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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.28.16

10/28/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Sometimes Russia does the hacking, sometimes it gets hacked: "A Ukrainian group calling itself Cyber Hunta has released more than a gigabyte of emails and other material from the office of one of Vladimir Putin's top aides, Vladislav Surkov, that show Russia's fingerprints all over the separatist movement in Ukraine."

* ISIS: "The U.N. says ISIS has abducted tens of thousands of civilians whom it will likely use as human shields in the city of Mosul. The extremist group has forced almost 8,000 families to leave their homes, probably as a tactic to defend Mosul from the U.S.-backed offensive launched last week, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday."

* A case worth watching: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday said it would take up a case involving the hot button issue of transgender rights, a surprising move given the court's usual go-slow approach on controversial questions."

* The number of arrests in the Dakotas is increasing: "In a conflict that has been building for months over the fate of a pipeline through this region, tensions boiled over into skirmishes late Thursday night between law enforcement officials and protesters near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation after officers moved to sweep protesters off private land here."

* Syria: "A smothering Syrian blockade and round-the-clock airstrikes have sought to starve and shock rebel-held areas of Aleppo into surrender. On Friday came the counterpunch: an apparent last-resort rebel offensive that could be a pivotal battle for both sides."
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FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP)

Letter from FBI's Comey causes widespread freak-out

10/28/16 04:02PM

With just 11 days remaining until Election Day, and millions of votes already cast, is there anything new that can push the political world towards a complete freak-out? Of course there is: interest in Hillary Clinton's email-server management is back on the front page.
The FBI is reviewing a new batch of Hillary Clinton emails, bureau director James Comey said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday. [...]

The politically-explosive revelation, which came just 11 days before Election Day, appeared to catch the Clinton campaign by surprise.
Some of the headlines this afternoon have said the case against Clinton has been "re-opened," and while that's the phrasing Republicans are pushing, that's not quite what Comey's letter says.

In fact, part of the problem with today's apoplexy is that Comey's brief, three-paragraph letter doesn't offer much in the way of clarity. In the first paragraph, for example, the FBI director alerted several congressional committee chairs that he's "supplementing" previous testimony.

In the second paragraph, Comey added, "In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.... I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation."

And in the third paragraph, the bureau's Republican director concluded that the FBI "cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant," and Comey "cannot predict how long it will take" for the bureau to complete its work.

If you're counting on some kind of resolution in the next 11 days, you're likely to be disappointed.

And while a vague letter -- at this stage, from the director of the FBI, about this "controversy" -- is inherently problematic because it practically encourages baseless speculation, additional reporting on the matter suggests the freak-out may not be entirely warranted.

Let's do a little Q&A:
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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

Trump's affection for Russia's Putin knows no bounds

10/28/16 12:40PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not popular with the American mainstream. Common sense suggests presidential candidates in the United States have no incentive to praise, defend, and cozy up to the Russian autocrat -- even if the admiration is sincere -- because there are no real pro-Putin voting constituencies.

And yet, Donald Trump just can't seem to stop. A week after the Republican nominee said he'd like to incorporate the Russian leader into his post-election presidential transition process, and sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump now wants Hillary Clinton to be nicer to the foreign foe. The Boston Globe reported yesterday:
Speaking at a rally in Springfield, Ohio, Trump took issue with Clinton's criticism of the Russian strongman, who has been denounced for his military assertiveness and anti-democratic tendencies.

''She speaks very badly of Putin, and I don't think that's smart,'' Trump said. ''How do you speak so badly of someone?''
Let me get this straight. When it comes to foreign affairs, Trump believes it's perfectly "smart" to speak "very badly" about China, Mexico, NATO allies, and others. When it comes to domestic affairs, Trump has no qualms about speaking "very badly" about women, Latinos, African Americans, veterans, immigrants, people with disabilities, U.S. military leaders, and America's elected leaders.

But if Hillary Clinton has unkind words for Russia's authoritarian bully, that rubs Trump the wrong way. It's just not "smart," in the GOP candidate's eyes.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.28.16

10/28/16 12:00PM

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

* The latest closing-statement ad from Hillary Clinton's campaign features a pitch from President Obama about what's at stake in the election.

* Though I hope he was kidding, Donald Trump told an Ohio audience yesterday, "We should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right?"

* Though the protests surrounding the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota haven't played much of a role in the presidential campaign, Clinton weighed in on the matter yesterday, urging "all of the parties involved -- including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes" -- to "find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest."

* Add Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) to the list of congressional Republicans who urged Trump to quit the presidential race earlier this month, only to re-endorse him this week. Stewart famously compared Trump to Mussolini, though apparently not in a bad way.

* The latest ABC News tracking poll shows Clinton leading Trump by just four points, 48% to 44%, down from a 12-point lead last week. What's driving the shift? A growing number of Republicans gravitating to their party's nominee as Election Day draws closer.

* Quinnipiac released a batch of state polls yesterday, with Clinton ahead in North Carolina by 4 points, Clinton leading in Virginia by 12 points, Trump up by one point in Georgia, and the two candidates tied in Iowa.

* In Michigan, the latest poll from the Detroit Free Press found Clinton ahead by seven, 41% to 34%, with plenty of undecideds.

* Ahead of next year's gubernatorial race in the Garden State, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) is going out of her way to distance herself from Gov. Chris Christie (R).
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in Bangor, Maine, on Oct. 15, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump hasn't followed through on his $100 million commitment

10/28/16 11:20AM

It was hardly the most dramatic moment of the showdown, but in the second presidential debate this year, Donald Trump not only boasted about all of the millions of dollars he was giving his campaign, he also challenged Hillary Clinton to follow his lead.

"I'm not taking all of this big money from all of these corporations like she is doing," Trump said, while bragging about his $100 million investment in his candidacy. The Republican added, "Why don't you put $10 or $20 or $25 or $30 million into your campaign.... It would really be a nice sign to the American public. Why aren't you putting some money in? You have a lot of it."

As it turns out, Clinton could've turned this question around on Trump. The Associated Press reported this morning:
Donald Trump has repeated it so much it's almost part of his stump speech: He's going to put $100 million of his own money into his campaign before Election Day. But new filings show he's got a long way to go if he's going to hit that mark.

The Republican presidential nominee has given a mere $33,000 to his campaign this month.
To borrow a line, why aren't you putting some money in, Donald? You have a lot of it.

In fairness, the GOP nominee, a self-professed billionaire, has invested roughly $56.1 million of his own money into the campaign, but (a) that's far short of his stated commitment; (b) most of that money was contributed during the Republican presidential primaries; and (c) roughly $9 million of that total ended up going to Trump's family and business enterprises.

And while Trump believes it would be "nice" for Clinton to spent tens of millions of her own dollars on her general-election candidacy, the AP report added that Trump's donations to himself have "slowed to about $2 million each month" during the general election.

In the first half of October -- the point at which we might expect the Republican to be going all out -- Trump's financial support was just $33,000.
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the media on June 3, 2016 in Doral, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

The Trump questions Marco Rubio simply can't answer

10/28/16 10:40AM

Arguably no one in Republican politics is facing as severe a dilemma as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). While plenty of GOP officeholders have struggled with questions about Donald Trump, the far-right Floridian is on record calling Trump a "con man," a "lunatic," and a dangerous "liar" who cannot be trusted with the nation's nuclear arsenal. And yet, Rubio is endorsing Trump anyway, even while standing by his previous criticisms.

The result is a dynamic that's proving to be awkward for the failed presidential candidate, who's now running for a Senate seat he said he didn't want. Not only are Democrats hammering Rubio for his unprincipled partisanship, the Republican lawmaker is also facing questions he doesn't know how to answer. The Huffington Post reported last night:
As CNN's Manu Raju reported, Rubio evaded several questions while speaking with reporters in Naples, Florida. When asked if he believes Trump will "keep the country safe," Rubio dodged, saying "the military is what keeps us safe and we have to rebuild our military."

And when asked whether he thinks his children can look up to the GOP nominee, Rubio ― who is running for re-election ― turned the question to his own race. "Most Americans, people look at this and say, 'These are not ideal choices.'" he said. "That's why one of the reasons I ran for Senate, because I know that no matter who wins, we're going to have to have a strong Senate."
It's answers like that lead Democrats to believe Rubio might be beatable after all.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jay Laprete/AFP/Getty)

Trump's proof of a 'rigged' process is unintentionally hilarious

10/28/16 10:08AM

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly asked Donald Trump yesterday if he believes public-opinion polls are "rigged." The Republican candidate didn't hesitate, saying, "I have no doubt about it."

From there, I more or less assumed the GOP nominee would deliver a confused rant about oversampling, but Trump instead went in a very different direction. "I won the third debate easily," he insisted. "It wasn't even a contest and everybody had me winning. Every poll had me winning, big league. And then CNN did a poll and they had me losing somewhat and I said, 'How did that happen I wonder.'"

I'll confess, this was the first time in a while I literally laughed at a Trump quote. He thinks he won the debate; every independent, scientific poll found that the public thought the opposite. Therefore, in Trump's mind, it's obvious the polls themselves are part of a scheme cooked up by nefarious forces conspiring against him.

If Trump perceived reality one way, how could there possibly be evidence of others perceiving reality a different way? The discrepancy is all the evidence the Republican candidate needs as the basis for a conspiracy theory.

As the interview continued, Trump complained that in 2005, when he made controversial comments about sexual assault, his "Access Hollywood" microphone "was not supposed to be on." It led to this striking exchange:
O'REILLY: You think it was illegal, what they did, putting that tape out?

TRUMP: Oh, absolutely. No, that was a private locker -- you know, that was a private dressing room. Yeah, that was certainly --

O'REILLY: Are you going to take any action after the election against NBC?

TRUMP: Well, you'll see. You will see.... You're going to see after the election.... I mean, you know, we're going to find out soon enough. I will tell you.
Just so we're clear, from Trump's perspective, when Russia steals emails in the hopes of influencing America's presidential election, that's fantastic. But as far as he's concerned, when a 2005 recording of Trump reaches the public, that's "illegal."
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Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., speaks with Roll Call at his desk in the Hart Senate Office Building on Nov. 13, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Mark Kirk riles Senate race with racially charged remark

10/28/16 09:20AM

The irony is, Illinois Democrats hoped to use last night's Senate debate to put Sen. Mark Kirk (R) on the defensive on the issue of race. In August, the Republican incumbent lashed out at President Obama, arguing that he's "acting like the Drug Dealer in Chief" -- the latest in a series of racial comments from the senator -- and the Democratic Party of Illinois issued a press statement yesterday afternoon, pushing Kirk to apologize at the debate.

What Dems couldn't have anticipated was Kirk making their jobs much easier.

Not only did the GOP senator decline to apologize for his racially charged rhetoric towards the president, Kirk managed to make matters much worse with some racially charged rhetoric towards his opponent.
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is again under fire for making racially-charged comments, this time for questioning the military service of his Democratic opponent's family.

During Thursday night's debate between Kirk and challenger Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Duckworth spoke about her desire to be in the Senate as a voice of reason and referenced her family's history of service, saying, "My family has served this nation in uniform, going back to the Revolution. I'm a daughter of the American Revolution. I've bled for this nation. But I still want to be there in the Senate when the drums of war sound. Because people are quick to sound the drums of war, and I want to be there to say this is what it costs, this is what you're asking us to do.... Families like mine are the ones that bleed first."

Kirk responded: "I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington."
I've seen the video, which in some ways makes matters worse. Note that Kirk's superfluous sarcasm, made not as part of some heated exchange, but just blurted out for no reason.

Indeed, that's the part of the story that I find hardest to wrap my head around. Duckworth, a decorated combat veteran, was born in Thailand to a Thai mother of Chinese descent, who also has an American father -- an American marine who traced his lineage back to the American Revolution.

Why in the world would Kirk, who's been caught exaggerating his own service record, find it necessary to say, "I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington"? How does it help his campaign to make racially charged comments about his opponent's family?
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U.S. economy grows at its fastest pace in two years

10/28/16 08:45AM

Perhaps Republicans were hoping the last big economic report before Election Day would help their electoral prospects, giving them a new talking point in the campaign's closing days. If so, they probably won't be pleased this morning.

Marketwatch reported:
The U.S. economy grew in the third quarter at the fastest pace in two and a half years, aided by a surge in exports and a rebound in the size of inventories companies keep on hand for sale.

The government said gross domestic product, the official scorecard for the economy, expanded at a 2.9% annual clip from July through September. That's a marked improvement from the first half of the year when the U.S. grew just barely over 1%.
The full report from the Commerce Department is online here.

There are concerns, of course, that the positive news on economic growth may encourage the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, but in the short term, there are more immediate electoral considerations.

Bad news on the GDP front might have given Republicans some rhetorical ammunition as Election Day draws closer. Steady growth, however, does the opposite, denying Donald Trump and his GOP allies a rationale for a radical change in direction.
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Ammon Bundy departs after addressing the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Jan. 4, 2016. (Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

Jury acquits Oregon militants following armed standoff

10/28/16 08:00AM

This was one of those rare cases in which the alleged crimes played out on television. In January, a group of well-armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, seized control of its headquarters, and posted guards in camouflage outside. As we reported at the time, the militia members, led in part by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, controversial rancher Cliven Bundy's sons, said they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary in their effort to have federal land turned over to local authorities.

None of this is in dispute. We all saw what happened. No one has contested these basic details.

Not surprisingly, federal officials weren't willing to meet the militants' demands, and nearly six weeks after the controversy erupted, the militia members exited the wildlife refuge, and Ammon and Ryan Bundy, among others, were taken into custody and charged with a variety of crimes.

Yesterday, we learned that the punishment for well-armed men taking over a federal building that doesn't belong to them is ... nothing.
The leaders of an armed group who seized a national wildlife refuge in rural Oregon were acquitted Thursday in the 41-day occupation that brought new attention to a long-running dispute over control of federal lands in the U.S. West.

A jury found brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy not guilty of possessing a firearm in a federal facility and conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 300 miles southeast of Portland where the trial took place.
The federal prosecutor in the case told jurors during his closing argument, "Ladies and gentlemen, this case is not a whodunit." That was true: we know exactly who seized control of the federal building. We know why. We know when and how. We know that an FBI agent testified during trial that, after the armed occupation ended, officials found 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings in the facility.

The Bundys nevertheless said their armed takeover was an act of civil disobedience, and jurors decided they were not guilty.

And as unexpected as this outcome was, the scene in the courtroom after the acquittal was every bit as strange.
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