change could exacerbate allergy seasons to a warning to farmers about the reduction in quality of grasses important for raising cattle.

At issue are peer-reviewed reports, prepared by government scientists, and published through the highly respected, non-partisan Agricultural Research Service.

The article added that a Politico investigation "revealed a persistent pattern in which the Trump administration refused to draw attention to findings that show the potential dangers and consequences of climate change, covering dozens of separate studies. The administration's moves flout decades of department practice of promoting its research in the spirit of educating farmers and consumers around the world, according to an analysis of USDA communications under previous administrations."

If you saw the show last week, you saw Rachel report on the USDA also going to absurd lengths to sideline career scientists whose research may interfere with the White House's agenda.

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Image: US-POLITICS-FBI-WRAY

Asked whether he has confidence in his FBI chief, Trump hedges

06/25/19 09:20AM

It's been D.C. shorthand for many years: when a president publicly expresses confidence in an official in his employ, that official probably isn't at risk of losing his or her job. When a White House hedges on a president's confidence in administration officials, they should probably give their resumes an update.

With this in mind, FBI Director Chris Wray has new reason to be concerned about his job security.

President Trump on Monday declined to say he has confidence in Christopher Wray and stressed that he disagrees with the FBI director, who has said he does not believe there was spying on the president's 2016 campaign.

"Well, we'll see how it turns out," Trump said in an exclusive interview with The Hill when asked about his level of confidence in Wray.

It's a striking comment from a sitting president referring to his own handpicked FBI director, but it's also not surprising.

Last fall, NBC News reported that Donald Trump has been known to privately complain about his FBI chief, arguing behind the scenes that Chris Wray was “not protecting his interests.” As regular readers know, the president's dissatisfaction has become far more overt of late.

A month ago, for example, Trump whined via Twitter that the FBI “has no leadership,” a not-so-subtle shot at the man he handpicked to oversee the bureau. Two days later, the president complained that it was “ridiculous” for Wray to balk at the White House’s conspiracy theory about the Trump campaign being spied on in 2016.

Reminded two weeks later that Wray has encouraged Americans aware of foreign efforts to intervene in our elections to contact federal law enforcement, Trump declared, “The FBI director is wrong.” (The FBI was not, in reality, wrong.)

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A family practice provider uses a stethoscope to examine a patient in an exam room. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's curious boast: he 'decided not to' kill the ACA

06/25/19 08:43AM

In his "Meet the Press" interview that aired on Sunday, Donald Trump turned his attention to health care, telling NBC News' Chuck Todd he's done a "great" job implementing the Affordable Care Act. The host reminded the president, "You're still trying to kill it."

Trump replied, "No, no."

In reality, whether the Republican knows this or not, it was just last month that the Trump administration implored a federal appeals court to tear down the health care reform law in its entirety, stripping its benefits from tens of millions of Americans.

Trump added, "I am in favor of pre-existing conditions" -- presumably he meant he supported protections for those with pre-existing conditions -- despite his support for litigation that would destroy the ACA's existing benefits, including protections for those with pre-existing conditions. (The president went on to say the lawsuit "has nothing to do with it," which didn't make any sense at all.)

It led to one of the more curious boasts of Trump's tenure:

"[T]he reason Obamacare continues is my decision.... I could have managed Obamacare so it would have failed or I could have managed it the way we did so it's as good as it can be. [...]

"I had a decision to make. I could have politically killed Obamacare. I decided not to do it."

As president, Trump first declared the death of the Affordable Care Act on March 17, 2017. "I also want people to know that Obamacare is dead," he said. "It's a dead health care plan. It's not even a health care plan.... Obamacare is not an alternative. It's not there. It's dead. It's dead. " He hadn't quite been in office for two months.

The Republican proceeded to repeat the claim obsessively for months, telling anyone who'd listen that the health care reform law is "dead." "Gone." "Absolutely dead." "Finished." A "dead carcass."

And yet, Trump apparently now believes the exact opposite. Indeed, on "Meet the Press," he suggested he deserves some kind of credit for "deciding" not to kill the health care law.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump's third response to assault allegation is arguably his worst

06/25/19 08:00AM

The public learned on Friday about new sexual-assault allegations E. Jean Carroll, a longtime writer and media figure, raised against Donald Trump. Her account, published as a book excerpt in New York magazine, described an alleged incident in a department store in the mid-1990s in which the future president attacked her in a dressing room.

Carroll said she told two friends about the alleged incident at the time, both of whom are journalists the writer did not identify by name. She’s the latest in a series of women who’ve accused Trump of misconduct.

As we've discussed, the president issued a written response on Friday afternoon, claiming he’s never met Carroll. The New York magazine article, however, included a photograph of the two interacting at an event years before the alleged attack.

His second response came a day later, during a brief Q&A with reporters, when Trump again said he has "no idea who this woman is," before sharing details about Carroll's background. He proceeded to dismiss the relevance of the photograph, before comparing himself to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which wasn't exactly helpful.

All of which set the stage for Response #3.

President Trump said Monday that writer E. Jean Carroll was "totally lying" when she recently accused him of raping her during an encounter in a New York department store in the mid-1990s.

In an exclusive interview with The Hill, the president vehemently denied the allegations just hours after Carroll detailed the alleged incident during a cable news interview.

"I'll say it with great respect: Number one, she's not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?" the president said while seated behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

The president's "not my type" rhetoric made it sound as if he doesn't consider Carroll attractive enough to attack.

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