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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Pushing back against Amash and impeachment, McCarthy falls short

05/20/19 11:20AM

On Saturday afternoon, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) became the first congressional Republican to endorse impeaching Donald Trump in response to the revelations in the Mueller report. Yesterday morning, Amash's ostensible leader, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) went after the Michigan congressman during an interview with Fox's Maria Bartiromo.

"What [Amash] wants is attention in this process. He's not a criminal attorney. He's never met Mueller. He's never met Barr. And now he's coming forward with this? Because this is what he wants. He wants a Sunday show to put his name forward with a question.

"It's really disturbing, because, when you watch on the floor, you could have a bill with 400 votes all supporting it. There will always be one opposed, and that will be Justin Amash."

Jon Chait went through McCarthy's argument in detail, but there were a couple of angles to this that stood out for me.

The first was the GOP leader's insistence that Amash has "never met" Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It's a curious argument, in large part because Republicans have argued of late that meeting Mueller is an unnecessary luxury: lawmakers have a redacted version of the special counsel's report, which in the GOP leaders' minds, means that Congress has all of the information it could possibly need.

Is it Kevin McCarthy's contention that it's important for members to engage Mueller directly? Because if so, that's both new and important.

The second is the Republican leader's point that Justin Amash is "not a criminal attorney." That's true. The Michigan congressman has a law degree from the University of Michigan, but as best as I can tell, he did corporate, not criminal, work as a practicing attorney.

But I'm not sure how that's relevant. The U.S. House is supposed to have 435 members, and in rare occasions, they're asked to consider articles of impeachment. Individual lawmakers are tasked with evaluating the evidence and drawing conclusions -- whether they have a background in criminal law or not.

That said, if McCarthy is interested in how some criminal attorneys feel about the Mueller report's findings, I can think of a few people whose perspectives the congressman might find interesting.

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Image: FILE PHOTO - National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S.

Presidential whining about Flynn doesn't do Trump any favors

05/20/19 10:40AM

In apparent response to something he saw on Fox News, Donald Trump turned to Twitter the other day to complain about the lack of warnings he received about his former White House national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

"It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge," the president wrote. "It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?"

At first blush, it might seem as if Trump had a point. If Flynn was suspected of wrongdoing, why didn't someone alert the man who was relying on the retired general for national-security advice?

The trouble, of course, is that the president's whining has it backwards: Trump was cautioned about Flynn, but he failed to take the warnings seriously.

Right off the bat, when Trump wrote, "It now seems..." the president was referring to information that was first made available last year. It's likely that Trump forgets the basic details of reports that cross his desk, and he relies on conservative media to shape his perspective, but this is an odd thing to acknowledge in a tweet.

But even putting that aside, during the 2016 presidential transition process, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee at the time, alerted Trump's transition team to possible trouble signs surrounding Flynn. It was one of several alerts the Republican received on the matter.

He was first warned about Mr. Flynn two days after the election, when Mr. Trump met in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama, who cautioned his successor not to give Mr. Flynn a senior post on his national security team. (Mr. Obama had fired Mr. Flynn in 2014 as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency after repeated clashes over his management.)

But even if Mr. Trump did not interpret Mr. Obama's comments as a warning, Mr. Flynn himself told the transition team's lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, weeks before inauguration that he was under federal investigation for paid lobbying work he did secretly for Turkey while he was working on the presidential campaign.

Then, six days after Mr. Trump's inauguration, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, told Mr. McGahn, by then the White House counsel, that Mr. Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail because he misled the vice president about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition period.

Or put another way, Trump complained on Friday about the lack of warnings about Flynn, which only makes sense if we overlook all the warnings he received about Flynn.

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Bank reportedly flagged Trump, Kushner transactions as suspicious

05/20/19 10:00AM

House Democrats have spent recent months focusing on Deutsche Bank -- at one point, the only financial giant willing to do business with Donald Trump -- as a source for important information on the president's finances. The latest reporting from the New York Times reinforces the impression that Dems are looking in the right place.

Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.

The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump's now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.

Many of the details of the transactions are not yet clear, and the fact that the bank had concerns about them does not necessarily mean they were improper.

That said, given everything we know about Trump and Kushner, it's of interest that some of their transactions were considered suspicious -- not just by some bank algorithm, but by bank employees.

It's also of interest that, according to the Times' report, in some of the suspect transactions, "money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals." The same article added that Deutsche Bank discouraged employees not to file suspicious activity reports.

In fact, despite the concerns raised by anti-money-laundering specialists, the bank never alerted the authorities.

What's more, let's not brush past the dates too quickly: at issue aren't just transactions from Trump's controversial private-sector past, but also developments that occurred during the presidential campaign and after he took office. From the article:

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Opposing the 'Equality Act,' Republicans take a step backwards

05/20/19 09:20AM

In every Congress, the House majority leadership, regardless of which party is in control, sets aside the first 10 available bill numbers. As regular readers know, it's intended as a symbolic way to signal a party's top legislative priorities: H.R. 1 through H.R. 10 will reflect the leadership's most important goals.

In the current Congress, for example, we've recently seen votes on the House majority's democracy-reform package called the "For the People Act" (H.R. 1), as well as the "Paycheck Fairness Act" (H.R. 7). Late last week, Democrats also passed the 'Equality Act" (H.R. 5).

The House on Friday passed a sweeping LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill that would modify existing civil rights legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.

"The LGBTQ community has waited nearly 250 years for full equality in our country," said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the legislation's chief sponsor and one of eight openly LGBTQ members in the House. "Today, we're one step closer to that goal."

To be sure, it was a historic step in a progressive direction, though there's a reason much of the country probably didn't hear about the House vote: everyone involved in the process knows that the Republican majority in the Senate won't even consider the legislation. The Equality Act is going to pass someday, but that day won't come before 2021.

Before the political world moves on, however, it's worth pausing to note just how many Republicans voted for the bill on Friday afternoon.

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Casino mogul Steve Wynn during a news conference in Medford, Mass., Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Despite scandal, RNC welcomes money from casino mogul Steve Wynn

05/20/19 08:40AM

It was early last year when billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn, facing sexual misconduct allegations, resigned as the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. The story has since become even more serious: an investigatory report later painted an ugly portrait of an executive accused of “sexually assaulting or harassing” many women who worked for him.

As regular readers may recall, state regulators concluded just last month that Wynn's company "ran a longstanding, sophisticated cover-up to protect founder Steve Wynn from allegations by employees that he had engaged in sexual misconduct against them."

It was therefore a bit jarring when Donald Trump met with Wynn, who's denied all wrongdoing, ahead of a campaign event in Las Vegas in April. A Politico report published late last week, however, took the story to a new level.

The national Republican Party has accepted nearly $400,000 in donations from disgraced ex-casino mogul Steve Wynn — a move that comes just over a year after he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting employees over a decade-long period.

Wynn gave $248,500 to the Republican National Committee and $150,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in April, according to two people familiar with the contributions.

The New York Times ran a report of its own yesterday, adding that Wynn was also seen last week "arriving at a high-dollar fund-raising dinner" for Trump and the RNC in New York.

Some hypocrisy is a routine element of politics, but when hypocrisy reaches you've-got-to-be-kidding-me levels, it's worth pausing to take note.

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Justin Amash

Trump lashes out after GOP rep says he 'engaged in impeachable conduct'

05/20/19 08:00AM

At first blush, the description of events may seem routine and unremarkable. A member of Congress who sits on the House Oversight Committee read Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report "carefully and completely," and soon after came to some important conclusions. First, the lawmaker determined that Attorney General Barr has "deliberately misrepresented" Mueller's findings.

And second, Donald Trump "engaged in impeachable conduct." The lawmaker added in a statement published over the weekend, "Our system of checks and balances relies on each branch's jealously guarding its powers and upholding its duties under our Constitution. When loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law -- the foundation of liberty -- crumbles."

To be sure, we've seen similar statements from plenty of Democratic lawmakers since a redacted version of the special counsel's report was released to the public. But what made these conclusions so notable was that they didn't come from a Democrat at all; they came from Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican congressman from Michigan.

In theory, the White House could've ignored the GOP lawmaker's statement, downplaying its significance in the hopes it would go largely overlooked, but the president just couldn't seem to help himself. Trump, utilizing his idiosyncratic approach to English grammar, published a pair of tweets yesterday, giving the story some additional oxygen:

"Never a fan of [Amash], a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, 'composed' by 18 Angry Dems who hated Trump, he would see that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION.

"Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!"

My favorite part of this was the implication that Trump, unlike Amash, "actually read the biased Mueller Report." For one thing, that's almost certainly backwards. For another, it's curious that the president keeps attacking a report he insists "totally exonerated" him.

But putting these details aside, there's a bigger picture to consider: what happens now that a Republican member of Congress has endorsed Donald Trump's impeachment?

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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.17.19

05/17/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A great bill that will die in the Republican-led Senate: "The House on Friday passed a sweeping LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill that would modify existing civil rights legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit."

* The latest missed deadline: "The Treasury Department said Friday that it would not comply with congressional subpoenas to provide six years of President Donald Trump's tax returns."

* DACA: "The federal appeals court ruled Friday the Trump administration acted in an 'arbitrary and capricious' manner when it sought to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation."

* A step in the right direction: "The U.S. will lift the steel and aluminum tariffs it imposed on Canada last year, President Donald Trump announced Friday, while Canada will, in turn, withdraw the retaliatory tariffs it had levied on billions of dollars of American imports."

* Richard Strauss: "An Ohio State team doctor sexually abused at least 177 male students from 1979 to 1996, and school officials failed to take appropriate action despite being aware of numerous reports of the physician's misconduct over the 17-year period, according to an investigative report released Friday."

* Brexit: "Bipartisan talks on extricating Britain from the European Union collapsed on Friday, when the opposition Labour Party pulled out, ending the latest attempt to salvage the beleaguered Brexit process and leaving it in a familiar state of deadlock."

* A Republican state senator argued this week, in reference to late-term abortions, "Of course it should be hard! And the procedure should be painful! And you should allow God to take over!! And you should deliver that baby!"

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump suggests federal law enforcement is guilty of 'treason'

05/17/19 04:46PM

It was just last week when FBI Director Chris Wray, whom Donald Trump chose for the job, balked when asked if federal law enforcement "spied" on Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. "That's not the term I would use," Wray said during Senate testimony. He added that he hasn't seen "any evidence" to bolster claims of "illegal surveillance" against the president's political operation.

This morning, Trump came to a very different conclusion.

"My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on. Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!"

Let's take a minute to consider each of these points individually.

"My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on." I don't know how the president defines words like "conclusively" or "spied," but this remains difficult to take seriously. There was, to be sure, an investigation into the Russia scandal, and the Russia scandal involved Trump's political operation, but there is no evidence of illegal surveillance. In fact, given what we know, the claim is rather bizarre.

"Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics." Well, it's true that Americans have never had to confront circumstances in which a foreign adversary attacked our elections in the hopes of putting a specific candidate in power. It's also true that the circumstances never warranted an investigation like this into suspected wrongdoing. But if Trump thinks this dynamic makes him look better -- or more to the point, look like a victim -- he's badly misreading this situation.

"TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!" No, it wasn't. Trump keeps using that word, despite not knowing what it means.

In fact, this latest instance is arguably more offensive that the president's usual confusion, because of who, exactly, Trump is targeting.

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Missouri State Capitol

Ahead of abortion-ban vote, Republican references 'consensual rape'

05/17/19 04:03PM

Last month, Ohio Republicans approved a new abortion ban. Last week, Georgia Republicans went even further. A few days later, Alabama Republicans passed the most extreme abortion ban in recent memory.

Today, it was Missouri Republicans' turn.

Missouri's Republican-led House passed a bill banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy with an exception for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson is likely to sign the bill.... Under the bill, which passed in the House by 110 to 44, doctors who perform an abortion after the eight-week cutoff could face five to 15 years in prison.

According to an Associated Press report, during the legislative debate in Missouri, Republican Rep. Barry Hovis said that in his experience as a law-enforcement official, most sexual assaults weren't strangers "jumping out of the bushes," but were instead "date rapes or consensual rapes."

The GOP lawmaker later apologized, said he misspoke, and conceded, "There is no such thing as consensual rape."

Missouri, of course, was home to a competitive U.S. Senate race seven years ago, which then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) lost after making offensive comments about abortion and "legitimate rape."

Regardless, there's no reason to see the recent state legislative efforts as some kind of fluke or political accident. What's unfolding is the result of a deliberate strategy.

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