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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.16.18

02/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Parkland: "Less than six weeks before Nikolas Cruz committed one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, someone who knew him called an FBI tip line to complain about him, the agency revealed on Friday. But no one followed up."

* White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has "approved an overhaul of how the White House manages security-clearance investigations, acknowledging missteps but putting the onus on the FBI and the Justice Department to now hand-deliver updates and provide more information."

* Keep an eye on Shulkin: "The secretary of veterans affairs, David J. Shulkin, for a year enjoyed rare bipartisan support in Washington as he reformed his department, but now officials in the Trump administration are trying to replace him."

* Again? "Jared Kushner quietly filed an addendum to his personal financial disclosure adding even more previously undisclosed business interests in recent weeks -- and may have even more to disclose, according to real estate documents shared with TPM."

* Really? "9 out of 10 public schools now hold mass shooting drills for students."

* I meant to mention this 4th Circuit ruling yesterday: "A second federal appeals court ruled on Thursday against President Trump's latest effort to limit travel from countries said to pose a threat to the nation's security."

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Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol

Trump comes up short in response to new Mueller indictment

02/16/18 04:50PM

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team announced the indictment today of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities who allegedly interfered in the 2016 presidential election, trying to boost Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. The news further discredits the president's longtime claim that that Russian assistance for his campaign is a "hoax."

And so, Trump, who was reportedly briefed on the indictment this morning by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, thought it'd be a good idea to tweet about the news with a slightly different posture.

"Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!"

OK, let's take those one at a time.

1. "Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President." That's a little dubious -- there were plenty of headlines before 2015 about Trump's possible candidacy -- but I'm not sure why Trump thinks that's important. What today's indictment documents are the efforts Russian operatives took on his behalf in 2016. The fact that the network's operations were in place beforehand is interesting, but not exculpatory.

For that matter, the fact that the president is now referencing Russia's "campaign" is a rather dramatic departure. For the better part of two years, Trump has questioned whether the Russia meddling happened at all -- and the more U.S. intelligence agencies said otherwise, the more Trump publicly belittled American intelligence professionals.

Indeed, as recently as November, Trump told reporters he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin -- twice -- and Putin "said he didn't meddle." Trump added, "I just asked him again, and he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they're saying he did.... Putin said he did not do what they said he did. And, you know, there are those that say, if he did do it, he wouldn't have gotten caught, all right? Which is a very interesting statement."

That posture was ridiculous at the time. Now even Trump is grudgingly acknowledging Russia's "campaign."

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Indictment crushes Trump's 'hoax' claims about Russian interference

02/16/18 02:32PM

For the better part of two years, Donald Trump balked at the very idea of Russian operatives trying to help elect him. The Republican president insisted the whole argument was a "hoax," facts and intelligence community assessments, be damned.

I know Trump isn't much of a reader, but someone really ought to show him today's indictment from the Justice Department.

Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian entities have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of interfering in the 2016 presidential election -- including supporting the Trump campaign and "disparaging" Hillary Clinton, special counsel Robert Mueller announced Friday.

The indictments -- part of Mueller's ongoing investigation -- are the first criminal indictments tied directly to Russian interference in the 2016 election. [...]

According to the indictment, some defendants traveled to U.S. under false pretenses to collect intelligence and to "reach significant number of Americans for purposes of interfering with the U.S. political system, including the presidential election of 2016."

The full, detailed, 37-page indictment is online here (pdf) and it's worth your time. It paints a rather extraordinary picture of an extensive Russian interference operation.

And while I'm not an attorney, and I'll defer to those with more authority to delve into the indictment in more detail, several things have jumped out at me:

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Bacardi Presents Playboy's Super Saturday Night Party

Trump faces questions about another adult entertainer affair

02/16/18 12:54PM

When talking about Donald Trump's alleged affairs with women from the adult-entertainment industry, it's probably best to ask, "Which one?"

The $130,000 pre-election payment to Stormy Daniels is already the subject of an ongoing controversy, but a few days before the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal published a separate article about a Playboy centerfold named Karen McDougal. As the story goes, the company that owns the National Enquirer paid McDougal $150,000 for her story about her affair with Trump, received the exclusive rights, and then didn't publish it.

There was, naturally, ample speculation about whether the tabloid's parent company, American Media Inc., did this as a "catch and kill" favor to help the Republican candidate -- buying the story so no one would see it. The company's CEO, David Pecker, is a Trump friend and supporter.

Now, however, the controversy is back in the news, with new details about how Trump and his allies concealed the alleged affair through secret meetings, payoffs, and legal arrangements.

Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, documented her alleged nine-month affair with Trump in an eight-page handwritten note shared with The New Yorker.

McDougal, 46, claims Trump once offered to pay her after they had sex in a private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where many of their purported liaisons took place. She alleges Trump tried to avoid creating a record that might expose their relationship by having her pay for her own flights and then reimbursing her.

According to McDougal's account, she had a consensual sexual relationship with Trump in 2006, roughly two years after he married Melania Trump, his third and current wife. McDougal said the relationship ended in April 2007, about a year after Trump's youngest son was born.

Asked about the story, a White House spokesperson said, "This is an old story that is just more fake news. The president says he never had a relationship with McDougal."

That's an interesting choice of words.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.16.18

02/16/18 12:00PM

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

* With a month remaining in Pennsylvania's congressional special election, a new Monmouth University poll shows Rick Saccone (R) leading Conor Lamb (D), 49% to 46%. Given the partisan leanings of the district, we'd generally expect to see the Republican with a much larger advantage.

* As if Missouri's U.S. Senate race weren't already complicated enough, Kansas City lawyer Craig O'Dear launched an independent bid today, making this a three-way contest.

* With Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) retiring, Mark Burns, a pro-Trump televangelist, has decided to run for the South Carolina congressional seat.

* Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has signed on as the state engagement chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, emphasizing this year's elections as part of the 2020 redistricting effort. It's also worth noting that McAuliffe is a possible 2020 presidential candidate.

* Barack Obama left office on a relatively high note, at least as far as polling is concerned, and his standing has only improved since. Gallup reported this week that Obama's "legacy appears to be on the right track, as 63% of Americans in hindsight say they approve of the way he handled his job."

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Image: Senators Debate Health Care Bill On Capitol Hill

Even Republicans slam Trump's handling of immigration fight

02/16/18 11:21AM

After Senate Republicans partnered with the White House to kill a bipartisan compromise on immigration, Donald Trump tried to blame Democrats. Some of the GOP senators who helped craft the latest bipartisan deal -- the most recent of several -- have already said the president's rhetoric isn't true.

"I don't think the president helped very much," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Capitol Hill reporters yesterday afternoon. "There's probably 75 votes here for border security plus a pathway to citizenship for the DACA recipients, but you need presidential leadership. Without it, we won't get there."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another one of the GOP co-sponsors of the bipartisan Rounds-King deal, expressed a similar sentiment, but she also raised an interesting point:

"I fear that you've got some within the White House that have not yet figured out that legislation almost by its very definition is a compromise product and compromise doesn't mean getting four Republicans together and figuring out what it is that those four agree on, it is broader," [Murkowski] said.

This is a good point, of course, which is more broadly applicable than some may realize.

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Image: Donald Trump

Immigration politics lead Trump to repeat a cynical lie

02/16/18 10:53AM

Donald Trump has many flaws, but he tends to understand what will affect his own personal standing. The president realizes, for example, that if he starts deporting hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, the threat of a political backlash is real. After all, the American mainstream supports DACA protections for these young immigrants.

And so, in order to protect himself politically, Trump has to lie -- brazenly and repeatedly -- as he did again this morning.

"Cannot believe how BADLY DACA recipients have been treated by the Democrats...totally abandoned! Republicans are still working hard."

For anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of reality, the president's tweet is hopelessly bonkers. Trump is the one who rescinded DACA protections for the Dreamers. At the risk of noting details that are already painfully obvious, if he didn't want to see these immigrants "totally abandoned," he wouldn't have totally abandoned them.

Trump is also the one who's now rejected or walked away from six different bipartisan efforts to protect Dreamers from the president's own policy.

Indeed, it's stunning just how far Democrats have been willing to go as this debate has unfolded. I, for example, have never seen much value in trading DACA for a border wall, largely because that's a "compromise" in which Trump gets something he says he wants in exchange for something Trump says he wants. That's not how bipartisan deals are generally supposed to go.

But as of yesterday, Democrats were willing to accept that deal anyway as part of the Rounds-King proposal that Republicans filibustered on the Senate floor. In effect, Dems caved, feeling as if they had no choice and no leverage. Trump and his team could've taken "yes" for an answer, but instead they worked as hard as they could to kill the measure.

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Mitt Romney is interviewed by Neil Cavuto during his "Cavuto Coast to Coast" program on the Fox Business Network, in New York, March 4, 2016. (Photo by Richard Drew/AP)

Six years after his failed presidential bid, Romney runs for Senate

02/16/18 10:10AM

Mitt Romney is from Michigan. He was governor of Massachusetts. He owns homes in New Hampshire and California.

He's now running for the Senate in Utah, and if elected, he'll go to Washington, D.C.

Mitt Romney, the GOP's presidential candidate in 2012 and a former governor of Massachusetts, announced Friday that he would run for U.S. Senate in Utah.

"I have decided to run for United States Senate because I believe I can help bring Utah's values and Utah's lessons to Washington," Romney said in a video announcing his bid.

To be sure, Romney isn't exactly a stranger to Utah. He helped run the Salt Lake City Olympics in 1994, and he owned a ski chalet in the state before selling it in 2010. His family bought another Utah home after Romney's failed presidential campaign in 2012.

He reportedly considered running for office in Utah in the 1990s, but decided against it, saying he was a Massachusetts man, through and through. So much for that idea.

Romney turns 71 next month, and if elected, he'll be among the oldest freshmen senators in American history. He'd also join a small club of politicians who served as governor of one state and senator of another -- joining Sam Houston of Texas and Tennessee.

Republican officials are not only pleased with the news, the party is already considering him for a leadership post, hoping Romney will take over next year as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 23, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Why we can't, as Paul Ryan suggests, 'collect the facts' on guns

02/16/18 09:20AM

The pattern is painfully familiar: there's a mass shooting; much of the public looks to policymakers to take new steps to protect Americans; the NRA's allies make excuses; and the news cycle moves on. Then there's another mass shooting, at which point the cycle begins anew.

And so, in the wake of the deadly high-school shooting in Parkland, Fla., this week, developments on Capitol Hill yesterday were rather predictable. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, said something a little different, and it's worth pausing to consider it in more detail.

Congress, Ryan said in a radio interview, needs to "take a breath and collect the facts." The Republican leader added, "We don't just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data."

That's actually a sensible reaction. I'm aware of the political circumstances, of course, and I understand that when Ryan says he wants to "take a breath," it's possible the Speaker simply wants to buy some time and wait for the political world to lose interest, but let's not be cynical. Instead, let's take Ryan's comments at face value.

Why don't we "collect the facts" and pull together "the data"? Because a Republican policy won't let us. The Washington Post  reported last fall:

[O]ne reason the positions are so intractable is that no one really knows what works to prevent gun deaths. Gun-control research in the United States essentially came to a standstill in 1996. After 21 years, the science is stale.

"In the area of what works to prevent shootings, we know almost nothing," Mark Rosenberg, who, in the mid-1990s, led the CDC's gun-violence research efforts, said shortly after the San Bernardino shooting in 2015.

In 1996, the Republican-majority Congress threatened to strip funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unless it stopped funding research into firearm injuries and deaths. The National Rifle Association accused the CDC of promoting gun control. As a result, the CDC stopped funding gun-control research -- which had a chilling effect far beyond the agency, drying up money for almost all public health studies of the issue nationwide.

As regular readers may recall, it’s common knowledge that the NRA and its allies have fought to kill any kind of restrictions on firearm ownership. What’s less recognized is the fact that the gun lobby also helped block basic data collection, to the point that there’s “no current scientific consensus about guns and violence,” in large part because the NRA “has been able to neutralize empirical cases for control.”

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Stormy Daniels visits a local restaurant in downtown New Orleans, Wednesday, May 6, 2009.

Controversy over Team Trump's payment to porn star intensifies

02/16/18 08:42AM

We've now known for several weeks about the money a porn star received, shortly before the 2016 presidential election, in order to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. The adult-film actress, Stormy Daniels, has said very little about her relationship with the future president since receiving the money.

But now that Michael Cohen, a longtime personal Trump attorney, has spoken publicly about the money he "facilitated" for Daniels, the porn star believes she's free to discuss her sexual history. As her manager put it the other day, in apparent reference to a non-disclosure agreement, "Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story."

Indeed, just yesterday, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, began hinting at revelations to come, including possible physical evidence of her relationship with Trump.

And while I'm sure all of this seems quite provocative, I'm going to say again what I've been saying for a while: the interesting part of this scandal is the money, not the sex. The New York Times  reported yesterday:

The admission by President Trump's longtime personal lawyer that he sent $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, who once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, has raised potential legal questions ranging from breach of contract to ethics violations.

The lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, told The New York Times on Tuesday that he had used his own funds to facilitate the payment to the actress ... adding that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign had reimbursed him for the payment.

OK, but did someone -- say, Donald J. Trump Sr., for example -- reimburse him? Was there any kind of financial arrangement between the lawyer and his client? Cohen replied to the Times, "I can't get into any of that."

But why not?

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