Latest StoriesRSS

select from:

E.g., 2/21/2018
E.g., 2/21/2018
Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-RUSSIA

Trump lobbies Justice Dept to target his political adversaries

02/21/18 10:13AM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump pushed the decency line past the breaking point when he tried to connect the gun massacre in Parkland to the investigation into his Russia scandal. As the president put it, FBI officials "are spending too much time" on the Russia investigation, instead of preventing gun violence -- as if federal law enforcement has to choose one or the other.

Asked about the message yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "I think he's making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax." The "hoax," in Sanders' mind, are the allegations that Trump's political operation cooperated with the Russian operatives who attacked our elections.

It was a bizarre thing to say in light of the evidence pointing to collusion, but just as importantly, Sanders' comments raised a related question: since when does the White House press secretary tell federal law enforcement officials what they should and shouldn't examine?

Keep this question in mind when considering the president's tweet from this morning:

"Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren't they the subject of the investigation? Why didn't Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren't Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!"

Trump actually published this twice -- because the first time, he accidentally misspelled his attorney general's name.

Now, at this point, we could spend several paragraphs explaining to the confused president that there are no alleged "Dem crimes" to investigate. We could also explain that the Obama administration wanted to do more, but Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), blocked efforts to respond to Russia's attack. We could even explain that Obama did do "something" -- he imposed sanctions -- which is a heckuva lot more than Trump's done.

But even putting Trump's tiresome nonsense aside, isn't the more pressing question why the president is pressuring the Justice Department to investigate his political adversaries? Indeed, why does he keep doing this?

read more

Image: Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during a shooting incident in Parkland

The right finds a new enemy: survivors of the Parkland shooting

02/21/18 09:22AM

When I think of former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a prominent surrogate for Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, I tend to think of the trip he took a month after the election. The Georgia Republican went to Moscow and signaled to business leaders that the incoming Trump administration may be prepared to lift economic sanctions against Russia.

Now, however, Kingston may be known for something else: he's the guy who's criticizing the teenaged survivors of the Parkland mass-shooting, suggesting they may be puppets of nefarious liberal forces. He made the argument on CNN yesterday morning -- he's an official political commentator on the network -- and repeated it again last night.

As the New York Times  reported, Kingston is not alone.

[I]n certain right-wing corners of the web — and, increasingly, from more mainstream voices like Rush Limbaugh and a commentator on CNN — the students are being portrayed not as grief-ridden survivors but as pawns and conspiracists intent on exploiting a tragedy to undermine the nation's laws.

In these baseless accounts, which by Tuesday had spread rapidly on social media, the students are described as "crisis actors," who travel to the sites of shootings to instigate fury against guns. Or they are called F.B.I. plants, defending the bureau for its failure to catch the shooter. They have been portrayed as puppets being coached and manipulated by the Democratic Party, gun control activists, the so-called antifa movement and the left-wing billionaire George Soros.

The theories are far-fetched. But they are finding a broad and prominent audience online. On Tuesday, the president's son Donald J. Trump Jr. liked a pair of tweets that accused David Hogg, a 17-year-old who is among the most outspoken of the Parkland students, of criticizing the Trump administration in an effort to protect his father, whom Mr. Hogg has described as a retired F.B.I. agent.

The right-wing pushback against these kids has been fierce, but just as importantly, it's been widespread.

read more

A voter marks a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Dem wins easily in a pro-Trump district in Kentucky

02/21/18 08:40AM

The circumstances surrounding Kentucky's state House special election yesterday were rather tragic. Former Rep. Dan Johnson (R), facing allegations he molested a teenaged girl, committed suicide in December.

Republicans were nevertheless optimistic about keeping the seat "red." After all, this is a district Mitt Romney carried by 33 points in 2012, and which Donald Trump won by 49 points in 2016. The result was practically a foregone conclusion.

At least it was right up until the Democratic candidate won last night.

The Democratic Party's run of good news in state legislative races continued Tuesday night, with a former legislator beaten in the 2016 Republican wave reclaiming a seat held briefly by a pastor who committed suicide after being accused of molesting a teenage girl.

Linda Belcher, a Democrat first elected in 2008, won the special election for Kentucky's 49th District with 68.45 percent of the vote.

In other words, Belcher didn't just win in this Kentucky district yesterday; she won easily.

Context, of course, is everything, and it's worth emphasizing that Belcher was an established figure in the community, having previously held this legislative seat. That said, in the special election, the Kentucky Dem easily outperformed her previous results.

And then there's the larger trend to consider. Democratic candidates have now flipped 37 districts from "red" to "blue" since Donald Trump took office. What's more, as Vox explained, "According to an extremely useful comprehensive spreadsheet compiled by Daily Kos, across 70 special elections in 2017, Democrats ran 10 points ahead of Clinton and 7 points ahead of Obama's 2012 results. Those numbers have accelerated into 2018. Across 14 races, Democrats are running 28 points ahead of Clinton and 14 points ahead of Barack Obama."

Will Dems be able to keep that up through the midterm elections in the fall? Almost certainly not -- because turnout models for special elections tend to be quite different from cyclical general elections. That said, Democrats don't need to run 28 points ahead of Hillary Clinton's 2016 performance to do well in the midterms.

read more

This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Florida GOP rejects gun measures, declares porn a health hazard

02/21/18 08:00AM

It appears the Republican majority in Florida's state legislature has a rather macabre sense of humor.

Just a week after a gunman killed 17 people in a massacre at a South Florida high school, the GOP-led state House had an opportunity to debate a ban on assault weapons; As the Miami Herald reported, the right had reason to be pleased with the outcome.

The bill (HB 219), which would ban the sale and possession of semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines like the kind used by Nikolas Cruz, has been mired in a House subcommittee for months and has not been heard.

Amid rising tensions at the Capitol, Democrats used a highly unusual procedure to try to move the proposal directly to the House floor for a debate and vote.

Republicans voted it down, 71-36. Several survivors of the high school massacre, watching from the visitors' gallery, were overcome with emotion, and the action set off a firestorm of controversy on social media.

The outcome was not unexpected, but that was little solace to those who hoped last week's bloodshed might help Republican policymakers to reconsider their assumptions about gun restrictions.

But to fully appreciate the absurdity of the circumstances, consider the fact that while Florida's state House wasn't willing to tackle efforts to prevent gun deaths, it was willing to debate the public health risks associated with porn. The Tampa Bay Times  reported:

read more

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 2.20.18

02/20/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Look for more on this near the top of tonight's show: "A lawyer who is the son-in-law of a Ukranian-Russian oligarch named in the controversial Donald Trump dossier pleaded guilty on Tuesday to lying to investigators in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. It is not clear, however, if Alex van der Zwaan, 33, has signed a cooperation deal with Mueller."

* SCOTUS: "The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday it will not take up an appeal to California's 10-day waiting period for gun buyers, acting as the issue of gun control is once more in the national spotlight after last week's school shooting in Florida."

* Syria: "Attacks by forces loyal to the Syrian government have killed more than 100 people in a rebel-held Damascus suburb, aid agencies and monitoring groups said Tuesday, calling it one of the bloodiest 24-hour periods in Syria's seven-year war."

* Israel: "The mushrooming corruption scandal plaguing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel took a surprising new turn on Tuesday, with an allegation that one of his closest advisers had sought to bribe a judge into dropping a criminal investigation involving the prime minister's wife."

* A slow-moving, ongoing tragedy: "Exactly five months after Hurricane Maria, new figures show suicide rates in Puerto Rico reached a new high after years of steady drops."

* Manafort: "Federal law enforcement officials have identified more than $40 million in 'suspicious' financial transactions to and from companies controlled by President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort -- a much larger sum than was cited in his October indictment on money laundering charges."

read more

Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-RUSSIA

Trump moves forward with plan to ban 'bump stocks'

02/20/18 05:03PM

It was just a few months ago that the United States suffered its deadliest mass shooting in modern history, with a nightmarish attack in Las Vegas that left dozens killed and hundreds wounded. As regular readers know, much of the public, as usual, turned to policymakers, seeking some kind of action.

In this case, officials raised the prospect of action on “bump stocks” – an after-market modification that helps semi-automatic weapons, which are legal, fire like automatic weapons, which are already largely banned. A bipartisan bill was introduced on Capitol Hill, and even some Republicans suggested publicly that action on this issue was at least possible.

The momentum stalled quickly. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced that Congress would look to the Trump administration to deal with the issue with new regulations, rather than have lawmakers tackle this new legislation. Today, Donald Trump indicated he's moving forward with a regulatory fix.

President Donald Trump has directed his attorney general to propose regulations that would ban bump stocks and similar devices "that turn legal weapons into machine guns," he announced Tuesday.

The president, speaking at the start of a Medal of Valor ceremony at the White House, said he expected the "critical" new regulations to "be finalized soon."

It's worth clarifying a few things. First, today's presidential remarks didn't actually change any policy; Trump instead suggested we'll eventually see a change in policy once new regulations are complete. What will the new regulations say? We don't yet have any details.

Second, this afternoon's announcement wasn't altogether new. The Justice Department began its review of bump stock regulations two months ago. Trump's specific direction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, is new.

And finally, let's not forget that as recently as late December, the New York Times  reported that Justice Department officials "have indicated they do not believe the department can regulate the sale of gun bump stocks without congressional action."

read more

Image: BELGIUM-NATO-DEFENCE-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-MEETING

Allies abroad urged to ignore Trump's intemperate tweets

02/20/18 12:40PM

During a tour of Latin America last summer, Vice President Mike Pence boasted that the world recognizes Donald Trump as "a leader who says what he means and means what he says." It's a nice sentiment, which was wholly at odds with reality.

I'm not just referring to the Republican president's penchant for breathtaking dishonesty; I'm also referring to the fact that the world has learned no such thing. In fact, the Washington Post  reported over the weekend that U.S. policymakers continue to travel abroad and assure allies that Trump's bizarre messages are better left ignored.

Amid global anxiety about President Trump's approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message for a gathering of Europe's foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.

U.S. lawmakers -- both Democrats and Republicans -- and top national security officials in the Trump administration offered the same advice publicly and privately, often clashing with Trump's Twitter stream: The United States remains staunchly committed to its European allies, is furious with the Kremlin about election interference and isn't contemplating a preemptive strike on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.

Or put another way, the position of the United States on key international issues is not what the president of the United States says it is.

The result, predictably, is widespread confusion. Even our European allies aren't sure whether to believe the words that come directly from Trump or the reassurances from U.S. officials who insist Trump's rhetoric is better left ignored.

The article quoted one diplomat who wondered aloud whether policymakers like White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and others like him who adhere largely to traditional U.S. foreign policy positions "were falling into the same trap as Germany's elite during Hitler's rise, when they continued to serve in government in the name of protecting their nation."

read more

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.20.18

02/20/18 12:00PM

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

* The Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday unveiled a new map of congressional districts, and though Republicans still hope to file a lawsuit to block it, NBC News called the new map "the most consequential midterm development of 2018."

* On a related note, while the Pennsylvania GOP intends to attack the map as unfair, Donald Trump weighed in this morning, saying Republicans should challenge the map as a partisan matter.

* Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, announced yesterday that after a decade on Capitol Hill, he won't seek re-election this year. By my count, he's the 34th House Republican to announce his or her retirement (12 are retiring from the House to seek higher office, while 22 are leaving elected office altogether.)

* Which gubernatorial races are likely to be the most competitive this year? It looks like the Republican Governors Association has invested $20 million in ad buys in four states: Florida, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio.

* Among the guests at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year will be Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and oddly enough, White House Counsel Don McGahn.

* In Montana, Republican Senate hopeful Troy Downing was charged "with illegally purchasing resident hunting or fishing licenses in Montana while living in California." A local court announced last week that his jury trial will begin in May. Downing has pleaded not guilty.

read more

Pages