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Image: US-POLITICS-JUSTICE-TRUMP

Trump thinks the Supreme Court can save him from impeachment (it can't)

04/24/19 12:45PM

Now that he's placed two far-right jurists on the Supreme Court, Donald Trump seems convinced that the nation's highest bench will effectively serve as a rubber stamp, clearing the way for everything he wants.

The White House agenda on DACA? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Birthright citizenship? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Redirecting funds through an emergency declaration? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Tearing down his own country's health care system? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way.

Two senior administration officials told NBC News in November that "with Justice Brett Kavanaugh now on the Supreme Court," the White House "expects to win."

With this mind, consider Trump's latest mini-tantrum on Twitter.

"The Mueller Report, despite being written by Angry Democrats and Trump Haters, and with unlimited money behind it ($35,000,000), didn't lay a glove on me. I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Not only are there no 'High Crimes and Misdemeanors,' there are no Crimes by me at all. All of the Crimes were committed by Crooked Hillary, the Dems, the DNC and Dirty Cops - and we caught them in the act! We waited for Mueller and WON, so now the Dems look to Congress as last hope!"

Much of this is gibberish, including the assertions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings uncovered no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Reality tells a different story, especially as it relates to obstruction of justice.

It's also bizarre that the erratic president believes his opponents have been "caught in the act" of committing crimes -- misdeeds that exist only in Trump's mind.

But what may matter most is Trump's intention to "head to the U.S. Supreme Court" if congressional Dems launch an impeachment effort.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.24.19

04/24/19 12:00PM

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

* Though I suppose it's possible the plans may yet change, former Vice President Joe Biden will reportedly launch his 2020 presidential bid tomorrow.

* Among Biden's challenges will be an uphill financial climb: the New York Times noted yesterday that the Delaware Democrat has empty campaign coffers, and "it would take his raising more than $100,000 every day until Christmas just to match what [Bernie Sanders] had banked at the start of April."

* Today's "She the People" conference will offer an important opportunity to several Democratic presidential hopefuls.

* Need to Impeach, an organization financed by Tom Steyer, has launched a new $325,000 ad campaign in support of a commercial that argues the Mueller report "lays out a road map for impeachment proceedings against this president."

* Voters in Tampa yesterday easily elected Democrat Jane Castor, the former Tampa police chief, as the city's new mayor. Castor, a former Republican, is the first lesbian to lead a large southeastern city.

* In South Carolina yesterday, Republican Stewart Jones won a state House special election. This did not come as a surprise: Donald Trump won this district by 37 points in 2016.

* Similarly, Bill Powers (R) won a Tennessee state senate special election yesterday, though real estate agent and Army veteran Juanita Charles (D) kept it relatively close, losing by only seven points in a district Trump won by 22 points.

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U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen following the classified House members-only briefing on election security in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, May 22, 2018.

Did Mulvaney warn the DHS chief not to bring up election interference?

04/24/19 11:20AM

As important and consequential as Russia's attack on our elections was in 2016, there's no reason to examine the interference in a solely retrospective way. On the contrary, there's every reason to believe officials in Moscow, pleased with the success of their previous efforts, will try again in 2020.

With this in mind, Kirstjen Nielsen, before ending her tenure as Homeland Security secretary, reportedly tried to organize a meeting of relevant cabinet secretaries to prepare a coordinated strategy in preparation for the next election cycle.

Her efforts would've benefited from some presidential leadership, which she never received. In fact, according to a New York Times report, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told Nielsen not to even broach the subject of foreign interference in our elections around Donald Trump, apparently because it makes the president feel bad.

Ms. Nielsen left the Department of Homeland Security early this month after a tumultuous 16-month tenure and tensions with the White House. Officials said she had become increasingly concerned about Russia's continued activity in the United States during and after the 2018 midterm elections -- ranging from its search for new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids.

But in a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it "wasn't a great subject and should be kept below his level."

It's easy for many observers outside the White House to get the impression that the delicate president has a fragile ego, but this report suggests the problem might be even more severe than we've been led to believe.

U.S. intelligence officials believe a foreign adversary may target our elections next year, but no one should bring this up in the president's presence, because he prefers not to be reminded of the dubious legitimacy of his own election.

The principal goal, in other words, isn't to protect the American system of elections from a foreign attack, but rather, it's to protect the American president's feelings.

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Image: The President Of The United States And Mrs Trump Meet HM Queen

Following state visit news, Trump falsely accuses UK of spying scheme

04/24/19 10:42AM

In Mach 2017, after Donald Trump falsely accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower, the White House was desperate to make the president appear less ridiculous. Sean Spicer, the press secretary at the time, defended Trump's bizarre allegations by sharing with reporters a lengthy excerpt from a Fox News report, which alleged that Obama used a British intelligence spying agency to conduct surveillance on Trump before the election.

To put it mildly, British officials were not pleased, insisting that the report was ridiculously untrue. The White House apologized, Fox News backed off its report, and the international incident quietly faded away.

That is, until this morning, when Trump decided to peddle the exact conspiracy theory all over again. The president published this missive via Twitter:

"'Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson accuses United Kingdom Intelligence of helping Obama Administration Spy on the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign.' @OANN WOW! It is now just a question of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it will be a beauty!"

It's probably worth clarifying a few of the relevant details. In this case, Trump was apparently watching the One America News Network (OANN), which is basically an even-more-extreme version of Fox News. This morning, it featured an interview with Larry Johnson, a far-right conspiracy theorist, perhaps best known for peddling claims about the "whitey tape" in 2008.

The president of the United States, having forgotten what happened the last time his administration peddled this foolish idea, apparently saw the interview and reflexively presented the conspiracy theory to the public as if it were true.

It's not. Trump seems to occasionally forget that he's the president, and not just some angry guy who offers knee-jerk reactions to nonsense he sees on television.

But what makes this truly extraordinary is the timing of the Republican's misplaced missive.

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Twitter Inc. sign is displayed outside of the company's headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty)

In meeting with Twitter CEO, Trump whines about his follower count

04/24/19 10:00AM

Donald Trump has spent months peddling a strange conspiracy theory about Twitter, among other tech giants, which the president believes is actively trying to undermine him. The paranoid claims have never made any sense, and Trump has never been able to substantiate his theory with any kind of evidence, but he remains quite excited about it.

Indeed, just yesterday morning, the president used Twitter to complain about Twitter, insisting without proof that the social-media platform has a partisan agenda, and is "very discriminatory" against Republicans. Trump added that Twitter makes it "hard for people to sign on" -- I haven't the foggiest idea what that was supposed to mean -- adding that Congress should "get involved," presumably with new regulations.

This served as a precursor to an Oval Office meeting between the president and Twitter's CEO, which was reportedly the White House's idea.

President Donald Trump met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Tuesday just hours after claiming the company had treated him poorly.

The 30-minute, closed-door meeting, which was confirmed by representatives from both the White House and Twitter, focused on "the health of the public conversation" on social media and ways to respond to the opioid crisis, according to a Twitter spokesperson.

Because who's better positioned to discuss "the health of the public conversation" than Donald J. Trump?

That, however, wasn't what made the meeting notable. Rather, what's probably more important is how the president conducted himself during the Oval Office conversation.

The Washington Post reported, "A significant portion of the meeting focused on Trump's concerns that Twitter quietly, and deliberately, has limited or removed some of his followers, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversation who requested anonymity because it was private. Trump said he had heard from fellow conservatives who had lost followers for unclear reasons as well."

It's amazing just how stubborn Trump can be, resisting reality even when it's slowly explained to him.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waves following a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, July 27, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Longtime state lawmaker quits the GOP, joins Democrats

04/24/19 09:20AM

About three months ago, as his government shutdown dragged on, Donald Trump pretended that the whole fiasco was working out well for him and his party. Indeed, the president was convinced that the public was blaming Democrats for his own failed scheme.

"What's going on in that party is shocking," Trump said, referring to his Democratic opposition. "I know many people that were Democrats and they're switching over right now, and they're switching over quickly."

As we discussed at the time, whenever Trump points to unnamed "many people" he claims to know as anecdotal evidence, it's generally a safe bet that he's is sharing made-up nonsense. But even putting that aside, it's of interest that the only officials switching parties lately seem to be leaving the president's GOP behind. The Des Moines Register reported yesterday:

The longest-serving Republican in the Iowa Legislature said he's leaving the party, in part because of his disapproval with President Donald Trump.

Rep. Andy McKean, who represents Anamosa in the state House of Representatives, announced Tuesday that he plans to register as a Democrat and vote with the minority caucus.... "I think the party has veered very sharply to the right," McKean said. "That concerns me."

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a written statement, "Representative McKean didn't leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left him."

The party-switch doesn't change the balance of power in the Iowa state House, though the GOP majority is now down to 53 seats in the 100-member chamber.

But it's the larger pattern that seems especially noteworthy. Andy McKean's announcement in Iowa comes on the heels of a longtime Republican state senator in New Jersey also making the switch from the GOP to Democrats, insisting the Republican Party at the national level "has lost its way."

As regular readers may recall, that news came a week after a state lawmaker in California made the same switch from Republican to Democrat. A month earlier, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, also gave up on the Republican Party.

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

Facing tough questions, White House rejects congressional oversight

04/24/19 08:40AM

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn not only cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, the Republican lawyer appears to have shared all kinds of interesting insights. McGahn spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel is cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Donald Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

It was against this backdrop that the New York Times noted yesterday, almost in passing, that president is inclined to attack McGahn as a way "to protect himself from impeachment."

With this in mind, congressional Democrats would like to hear from the former White House counsel, whom they subpoenaed this week to offer sworn testimony, and who has important information about his former boss' alleged felonies. As the Washington Post reported, Trump is fighting to prevent lawmakers from speaking to McGahn.

President Trump on Tuesday said he is opposed to current and former White House aides providing testimony to congressional panels in the wake of the special counsel report, intensifying a power struggle between his administration and House Democrats.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump said that complying with congressional requests was unnecessary after the White House cooperated with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's probe of Russian interference and the president's own conduct in office.

To hear the president tell it, McGahn spoke to Mueller, so there's no need for McGahn to also speak with Congress. Cooperating with one investigation is enough, the argument goes, and cooperating with two investigations is excessive. To that end, the president is apparently prepared to assert executive privilege, claiming conversations between Trump and the former White House counsel must be shielded.

There's no shortage of problems with this, starting with the simple fact that it's too late to assert privilege. As Rachel explained on the show, McGahn has already addressed the private conversations he had with the president, and the details of those conversations have already been made public. To claim executive privilege after the fact is to try to unring a bell.

For that matter, it's odd to hear the president argue that the White House cooperated so fully with the Mueller probe, when we already know that isn't true.

But let's also not overlook the larger context. Trump told the Post there's "no reason" to cooperate with lawmakers. That's the opposite of the truth.

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Image: US-POLITICS-RUSSIA-PROBE-KUSHNER

Why Kushner's condemnation of the Mueller probe makes so little sense

04/24/19 08:00AM

The most basic element of the Russia scandal begins with a fairly obvious factual detail: a foreign adversary attacked our elections. Indeed, the second full sentence of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report read, "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."

It is a fact that Donald Trump and his team continue to either deny or downplay the significance of. Take, for example, Jared Kushner's public comments yesterday at the Time 100 Summit.

"You look at what Russia did, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it, and it's a terrible thing," Kushner said. "But I think the investigations and all of the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads."

"I mean I spent about -- I think they said they spent about $160,000 -- I spent $160,000 on Facebook every three hours during the campaign," he continued. "So if you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country."

The president found this delightfully impressive. That's a shame, because Kushner's comments were both wrong and unsettling.

We know that the attack was part of a Russian intelligence operation. We know the operation was expansive and expensive. We know the operation included public events, advertising, rallies, p.r. stunts, outreach to domestic allies, and an aggressive social-media component. We know the efforts reached as many as 126 million people.

We know Russians did all of this (a) because they hoped it would work; and (b) because they wanted to put Donald Trump in a position of power.

To see this as "a couple of Facebook ads" is to embrace willful ignorance about a serious attack on the United States.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.23.19

04/23/19 05:29PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Prepare for a very problematic ruling: "The Supreme Court seemed willing Tuesday to let the Trump administration add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census form that goes to every U.S. household, despite claims from populous states that it would actually make the count less accurate."

* The delay could take a while: "The House Oversight Committee has agreed to postpone its deadline for a subpoena of President Trump's financial records until after a court rules on a lawsuit filed by the president on the matter, according to a court filing Tuesday."

* A rare sight: 'In a national first in the fight against the opioid crisis, a major drug distribution company, its former CEO and another top executive have been criminally charged in New York."

* The latest on the Easter attacks: "Sri Lanka's defense minister said Tuesday that the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks that killed at least 321 people were in retaliation for the recent Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand."

* In case you missed this yesterday: "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., issued a subpoena Monday to President Donald Trump's former White House counsel Don McGahn for testimony and documents as part the panel's investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president and others."

* An underappreciated point: "Climate change creates winners and losers. Norway is among the winners; Nigeria among the losers. Those are the stark findings of a peer-reviewed paper by two Stanford University professors who have tried to quantify the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions on global inequality."

* Even for him, this was weird phrasing: "Trump claimed the New York Times had apologized to him after the 2016 election and that if they wanted his forgiveness again, they'd have to make a real gesture out of the apology: 'Get down on their knees and beg for forgiveness.'" (Keep in mind, the newspaper never apologized to him, and it's unclear why he keeps saying it did.)

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

In the White House, Trump's not the only one hiding his tax returns

04/23/19 04:10PM

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), exercising his authority under the law, recently told the Treasury Department to turn over Donald Trump's tax returns by April 10.

On April 10, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he and his team were reviewing the request and weighing the "serious issues" surrounding compliance with the law. Chairman Neal, unimpressed, set a new deadline: close of business, April 23.

The White House indicated this morning that the president his team will ignore this deadline, too. Subpoenas and litigation will soon follow.

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal raised an interesting point today, pointing to a related angle: whatever happened to Vice President Mike Pence's tax returns? Evidently, they're hidden from the public, too.

It is just as much of a break from his predecessors: Going back to Walter Mondale in the 1970s, all have disclosed their returns. Mr. Pence released 10 years of returns through 2015 during the presidential campaign.

Mr. Pence's office has said that he is following Mr. Trump's lead by refusing to release returns until audits are finished and has repeatedly declined to answer questions about the status of the audits.

At face value, this makes sense. If the vice president disclosed his tax returns to the public, while the president refused, it'd create a dynamic that the White House would struggle to explain. It's challenging enough for Team Trump to come up with some kind of coherent rationale to defend the president's secrecy -- it's been a few years, and the talking points still don't make sense -- and having Pence adopt his own superior standard for transparency would make a bad situation worse.

But the fact that there's presidential-vice-presidential uniformity doesn't make this any more defensible.

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