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CIA admits to hacking Senate computers

CIA admits to hacking Senate computers

07/31/14 10:18PM

Steve Kornacki is joined by New York Times nation security correspondent Mark Mazzetti to discuss the implications of the CIA’s admission that the agency spied on Senate computers, despite previously denying such allegations. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.31.14

07/31/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* The latest from Capitol Hill: "House Republicans plan to delay their August recess to stay in Washington until they have enough votes to pass a bill responding to the border crisis."
* Remember, on the border bill, GOP leaders need 218 votes to advance their own bad bill. As of this afternoon, they were "not even close" to that total.
* Netanyahu's latest warning: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Thursday that he would not agree to any Gaza cease-fire proposal that prevents the Israeli military from completing the destruction of Hamas's tunnel network."
* Ebola crisis: "West African leaders quickened the pace of emergency efforts on Thursday in response to a mounting tally of fatalities from the worst known outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, canceling travel plans and authorizing measures to combat the disease including house-to-house searches and the deployment of the army and the police."
* A growing controversy in Albany: "In an escalation of the confrontation between the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over the governor's cancellation of his own anticorruption commission, Mr. Bharara has threatened to investigate the Cuomo administration for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering."
* Highway Trust Fund: "In the frenetic legislative run-up to the August recess, House lawmakers sent their version of a highway bill back to the Senate after voting to disagree with that chamber's amendment to the legislation."
* He'll be talking like this for the next three months: "President Obama mocked House Republicans Thursday for approving a lawsuit challenging his use of executive action and said it wouldn't deter him from using his powers to advance his agenda. 'It's not very productive, but it's not going to stop me from doing what I think needs to be done in order to help families all across the country,' Obama said."
* Wheaton College: "It isn't easy being a self-described feminist on one of the most famous evangelical campuses in the country, which became even better known when its case against covering some forms of contraception reached the Supreme Court on July 3."
* Five House Republicans opposed yesterday's resolution on their party's anti-Obama lawsuit. How come? Because for these five GOP lawmakers, the lawsuit just wasn't right-wing enough.
John Brennan

CIA apologizes for Senate spying

07/31/14 04:33PM

Several months ago, there was a serious dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee, with both accusing the other of impropriety. As Adam Serwer summarized, "Senators said the CIA was attempting to hide evidence that proved the torture program was ineffective, while the CIA countered that the staffers had somehow gotten access to information they weren't supposed to see."
As Washington crises go, this one was largely ignored -- it lacked partisan stakes -- but it was deeply important. If, for example, there was reason to believe the CIA spied on Senate offices as part of their dispute, which Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) alleged, it would be scandalous. After all, Congress has oversight authority over intelligence agencies, not the other way around.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department decided to close its inquiry into the matter, concluding not to file charges against anyone, but the matter was hardly resolved. Indeed, today we're learning that the key allegations against the CIA were, in fact, accurate. Meredith Clark reports:
Central Intelligence Agency officials spied on computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate whether the CIA used torture in controversial Bush-era detention and interrogation programs, an internal investigation has found.
According to CIA spokesperson Dean Boyd, agency director John Brennan apologized to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, respectively.
Remember, when this story first broke in the spring, Brennan dismissed the allegations out of hand. "[W]e wouldn't do that," he said. "I mean, that's, that's just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do."
That, we now know, was wrong.
House Speaker John Boehner walks away from the microphone during a news conference after a House GOP meeting on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington.

Border failure rocks House GOP leadership

07/31/14 03:03PM

It's hard to overstate what a humiliating failure this is for the House Republican leadership team, especially House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
House Republican efforts to build support among their more conservative members collapsed Thursday as Congress prepares to cut town for a month-long recess without first passing a funding bill to address the thousands of unaccompanied minors being detained at the U.S. border.
Confronted with the Republican leadership's inability to shore up enough votes, House Speaker John Boehner pulled the doomed legislation, which would have provided $659 million in emergency aid to the U.S. border.
Congress is still prepared to leave town tonight for a five-week break, but lawmakers will leave having accomplished nothing in response to the humanitarian crisis along the U.S./Mexico border.
There's still a small chance the House GOP will figure something out -- there will reportedly be an emergency meeting within the hour, though it's unclear what good it will do -- but after exhaustive efforts, it appears House Republicans have killed their own party's policy.
It was the first real test for the new House Republican leadership team and they appear to have failed miserably.
In a statement, Boehner blamed President Obama for Republicans' inability to pass their own legislation and urged the president to take unilateral action regardless of Congress. The timing is breathtaking: literally yesterday, GOP lawmakers voted to sue Obama for circumventing Congress, and less than 24 hours later, Boehner is publicly urging Obama to circumvent Congress.
The resulting image is a helpless party, lacking leaders, direction, and purpose. House Republicans were desperate to prove they're capable of being a governing party, and in the process, they've proven the opposite.
Protesters pack out the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday, demonstrating against Gov. Scott Walker's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for state workers.

Wisconsin Supreme Court delivers big wins to GOP

07/31/14 12:37PM

Wisconsin Democrats hoping their state Supreme Court would help roll back some of Gov. Scott Walker's (R) agenda suffered some important defeats this morning.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Gov. Scott Walker's signature labor legislation Thursday, delivering an election-year affirmation to the governor in just one of the three major rulings issued by the court on union bargaining, election law and same-sex couples. [...]
The decision was 5-2, with Justice Michael Gableman writing the lead opinion, which found that collective bargaining is not a fundamental right under the constitution but rather a benefit that lawmakers can extend or restrict as they see fit.
At issue, of course, was the 2011 incident in which Walker and his Republican legislative allies eliminated collective-bargaining rights for most state employees, most notably public school teachers. The governor later described the policy, which Walker neglected to mention to voters as a candidate, as an effort to "divide and conquer" his opponents in Wisconsin unions.
There's ample evidence that the policy had the intended effect, dramatically undermining union membership.
But that's not all the Wisconsin Supreme Court did today -- it also upheld Republican efforts to suppress voting participation through an unnecessary voter-ID law.
Stewart Mills

GOP donor's station rejects Democratic ad in Minnesota

07/31/14 11:52AM

When political players own television stations, and those stations start turning down political advertising, controversy is probably inevitable.
House Majority PAC is calling foul on the Koch brothers in another congressional race this week. But the Democratic super PAC isn't using the conservative businessmen in a TV ad this time -- it's alleging that the brothers' allies are helping stifle HMP's other advertising.
The Democratic group's latest TV ad was taken off the air by two Minnesota TV stations that called the ad misleading because it spliced together parts of a quote from Republican businessman Stewart Mills saying it is "personally offensive" to criticize the wealthy for not paying higher taxes. Mills is challenging Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan.
You can see the proposed ad online here. It shows Mills saying reflecting on the 2012 campaign in a speech last summer: "Folks saying that the wealthy, the wealthy are not paying their fair share, the 2 percent, the 1 percent, whatever percent you want, is personally offensive."
Not surprisingly, the folks behind the ad had to edit the remarks, and in the original, unedited video, the "personally offensive" line came in this context: "To be singled out as a deadbeat is personally offensive." That doesn't really change the meaning in any substantive way -- it's hardly as if the line was wrenched from context.
MSNBC's Krystal Ball added, "I watched the video of Stewart Mills making his comments in its entirety online. The clip used in the campaign ad is definitely edited for time and cut together but wholly representative of the point that Mills was making."
But the ad from House Majority PAC and AFSCME was nevertheless rejected, which very rarely happens. It's not unreasonable to ask why.

When politicians literally run away from questions

07/31/14 10:59AM

It's hard not to marvel at political candidates and officeholders who literally flee from reporters' questions. It's one thing to dodge uncomfortable inquiries -- an acquired skill for politicians of every stripe -- but it's something altogether different when politicians literally run away.
I'm beginning to think a Hall of Shame might be in order. We talked recently, for example, about former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), now running in New Hampshire, who "took shelter in the bathroom" to avoid questions about contraception access. But Brown's hardly alone.
Remember when Nevada's Sharron Angle ran away from a reporter asking about her "Second Amendment remedies"? Or how about the time Illinois' Mark Kirk literally ran through a hotel kitchen to evade journalists asking about his serial exaggerations? Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) once ran into an elevator to hide from a reporter; Mitt Romney once "fled down a hallway and escaped up an escalator" to avoid questions about Libya; and Texas Greg Abbott recently fled a reporter's questions about public information on dangerous chemicals.
And now we appear to have a new inductee.
David Wasserman reported yesterday that he recently sat down with state Rep. Lenar Whitney, a Republican congressional candidate in Louisiana's 6th congressional district, though their interview didn't go well.
As a House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, I've personally interviewed over 300 congressional candidates over the course of seven years, both to get to know them and evaluate their chances of winning. I've been impressed by just as many Republicans as Democrats, and underwhelmed by equal numbers, too. Most are accustomed to tough questions.
But never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse as Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney, 55, who visited my office last Wednesday.
Whitney, who reportedly likes the "Palin of the South" nickname, "froze" when asked to substantiate her claims that climate change is the "greatest deception in the history of mankind."
And then Wasserman asked about President Obama's birthplace.
Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the Texas on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas.

The Speaker vs. the Shadow Speaker on the border crisis

07/31/14 10:09AM

After President Obama unveiled a proposal to address the humanitarian crisis at the border nearly four weeks ago, House Republican leaders started from the position that they would pass his proposal. That didn't last -- rank-and-file GOP lawmakers soon made clear they would kill the White House plan.
This week, with Congress already eyeing the exits before a five-week break, House Republicans got around to unveiling a weak alternative that largely ignores the substantive issues.
But at least the House will pass something, right? Not necessarily -- as of last night, GOP leaders didn't have enough support from their own party to pass their own bill, so they're working on new, far-right goodies to help encourage Republicans to support the bill.
In a bid to shore up votes for their border supplemental, Republican leaders plan to give conservatives a vote Thursday prohibiting President Barack Obama from granting deportation relief to more illegal immigrants.
One vote will be on the $659 million appropriations bill aimed at curbing the flow of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes policy riders that have alienated nearly all Democrats.
On the condition of that bill passing, members would then be allowed to a vote on standalone language prohibiting the expansion of President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granting deportation relief and work permits to children brought here illegally by their parents.
Just so we're clear, this is the latest in a series of legislative fiascos for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has repeatedly brought bills to the floor assuming his members would follow his lead, only to discover that GOP House members have no qualms about rejecting their own party's bills if they consider the measures insufficiently right-wing.
In this case, to make rank-and-file Republican lawmakers happy, the GOP leadership will hold a vote today in support of deportations of Dream Act kids, a top conservative priority. Indeed, Roll Call's Steven Dennis noted that the only votes the House has held on immigration in this Congress have been measures to deport Dream Act kids -- there have already been two, today will be the third.
And who's behind this latest intra-party crisis? That would be the House Republicans' Shadow Speaker: Ted Cruz.
Protesters with the "Million Vet March on the Memorials" call for impeachment of U.S. President Barack Obama in front of the White House in Washington on Oct. 13, 2013.

Blaming the messenger, not the message

07/31/14 09:16AM

The political world's reaction to chatter about presidential impeachment took a curious turn this week, when Republicans and a variety of pundits directed their ire at Democrats -- for reasons that don't make a lot of sense.
Karl Rove, a stalwart in the area of political propriety and forthright campaign-season rhetoric, said on Fox News this week, "[President Obama] is playing with the American people by suggesting a constitutional crisis where none exists.... Shame on him and shame on those people in the administration who participate with him." Ron Fournier, naturally, is thinking along similar lines.
There's no denying that Democrats are delighted that so many congressional Republicans have raised the specter of impeachment. The GOP made this a campaign issue, and in an election year, Dems appear eager to ensure the issue backfires on the Republicans who brought it up.
What's less clear is the justification for the double standard. This week, it seems the public has been confronted with an odd condemnation: when Republicans talk about impeachment, it's fine, but when Democrats talk about what Republicans are talking about, it's an outrage.
E.J. Dionne explained today that issue goes beyond "the open demands for throwing Obama out from Sarah Palin, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) and many others on the right wing. The deeper problem lies in the proliferation of loose impeachment talk linked with one overheated anti-Obama charge after another."
As far back as May 2010, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the allegation that the White House had offered then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) a job so he wouldn't oppose Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat, "is in fact a crime and could be impeachable." ... During a hearing on "Operation Fast and Furious" in December 2011, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) accused the Justice Department of withholding information and said that "if we don't get to the bottom of this," Congress might have to resort to the "only one alternative" it had, "and it is called impeachment." [...]
In May 2013, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that, because of allegations of a White House Benghazi coverup, "people may be starting to use the I-word before too long" about Obama. Also in 2013, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) said it would be his "dream come true" to author Articles of Impeachment against the president, while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the nation was "perilously close" to circumstances that might require impeachment.
E.J. could have gone further, but he ran out of space. There are fairly comprehensive lists of all the Republicans -- including many sitting, elected members of Congress in both chambers -- who've pushed the impeachment idea in recent years.

Jobless claims climb, but remain at low level

07/31/14 08:37AM

After last week's extraordinary report on initial unemployment claims, the data had nowhere to go but up, which is exactly what the Labor Department reported this morning.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 23,000 last week to 302,000, one week after falling to a 14-year low. Still, the level of initial claims remains near a post-recession bottom and continue to signal further improvement in the labor market. Economists polled by MarketWatch expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 308,000 in the week ended July 26. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 3,500 to 297,250, the Labor Department said. It's the first time the monthly average has fallen below the 300,000 mark since April 2006 and reflects an eight-year low.
Note, the initial assessment last week was that there were 284,000 initial unemployment claims, which was the best total in eight years, but the revised, more accurate figure is 279,000, which made last week's report the best in 14 years. No, that's not a typo.
That said, to reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
Image: Rand Paul

'The honest discussion'

07/31/14 08:01AM

MSNBC's Ari Melber hosted a great discussion yesterday with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who recently teamed up to introduce a good bill on sentencing reforms. Their appearance on "The Cycle" was the first joint interview, and if you missed it, the whole segment is online.
But there was one portion of the interview that struck me as especially interesting. Ari noted that the issue of restoring civil rights here naturally leads to questions about Rand Paul's stated concerns about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Republican senator rejected the notion that he's "evolved" on anti-discrimination rules for private businesses.
"What I would say is that -- to be fair to myself because I like to be fair to myself -- is that I've always been in favor of the Civil Rights Act. So people need to get over themselves writing all this stuff that I've changed my mind on the Civil Rights Act. Have I ever had a philosophical discussion about all aspects of it?  Yeah and I learned my lesson. To come on msnbc and have a philosophical discussion, the liberals will come out of the woodwork and they will go crazy and say you're against the Civil Rights Act and you're some terrible racist. 
"And I take great objection to that because in Congress I think there is nobody else trying harder to get people back their voting rights, to get people back and make the criminal justice system fair. So I take great offence to people who want to portray me as something that I'm not."
Ari, who knows the truth, followed up, noting that Paul raised objections to key provisions of the law. The senator wouldn't budge, adding, "I never was opposed to Civil Rights Act and I've been attacked by half a dozen people on your network, trying to say that I'm opposed to the Civil Rights Act and somehow now I've changed. So I'm not really willing to engage with people who are misrepresenting, you know, my viewpoint on this."
After the senator stressed the importance of having "an honest discussion," Ari responded, "I think the honest discussion is, you said that some titles of [the Civil Rights Act], Title II and Title VII that relate to private businesses..."
Paul interrupted, "The honest discussion of it would be that I never was opposed to the Civil Rights Act. And when your network does 24 hours news telling the truth, then maybe we can get somewhere with the discussion."
In the interest of an "honest discussion," let's set the record straight.

House GOP border fight and other headlines

07/31/14 07:57AM

Tea party opposition puts fate of House Republican border bill up in the air. (Washington Post)

Immigration courts speed up children's cases. (AP)

Don't screw this up, GOP senators tell their House counterparts. (The Hill)

U.S. Attorney warns NY Governor Cuomo about ethics case. (NY Times)

It's a big day in Wisconsin as the state Supreme Court is expected to rule on union bargaining, voter ID, and same-sex partnerships. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

A.G. Eric Holder takes voting rights battle to Ohio, Wisconsin. (Wall Street Journal)

Bush 43 has written a biography of Bush 41. (Washington Post)

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