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Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida

New Trump claims about deadly Yemen raid appear to be untrue

02/28/17 09:38AM

Following up on a story we've been following, Donald Trump continues to face important questions about the first military raid he ordered as president, which tragically turned deadly. The fact that the Republican president is avoiding responsibility for what happened -- and doesn't appear to be telling the truth about the mission itself -- makes the questions all the more serious.

As we've discussed, the plan was to acquire intelligence and equipment at an al Qaeda camp in Yemen, but the mission quickly went sideways: Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, a member of SEAL Team 6, was killed; several other Americans were injured; and by the end of the operation, multiple civilians, including children, were dead.

It's been described as a mission in which "almost everything went wrong," a dynamic made more complicated by U.S. military officials suggesting to Reuters that Trump approved the mission "without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations."

Owens' father, Bill, has refused to meet Trump and wants an investigation into the mission. The president was asked for his reaction in a Fox News interview that aired this morning, and Trump responded by effectively saying the mission he ordered wasn't his idea.
"Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do. And they came to see me, they explained what they wanted to do, the generals.... And they lost Ryan."
Trump went on to talk about his presence at the airport when Owens' remains returned. He added, in reference to the mission, "This was something that they were looking at for a long time." The president concluded that it was "a very successful mission," which produced "tremendous amounts of information."

There are a couple of key problems with Trump's assessment. First, it's genuinely bizarre to hear a Commander in Chief, reflecting on a mission he personally authorized, try to avoid responsibility for the mission he green-lit. I realize Trump's new at this, but as a rule, presidents at least try to appear accountable.
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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump's new conspiracy theory: Blame Obama for public backlash

02/28/17 08:44AM

Donald Trump is clearly aware of the public backlash his presidency has sparked, and he's eager to explain the opposition away. A few weeks ago, for example, the Republican was convinced that his critics were "professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters."

I'm still not sure what the difference is between a professional anarchist and an amateur anarchist.

Last week, Trump switched gears a bit, arguing, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"

This week, the president has moved on to a new explanation: this is all Obama's fault. USA Today reported this morning:
President Trump said that former president Barack Obama is "behind" the angry protests that have erupted at Republican town halls around the nation during an interview on the Fox News morning program Fox and Friends scheduled to air Tuesday morning.

"I think he is behind it," Trump said when asked about Obama's role in the protests. "I also think it's politics. That's the way it is.

"No, I think that President Obama is behind it," Trump said, "because his people are certainly behind it and some of the leaks, possibly come from that group, some of the leaks -- which are really very serious leaks because they're very bad in terms of national security -- but I also understand that's politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that's politics. And it will probably continue."
This is, in many ways, the perfect Donald J. Trump Conspiracy Theory.
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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Trump's EPA chief already at the center of multiple controversies

02/28/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump's hostility towards the Environmental Protection Agency isn't exactly subtle. The president's new budget proposes slashing the EPA's funding; the White House is moving forward with plans to dramatically scale back the agency's work; and Trump's chosen director for the EPA makes no secret of his overt hostility towards the agency's purpose.

And it's against this backdrop that the president's EPA administrator has found himself at the center of several ongoing controversies. The Associated Press reported late yesterday:
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt occasionally used private email to communicate with staff while serving as Oklahoma's attorney general, despite telling Congress that he had always used a state email account for government business.

A review of Pruitt emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request showed a 2014 exchange where the Republican emailed a member of his staff using a personal Apple email account.
As a report from a Fox affiliate in Oklahoma makes clear, Pruitt's use of private email for official business is not illegal, but that's not the core problem here. Rather, the new controversy stems from the fact that Pruitt specifically told senators during his confirmation process that he never used a private email account to conduct official business.

In fact, the Republican assured senators -- in writing and in sworn committee testimony -- that he used his official government email account exclusively when conducting public affairs.

It's a curious thing to lie about. Remind me, does the political world take an interest in public officials facing email controversies?

But making matters worse is the fact that Pruitt, who's only been on the job at the EPA for 11 days, is already facing three controversies.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.27.17

02/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

Wave of anti-Semitism: "Police were trying to identify the vandals who knocked over or damaged at least 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia as the nation grappled Monday with yet another wave of anti-Semitic incidents. Meanwhile, bomb threats forced the evacuations of Jewish Community Centers in New York and in 10 other states."

* Kansas: "Adam Purinton, the 51-year-old man accused of hurling racial slurs before opening fire on two Indian men in a Kansas bar last week, appeared calm and composed during a brief court appearance Monday."

* Afghanistan: "At least 10 police officers and the wife of a police commander were killed in an ambush by Islamic State militants in the northern province of Zawzjan, a provincial official said on Saturday."

* North Korea: "Plans for back-channel talks in New York between government representatives from North Korea and former U.S. officials were scuttled Friday after the State Department withdrew visa approvals for Pyongyang's top envoy on U.S. relations, according to people familiar with the matter."

* This isn't surprising, but it is disheartening: "Reversing a position the Justice Department has maintained for years, the Trump administration's Civil Rights Division will state in federal court this week that the federal government no longer claims Texas legislators acted with discriminatory intent in 2011 when they passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation."

* House Republican leaders are going to have a problem: "Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told CNN on Monday that he will vote against a draft of the GOP Obamacare repeal bill that was leaked last week."
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Image: President Trump Departs White House To Honor NAVY Seal Killed in Yemen Raid

Questions surrounding Trump's Yemen raid linger

02/27/17 12:43PM

It's been about a month since Donald Trump ordered his first military raid as president, which tragically turned deadly. As we've discussed, the plan was to acquire intelligence and equipment at an al Qaeda camp in Yemen, but the mission quickly went sideways: Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, a member of SEAL Team 6, was killed; several other Americans were injured; and by the end of the operation, multiple civilians, including children, were dead.

It's been described as a mission in which "almost everything went wrong," a dynamic made more complicated by U.S. military officials suggesting to Reuters that Trump approved the mission "without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations."

Owens' father, Bill, told the Miami Herald that he still has questions about what happened and hopes an inquiry will produce answers.
Trump administration officials have called the mission a success, saying they had seized important intelligence information. They have also criticized detractors of the raid, saying those who question its success dishonor Ryan Owens' memory. His father, however, believes just the opposite.

"Don't hide behind my son's death to prevent an investigation," said the elder Owens, pointing to Trump's sharp words directed at the mission's critics, including Sen. John McCain.

"I want an investigation.... The government owes my son an investigation," he said.
Bill Owens, himself a veteran, was on hand when his son's remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base. Told before the plane landed that the president was en route, he told the chaplain, "I'm sorry, I don't want to see him." He went on to tell the Miami Herald, "I told them I didn't want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn't let me talk to him."

The White House's rhetoric about what transpired in Yemen, at least thus far, has been discouraging. Team Trump's efforts to blame the raid on the Obama administration, for example, has unraveled under scrutiny. Making matters worse, White House officials, including Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer, have made multiple efforts to squelch questions about the mission, using Owens' memory in a way the fallen soldier's father doesn't appreciate.
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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump: 'Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated'

02/27/17 12:02PM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump seemed to think health care policy was easy. In remarks this morning at a White House event for governors, the Republican president indicated a different perspective.
"We're going to repeal and replace Obamacare, and get states the flexibility that they need to make the end result really, really good for them. Very complicated issue.... I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated."
Everyone knew that health care policy could be complicated. Everyone. It was complicated when Democrats spent months shaping the Affordable Care Act. It was complicated when Republicans spent seven years working behind closed doors on their alternative to the ACA. It was complicated for generations as policymakers in both parties launched various efforts to extend health security to Americans for the better part of a century.

To be surprised by its complexity is to be alarmingly ignorant of the debate that's been ongoing for decades. It appears the only person in America who assumed health-care policy is simple is the one Americans elected president.

But that's not all Trump said this morning. The Republican, apparently aware that polls show the ACA's support reaching an all-time high, added, "People hate [Obamacare] but now they see that the end is coming and they say, 'Oh maybe we love it.' There's nothing to love."

I listened to this comment a few times, and I'm still not entirely sure what it means. Americans love the policy they hate? There's nothing to love about your family having health insurance?

Trump went on to say that he intends to tackle health care before tax cuts -- GOP leaders have apparently convinced the president of this, though it's not entirely true -- despite the fact that he "wishes" he could reverse the priorities.

But aside from the usual palaver -- the president doesn't care for the ACA, for reasons he generally fails to explain -- perhaps the most interesting comment was Trump's apparent boast about his own White House health care plan.

"We have come up with a solution that's really, really, I think, very good," he added this morning.

If Trump knows what he's saying -- an open question, to be sure -- he may have made a little news with the comment.
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

New leak exposes details of Team Trump's anti-leak campaign

02/27/17 11:30AM

The circular logic of Donald Trump's complaints are routinely lost on the president. Over the weekend, for example, the Republican's latest online whining was a gem: "Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!"

Yes, of course. The revelations about the Russia scandal, according to Trump, are little more than a ruse intended to obscure the illegal leaks surrounding the Russia scandal.

This, alas, isn't new. At his CPAC appearance on Friday, the president argued that the reports based on the leaks are made-up by news organizations, which are citing sources that don't exist. He also argued -- in the same speech -- that he's outraged that administration officials are leaking real, sensitive, and at times classified information to journalists, who are publishing reports damaging to his White House. How does Trump reconcile the contradiction? So far, he doesn't seem to understand that the contradiction exists.

Nevertheless, Team Trump may not fully believe its own nonsense about the media making up sources, because if the White House were sincere, it wouldn't be working quite so hard on identifying leakers in its midst. Politico reported yesterday on Sean Spicer's latest efforts:
Last week, after Spicer became aware that information had leaked out of a planning meeting with about a dozen of his communications staffers, he reconvened the group in his office to express his frustration over the number of private conversations and meetings that were showing up in unflattering news stories, according to sources in the room.

Upon entering Spicer's second floor office, staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a "phone check," to prove they had nothing to hide.

Spicer, who consulted with White House counsel Don McGahn before calling the meeting, was accompanied by White House lawyers in the room, according to multiple sources.... The phone checks included whatever electronics staffers were carrying when they were summoned to the unexpected follow-up meeting, including government-issued and personal cell phones.
Naturally, Spicer's efforts to crack down on leaks also leaked.

Morale in the West Wing must be amazing right now.
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A U.S. Navy sailor stands on the deck of the USS Farragut as his ship approaches the USS Bataan to practice ‘UNREP’, or underway replenishment of cargo and fuel on May 24, 2016. (Photo by Balazs Gardi for MSNBC)

As Navy nominee withdraws, Trump's personnel troubles get worse

02/27/17 11:00AM

At a White House press briefing last week, reporters asked Sean Spicer about the Trump administration's difficulties in filling key government posts. The president's press secretary was incredulous, as if the questions themselves were obviously based on a bogus premise.

"I think when you look across where we are and we track the number of folks that are in the pipeline, we're doing very, very well with getting all of these positions filled," Spicer said. He added, "I think we're doing a phenomenal job of staffing the government."

Yeah, about that...
President Donald Trump's nominee for Navy secretary, Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration Sunday, becoming the second Pentagon pick unable to untangle his financial investments in the vetting process.

"Mr. Philip Bilden has informed me that he has come to the difficult decision to withdraw from consideration to be secretary of the Navy," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement. "This was a personal decision driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests."
The Politico report on this noted that Bilden was derailed by challenges "during a review by the Office of Government Ethics to avoid potential conflicts of interest."

Note, a week before Bilden withdrew, Spicer declared on Twitter that reports about Bilden stepping aside are wrong. The press secretary said he'd just spoken to him, and Bilden was "100% commited [sic]" to being the next Secretary of the Navy.

If there are folks trying to pull together a list of the claims Sean Spicer has made that have turned out to be untrue, you have my sympathies. The volume of content must be overwhelming.
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House Speaker Paul Ryan arrives at his office on Capitol Hill on June 8, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Republican health care plan leaks, becomes subject of controversy

02/27/17 10:30AM

One of the most important angles to the long-awaited Republican health-care plan is the context: Americans have been promised that the GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act would meet a series of key benchmarks.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised, "I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now." After the election, the Republican president vowed, "We're going to have insurance for everybody.... Everybody's going to be taken care of."

And it's against this backdrop that Politico, among others, reported on Friday on the GOP plan that makes no meaningful effort to keep any of Team Trump's promises.
A draft House Republican repeal bill would dismantle the Obamacare subsidies and scrap its Medicaid expansion, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by POLITICO.

The legislation would take down the foundation of Obamacare, including the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people's income, and all of the law's taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Some elements would be effective right away; others not until 2020.

The replacement would be paid for by limiting tax breaks on generous health plans people get at work -- an idea that is similar to the Obamacare "Cadillac tax" that Republicans have fought to repeal.
It's worth emphasizing that this refers to an actual bill. Before members took a break last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sent Republican lawmakers home with a series of talking points related to health care policy, including the vague outline of a GOP blueprint, but the draft that emerged late last week is actual legislative text, not a public-relations document.

And as is obvious reviewing the bill, it's a doozy. By replacing the ACA with this Republican approach, the wealthy would get a massive tax break, while assistance to working families would be reduced and Medicaid expansion would face a big cut. To pay for their policy, GOP leaders intend to begin taxing employer-provided insurance -- a policy that would cause massive disruptions and which many Republicans have already dismissed as a non-starter.
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