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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.22.19

05/22/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Another big defeat for Team Trump: "A federal judge dealt a blow to President Donald Trump on Wednesday, ruling that two banks can hand over his financial documents in response to congressional subpoenas."

* Some progress on disclosure: "Easing some of the escalating tension between Congress and the White House, the House Intelligence Committee postponed efforts to enforce a subpoena against the Justice Department on Wednesday after officials agreed to hand over a cache of documents related to special counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia report."

* Pushing boundaries: "For a second consecutive day, U.S. fighter jets intercepted Russian warplanes flying too close to American airspace near Alaska, military officials said Wednesday."

* Hmm: "The New York state Assembly passed legislation Wednesday to give Congress access to President Donald Trump's state tax returns. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill, which passed the state Senate earlier this month."

* Climate crisis: "The risk posed by rising seas may be even more dire than we thought."

* A disappointing announcement: "The redesign of the $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman will no longer be unveiled in 2020, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday."

* Virginia: "A months-long investigation into a racist photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook page 'could not conclusively determine' whether he is one of two people in the picture, according to the findings released Wednesday."

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Image: Donald Trump

Ignoring his cover-ups, Trump says, 'I don't do cover-ups'

05/22/19 02:45PM

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) remains skeptical of pursuing presidential impeachment, but she acknowledged this morning that she's painfully aware of Donald Trump's misdeeds -- and the eagerness with which the president is trying to hide the truth.

"We do believe that it's important to follow the facts," Pelosi told reporters. "We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up."

For some reason, this rather obvious observation apparently insulted Trump, who said during a brief press conference this morning that the Speaker's comments were one of the reasons he derailed a scheduled meeting on infrastructure.

"[I]nstead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that have just said that I was doing a cover up.

"I don't do cover-ups. You people know that probably better than anybody."

By "you people," the president was apparently referring to political reporters, whom he assumed would agree with his self-assessment.

I don't know why he would think that.

At this point, we could start exploring in detail each of the many lines of congressional inquiry that Trump is stonewalling as part of an elaborate scheme to cover up the truth.

Or we could talk about Trump's extraordinary efforts to keep all kinds of information hidden from the public, from his tax returns to White House visitor logs to Mar-a-Lago membership lists.

We could even take some time to revisit the incident in which the president personally dictated a deceptive press statement about the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting, directly implicating Trump in a cover-up.

But I'd suggest putting each of these angles aside and focusing on something even more obvious:

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Trump tells Dems to choose between oversight and legislating

05/22/19 12:49PM

In early January, in the midst of the longest government shutdown in American history, Donald Trump agreed to meet with congressional Democratic leaders. It didn't last long: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the president he wouldn't receive congressional support for a giant border wall, which led him to slam the table and storm out of the room.

This morning, Trump agreed to meet with those same Democratic leaders to discuss infrastructure. The meeting was similarly brief.

Trump said he had intended to sit down with Democratic leaders, including Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, about infrastructure, but cut the planned White House meeting short.

"I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi, 'I want to do infrastructure, I want to do more than you want to do it,'" Trump said. "'But, you know what? You can't do it under these conditions.'"

According to multiple reports, Trump arrived late, did not shake anyone's hand, did not sit down, and complained about Pelosi's comments this morning about the president "engaging in cover-up."

He then made a familiar declaration before leaving the room: Trump expects lawmakers to choose between oversight and legislating.

This is a story with a few key angles, so let's take them one at a time.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.22.19

05/22/19 12:00PM

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

* In Kentucky yesterday, incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin was supposed to cruise to an easy victory over his Republican primary rival, state Rep. Robert Goforth, but it was much closer than expected. The governor prevailed, 52% to 39%, though the margin suggests Bevin has a lot of work to do ahead of the general election in November.

* On a related note, Bevin will face off against state Attorney General Andy Beshear, who won a very competitive three-way Democratic gubernatorial primary yesterday with roughly 38% of the vote. State House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins finished second with 32%.

* Also yesterday, as expected, state Rep. Fred Keller (R) easily won a congressional special election in Pennsylvania's 12th district. The Republican won by about 35 percentage points, which is almost exactly the same margin as Donald Trump's 2016 victory in the same district.

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) continuing to lead the Democratic presidential field with 35%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 16%, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 13%. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) were the only other candidates at or above 5% support.

* The same poll found Donald Trump with an approval rating of just 38%. What's more, a 54% majority said they would "definitely not" vote to re-elect the president. (As a matter of recent history, that's not a great number, though 54% of the electorate voted against Trump in 2016, and he won anyway.)

* On the heels of an interesting "open letter to men" on abortion rights, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is unveiling a new plan today to protect reproductive rights. The presidential candidate's proposal includes, among other things, a commitment to create a "White House Office of Reproductive Freedom."

* Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), meanwhile, unveiled her new plan today on addressing racial disparities in maternal health care.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

Why the 'Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act' seems necessary

05/22/19 11:06AM

During a rather remarkable Senate hearing a few weeks ago, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) posed an easy question to Attorney General Bill Barr: "Going forward, what if a foreign adversary ... offers a presidential candidate dirt on a competitor in 2020? Do you agree with me the campaign should immediately contact the FBI?"

Though the obvious answer was "yes," the attorney general sat in silence for six seconds, weighing how to respond. "If a foreign government? If a foreign intelligence service?" Barr eventually asked in response. He soon after conceded, "If a foreign intelligence service does, yes."

It wasn't a trick question, and there's no reason the Republican lawyer should've paused as long as he did. If an American adversary tries to intervene in an American election by offering "assistance" to a preferred campaign, basic levels of patriotism, decency, and common sense should kick in -- and the authorities should be contacted.

But perhaps patriotism, decency, and common sense aren't quite enough. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, this morning introduced the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act -- or FIRE Act -- to legally require campaigns to report attempts at foreign elections influence to the FBI and the FEC.

The FIRE Act would require all campaign officials to report, within one week, any contacts with foreign nationals attempting to make campaign donations or otherwise coordinate with the campaign through the proffer of information or services. Campaigns would be required to implement a compliance system to monitor reportable foreign contacts with campaign representatives and to train all onboarding employees and other associates on their legal obligations.

The candidate him or herself must certify that this compliance system is in place. The campaign would also be responsible for reporting applicable foreign contacts to the FEC, which would notify the FBI, and preserving relevant records.

The proposal was formally introduced yesterday and was given a bill number (S. 1562). It does not yet have any co-sponsors.

What I find remarkable, though, is the fact that such legislation would even be considered necessary.

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Pro-abortion and anti-abortion protestors rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2014.

Roe v. Wade may be in trouble, but its support remains strong

05/22/19 10:07AM

Last summer, about a month after Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he could understand why American women are concerned about the future of the Roe v. Wade precedent.

"I do understand," the president said, "but I also understand that, you know, that's a 50/50 question in this country."

As the Republican saw it, Americans are evenly divided on the legal right to an abortion. Half the country is satisfied now, the argument goes, but if the high court's five-member conservative majority overturns Roe, the other half will be pleased.

The trouble is, Trump's assumptions about public attitudes are wrong, as polling data keeps reminding us.

Two-thirds of Americans want Roe v. Wade left in place, and most who hold that view would be disappointed or angry if the ruling were to be overturned someday, a new CBS News poll finds. Recent state laws restricting abortions have prompted speculation over whether the Supreme Court might one day revisit the decision.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, almost twice as many Americans say they would be dissatisfied or angry than happy or satisfied.

Not surprisingly, there was a partisan gap -- Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say the Supreme Court should leave the status quo in place -- though it's worth emphasizing that the CBS News poll found that nearly half of Republicans also do not want to see the Roe precedent struck down.

There's nothing to suggest these results are an outlier. Far-right efforts to impose new abortion bans are intensifying, but to think this reflects the wishes of the American mainstream is to get the dynamic backwards.

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A 2020 issue takes shape: which Dems would rule out a Trump pardon?

05/22/19 09:20AM

For Donald Trump, winning a second term next year is about more than just power and ego; it's also about the statute of limitations.

After all, the president has been implicated in a variety of alleged crimes, though Trump appears to be shielded from prosecution so long as he's in office. If he were to lose in 2020, that shield would disappear, and the prospect of an indictment would become quite real. Indeed, by most accounts, the only way for Trump to ensure he faces no criminal liability is for him to remain president for another four years.

But let's say he doesn't. For the sake of conversation, let's imagine Trump not only loses the popular vote again, but also comes up short in the electoral college. Let's also say it's 2021 and the president's Democratic successor, recognizing the possibility of Trump facing an indictment, has to decide whether to pull a Gerald Ford and issue a pardon for his/her scandal-plagued predecessor.

CNN's Erin Burnett posed the question to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) late yesterday.

BURNETT: If Trump is charged after he leaves office, would you pardon him?

BULLOCK: Uh, no, I would not.

The Democratic presidential hopeful seemed only too pleased to promote the exchange via social media.

And as it turns out, he's not the only 2020 candidate who sees value in shining a spotlight on the issue.

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Travel During July 4th Holiday Weekend Expected To Be Heavy

Trump's infrastructure gambit collapses with surprising speed

05/22/19 08:40AM

Thomas Donohoe, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, are rarely on the same page. They nevertheless co-wrote a Washington Post op-ed yesterday, urging federal policymakers to approve a sweeping infrastructure plan.

Alas, Donohoe and Trumka should probably start lowering their expectations.

It was three weeks ago yesterday when Donald Trump met privately with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and the leaders agreed in principle to pursue an ambitious infrastructure plan. The president said he wanted a "big and bold" $2 trillion infrastructure deal; Democrats agreed; and the trio said they'd meet again in a month -- today, in fact -- to discuss the way forward.

Almost immediately, there were signs of trouble. Within days of the bipartisan talks, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney voiced opposition to his own boss' gambit. Congressional Republicans balked, too. Within a week of saying he wanted to aim high, Trump turned to Twitter to suggest he was prepared to cut the price of the initiative in half.

The president appeared on Fox News a few days ago, and when the discussion turned to infrastructure, he said, "I also think we're being played by the Democrats a little bit. I think what they want me to do is say, 'Well, we'll raise taxes, or we'll do this or this or this' -- and then they'll have a news conference, 'See, Trump wants to raise taxes.' So it's a little bit of a game."

It wasn't altogether clear what that meant, though Trump seemed to be suggesting that Democrats were playing "a game" by wanting the infrastructure plan to be paid for.

Last night, on the eve of the next round of talks with Democratic leaders, the president found a new way to derail the infrastructure initiative. The New York Times reported:

President Trump effectively blew up negotiations with Democratic leaders over a plan to rebuild the nation's highways, airports and other infrastructure on Tuesday night, insisting that they put the idea aside until Congress approves a new trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

There's no reason infrastructure talks can't continue while the NAFTA 2.0 process moves forward, but the White House apparently wants to kill the former and save the latter.

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A sign identifies the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2010. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

IRS memo: disclosing Trump's tax returns to Congress is 'mandatory'

05/22/19 08:00AM

Existing federal law on congressional access to tax returns is entirely straightforward. According to the statute, which has been on the books for nearly a century, the Treasury Department "shall furnish" tax materials in response to a formal request from one of a handful of congressional lawmakers, including the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

With this in mind, when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) told Treasury officials to turn over Donald Trump's returns in early April, there was no wiggle room to exploit. Nevertheless, the Trump administration drew a different conclusion and said it could defy the letter of the law.

What we didn't know before last night, however, is that IRS lawyers have concluded that the Democrats' understanding of the law is the right one. As Rachel noted on the show, the Washington Post published the scoop:

A confidential Internal Revenue Service legal memo says tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president takes the rare step of asserting executive privilege, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Washington Post. [...]

But according to the IRS memo, which has not been previously reported, the disclosure of tax returns to the committee "is mandatory, requiring the Secretary to disclose returns, and return information, requested by the tax-writing Chairs."

The unsigned draft memo from the IRS's Office of Chief Counsel said that existing law "does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met."

The Post spoke to one Treasury Department official who said the deliberations over Trump's tax returns were extensive and the outcome was predetermined. "The decision has been made," the official said. "Now it's up to us to try to justify it."

Or put another way, it was up to Trump administration officials to think of a way to ignore not only the law, but an IRS legal analysis of the statutory requirements.

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