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E.g., 4/24/2018
Image: Rand Paul

After latest reversal, Rand Paul earns the wrong kind of reputation

04/24/18 08:41AM

Mike Pompeo was poised to become the first secretary of state nominee to ever be rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was described as a "hard no" on the nomination, and with every Democrat on the panel also opposed to Pompeo, Donald Trump's choice to lead the State Department was going to suffer a historic embarrassment.

And then Rand Paul pulled a Rand Paul.

Amid several last-minute twists, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was reported favorably to serve as the next secretary of state by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a Monday evening vote.

Following the announcement by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., moments before the panel was scheduled to vote that he had reversed his opposition to Pompeo's nomination, the committee voted 11-9 along party lines....

In a series of tweets published yesterday afternoon, the Kentucky Republican said he'd received some "assurances" that Pompeo agrees with Trump about the war in Iraq having been a mistake and on the need to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Or put another way, Rand Paul heard some meaningless rhetoric from the White House about the hawkish nominee, which was enough for him to abandon his stated principles.

Oddly enough, this is a rare instance in which one of the president's predictions proved true. Just last week, Trump was asked at a White House event if he was concerned about Mike Pompeo's confirmation. "I will say this about Rand Paul: he's never let me down," the president said. "Rand Paul is a very special guy, as far as I'm concerned. He's never let me down. And I don't think he'll let us down again."

And while Trump was no doubt pleased with the GOP senator's latest reversal, it's hard not to wonder if Rand Paul fully appreciates the kind of reputation he's cultivating.

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Image: Donald Trump

One of Trump's key Russia claims starts to unravel

04/24/18 08:00AM

It's not exactly a secret that the Steele dossier includes one especially provocative claim: the report alleges that Donald Trump, while in Moscow in 2013, had lewd interactions with prostitutes. The alleged incident remained relevant because it raises the possibility that Russia has proof of the encounter, which it could use as leverage against the American president.

Former FBI Director James Comey's newly released memos show that Trump seemed "obsessed" with disproving the claim, raising the issue several times with Comey over the course of several meetings. Indeed, as far as Trump was concerned, he effectively had an alibi: he never actually spent the night in Russia, so the story couldn't be true. The president stressed this point to Comey on multiple occasions.

The trouble is, Trump's defense appears to have unraveled. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bloomberg News reported yesterday on the Republican's flight records from the time.

[T]he broad timeline of Trump's stay, stretching from Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, through the following Sunday morning, has been widely reported. And it's substantiated by social media posts that show he slept in Moscow the night before the Miss Universe contest.

Now, flight records obtained by Bloomberg provide fresh details. Combined with existing accounts and Trump's own social-media posts, they capture two days that, nearly five years later, loom large in the controversy engulfing the White House and at the heart of the Comey memos, which the Justice Department turned over last week to Congress.

Trump may not have spent that Saturday night in Russia, but the records suggest he did spend Friday night there.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.23.18

04/23/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Tennessee: "A man suspected of killing four people and injuring four others after opening fire inside a Tennessee Waffle House has been arrested following an extensive manhunt, according to police."

* Toronto: "A van plowed into eight to 10 people in a busy intersection in Toronto on Monday afternoon, police said. The driver of the van has been taken into custody, according to police. Authorities did not immediately identify the driver."

* Afghanistan: "A suicide bomber carried out an ISIS-inspired attack at a voter registration center in the Afghan capital on Sunday, killing 57 people and wounding more than 100 others, according to officials from the Afghan interior and public health ministries."

* Alabama: "Waffle House has weighed in on the controversial Sunday morning arrest by three white male Saraland Police officers of black 25-year-old Mobile woman Chikesia Clemons in one of the company's two Saraland locations."

* Samantha Dravis: "One of embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's most trusted advisers sought to retroactively change her resignation date a day after the House oversight committee requested to interview her as part of its investigation."

* Indiana: "The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court ruling striking down a Pence-era abortion law. House Enrolled Act 1337 was signed by former Gov. Mike Pence in March 2016. Among other 'non-discrimination provisions,' the law prohibited abortions sought because a fetus had been potentially diagnosed with a disability."

* The state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron: "[U]nlike his predecessors, Trump hasn't invited any members of Congress from the opposing party. He's also opted not to invite any members of the media, another departure from past state dinners."

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) participates in a conversation about American foreign strategy and statesmanship at the Hudson Institute on March 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Cotton is the wrong guy to give lectures on 'shameful political behavior'

04/23/18 01:46PM

Much of the far-right is unmistakably excited about Mike Pompeo's nomination to be the next secretary of state, and as the CIA director is poised to face a historic rejection from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plenty of conservatives are trying to keep the pressure on Pompeo's skeptics.

Some, however, have less credibility than others.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has been among Pompeo’s most vocal champions in the Senate, lambasted his colleagues ahead of voting.

“Democrats, especially on the Foreign Relations Committee, are really engaged in shameful political behavior,” Cotton said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Oh, I see. Tom Cotton wants to have a conversation about "shameful political behavior" on the part of senators who aren't on board with a presidential nomination.

As luck would have it, that's a great idea. Let's have that conversation and start with how he treated Cassandra Butts.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Senate poised to make history with Pompeo's Secretary of State nomination

04/23/18 12:48PM

No nominee for secretary of state has ever been rejected by a Senate committee, at least not since 1925, when the chamber started maintaining public records on committee actions. With that in mind, lawmakers are likely to make some history today with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump's controversial choice to become the nation's chief diplomat.

All 10 Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as one of the panel's 11 Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have announced their opposition to Pompeo's nomination. If all stick to that position at Monday's 5 p.m. ET vote, his nomination will not have enough support to be reported favorably to the full Senate.

Hours before the vote, President Donald Trump slammed Democrats for that position. "Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State ..." he tweeted.

It's actually very easy to believe. Pompeo was a far-right congressman for three terms, where he was known for peddling conspiracy theories and receiving a whole lot of money from the Koch brothers. Trump tapped him for the CIA, where he was far too partisan to be a good fit, and where he had an unfortunate habit of politicizing intelligence.

Now the president wants him to lead the State Department, despite his anti-Muslim ties, his rejection of climate science, and his lack of experience in international diplomacy.

So what happens after Pompeo is rejected by a bipartisan majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.23.18

04/23/18 12:00PM

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

* At the Utah Republican Convention over the weekend, Mitt Romney hoped to get 60% of the vote in order to clinch the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination. Instead, he came in second to state Rep. Mike Kennedy, and the two will soon compete in a statewide primary.

* The congressional special election in Arizona's 8th district is tomorrow, and the latest robocall from a Republican super PAC mentions Nancy Pelosi's name three times. It doesn't mention Hiral Tipirneni, the Democratic candidate in this race, at all.

* The latest statewide poll in Missouri found incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) with a small lead over state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), 48% to 44%.

* Speaking of Senate polling, a Mason-Dixon poll in Mississippi, looking ahead to hypothetical runoff elections later this year, showed appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) leading former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D), 46% to 34%. That same poll, however, found Espy leading right-wing state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), 42% to 40%.

* In West Virginia, Democrats are starting to intervene in the Republicans' competitive Senate primary, hoping to boost ex-con and coal baron Don Blankenship, whom they believe would be easier to defeat in the general election. The primary is two weeks from tomorrow.

* Republican megadonor Foster Friess surprised many late last week when he kicked off a GOP gubernatorial campaign in Wyoming, where Friess had talked about launching a Senate campaign. Friess is perhaps best known in electoral circles for bankrolling Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign and making highly provocative comments about his political beliefs.

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Image: Michael Cohen at Federal Court

Playing a risky game, Trump predicts Cohen won't 'flip' on him

04/23/18 11:20AM

It's been a couple of weeks since the FBI raided the office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's "fixer," as part of a criminal investigation into the New York lawyer. By all accounts, the developments rattled the president and his team -- because as they see it, the Cohen probe may be even more dangerous to them than Special Counsel's Robert Mueller's investigation.

It's against this backdrop that the New York Times  reported the other day that Trump has mistreated Cohen for years "with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired, according to interviews with a half-dozen people familiar with their relationship."

The article prompted quite a Twitter tantrum from the president.

"The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don't speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will 'flip.'

"They use non-existent 'sources' and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected.

"Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don't see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!"

There's probably no point in unpacking all of this, but there are a couple of broader takeaways that are worth keeping in mind. First, Trump's online reaction is emblematic of a president who appears quite nervous -- and probably for good reason.

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Trump does himself no favors ahead of North Korea talks

04/23/18 10:40AM

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, NBC News' Chuck Todd raised a fair question while interviewing White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short. Ahead of Donald Trump's apparent talks with Kim Jong-un, the host asked, "What has the United States gotten from North Korea? ... We've given him the meeting. That in itself is a huge gift. What have we gotten in return?"

The president was apparently watching, and expressed his dissatisfaction via Twitter.

"Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing. Wow, we haven't given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!"

For now, let's put aside the president's unfortunate school-yard taunts and the fact that he seems to have the temperament of a spoiled child. Instead, let's consider this on the substance, which Trump may not understand as well as he should.

For example, he says the United States hasn't "given up anything." That's plainly false. For decades, North Korean dictators have sought meetings with American presidents in order to raise the legitimacy and stature of the rogue regime. Trump's predecessors -- in both parties -- easily could've agreed to a meeting like this, but they balked at giving the dictators what they wanted. Trump, meanwhile, agreed to such a meeting without any real forethought, deliberations, or strategy.

What's more, the Republican boasted yesterday that North Korean officials "have agreed to denuclearization." That's not even close to being true, and if Trump thinks he's correct, he's alarmingly ignorant about events he needs to understand. North Korea, in reality, has agreed to make this issue a part of the negotiations, but the gap between Kim Jong-un agreeing to give up his nuclear arsenal and Kim Jong-un agreeing to talk about giving up his nuclear arsenal is a chasm.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

In Trump's White House, even the policy guys aren't policy guys

04/23/18 10:00AM

Donald Trump's White House is dysfunctional for a variety of reasons, but the near-constant staff churn has clearly taken a toll. Politico  reported the other day that when staff secretary Rob Porter was forced to resign over domestic-abuse allegations, Chris Liddell took on some of Porter's responsibilities.

People familiar with Liddell's approach said he is working to expand the decision-making processes put in place by Porter.... But it's unclear whether Liddell, a New Zealand-born former corporate executive, has enough sway with the president to successfully caution him against rash moves.

"Chris Liddell is not a policy guy," said the former administration official.

Jon Chait noticed the problem: Chris Liddell's current title is deputy White House chief of staff for policy.

In other words, in Donald Trump's White House, one of the top policy guys "is not a policy guy."

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Sen. Bob Corker

Corker can't bring himself to praise his would-be GOP successor

04/23/18 09:20AM

In Tennessee, Sen. Bob Corker (R) is retiring this year, and given the Volunteer State's political leanings, it was generally assumed Corker's "red" seat would stay that way. In practice, however, it's a little more complicated than that.

To the disappointment of the Republican establishment, the Republican nominee in this race will be Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R), a right-wing congresswoman who's earned a reputation as something of an extremist, even by contemporary GOP standards. Democrats, meanwhile, have rallied behind former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), who's already won two statewide races in Tennessee.

Corker is formally backing his party's candidate, but he raised a few eyebrows recently when he praised Bredesen, touted the former governor's "crossover appeal," and vowed not to campaign against him during the campaign. Corker added, in reference to Bredesen, that the Tennessee Democrat was "a very good mayor, a very good governor, [and] a very good business person."

Yesterday, Corker was offered an opportunity to offer comparable praise for his party's candidate. It didn't go well.

[CNN's Dana Bash] attempted to get Corker to explain why anyone ought to vote for Blackburn. Despite his Twitter endorsement, Corker had a little trouble. The best he could do was suggest that a vote for Blackburn could be critical to the GOP retaining control of the Senate and of course, re-electing McConnell as Senate Majority Leader.

The retiring senator, who seemed determined not to mention Blackburn's name out loud -- repeatedly referring to her only as his party's "nominee" -- was told that his support for the congresswoman didn't sound like "a ringing endorsement."

If you watch the clip, note that Corker seemed to be at a loss for words for several seconds, before eventually saying, "I'm supporting the nominee. I have worked with the nominee for some time. And I don't know what else to say."

In other words, asked to explain why Marsha Blackburn would be a good U.S. senator, the Republican incumbent couldn't think of a reason -- and seemed reluctant to even say her name.

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