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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.21.17

11/21/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Zimbabwe: "Robert Mugabe, the world's oldest ruler, resigned as Zimbabwe's president on Tuesday, signaling the final end of his decades in power after last week's military coup."

* A tragic story gets worse: "Four weeks after his funeral, more remains of slain U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson have been identified, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday. The remains were retrieved from the spot near the village of Tongo Tongo, Niger, where Johnson and three other American soldiers were ambushed and killed on Oct. 4 by ISIS-linked militants."

* Net neutrality: "Everything from the way you use banking apps to the speed of your Netflix stream could soon be changing, if all goes to plan for the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC's mission -- essentially gutting the internet as we know it -- would allow service providers to create so-called fast and slow lanes for subscribers."

* Rose destroyed his career: "Talk show host and journalist Charlie Rose was fired Tuesday by CBS News, PBS and Bloomberg in the wake of eight women accusing him of sexual harassment and unwanted advances in a report in The Washington Post."

* Franken, meanwhile, is not without defenders: "Three dozen women who worked with Sen. Al Franken during his tenure on 'Saturday Night Live' came out in defense of the Minnesota Democrat facing allegations of sexual misconduct."

* Uber didn't need more bad publicity: "Hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies Inc., a massive breach that the company concealed for more than a year. This week, the ride-hailing company ousted Joe Sullivan, chief security officer, and one of his deputies for their roles in keeping the hack under wraps."

* If you thought Brett Talley's judicial nomination couldn't look worse, think again.

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

Trump contradicts White House line, defends Alabama's Roy Moore

11/21/17 04:35PM

Donald Trump has said effectively nothing about Alabama Roy Moore (R) and his sexual-misconduct scandal, but on the White House's South Lawn this afternoon, the president finally addressed the controversy:

REPORTER: What is your message to women, sir, during this pivotal moment in our country, when we're talking about sexual misconduct -- you had your own allegations against you -- what do you say to women...

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And by the way, he totally denies it.

Note the disconnect between the question and the answer.

Specifically on the Senate race in Alabama -- which is three weeks from today -- the president seemed pleased to note that Moore's accusers are "Trump voters," leading him to add, "All you can do is, you have to do what you have to do."

For the record, I haven't the foggiest idea what that means.

But then Trump dropped the pretense. "I can tell you one thing for sure," he told reporters. "We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat. Jones."

Asked if "an accused child molester better than a Democrat," the president replied, "Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it."

In other words, Trump doesn't believe any of the women who've accused Moore -- even if they are "Trump voters."

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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

In Russia scandal, Kushner finds himself in an awkward spot

11/21/17 02:19PM

To paraphrase a Simon Maloy joke, if I had a dime for every time Jared Kushner failed to disclose pertinent information, Republicans would try to give me a tax cut.

Vox had a good piece along these lines yesterday, rounding up every instance in which Donald Trump's powerful son-in-law kept hidden information he was supposed to share. The piece explained, "Jared Kushner insists he's got nothing to hide when it comes to Russia. Yet he keeps failing to disclose things that raise real questions about whether he tried to collude with Moscow during the campaign -- and whether he's been trying to cover it up ever since."

As Rachel noted on last night's show, this NBC News report from the weekend is of particular importance.

One source familiar with Kushner's testimony before congressional intelligence committees said he specifically denied, under oath, that he was familiar with any attempts by WikiLeaks to contact the campaign.

But, according to the source, Kushner was sent an email by Trump Jr. about his conversations on Twitter with WikiLeaks, which were first disclosed by the Atlantic this week. Kushner forwarded an email about the WikiLeaks conversations to communications director Hope Hicks, the source said. A second source familiar with Kushner's testimony did not dispute that account.

Well, that makes it sound as if Kushner wasn't exactly forthcoming during sworn testimony to Congress.

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People walk along Madison Avenue on Nov. 1, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Trump's eyes radical choice for the Census Bureau

11/21/17 01:02PM

The Census, conducted every 10 years by constitutional mandate, is one of those incredible important tasks that most people probably find rather dull. That's a shame because getting this right has an enormous impact on everything from federal spending to representation in Congress.

With that in mind, it was disappointing when Census Bureau Director John Thompson, in the midst of a funding fight, decided to resign unexpectedly in May. Making matters worse, we're just now getting a look at the replacement Donald Trump apparently has in mind. Politico reports:

The Trump administration is leaning toward naming Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor with no government experience, to the top operational job at the U.S. Census Bureau, according to two people who have been briefed on the bureau's plans.

Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled "Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America."

Some Trump personal choices are alarming, some are disheartening, and some belong in the you-have-got-to-be-kidding me category.

As Slate explained earlier this year, "The decennial census is critical to ensuring that Americans are fairly represented in Washington, since it's used as the basis for congressional redistricting. A mishandled census could undercount poor and minority populations, putting some states and many cities at a demographic disadvantage."

It's against this backdrop that Trump is eyeing someone who has not only played a direct role in helping Republican gerrymandering efforts, but who quite literally wrote a book criticizing competitive elections.

What's more, as Politico's report added, "The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics."

And before you start wondering about whether enough senators can be swayed to block Brunell, that's not how this process will work: Trump simply gets to pick the next Census Bureau director. It's a position in the Commerce Department -- is not a Senate-confirmed job.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.21.17

11/21/17 12:00PM

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

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate race, Doug Jones' (D) new television ad highlights quotes from three Republicans critical of Roy Moore (R): Ivanka Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

* Perhaps unaware of the unpopularity of their party's tax plan, the National Republican Congressional Committee is launching new ads targeting 25 House Democrats for voting against the GOP legislation.

* Which party will control Virginia's House of Delegates next year? There's a reason we don't yet know.

* In a bit of a surprise, an "all-volunteer group of activists" has successfully collected 400,000 signatures for a 2018 ballot initiative that, if approved, would overhaul redistricting in Michigan and end partisan gerrymandering. As the Associated Press noted, the effort, organizers pulled this off "without having to pay a dime for a signature."

* How concerned is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) about his re-election prospects? The California Republican published an op-ed the other day chiding other California Republicans who supported the Republican tax plan.

* The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) has used campaign funds to pay someone to argue with his critics online.

* I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that William O'Neil (D) will not be Ohio's next governor: "An Ohio Supreme Court justice who recently declared his intention to run for governor faced widespread condemnation -- and even some calls to resign -- after he boasted about his sexual history while defending 'heterosexual males.'" O'Neil later apologized.

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban on Monday, leaving Iraq off the list of targeted countries at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S.

Did DHS skirt court orders while implementing Trump's Muslim ban?

11/21/17 11:20AM

The day after the White House launched its initial Muslim ban, Donald Trump, just a week into his presidency, told reporters, "We were totally prepared. It's working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over."

As we discussed at the time, no sane person could believe this. Almost immediately after the order was announced, there was chaos throughout the system – most notably “at the airports” – with officials completely unaware how to implement a policy they knew very little about. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department were in the dark, in part because no one at these agencies had been consulted or even notified in advance.

And yet, a senior administration official told reporters two days after the policy was announced, "It really is a massive success story in terms of implementation on every single level."

Politico reports today on new findings that made clear Trump World wasn't telling the truth.

The Department of Homeland Security's official watchdog is accusing his own agency of slow-walking the public release of a report about confusion that ensued earlier this year after President Donald Trump issued his first travel ban executive order.

The still-unreleased inspector general report found that senior managers at Customs and Border Protection were "caught by surprise" by Trump's order and that agency officials "violated two court orders" limiting implementation of Trump's directive to suspend travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, according to a letter sent to lawmakers Monday and obtained by POLITICO.

The letter from Inspector General John Roth told lawmakers, among other things, that while Customs and Border Patrol officials were "compliant at U.S. ports of entry with travelers who had already arrived, CBP was very aggressive in preventing affected travelers from boarding aircraft bound for the United States, and took actions that, in our view, violated two separate court orders that enjoined them from this activity."

The full, 87-page report would presumably shed additional light on the subject, but the Politico report added that the findings were sent to the Department of Homeland Security's leadership six weeks ago, though those officials have not yet cleared the report for release.

Instead, Roth summarized portions of his report in a seven-page letter to lawmakers.

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

After sanctuary cities ruling, Trump World blasts federal court

11/21/17 10:40AM

To no one's surprise, Donald Trump's executive order on so-called "sanctuary cities" has been blocked by a federal court. As NBC News' report explained, the White House's policy intended to "cut funding from cities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities," and U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick didn't buy it. The president's order was "clearly unconstitutional" the court found.

The decision wasn't exactly surprising -- it made permanent a temporary injunction issued months ago -- and the vast majority of legal observers expected the Trump administration to lose this case.

What I found especially notable, though, was the White House's reaction to the court's decision.

"Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation," a late-night statement from the White House press secretary's office declared.

"Once again, a single district judge -- this time in San Francisco -- has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country," the statement continued. "This decision occurred in the same sanctuary city that released the 5-time deported illegal immigrant who gunned down innocent Kate Steinle in her father's arms. San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands."

Note, this may seem like a screed from a far-right blog's comments section, but this was an official statement, released to the press on purpose, by the White House.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Non-partisan analysis: GOP tax plan would raise taxes on 50% of US

11/21/17 10:02AM

At a White House cabinet meeting yesterday, Donald Trump sounded an optimistic note about his party's tax plans, declaring, "We're going to give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas. Hopefully that will be a great, big, beautiful Christmas present."

It was right around this time that the non-partisan Tax Policy Center published an analysis that Republicans probably didn't like. The Associated Press reported:

Trump spoke as the Tax Policy Center said that while all income groups would see tax reductions, on average, under the Senate bill in 2019, 9 percent of taxpayers would pay higher taxes that year than under current law. By 2027, that proportion would grow to 50 percent, largely because the legislation's personal tax cuts expire in 2026, which Republicans did to curb budget deficits the bill would create.

The policy center, a joint operation of the liberal-leaning Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, found that low-earners would generally get smaller tax breaks than higher-income people.

The full TPC report is available online here. It obviously contradicts House Speaker Paul Ryan's recent boast that "everybody" will see their taxes cut under his party's bill. (His office later said he "misspoke.")

It's worth pausing to appreciate how difficult a feat Republicans have pulled off with this proposal. Ordinarily, when policymakers propose raising taxes, the point is to reduce the deficit, increase government revenues, and bring the budget closer to balance. Trump and his GOP brethren have managed to craft a plan that would raise taxes on 50% of the country once the blueprint is fully implemented, while making the deficit bigger, not smaller.

That's not easy to do, but it's a reflection of just how much Republicans want to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

The bulk of the tax increases would adversely affect Americans making between $55,000 and $90,000 -- who happen to be middle-class households who are ostensibly the target beneficiaries of the GOP legislation.

But perhaps just as important is the damage the Tax Policy Center's findings did to the other key claim at the heart of the Republicans' pitch.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump departs from a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami, Fla., on July 27, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Despite campaign promises, Trump scraps protections for Haitians

11/21/17 09:20AM

Last September, with time running out before the presidential election, Donald Trump was desperate to win Florida and its 29 electoral votes. With that in mind, the Republican traveled to Miami and spent some time at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, stressing the "common values" he shared with Haitian Americans.

"Whether you vote for me or not," Trump said at the time, "I really want to be your biggest champion."

After the election, in which Trump very narrowly prevailed in Florida, some observers pointed to the Republican's outreach to the Haitian-American community as a key element of his success in the Sunshine State.

Now that he's president, how is Trump demonstrating his commitment to serving as the community's biggest champion? By doing largely the opposite.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday that it plans to end "temporary protected status" for Haitians who were allowed entry to the U.S. following a devastating earthquake in 2010.

DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke announced on Monday that the protections will come to an end on July 22, 2019, according to a statement from the department.

Though exact estimates vary, NBC News reported that the number of Haitians allowed to enter the U.S. and work without fear of deportation in recent years is between 46,000 and 60,000. These people are now being shown the door. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) marveled overnight at the Trump administration's "astounding lack of compassion."

And what about Trump's "I really want to be your biggest champion" vow? Haitian Americans are now seeing what so many other constituencies have already discovered: this president is comfortable betraying those to whom he made promises.

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U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) speaks a news conference on Capitol Hill, on Jan. 16, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Michigan's Conyers reportedly settled sexual harassment case

11/21/17 08:40AM

The Washington Post had an interesting report late last week, noting that over the last 20 years, Congress' Office of Compliance paid "more than $17 million for 264 settlements and awards to federal employees." That led to some discussion about the total going entirely to targets of sexual harassment, but that wasn't quite right.

The settlements and awards have covered a variety of claims, ranging from alleged wage violations to alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That said, we can say with certainty that some of these cases involved members of Congress and claims of sexual misconduct.

BuzzFeed highlighted one such case over night.

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not "succumb to [his] sexual advances."

Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sexual favors, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic.

The woman, whose identity was not revealed, made the complaint in 2014. She eventually received a settlement of $27,000. The article added, "Rep. Conyers did not admit fault as part of the settlement. His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday." [Update: See below.]

There's no shortage of angles surrounding revelations such as these, including the quickly growing list of men in positions of authority who've been accused of sexual misconduct. It's a distinct possibility that BuzzFeed's report will end the Michigan Democrat's congressional career, which began way back in 1965.

It also seems very likely that the public is poised to learn quite a bit more about the scope of these congressional settlements -- because it's taxpayers who are picking up the tab.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump tries to shut down scandal-plagued charitable foundation

11/21/17 08:00AM

One of the ironies of the 2016 presidential campaign is that voters were led to believe that of the two major-party candidates, Hillary Clinton was the one with the controversial charitable foundation.

Donald Trump used his charitable foundation money to buy giant portraits of himself. He also used foundation money to make illegal campaign contributions, settle private-sector lawsuits, and support conservative political entities that could help further his partisan ambitions.

About a year ago, we learned that the Trump Foundation admitted in official documents that “it violated a legal prohibition against ‘self-dealing,’ which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.”

Making matters slightly worse, the president has been caught lying about all of this, arguing publicly that “all” of the money the the foundation raised was “given to charity.” He added soon after that “100%” of the millions raised went to “wonderful charities.” Neither claim was consistent with reality.

Nearly a year later, as Rachel noted on last night's show, the president is trying to close the foundation's doors.

President Donald Trump's charitable foundation, which last year admitted violating federal rules on "self-dealing," is in the process of dissolving, according to newly filed documents reviewed by NBC News. [...]

At the end of 2016, the foundation had assets of about $970,000, the document shows.

There is, however, a catch. I said Trump is "trying" to close the charitable foundation because the process is a little more difficult in this case than the president would probably like.

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